As you may know, I am re-releasing the Neil Marshall mystery series that Ballantine marketed as cozy, culinary amateur sleuth mysteries. I ran across EM Kaplan and her husband JD last year on Twitter and we all hit it off. She joined in on some story hops and I was hooked on her quirky character, Josie Tucker, the food critique. With the release of my mysteries. I wanted to do an interview with some fellow mystery writers and immediately thought of EM Kaplan since hers books fall somewhat into a similar category as mine.
So, let’s get to know her little better.
- You describe yourself as a former wannabe spy, trombonist, toilet-cleaner, beginner ninja, and subversive marketer. Tell me about your writing process. How much of your former selves make their way into your writing?
“In a perfect world, I’d be using words like “heuristic,” “organic,” and “ecosystem” to describe the way I try to blend my real-world experiences into my fiction. Instead my writing process is more like absolute chaos, punctuated by brief interruptions of “CAN YOU HOLD MY BURRITO” and “THESE AREN’T MY SHORTS.” I don’t suffer from ADHD, but my life does. I have a 9-to-5 job and a family, and I teach a couple of classes at the local gym. I’d actually love to see what happens to my writing when I simplify some of that.”
- Your husband JD is a writer, and he’s produced some of your trailers, which are quite good I might add. As you know, Valerie also writes, and I’m frequently asking her if she knows how much I hate her (usually right after she’s handed back a manuscript bleeding with red ink). In all fairness, she makes my work stronger. What is it like for you living in a literary family? Where do you find commonalities? Dissonance?
“The biggest problem JD and I have as writers is that neither of us wants to keep a day job. We both need patrons. Or a grant. Or private funding. Because that lottery retirement plan hasn’t panned out yet, if you know what I mean.
“A few people have asked if JD and I are planning on writing a book together someday. I think we’re too different, too creatively strong-willed to make it work. Neither of us is confrontational, so it would probably turn into a battle of confused squints and furrowed eyebrows of disbelief.”
- Nearly all my books take place in or around Houston, where I’ve lived for thirty-five years. How much does the place or places where you live play into your books?
“Each of the main locations in the Josie Tucker books has been a place where I’ve lived. Arizona, California, Massachusetts—and even the next one, which will be near Austin, TX. I recently went back to Tucson for the first time in about twenty years. Holy nuts, that place has changed. While my memories are strong and vivid, that old saying about not being able to go home again is so, so true. In a weird way, I’ve fictionalized these places just as much as if I’d completely made them up.”
- You were an English major and a technical writer. I recently read one of your blogs dedicated to hating the word “moist” and some other interesting words as well. Besides those particular words, what literary topics bore or offend you?
“I don’t actually hate the word “moist,” but a lot of people do. I used to have synesthesia—it’s a bit different for everyone, but, I used to see words as colors. Like the word “thought” is the color brown for me. The number two is blue. The tendency mostly faded over time. Maybe it was a memorization technique when I was little—but I don’t hate words because they’re tools for building things. I do, however, avoid talking about politics, which is tough this year. Everything else is fair game.”
- We met on Twitter, and two of your posts are about Twitter (“Freaky Tweets” had me falling on the floor laughing). You have a delightfully dry and quirky sense of humor. It also seems to flow naturally, which is a rare gift. How does humor play into your work? Do you ever find yourself holding back because it’s just not the right time for a quip?
“I don’t intentionally set out to be funny, but I do like making people laugh. It’s kind of a weird distinction. I don’t want to make people roll on the floor in a Robin Williams frenetic way, but I do, like a dinner party hostess, want to see everyone having a good time. Noshing on the cheeseball appetizers, so to speak.”
- You also did a very insightful blog on marketing. I hate marketing, but you have a great handle on it. What is your favorite marketing tool? The most effective? And what do you just plain hate?
“I seriously have no idea what I’m doing. No. Idea. I mean, I listen to advice from other people who seem to have a handle on it, but I make mistakes like other people. The thing that works the best in my favor is actually my desk job. Because I’m sitting at work all day long, I can have my other computer next to me so I can see what’s going on and monitor my accounts and promo attempts. Any time devoted to marketing is time taken away from writing, though, so it’s a balancing act. It’s so easy to do too much of one or the other.
“Facebook is the easiest for me to use. I had to create an account for my day job a few years ago, so I’ve been on it a while. My newsletter has been the most effective method of communicating with readers so far.”
- Finally, a big congratulation is in order. You just released the 3rd book in your Josie Tucker Mysteries, which you describe as “un-cozy and un-culinary.” I love that characterization and it’s what first drew me to your work. (In part because I thought you were the opposite of me, but now I’m not so sure. . . .) What prompted you to describe a food critic and amateur sleuth as un-cozy and un-culinary?
“Thanks! Yes, Dead Man on Campus is the 3rd Josie Tucker book. Between the mysteries, I wrote two books of an epic fantasy trilogy called Unmasked and Unbroken. Some of my readers who have read both my fantasy and mystery books have been surprised at the contrast—completely different writing styles although I think some humor sneaks through the fantasy in places.
“I call the Josie books un-culinary and un-cozy because those are real categories in bookstore mystery shelves—well, culinary and cozy are. If you’re not familiar with them, culinary mysteries involve food, cooking, restaurants, or bakeries. While Josie is a food critic, her testy stomach often keeps her from eating. She has a love/hate relationship with food sometimes. Cozy mysteries are more like the old Miss Marple Agatha Christie stories—no sex, no gore, no violence. They’re more focused on the puzzle and the clues of the whodunit. Josie Tucker mysteries—especially The Bride Wore Dead—are a bit grittier than those. Not a lot, but enough to straddle the line, I think.”
I like it EM! I think I’ll categorize my books as un-cozy and semi-culinary, too! Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with me!
Since Dim Sum, Dead Sum is on sale-only .99 until October 2nd-let’s look at her awesome trailer—Just click on the image:
Click on any of the images to see the Josie Tucker Mysteries on Amazon ~
Or buy all three in one great package:
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