Saturday, October 21, 2017

ROCCO welcomes Claire Matturro!

Meow! This week my guest is author Claire Matturro!

Claire Hamner Matturro admits she used to be a dog person. But then she rescued a black kitten and there was no going back. She’s been a journalist in Alabama, a lawyer in Florida, an organic blueberry farmer in Georgia, and taught at Florida State University College of Law and as a visiting professor of legal writing one long, snowy winter at the University of Oregon. She now lives with her husband and two rescued cats in Florida, where it doesn’t snow. Her newest book, Trouble in Tallahassee (KaliOka Press September 2017), is part of a series featuring Trouble, the black cat detective. Her prior books are: Skinny-Dipping (a BookSense pick, Romantic Times’ Best First Mystery, and nominated for a Barry Award); Wildcat Wine (nominated for a Georgia Writer of the Year Award); Bone Valley and Sweetheart Deal (winner of Romantic Times’ Award for Most Humorous Mystery), all published by William Morrow. She remains active in writers’ groups and contributes regularly to Southern Literary Review. 

Welcome Claire! Tell us a little about your background:

Thanks ROCCO! Though born in Alabama, I was raised primarily in Southwest Florida. I’ve been a print journalist in Alabama, a lawyer in Sarasota, Florida, taught at both Florida State University’s law school and the University of Oregon’s law school, wrote a series of humorous legal thrillers published by William Morrow, a HarperCollins imprint, and I’ve also been an organic blueberry farmer in Georgia. These days, after many years away, I’m back in SW Florida with my husband, Bill, and our two rescued cats. 

Tell us a bit about your Familiar Legacy series. Where did that idea come from?

As much as I’d love to claim the credit for the idea, the creative mind behind the series’ concept is Carolyn Haines, award-winning, best-seller author of too many books to list or count. In the past, Carolyn had written a series of books about Familiar, a black cat detective, and these books were successful in their day. But Carolyn wanted to do a new series, featuring a similar cat detective, and, hence, Trouble was born. Trouble the black cat detective is the son of Familiar, the original black cat detective. Unlike his father, who was more a Humphrey Bogart type, Trouble speaks with a British accent (think Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes).

The genius behind Carolyn’s idea was to bring along other writers to join the series. She recruited a handful of women writers, each with varying styles of publications in their history, and gave us Trouble and let us go. Though the black cat detective is common to each book, the setting, style, mystery, and plots are all the product solely of the individual author.  

Is “Trouble” the black cat detective based on a real life kitty?

This is a great question for Carolyn, so I asked her. Here is what she said: “Familiar was based on my cat E. A. Poe. And Trouble is based on another wonderful black cat, Coal Shaft Haines. I think more detail may have been in that last newsletter I did, but that's basically it. So yes, they are both based on real life cats that I rescued.” Here’s the link to the newsletter she mentions:

Tell us about your newest release, Trouble in Tallahassee.

Not to belabor the obvious, but the story is set in Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, a wonderful city where I lived for a number of years. Some of the action takes place at Florida State University College of Law, where I once taught. In the story, Abby, a young woman attorney, invites Layla, a law student, to stay with her for a brief time while Layla’s apartment is repaired from fire damage. You know the saying, “no good deed goes unpunished.” In short order, Layla is mugged, then kidnapped. Danger is heightened because Layla is a type-one diabetic and will die without her insulin.

Abby realizes the police aren’t going to save Layla because they are too busy blaming Layla’s good friend and fellow law student, Victor, for the crime. Victor had been career Navy, but after an abrupt resignation, had turned to law school. Soon Abby, assisted by Trouble, the black cat detective, and Victor set out to find Layla. Unfortunately, the first thing Victor finds is a dead body in a dumpster, which, naturally, makes the police more convinced of his guilt. Abby gets trapped in a burning house with Trouble and the comatose wife of her boss. Trouble finds a missing earring hidden in a padded bra and a wedding ring in a can of cat food—and sniffs out the scent of the villain. But how does he tell Victor and Abby when they can’t speak cat language?

How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

My characters become so real to me that they talk to me—not literally, you understand, but in my imagination. Whenever I get stuck on a plot angle, or write myself into a corner, all I need to do is go for a long, fast walk and let my characters join me (again, in my imagination). Soon enough, they will tell me what to write next.

At the beginning or plotting stage of writing a manuscript, I deliberately give certain traits—intellectual and emotional, as well as physical—to each character and I think about what traits they need for the plot. That is, if a character has to be scaling fences and leaping fires, I need him or her to have the physical traits to support that action. I also try to flip the clichés. For example, the pot-bellied, ignorant Southern sheriff is an unfortunate cliché, so I would make my Southern sheriff lean, flat-bellied, and smart with good grammar to flip the cliché.

How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

I’ve done it both ways, and I really can’t say which approach is better. If I outline, I tend to over-do with too many details and end up with 80 page outlines. Then, of course, as I write, I change things. A lot. So the 80-page outline is a waste, unless you count is as a priming-the-pump way of getting ideas flowing.

In contrast, when I just start writing and hope the plot will take care of itself, I find I write myself into corners so often I have to throw out whole chapters. Which is, of course, a waste of time except if you count it as a priming-the-pump way of getting ideas flowing.

Which do you consider more important, plot or character?

Characters. Definitely. I don’t care how convoluted or brilliant a plot is, if neither the writer nor the readers care about the characters, the plot won’t matter. Imagine your favorite novel, but replace the main characters with dull, boring, flat, one-dimensional characters, and what have you got? A boring, dull, flat, one-dimensional book.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

As with my life, I have been so blessed in my writing career that’s it’s almost embarrassing to admit. Of course, the physical act of writing is a challenge in and of itself because it’s hard work intellectually. But it is work I enjoy. Like most writers, I’ve gone through periods of nothing but rejections (from publishers and agents), but that’s part of the territory. And, having been a lawyer for a decade, I was used to hard work, cold shoulders, and road blocks.

My biggest challenge would be getting back in the game. I left publishing in 2007 for family and personal reasons. Years later, by the time I was ready to write another manuscript, my agent had died, my editor had retired, and my publicist had switched career paths. So I had to start all over again. What motivated me to keep going was the simple fact that I like to write and I like telling stories.

Do you have an “How I got my agent” story you want to share?

Yes. When I started my Lilly Belle humorous legal mystery series, I couldn’t for the life of me get an agent. Rejection followed after rejection, and in mostly form letters. But I entered a manuscript in a contest that involved an editor at HarperCollins, and when I won first place, she purchased that manuscript as well as a second one from me. By the time we were on my third manuscript, I decided I needed an agent to negotiate the deal. I called a friend of mine who was a retired publisher, and he recommended an agent named Elaine. I queried her. Nothing. I mailed her a book and a second query, and nothing. I called my friend, who had worked with her when he was a publisher. He said, “Wait a minute, I’ll give her a call.” Half hour later, Elaine phoned me and soon after she became my agent. Proof, I suppose, that who you know is often more helpful than one would want to admit.

Alas, sadly Elaine died, and I found my new agent, Liza Fleissig, the old-fashioned way of sending queries out to agents who were looking for what I was writing.

What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

I am co-authoring a manuscript now called Wayward Girls. My partner, Penny Koepsel, and I have been revising the manuscript with the aid of an editor and the enthusiastic encouragement of our agent, Liza Fleissig. During our revisions, both Penny and I were side-lined by hurricanes. She got hit hard by Harvey, and I got a hit from Irma. Nonetheless, we hope to have the story finished and published soon. It's already won a couple of awards in the unpublished manuscript categories, and we have great hopes for its success. Wayward Girls is inspired by a true life story of a brutal student death in a Texas wilderness school, and also reflects some of the experiences Penny and I had as teen-aged students at a scandal-ridden boarding school in Florida. Liza is cheering us on and remains ever faithful.

What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

The only consistency in my work habits is inconsistency, which is not the same as saying I’m undisciplined. Some days, I work hours and hours. Other days, other demands from life require my attention elsewhere and I might hit a lick here and there at most. Like most attorneys, I find I write best when I’m facing a deadline. Then, I can work hours without breaks. Sometimes I will work so steadily without a break that my husband will have to come get me and tell me to stand up, stretch, and go eat something. Or, one or both of our cats will come and demand attention as if they too are telling me to take a break.

If you could take only three books with you for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?

The Bible, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I’ve been wanting to reread, and the Chicago Style Manual because I need it a lot when I write. However, if I can access CSM online in this retreat, then I’d take J. M. Roberts’ History of the World as my third book because I’ve always intended to read it, but somehow never find the time.  

What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

Take creative writing classes, but also take print journalism classes. Even if you want to write fiction, the skills and discipline you will learn in a basic print journalism class will help you tremendously with structure, grammar, style and the art of using precise words instead of adverbs and adjectives.

Join writers’ critique groups. Read. Read some more. Keep writing. Persevere. Sorry, there is no magic in that formula, but persistence and hard work are required elements of being a writer. In fact, I’d venture to guess that persistence and hard work are more important than raw talent in the writing business.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

Listen, I’m a child of the Sixties and I didn’t skip much, so it’s better that I not answer that question. That said, I can refer you to Wayward Girls once it’s published.

What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?

I don’t have a clue, unless it’s the fact I am a devout, albeit liberal/progressive Christian. A few times that’s surprised readers because my books can be saucy and irreverent, and I have not lived a conventional Christian life. I see Jesus as one of the first love and peace hippies, and his message of love and caring and forgiveness transcends some of the messes people have made in his name.

What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)

Why do you write? It’s not for fame or glory or money. It’s a lonely profession, requiring hours of isolation, and one in which the odds are greatly against success, and rejections and critics will hound you. You will get emails from perfect strangers pointing out every mistake, real or imagined, in any published book, and some one will always really, really, really hate your book and post that far and wide.

There’s really nothing that glamorous about the process of writing, yet it seems to attract awe and interest. So why write? Other writers will have vastly different answers, for me it’s because it’s fun to create a world of make-believe people and see what they do when they are tested. Working the pieces of a mystery novel together also takes a great deal of analytical skill, and that challenge is something I enjoy.

Or maybe I just like to wear pajamas while I work!

Where can we learn more about you and your books?

You might be sorry you asked, but here’s a list of links to my social media and at the end to an online encyclopedia article about me that seems to be mostly accurate.

Just for Fun:
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully)  Both. I used to be a dog person, but lately am a cat person, but I’ve got a serious hankering for another Boston terrier.
Favorite Drink?  Beer. Preferably with friends and pizza, or subtitled, why I’m not thin any more.
Favorite Book?  It depends upon the frame of mind when I’m asked, but I love Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, anything by Hemingway, anything by Donna Tartt and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Favorite TV Series?  Father Brown
Favorite Movie?  To Kill a Mockingbird
Favorite Actor: Toss up between John Wayne and Gregory Peck.
Favorite Actress:  Meryl Streep .  
Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be Jesus
If I had just one wish, it would be that we could all love one another and behave with peace and kindness and generosity as God intended for us to do.

You can find Claire at:

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

ROCCO welcomes Rhys Bowen!

Meow, my guest today is author Rhys Bowen!

Rhys Bowen is the New York TimesBestselling Author of the Royal Spyness Series, Molly Murphy Mysteries, and Constable Evans. She has won the Agatha Best Novel Award and has been nominated for the Edgar Best Novel. Rhys’s titles have received rave reviews around the globe.

  • Welcome, Rhys! Tell us a little about your background
Thank you ROCCO. I was born and raised in England, educated at London University and worked for the BBC, but now live in California and Arizona (I like sunshine). I’m married with 4 children and now 5 grandchildren. I have been a published writer for most of my life. I have been writing mysteries for 20 years now and have made the New York Times and USA today bestseller lists as well as being #1 on Kindle. My books have won 14 awards to date, out of 28 nominations and my fortieth mystery comes out next March..
  • Tell us a bit about your “Royal Spyness” series. How did that idea come about?
It came about when my publisher said they couldn’t really break me out unless I wrote a big dark stand-alone novel. I thought about this and decided I didn’t want to spend six months in such a dark setting. So I realized I wanted to have fun when I wrote. I wondered what would be the most unlikely sleuth I could come up with. How about if she was royal? But penniless? And the 1930s—such a fascinating time to set any book.
  • Tell us about your other series, Molly Murphy and Evan Evans.  Do you prefer one over the other?
It’s like saying which child do you like best! Evan was my first sleuth. I started writing those books because I had read Tony Hillerman and was so impressed with his sense of place. Since I had spent a lot of time in Wales during my childhood I wanted to give that same sense of place to my books. So the books take place in a small village in Snowdonia. And Molly—she came about after I visited Ellis Island. I was emotionally overcome with what I felt there and knew I had to set a book there. I also wanted to write a first person female protagonist, one who is brave and feisty with a strong sense of justice but not always wise (a little like me, I’m afraid). The first book, Murphy’s Law, won the Agatha Award for best novel that year and the series has gone on to win many more awards. Book 17 comes out in November!
And I’d also like to mention this year’s big stand-alone novel In Farleigh Field. It takes place in Britain in WWII and was such a joy to write. An equal joy that it has done so brilliantly: selling over 100,000 copies during the first month!
  • How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
I get to know them first through their speech. Both Molly and Georgie are first person narrators and once they started speaking they literally took over. Apart from that they reveal a little more about themselves with each book. I’ve never been able to create a character. They just introduce themselves and there they are!
  • How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
Definitely a pantzer! I start by knowing the environment in which the story will take place. Sometimes I know the crime that will happen, sometimes who will be killed and why. Sometimes very little. I write the first half of every book in panic mode. But if I outlined and knew what was going to happen I’d be bored. I like being surprised as much as my readers do!
However, when I wrote In Farleigh Field there were multiple points of view, several different stories so it had to be plotted out more carefully.
  • Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
Oh character, definitely. Plots can be clever but readers fall in love with a character. No reader has ever said to me “I love your books because of their clever plots.” They say, “I love Georgie. Or I love Molly.”
  • What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
My biggest challenge has been to try to fit in as many books as my publishers want me to write. Twice now I’ve done 3 books a year and that has been brutal. But it’s hard to say no.
What inspires me is that I love spending time with my characters. I love chuckling when one of my Royal Spyness characters says or does something silly. I also love the historical research. AND I love going on tour and meeting my readers.  I realize how lucky I have been to have become more successful every year for twenty years.
  • Do you have an “How I got my agent” story you want to share?
I had a previous agent and things were not going well. She had moved to Singapore and thought she could take care of my career from there. So I was at Malice Domestic and on a panel with Dorothy Cannel. Afterward her agent said, “Who was that British lady next to you? She was really funny.”  And Dorothy, bless her heart, said, “She’s looking for a new agent.” And the rest is history.
  • What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I am halfway through next year’s Royal Spyness novel. It’s called Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding. Lots of fun.
But before that I completed my second by stand-alone novel for Lake Union. This one is called The Tuscan Child and takes place in WWII and in the 1970s. it’s the first book I’ve written in two time periods. Quite a challenge.
  • What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
I write every day. Up early and do my social media then settle in by about 9 a.m. I write until I’ve done about 5 pages. Some days that’s easy, some it’s hard. But if you know you can’t quit until you’ve done the required amount it makes you keep the behind to the chair! It takes me about 3 months to do the first draft, then I polish, give to other readers, re-polish and off it goes.
  • If you could take only three books with your for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?
That’s hard. The first one is cheating: The Lord of the Rings. It has been a favorite all my life. Something meaty that I wouldn’t otherwise read because it involved too much time and effort: maybe George Eliot’s Middlemarch or a Dickens novel. And something to make me laugh. An old favorite: Our Hearts were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner.
  • What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Read. Read. Read.
And then write, write, write. I can’t tell you how many would-be writers I have met who tell me they plan to write a book some day. I ask what they are writing now and they say they don’t have time right now. I tell them if they were going to give a concert at Carnegie Hall one day but didn’t practice the piano at all now it would never happen. You only get better when you learn to manipulate the words on the page.
  • What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Taking a chance on marrying my husband, leaving Australia with him and moving to California was pretty crazy. Also I hitchhiked around Greece for 3 months with a friend when I was a student.
  • What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I used to sing in London folk clubs with Al Stewart, and Simon and Garfunkel.
  • What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
What’s the most exciting thing that you are looking forward to next year?
And my answer: I’ve been invited back to be writer-in-residence in Tuscany. It’s a fabulous hotel in the vineyards and we work hard but also eat fabulous meals, go to wine tastings, excursions and generally have a good time. The details are on my website.
  •  Where can we learn more about you and your books?
Twitter @rhysbowen
Thank you. Great questions


Penguin has donated a copy of CROWNED AND DANGEROUS for one lucky commenter!

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Winner will be chosen at random using  Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. US entries only please.  Contest ends midnight, Oct. 21! 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Happy October! ROCCO interviews SID THE SKELETON!

Sid the Skeleton considers himself the protagonist of Leigh Perry’s mysteries because, as he points out, “It’s the Family Skeleton Series, right?” Georgia Thackery, his BFF and partner-in-crime-solving might disagree with this, but since she’s not around, we’ll accept Sid’s pronouncement. Sid has appeared in four mysteries so far. The Skeleton Paints a Picture, the fourth, was just released by Diversion Books this week. When not solving murders, Sid enjoys computer gaming, watching movies with his pal Georgia and Georgia’s daughter Madison, taking online courses of all kinds, and avoiding the family dog, Byron.  Georgia loves the beach, mysterious happenings, and all things good-naturedly paranormal. The family home is in Pennycross, Mass., but in the new book, Sid—and Georgia—have gone further afield to Falstone, Mass. (Don’t bother looking up either on a map. The towns, like Sid himself, are fictional.) (Portrait of Sid by Maggie Kelner)



R: Welcome Sid! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in crime solving.

 S: Thanks ROCCO! Well, I’m a skeleton. A robust, male skeleton, if anybody wants personal details. And I got interested in murder when I realized I, myself, had been murdered.



R: You seem very lively for a skeleton. How did the “Family Skeleton” series come about?


S: I met this person Leigh Perry—online of course, since I don’t leave the house that often. Anyway, I told Leigh about some of my adventures, and she brought it up to her agent, and naturally they were intrigued. Leigh might not be the most elegant of prose stylists, but she’s done a pretty fair job of laying out my skills as a detective.



R: Don’t you have a partner?

S: You must mean Georgia Thackery, my housemate and BFF. I’ve known her since she was six, and I had just woken up in my current gleaming white form. Georgia is an adjunct English professor, which means moving often and not getting a lot of pay. She’s also a single mother of a teenaged daughter, Madison. They share my house now, along with Georgia’s parents, who also academics.

R: It’s your house?

 S: More or less. Anyway, Georgia is a big help in solving my cases. Kind of a Dr. Watson to my Sherlock Bones. Get it? Sherlock bones?


 R: Very amusing. So if you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?

 S: I think I’d like to go back to the time when I was still alive—traditionally alive. I don’t have any memories of that time, but it would be interesting to see what I looked like with skin and flesh and hair and all that.


R:  If a movie were to be made of one of your stories, which one would you want it to be and who would you pick for the lead roles?

S: I think it would have to be animation, so all I have to cast is my voice. I’m thinking Patton Oswald would be an excellent choice. He has the acting chops, a great voice, and the intelligence and wit that reflects my charm.


R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?

 S: I think just knowing that I exist would be a big surprise, don’t you?


R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done? 

S: I posed for a painting class. Nude. Not a stitch on me. That’s in the new book, by the way. Hot stuff—keep it away from the kiddies.


 R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?

 S: That family is who you love, and not who—or what—you are.


 R: What is Leigh Perry working on at the moment?

 S: It’s a great story of the time an online gaming compaion came looking for me in a summer cabin, hoping I’d help her find a missing person. We’re aren’t sure if it will be called The Skeleton Makes a Friend or The Skeleton Plays a Game.


R: Is Leigh a plotter or a pantser?

 S: It’s funny, she says she’s a pantser, starting with notes and scenes and things she wants to shoehorn into the book, and kind of glues it together. But since I dictate my stories, I don’t see what she means by that.


R: Where can we find out more about you and your work?

S: Leigh has a web page ( and a Facebook page ( I’m on Twitter @family_skeleton.


R: Do you have any advice for beginning writers? Or crime solvers?

 S: I’ve got the same advice for both: read, read, read. There’s no better way to get a feel for how language works or for how people think and react.



R: What book is on your TBR shelf you can’t wait to get to?

 S: I haven’t finished going through Monte Beauchamp’s art book Popular Skullture: the Skull Motif in Pulps, Paperbacks, and Comics.


 Just for Fun:

Night or Day?  Night. That’s when the family is home.

Dog or Cat? Cats! Dogs and skeletons are not a good mix.

Beach or Pool? Kind of hard for me to go to either—people are so judgmental of Osteo-Americans. But on a recent stay in a cabin in the woods, I got a chance to go into a lake. It was terrific! I can hold my breath forever. Well, I don’t breathe.

Steak or salad? Not an eater.

Favorite Drink? Not a drinker, either.

Favorite Book? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I loved the way Rowling tied it all up for her fans.

Favorite TV Series? Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Favorite Movie? The Toy Story series, The Book of Life, and The Nightmare Before Christmas

Favorite Actor: Danny Elfman, for his portrayal of Jack Skellington

Favorite Actress: Kate del Castillo, for her portrayal of La Muerte in The Book of Life

Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Nope

Hawaii or Alaska? Alaska. It’s easier to hide, and I’ve recently discovered how much fun snow blowing is.

Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be: John Lasseter, both to thank him for those wonderful Pixar movies and to see if he can help get a job for Leigh Perry’s animator daughter.

If I had just one wish, it would be: For adjunct faculty to be paid what they’re worth.

If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be: honestly? Not a living soul. I am one happy skeleton!


 Thanks Sid!

You can find Sid on Twitter @Family_Skeleton, and you can find Leigh Perry on Facebook at leighperry and online at


Giveaway time!

Leigh Perry will send a signed copy of The Skeleton Paints a Picture, the brand-new Family Skeleton mystery. US addresses only, please.


To enter, leave a comment on this blog post with your name and email address (entries without email will be disqualified). For extra entries, you can do any or all of the below:


Tweet about this contest or post on your FB page

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Contest closes midnight, October 15th! Good Luck!