If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

April Interviews

4/1 Jennifer Chow, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue
4/8 John Gaspard
4/15 Art Taylor, The Boy Detective & The Summer of '74
4/22 Maggie Toussaint, Seas the Day
4/29 Grace Topping, Staging Wars

Saturday Guest Bloggers
4/4 Sasscer Hill
4/18 Jackie Green

WWK Bloggers:
4/11 Paula Gail Benson
4/25 Kait Carson


WWK is proud of our four Agatha nominees. Kaye George for Best Short Story--not her first time to be nominated, Connie Berry and Grace Topping for Best First Mystery Novel (wish they weren't having to compete against each other), and Annette Dashofy for Best Contemporary Novel--her fifth nomination!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Look for Kaye George and Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Kaye's story is "Life and Death on the Road" and Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Kaye George's first novel in the Vintage Sweets mystery series, Revenge is Sweet, will be released on March 10th. Look for the interview here on March 11.

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, will be released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here on April 29th.

Don't miss Shari Randall's "The Queen of Christmas" available on at Amazon. Shari's holiday story for WWK was too long so she published it for our enjoyment. It's available for 99 cents or on Kindle Unlimited for free!

KM Rockwood's "The Society" and "To Die A Free Man; the Story of Joseph Bowers" are included in the BOULD Awards Anthology, which was released on November 19. KM won second place with a cash prize for "The Society." Congratulations, KM! Kaye George's "Meeting on the Funicular" is also in this anthology, which can be bought for 99 cents on Kindle until November 30.

Shari Randall will be writing again for St. Martin's, perhaps under a pseudonym. We look forward to reading Shari's Ice Cream Shop Mystery series debuting next year. Congratulations, Shari!


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

An Interview with Shawn Reilly Simmons

Shawn Reilly Simmons created the Red Carpet Catering mystery series featuring professional chef and amateur sleuth, Penelope Sutherland. In order of appearance, the series contains three books, Murder on a Silver Platter, Murder on the Half Shell, and June’s release, Murder on a Designer Diet. Why the red carpet?

Penelope isn’t just a chef. She owns a catering company that serves meals to movie production companies, which means she cooks under great pressure and in compromised circumstances. The location of each book changes since most movies are shot on location, from New Jersey to Florida to Manhattan. Penelope must not only find food suppliers in each location, but she must adapt to different cooking equipment or provide her own when the venue doesn’t come readily supplied and stocked. She must accommodate the cast and production staff with meals no matter the time of day, dependent on the filming schedule that can change at a moment’s notice.

All the while, she solves murders while prowling behind the scenes surrounded by legendary actors and wannabes. Please welcome Shawn Reilly Simmons to WWK.                                 E. B. Davis  

Penelope’s life revolves around cooking and keeping her
Red Carpet Catering business afloat, and she’s just landed a hearty new job for her and her staff. Just when Penelope thinks life couldn’t be sweeter, a panicked late-night phone call from Max, her best friend’s brother, ends abruptly with shots fired on his end.

The next morning, a handsome model and club promoter turns up dead, and when the police serve up Max as their main suspect, Penelope risks it all to prove his innocence
(and find him before the police do). With her relationship as sturdy as a soup sandwich and her own life being
threatened, it’s up to Penelope to find the truth before anyone else is eighty-sixed.

The movie set catering company is a novel concept. How did you develop the idea and research it?

Thank you! The idea came from the time I spent working as a caterer behind the scenes on movie sets. My sister is a chef and started working for a movie catering company after graduating from culinary school, and I'd sometimes tag along if she needed an extra set of hands in the kitchen. Eventually we both were hired to work on a movie that filmed in the Washington, D.C. area. It was a great experience, and I felt it would be a unique setting for a mystery series.

How did actress Arlena Madison and Penelope become friends?

Penelope catered one of Arlena's early movies, a particularly tough shoot for both of them, and they bonded over the experience. They're roughly the same age and are both gaining momentum in their careers, which also helps them connect as friends.

Arlena is the daughter of a famous actor, Randall Madison. Her brother, Max, is also pursuing an acting career. Did you base this family on a real show-business family?

I've always been interested in families (the Barrymores, the Bridges, the Voight-Jolie family, just to name a few) where different generations get into show business and do very well at it.  Acting isn't a typical job, and success can be helped by either luck or connections, but mostly it comes down to an individual's talent. To see generation after generation of talented actresses and actors rise to the top of their game has always fascinated me, and I wanted to bring some of that into the book. The Madisons aren't based on any one family, but on the idea of the acting bug being passed down from generation to generation. 

Many of your plots center around the Madison family. As a friend, Penelope goes on defense to protect them, ferreting out the real culprits. Does the high-profiled life of the rich and famous attract trouble?

While we're all vulnerable to different kinds of trouble in life, I do think celebrities are at times subjected to unfair scrutiny and can become targets of obsession. While anyone can fall victim to a stalker, their public profiles increase their chances of attracting unwanted attention from those who think they know them from the roles they've played.

Due to the media-attracting events they attend, Penelope borrows Arlena’s clothes. Even though they aren’t the same size, how does a chef keep a size-six figure?

Penelope prefers to cook fresh, healthy food for herself and her clients, and when she gets the odd day off she usually goes for a run, in an attempt to balance out the extra calories she takes in from tasting her dishes. Catering, on set and off, is also a physically demanding job where you're on your feet for most of the day, so it's important to keep fit, so you can take the heat in the kitchen.

My favorite secondary character is Randall Madison. We find out bits of his history in each of the books. At first I thought of him as an old western films actor, but it turns out he was more of a 60s motorcycle ruffian. What is it about Randall that has sustained his career?

I love Randall too! He's a fun character to write because he's very comfortable in his own skin. Randall owns all of his successes and all of the different choices he's made in his personal life along the way, and he takes life as it comes to him. Those are the qualities I feel make him a great actor who is still enjoying a long and successful career. 

Penelope always seems to end up on the same set as Arlena. Does the Madison family help her win catering contracts with the same companies as Arlena wins roles?

Yes. Of course I always want Arlena and Penelope to be together, so I try to work it out where they're on the same gig. Arlena lets Penelope know in the first book she'll always try to pull for Red Carpet Catering because she really prefers Penelope to cook for her, and if she can put it in her contract, she will. Arlena wasn't filming in the most recent book, but Penelope was working on a movie in Manhattan, close enough to home that it wasn't an issue getting everyone together.

I don’t frequent Manhattan often. You set Murder on a Designer Diet in the “High Line” area. Where is that?

The High Line is a newer   (2009-2011) linear park in lower Manhattan, built on an old elevated freight line, near the Meat Packing District and Chelsea. I was interested in visiting the park, which was opened to the public  after I'd moved away from New York in 2001, so I went up and walked the span, about 1.5 miles, for research. The fun part was standing at the midway point of the park and being able to see my old apartment building across the Hudson in New Jersey.

Francis, Penelope’s second in command in her catering company, seems like a loyal friend and a professional. How does Penelope attract loyalty?

I feel Penelope attracts loyalty because she herself is very loyal and protective of those closest to her. Much like respect, loyalty is something that is earned in the same amount that it is given. I wanted Penelope to have a second in command at work, someone with a strong character she can rely on. 

Joseph Baglioni, a police detective, shows up in the first book, Murder on a Silver Platter, to investigate the murder of a young woman whose body Penelope and Arlena find. Why does Joey call Penelope—Penny Blue?

Joey and Penelope were friends in grade school, and Penelope used to wear her hair in pig-tails with blue ribbons, the same color as her eyes. In their school, nicknames were a big thing, and she became Penny Blue. She didn't like it at the time, but she likes it now, both as a term of endearment from Joey and as a reminder of their history together.  

Joey isn’t the overweight fifth grader anymore. Penelope is attracted to him, and their relationship grows. But in Murder on a Designer Diet, Joey almost breaks up with Penelope. I’m not sure that I liked Penelope’s response to Joey’s problem. What is his problem?

Penelope and Joey are moving forward in their relationship, but sometimes Joey worries he might have a romantic rival in Max, Arlena's brother. Much like his father Randall, Max is flirtatious and attractive, and spends a lot of time at Arlena and Penelope's house. Penelope is very involved with the Madison family, as an employee and as a friend, and her instinct is to be loyal to them, which sometimes causes friction with Joey. Penelope has to find a way to walk the line between her professional and personal lives and make herself happy at the same time.

I don’t know of any actress who has gained twenty-five pounds for a role. A few actors have done it, but actresses concerned with their image? Does Arlena attain her goal? Will she get the weight off again? Will she have to borrow clothes from Penelope?

Ha! I actually researched this point and played around with the amount of weight to use because Arlena is very thin by nature. She is also serious about moving her career forward and wants to show she has range and can change physically for a role. Renee Zellweger gained 30 pounds to play Bridget Jones, not once but twice for the first two movies, and Charlize Theron also put on 30 pounds to play Aileen Wuornos, the serial killer from Florida. I read an article years ago about Hillary Swank waking up in the middle of the night to eat chicken breasts and train in the gym for hours every day to put on 19 pounds of muscle for her role in Million Dollar Baby. I was fascinated by what these women went through to play these roles with the most authenticity they could manage and wanted to bring some of that into the book. Whether or not Arlena attains her goal—and whose clothes she'll be wearing—will be revealed in book four!

What’s next for Penelope, Joey, and the Madison family?

I'm nearly finished writing the fourth book, which takes place in rural Indiana during winter. The gang is all there: Arlena is starring in an updated version of The Turn of the Screw, Penelope and her Red Carpet Catering crew is on set, Randall is preparing for a new role in the area, and Sam, Max and Joey are visiting the set to celebrate Arlena's birthday. Of course, murder and mayhem have followed them to the Brown Stone Inn & Restaurant, and Penelope is on the case. Personally, both couples (Sam and Arlena, Penelope and Joey)  are taking their relationships a few steps farther, with different results.

Why cozies, Shawn?

My mom was a high school English teacher, and I grew up in a house full of books, with traditional mysteries filling many of the shelves. Mom is a big Agatha Christie and Wilkie Collins fan, and after I read through the Nancy Drew books at lightning speed I moved on to mom's favorites. Later I became involved with the Malice Domestic convention, where the traditional mystery is celebrated every spring. So I guess you could say, the genre is a natural fit for me! Malice is going into its 29th year, and it will be my 14th convention serving on the Board.   

Do you have advice for unpublished writers?

Three things: First, write (and rewrite) the best book or story that you can. Next, share your work with a few people you can trust to tell you honestly the strengths and weaknesses in the work. (Make sure these people are regular readers of your genre, and they probably shouldn't be close family members...you don't want to have awkward holiday dinners if they don't care for your writing). And finally, attend author events, signings, fan conventions, and meetings. Read reviews and comment on blogs you enjoy. Do whatever you can to come in contact with other writers and network. It's good to know what is going on in the business and to hear what other writers are going through, good or not so good, in their careers. They say writing is a solitary job, but there is a hugely supportive community of writers, reviewers, bloggers and fans who are there for you, cheering you along.  

Where do you go on vacation?

I'm on vacation right now! I'm a beach girl--I love sitting in the sand with a good book, and for me nothing beats swimming in the ocean. Normally we slip over to the Maryland shore, about 3.5 hours from home, where we're able to stay at a family spot.                                 


Kait said...

Shawn, your writing is amazing. It's always fresh and bright and I love the way the series travels. Well done. Do you ever miss time spent "in the kitchen?" Thank you so much for your dedication to Malice.

Warren Bull said...

Excellent advice for new writers. Thanks for sharing on WWK.

Shari Randall said...

Thank you for stopping by WWK. Your series seems like a perfect beach read.
As Kait said, thank you for your hard work at Malice. Hope you are getting some good R and R at the beach. I imagine the work on Malice starts well before the convention.

E. B. Davis said...

When I read the first book in Shawn's series, I fell in love with the characters. Who wouldn't like reading about great food and its preparation by a professional without all the bother of having to cook it or go to a restaurant? So, I gobbled down the next books and knew I wanted to interview her. This is a series everyone needs to put on their TBR pile! Thanks for the interview, Shawn.

KM Rockwood said...

When she first moved to LA, one of my daughters worked as an extra in some films. She says the best part of it was the food! Nice to have a series that reflects that world.

Gloria Alden said...

Welcome to WWK. Your books sound like ones I'd like to read. I'm putting them on my TBO list.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I'm with the others, on my TBR list though reading about food preparation always makes me hungry.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Yay, Shawn and Elaine! Terrific interview!

Unknown said...

Thanks Everyone! I had a great time at WWK!
Kait, I do miss time in the big kitchen, but I make up for it at home. I love opening a nice bottle of wine and going where my ingredients take me...
I hope to see you all in the spring at Malice, my labor of love.
Thanks again and have a great day!