Wednesday, July 29, 2015

An Interview with Kathleen Delaney


Old Dr. Sadler is dead in the cemetery, his head bashed in by the arm of a marble angel. Ellen McKenzie has to find the killer soon ... before another death puts a stop to her wedding. Dan Dunham, the groom, is Santa Louisa's Chief of Police. The guest list is growing and Ellen's dreams of an intimate candlelight ceremony are rapidly disappearing.


When Grace House, a halfway house for women, goes up in flames, Ellen invites them all--including a newborn--to move in with her and Dan. As a real estate agent, Ellen hopes to find a new building, yet every suspect is connected to Grace House. Are Ellen and Dan in danger? Will they ever solve the murders and get their lives back?


Kathleen Delaney is the author of the Ellen McKenzie mystery series and the Mary McGill canine series. I had the good fortune to win a copy of Murder Half Baked in a drawing and am happy that I did. It was an enjoyable read, and it made me want to get to know Kathleen, who has an interesting background. She has been a real estate broker on California's central coast, the setting for the Ellen McKenzie books, bred and shown Arabian and half Arabian horses, and now writes about murder. 

I am pleased to welcome Kathleen Delaney to Writers Who Kill.     
                                                                                Grace Topping

Kathleen Delaney
Kirkus Reviews calls you an “enjoyable addition to the cozy scene.” Would you describe your books as cozies? In Murder Half Baked, in addition to murder, you raised the issues of dementia, forced adoptions, domestic abuse, women’s shelters, and arson, and you still managed to include some humor.

My books are labeled cozies and in many senses they are. No graphic violence, all sex remains behind the closed bedroom door and the action takes place in a community of people who know each other. I think the issues you mentioned, abuse, dementia, move them more into what used to be called traditional mysteries, but there is still a puzzle to be solved. Who did it, and more importantly, why. As to the humor, bizarre things happen in the most awful circumstances and I think they relieve the tension, so I look for them.

The scene of Ellen and others trying to get Janice and Ian safely to a women’s shelter was quite suspenseful. You also brought up the issue of sufficient funding for women’s halfway houses and shelters. Is this an issue that you particularly wanted to highlight?

I wanted to make the point how important safe houses are. Getting funding for them is never easy, and I’ve been involved in collecting donations for a local one. I also was able to interview the director of one close to where I used to live, and she gave me a whole new insight on their importance and their needs.

You draw on your background as a real estate agent in writing your series. Does making the real estate issues integral to the story and keeping it interesting present a challenge? How do you protect against getting too technical?

I try very hard not to get too technical. I’ve watched many clients' eyes glaze over as I’ve walked them through a pile of papers while we were either listing their property or preparing an offer to buy. But there are some things that are fun to put into a story and I think help move the action forward. A real estate agent meets a lot of different people, and gets involved in a lot of emotional experiences, both joyful ones and not so joyful. I find I can draw on them as long as I don’t use exact events. And, I can exaggerate them, as in Dying for a Change, the first in the Ellen McKenzie series. Ellen finds a body in the first house she ever tries to show. I’ve never found a body and I’ve shown a lot of houses.

I’ve often heard that writers should give their main character a flaw—something for the character to work on throughout a book or series. Did you give Ellen a flaw, and if so, what is it?

In the first book, Dying for a Change, Ellen returns to her hometown after a flawed marriage and a nasty divorce. Her confidence in herself and in her ability to build a good relationship with someone, have been badly shaken. How she overcomes these issues runs through the next few books. However, what you don’t want to do is have that flaw take over your character. The story wouldn’t be very interesting if Ellen sat in a corner feeling sorry for herself or chewing her fingernails off worrying she can’t adjust to a new life or a new love.

The arm of a cemetery marble angel is used as a murder weapon. That was quite imaginative. The angel became the angel of death. Did you intend for it to be symbolic?

Actually, no. I have no idea where that idea came from, but when it did, I grabbed it. That was one time when the whole first chapter came to me, and I just let go and wrote.

You had a number of very plausible red herrings. I suspected everybody in the book, and you still managed to surprise me. Do you plot your books carefully, or do you just write by the seat of your pants?

A little of each. I don’t outline, but once I’ve worked out who the people are and how they’re going to go about achieving their goals, good or bad, things start to fall into place. Although, in Murder Half Baked, I had a hard time making the plot work. I had the wrong person tagged as the murderer. When I finally listened to what the characters were telling me, I realized who did it and why, and the whole thing worked.  It usually takes a couple of revisions before I get the plot right and the clues placed where they make sense but don’t give away who done it.

Which writer has influenced you the most? Who do you enjoy reading when you have time?

Oh, boy. I grew up reading Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, and Agatha Christie, all those wonderful ladies who made up the golden years of the English mystery. I also read, with great relish, Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, and Mark Twain. I read way too many excellent mystery writers to be able to begin to list them, or the many excellent ones writing today. I keep discovering new ones all the time. I love to write, but I love to read as well, and the dishes will stay in the sink if I’m into a really good book.

We all look back on things we’ve written and wished that we had done some things differently. Anything in your books that you wished you had changed?

That’s a hard one. My daughter says I let Ellen think out loud a little too much. Maybe she’s right. But they do need to think about what happened and why. Fine line there.

The cakes and pastries you described in the bakery scenes made me hungry. Tell us about the research you did for these scenes. I was disappointed that you hadn’t included the recipe for lemon semolina cake. Weren’t you even a little tempted to include a few recipes in the back of your book?

I visited bakeries from Sedona, Arizona to Myrtle Beach, SC, drooling over their display cases and trailing around behind the bakers in their kitchens, asking questions while eating cherry Danish and other things. Yes, I did think about including recipes, but it is so easy to find wonderful ones online today, I decided to concentrate on the story. As for lemon semolina cake, the piece I had in an Italian bakery in New York was wonderful, but when I got home and tried to make one, it was an unqualified disaster. So, no, I wasn’t tempted to include the recipe.

What’s next for Ellen and Dan? Are there going to be more books in the series?

Right now, I’ve just finished Curtains for Miss Plym, the second in the Mary McGill canine series, and am starting to plot the next one. These are set in Santa Louisa and Ellen and Dan appear in them, but not in starring roles, so we’ll see.  The first book in the new series, Purebred Dead, has already been released in England and is getting great reviews. It will be available here, in the US, August 1 of this year. Can hardly wait.

Tell us a bit about your writing process. Is your work area messy or neat?

While I’m working, it’s a mess. So is the house. I hate messes, so I try, but nothing gets back to pristine neatness until I’m done. Then, in a frenzy, I go through everything, throw away everything I don’t think I need (which is a lot), stuff the rest in folders, wash everything not nailed down, including the dogs beds, polish furniture, wash windows and stand back and admire my orderly home and life. It never lasts very long.

Thank you, Kathleen.

For more information about Kathleen Delaney and her series, visit


  1. Welcome back, Kathleen! I enjoyed your first series. Its well-drawn characters are memorable. The backstory and mystery captivates the reader. I'll have to put your second series on my TBR pile. Thanks for returning to WWK.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. You've been very productive, and your books sound wonderful.

  3. I always enjoy a good real estate read. Looking forward to reading your books.

  4. Kathleen, welcome to WWK. I think I'll enjoy your series. I'm going to order the first in the series because that's where I like to start. I especially like series that deal with social issues like yours does.

  5. Hi Kathleen, thank you for stopping by WWK. I laughed when I read your daughter's comment. Family can be the toughest critics!

  6. Welcome, Kathleen! Thank you for visiting and sharing your experiences with us. I like how you research bakeries by visiting them and tasting their pastries. Murder Half Baked sounds wonderful.

  7. Thank you all, and I hope you enjoy Ellen's adventures, and that you try her Aunt Mary's as well. I love dogs and love writing the Mary McGill canine mysteries every bit as much as I loved writing the real estate mysteries.

  8. Thank you, Kathleen. It was a pleasure interviewing you. Wishing you great success with both of your series.