Meow! My guest today is author Barbara Early!
Barbara Early earned an engineering degree, but after four years of doing nothing but math, developed a sudden allergy to the subject and decided to choose another occupation. Before she settled on murdering fictional people, she was a secretary, a school teacher, a pastor’s wife, and an amateur puppeteer. She and her husband moved back to her native Western New York State, where she enjoys cooking, crafts, classic movies and campy seventies television, board games, and posting pictures of her four cats on Facebook. She wrote three books in the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery series (as Beverly Allen) before starting to write the Vintage Toyshop Mysteries.
- Welcome Barbara! Tell us a little about your background
Thanks ROCCO! Many writers will tell you that they’ve always wanted to write, that they wrote their first book in crayon at age three and stapled it together. I’m the opposite. I lived over four decades without giving it a thought. I started writing puppet shows when my husband was pastoring a small country church. When he resigned that position, I found I missed writing. I wrote a little fan fiction for fun, and discovered a latent passion for fiction writing. When challenged to “try something original,” I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t sure how far it would take me, but it’s been a fun ride.
- Tell us a bit about your latest book, DEATH OF A TOY SOLDIER. How did the idea for that series come about
The Vintage Toyshop series actually started with the location. I wanted to write something set closer to home. And there’s a lovely village called East Aurora, NY, a little over half an hour away from my house. Other people see quaint shops. I saw some amazing potential crime scenes. When I was reading the history of the town, I discovered that it was sometimes called “Toy Town,” thanks to the extensive history of toy manufacture in the area (Fisher Price is still there, but there have been others in the past). “Toys” didn’t seem quite right—nothing cozy in all that plastic—but combined with the history, “Vintage Toys” seemed to fit perfectly. There’s a huge nostalgia factor. So I fictionalized the town—keeping the real name and the history and some of the geography—but plopped a fictional vintage toyshop somewhere on the middle of an already quaint bricked Main Street.
- As Beverly Allen, you also write the Bridal Bouquet mysteries. Can you tell us about that series?
The Bridal Bouquet Shop series features a florist by the name of Audrey Bloom, who specializes in making custom bridal bouquets based on the old Victorian language of flowers. Her claim to fame is that none of the brides who have ever carried an “Audrey Bloom” bouquet down the aisle have ever split up with their spouse. The one drawback, since it’s a mystery series, is that not everyone always survives the ceremony.
Flowers were actually a bit of a stretch for me. I have terrible allergies. But this series was a lot of fun to write.
- How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
If anyone remembers those old flip books, where each page was a drawing of a character, but they were cut into three parts, so you could mix and match the heads, torsos, and legs? That’s often how I create my characters: compiling attributes from real people, or occasionally even from other fictional characters and mashing them together in new ways. I’ll sometimes write up a bit of their backstory, just to get to know them. Sometimes it ends up in the book, but usually I’ll cut it out of the beginning and sprinkle it in later. I think most readers do want to know where a character comes from—but just not right away.
- How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
I’m definitely an outliner. But my characters don’t always obey, so I continually have to revise my outlines. Usually, that’s a good thing. If the characters are surprising me, hopefully they’ll surprise the readers, too.
- Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
It’s like asking if air or water was more important, I think. For me, character needs to come first, though. The best plots happen when they most challenge the characters, so I need to know the characters first.
- What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
Oftentimes challenges are just opportunities in disguise, and I kind of enjoy them. I started writing mainly to see if I was up to that challenge. I do sometimes struggle with motivation. The writing life can be a little difficult, especially when I’m under deadline, and everyone else seems to be having parties and taking trips and lying on the beach reading. It’s a little easier when they’re driving to work in a snowstorm and I’m sitting in my PJs and drinking coffee.
- Do you have an “How I got my agent” story you want to share?
I started out thinking I was writing inspirational fiction. I had a cozy about a pastor’s wife who solved crime. So I went to all the inspirational conferences, met with the inspy agents and editors, and finaled multiple times in the inspy writing contests. I had bad timing: the cozy mystery was dead in inspirational fiction. So while multiple agents and editors said they liked it, and my manuscript was enough to get me to committee, nobody was biting. In frustration, I sent one—yes, one—cold query to the agency I considered my dream agency if I were to write a mainstream cozy mystery. And…
- What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I just turned in the second book of the Vintage Toyshop series, and have one more to go under the current contract.
- What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
I don’t know if I have a typical workday. I like to write in the morning, after coffee and breakfast. How much more writing I do depends on how close I am to deadline, I think. And then there’s more work during editing and promotion. It probably varies from 20 to well over 40 hours a week at crunch times.
- 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 Complete Sherlock Holmes collection, The Complete Agatha Christie Collection, and the Complete William Shakespeare. And if you think that’s cheating, I’d also smuggle my Kindle in my suitcase under my underwear. Shhh…
- What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Spend less time worrying about how and when to be published, and spend more time studying writing craft. Don’t be in a rush. It takes time, and it should.
- What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Not sure. Moved to the country? Wrote a book?
- What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I don’t really have a lot of surprises. Maybe that I go through a book so many times that I begin to loathe them by the time they’re fully edited. I often can’t bear to go back and read my old books.
- What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
I think you covered them. Good questions.
- Where can we learn more about you and your books?
www.barbaraearly.com. Also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorBarbaraEarly/
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Day
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Cats
Beach or Pool? Yes.
Steak or salad? Steak, but only if it’s a filet.
Favorite Drink? Very cold water with a splash of cranberry juice. Slushes and frozen lemonade for a splurge.
Favorite Book? I can never decide.
Favorite TV Series? Three-way tie between Remington Steele, Scarecrow and Mrs King, and Monk.
Favorite Movie? Without Love
Favorite Actor: Cary Grant
Favorite Actress: Audrey Hepburn
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Pina Colada, but only if it’s virgin.
Hawaii or Alaska? Alaska
Finish this sentence: If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be Annie Sullivan
If I had just one wish, it would be a house on the lake and plenty of time to read
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be _someone who began writing when they were three
Barbara will be giving away a Vintage Toyshop swag bag to one lucky reader! 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:
* Follow my blog (+ 1 point)
* Follow me on Twitter (+ 1 point) (Link: https://twitter.com/RoccoBlogger)
* Tweet about the contest (+ 1 point)
* Friend me on Facebook (+ 1 point) (Link: https://www.facebook.com/ToniLotempio)#!/
* Mention the contest on Facebook (+ 1 point)
* Mention the contest on your blog (+ 1 point)
* Mention the contest on your blog (+ 1 point)
Winner will be chosen at random using random.org. Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Good luck! Contest closes midnight, October 8!