Saturday, April 18, 2015

Our guest this week...FRAN STEWART!

Meow! My guest today is author Fran Stewart.  Fran writes the Scot Shop mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime!


Fran Stewart is the author of the Biscuit McKee Mysteries – GRAY AS ASHES is the seventh book in that series – as well as a standalone mystery – A SLAYING SONG TONIGHT.  Her new ScotShop Mystery Series from Berkley Press begins with A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP.

Fran lives quietly with various rescued cats beside a creek on the other side of Hog Mountain, Georgia, northeast of Atlanta.

She sings alto with a community chorus and volunteers at her grandchildren’s school library. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.


  • Welcome Fran! Tell us a little about your background:

Thanks for having me ROCCO!  I went to four different schools, 9th through 12th grade, the result of growing up in an Air Force family. I’ve lived lots of different places, but now I’m settled northeast of Atlanta, simply because I’m three miles from my daughter and grandchildren. Now both the mystery series I write are set in fictional small towns – the hometown I always wanted (except for the murders).

  •  Tell us about the Biscuit McKee mysteries? How did the idea for those evolve?

I was recovering, not very successfully, from a hysterectomy. A friend got disgusted with my whining self-pity and took me to a meeting of the Georgia Writers Association, where Harriett Austin was speaking about how to write a mystery. When she said, “Just write, and see if your characters surprise you—and do remember to put a body somewhere in the first five pages,” I looked down at my notepad and the words flowed out: There had definitely not been a body on the second floor landing when I had run upstairs to the attic earlier in the evening. But there definitely was a body, and a rather messy one at that, as I sauntered downstairs after a leisurely snack. I am not very squeamish, but I do admit to pausing a moment before I stepped gingerly over the leg that jutted out on the hardwood floor where the stairway turned down to the left. I looked at my notebook and said, “Who the heck are you?” Of course, I found out it was Marmalade, the orange and white library cat, when my friend took me home after the meeting and I began to pour my heart into writing what became my first book, ORANGE AS MARMALADE. The funny thing was that, as soon as I started writing, I started healing.

  • Is Marmalade based on a favorite cat?

Ah, yes. I was in my forties before I was ever adopted by a cat. She was an orange and white tabby, and I’d swear her spirit sat on my desk and dictated most of that first book. Now there are seven Biscuit McKee mysteries, the most recent is GRAY AS ASHES, which deals with arson. And yes, Marmalade is in all of them, and there are colors in all the titles.

  • Tell us a bit about your latest book, A Wee Murder in My Shop. How did you decide on a modern-day shop with a 14th-century Scottish ghost?

The book is set in Vermont, a state I lived in for 26 years. My fictional tourist town of Hamelin, though, is patterned after Helen, Georgia, a town where everything has a German theme—cuckoo clocks and bratwurst and polka music. I love Scotland, though, so I gave Hamelin a Scottish theme. After all, what could be better than a town where most of the men wear kilts? And I’ve always been intrigued with the time just before Chaucer, when the English language was changing so drastically. It made sense (to me, at least) to have Peggy Winn travel to Scotland on one of her frequent buying trips for the ScotShop and discover an ancient shawl that just happens to have a ghost attached to it.

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

One of the biggest lies in the publishing industry is that disclaimer at the front of each book that says the characters have no relationship whatsoever to actual people. Writers draw on a wealth of information about people they’ve known or people they’ve heard about. Quite often, a character starts out as someone I’ve known. But then, there’s something about the writing process that is almost magical. Before my eyes, a character I think I know quite well because she used to be my next-door neighbor or a college friend decides to take on a life of her own. She may turn out to have a sleazy past; she may decide to take tap dance lessons; she may open a restaurant, develop a passion for doughnuts, or become an arson investigator. Although I have a general idea of where I want her to go, she’s probably going to surprise me somewhere along the line.

I usually change physical characteristics to a certain extent, but there was one case where I hardly changed anything at all in my description of a character. Some years ago, I’d known a man who got very angry and ended up threatening me while I was helping his wife. No harm was done, but when I started writing my books, that fellow just happened to be one of my murderers. He got what was coming to him, I’m happy to say. And no—I won’t ever tell which character or which book.

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

I’m a pantser through and through. I’ve tried outlining, but I get so bored with the process I give up and just start writing. Of course, the challenge of that way of writing is that when the plot heads off on a tangent I wasn’t expecting, I have to go back and re-write a number of earlier scenes so the book will make sense.

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

On my third book, GREEN AS A GARDEN HOSE, my editor told me I needed to take a particular character out of the first 200 pages. She wanted me to remove my murderer! I’d built up all these wonderful clues, and she wanted me to take him out? I was appalled, but I took it like an adult—I cried for a few hours and stormed for the next two days. But then I re-read the manuscript and saw that she was right. He was too obvious. So I took every clue and put it into a scene with other characters—a conversation here, something someone glimpsed there. It was the hardest rewrite job I’ve ever done, but I’m very proud of the end result.

As to what keeps me motivated, the characters themselves simply have more to say; I have to keep writing so I’ll find out what it is. And then, too, deadlines help. There’s nothing quite so motivating as realizing I have only another two months to complete a story.

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

Oh yes! I opened my emails one morning, and there was one with the subject line “Agent seeks writer.” It seems he’d found me online and thought I’d be “the perfect person to write a cozy series with a Scottish flavor. Would you like to talk about it?” Would I like to talk about it? Who was he kidding? I spun around the room a few times, looked him up online to be sure he was valid, and said yes. His idea was this: what if someone went to Scotland and bought something, like a kilt, that happened to have a ghost attached to it. He asked if I could craft a three-book series around that germ of an idea. From that, the ScotShop mysteries were born. He sold the idea to Berkley Press, and I haven’t stopped writing since then.

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

 I’m actively finishing the revisions requested by my Berkley editor on the second ScotShop mystery, part-time writing the third book in that series, and fleshing out ideas for my eighth Biscuit McKee mystery. I also have a vague idea for a standalone mystery that may see the light of day in a year or two. The good thing about working on four writing projects at once is that when I get stuck on one story, I simply shift gears and work on one of the others. Obviously, though, when a deadline looms, I put full effort into that particular book. As to future writing plans, I’ve already come up with 25 titles for the ScotShop series. I’d better get busy!

  • What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing? I try to get emails answered early in the morning (after I feed the cats and myself and do some exercising). Then I work for a couple of hours on whatever current freelance editing job I have going. I edit non-fiction. Right now I’m working on a book by a first-time author who is a disabled vet. Afternoons and evenings are my primary writing times. Although I write actively almost every day, sometimes I’m just toying with ideas, so I spend only a few hours. When a book begins to come together, though, I may write from one in the afternoon till ten or eleven at night. Once I sat down at my computer at five pm and decided I would write until seven o’clock. And I did. I completed INDIGO AS AN IRIS at seven – but it was seven the next morning. I’d written for fourteen hours straight and never noticed the passage of time.

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

 Read, read, read. And write, write, write. Read the best books you can find in the genre you’re interested in writing. Read a few crummy books in that same genre and think hard about how you could make those books better. Learn from the good books. Forget the crummy ones. Learn how to write effective dialogue. If your characters don’t speak right (right for who and what they are), your book will end up in the slush pile. I wrote FROM THE TIP OF MY PEN: A WORKBOOK FOR WRITERS to help people solve many of the sticky problems any writer encounters. There are a lot of other good books out there to help you with writing, but ultimately, you simply have to write. And be willing to delete what doesn’t work.

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

Now, if you’d asked what’s the stupidest thing, I’d say it was quitting college and getting married too young. I went back years later and finished college, but it was a long haul. Craziest thing was walking around for ten days with a ruptured appendix before I went to see a doctor.

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

I’m incredibly shy in crowds. I’ve learned to cover it up pretty well, so most people would never guess.

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

The question: “How do you take care of yourself?” The answer: I’ve kept a gratitude list for more than a decade, which keeps my mind concentrating on what’s positive in my life; I’ve been taking Juice Plus for the past five years, which helps keep my body healthy; I’m following my dream, which keeps me focused on my goals; and I’m fortunate enough to have a circle of good friends who laugh and cry with me at appropriate times, thereby helping me keep my balance in life.

  • Where can we learn more about you and your books?

My website is still in process of development, so, although you can find something about my books there, and can see where I’ll be appearing, please don’t judge me—or my books—based only on the website.

My books (and e-books) are available at all the usual places, but I encourage readers to buy their books at independent bookstores whenever possible.


Just for Fun:

Night or Day?  Dawn and Dusk

Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Don’t have to think about this one. Definitely Cat (although I have two grand-dogs I love (an Australian Shepherd and a GBBD).

Beach or Pool?   Mountain forest

Steak or salad?  Pepperoni pizza

Favorite Drink?  Water in the summer / hot tea in the winter

Favorite Book?  The entire Outlander series (tied with Pride and Prejudice)

Favorite TV Series?  I haven’t had a TV for the past 23 years. Don’t miss it.

Favorite Movie?  Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightly

Favorite Actor:  Uh . . . I dunno.

Favorite Actress:  Meryl Streep

Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Glenfiddich straight up

Hawaii or Alaska? The Big Island (not touristy)

Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be my grandmother as a young woman, before life intervened.

If I had just one wish, it would be____. I’m already turning my dreams into reality. I’m happy with life as it is progressing now; I just want to see a lot more of it!

If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be ___. See previous answer. Not sure I’d want to be anyone else, even for a little while – mainly because I can’t imagine the mess I might make of someone else’s life!

Fran will give away a signed copy of A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, the 1st ScotShop Mystery and a copy of ORANGE AS MARMALADE, the 1st Biscuit McKee mystery to two lucky commenters!  To enter, leave a comment in our comments section below with your email address and the title of the book you want!

For extra entries, you can do any or all of the below:

* Follow my blog (+ 1 point)
* Follow me on Twitter (+ 1 point) (Link:
* Tweet about the contest (+ 1 point)
* Friend me on Facebook (+ 1 point) (Link:!/

* Mention the contest on Facebook (+ 1 point)
* Mention the contest on your blog (+ 1 point)

 Winner will be chosen at random using  Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Good luck! Contest ends midnight, April 23!





  1. A Wee Murder in my Shop sounds interesting.

  2. Orange as Marmalade please ! Also shared the post on FB I also follow your page .

  3. The ScotShop Mysteries and the Biscuit McKee Mysteries both sound intriguing! No need to enter me in the drawing, just wanted to stop by. Another wonderful interview, Rocco!!! You are amazing. I will definitely start reading Fran Stewart. Fran, I can totally relate on your "various rescued cats." Me, too! I don't know how they find us, but they do.

    1. That's so right, Mary. Sometimes I think I have a sign in my front yard that says "Sucker Lives Here."

  4. I follow your blog and I am a friend on Facebook. Both books sound like fun! Fran, your story is very interesting also! I enjoyed meeting you here. Thanks for the chance to win!

    ElaineE246 at msn dot com

    1. Thanks, Elaine. It's a challenge to write two series at a time, but great fun, too, as I thoroughly enjoy learning what the characters are planning to do -- sometimes I have NO idea where they're headed!

  5. Another I want to read. Follow blog,Facebook,Twitter. Will tweet and share.tHanks for the Giveaway!!! Rocco works very hard and love all had s efforts!

  6. I do want to "meet" Marmalade---cats and cozies are just so perfect. And that Scottish ghost sounds pretty interesting, too. Thanks for the contest. I follow the blog by email, Ialso follow on both facebook and twitter.

    1. I've tried to stay true to the nature of cats, as I understand it, Sue. Marmalade isn't the detective - she's simply a wonderful cat, like so many I've shared my life with. I hope you enjoy meeting her.

  7. Oh dear - my bad. I had this post listed on my calendar for _tomorrow_! So sorry I didn't respond to any of the comments over the weekend, as I was completely out of contact for most of that time.

  8. this is hilarious, i am just loving it, you are doing a great work here Adopt a dog

  9. LOVE the Marmalade books, can't wait to read A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP.