Wednesday, May 17, 2017

An Interview With Cindy Brown

by Grace Topping

Cindy Brown describes herself as a mystery writer, theater geek, and purveyor of general silliness—all evident in her hysterically funny Ivy Meadows series, madcap mysteries set in off, off, OFF Broadway. Each book in her series features a theater production, a body, and lots of humor. Cindy knows where to stash a body or two. Don’t believe me? Check out her web site for photos of the best places to hide a body. If you recognize some mystery writers in the photos, it’s purely coincidental.

Cindy’s latest book, Ivy Get Your Gun, is being released TODAY, May 17. To celebrate, she is holding a launch party 7-9 pm at O’Connors Vault, 7850 S.W. Capitol Highway, Portland, Oregon. Cindy and some local actors will be doing readings of chapters from her book. If you find yourself in the Portland area, stop by and join in the celebration. But you’ll have to check your gun at the door.

It’s a pleasure to welcome Cindy Brown to Writers Who Kill.

With your background in theater as a musician, actor, director, producer, and playwright, what made you turn your efforts to writing mysteries?

Cindy Brown
It was Ivy. One day she appeared in my head as a full-blown character. I knew she was an actress, I knew she was a part-time PI, and I knew she didn’t fit into a play or a screenplay. I also knew there would be a murder during a production of Macbeth (it’s cursed, you know), so I decided to learn how to write a mystery. I’d written a lot of plays and screenplays, so I had a good idea of dialogue and dramatic structure, but setting and description took me awhile.

One reviewer wrote that Macdeath satisfies on numerous levels. You’ve got Ivy the PI, Ivy the actress, the mystery, and lots of information about the production/writer she is working on. How much of a challenge is it bringing all of these things together?

It’s tough. It’s not so much the various facets of Ivy, but the theatre angle. I have to mention all the familiar characters from each play, work around copyright issues, and make sure the timelines work. Timelines are a challenge in any mystery, but theatre and actors’ schedules are pretty specific, e.g. theaters are always open on Saturday nights but dark on Mondays. And there are timelines within the shows—if the character is on stage all during Act Three, he can’t commit a murder then. It’s challenging to write, but really fun, too.

Ivy comes across as a take-charge girl—nothing wimpy about her. In Macdeath, she literally rolls with the punches, and in Ivy Get Your Gun she faces down gunslingers. What is it about Ivy that gives her so much moxie?

I love that word! I think Ivy’s moxie (I got to say it, too!) comes from the fact that her parents emotionally abandoned her after her brother’s accident, when she was just 11. She basically had to fend for herself, and it made her vulnerable and independent at the same time.

Humor is one of the most enjoyable features of your books. “When I learned about the cruise, the money, and the fact that I’d play Nancy in the onboard musical of Oliver Twist, I felt like I’d died and gone to Broadway.” As most writers will attest, humor is hard to do. What is your secret for injecting humor?

I present a workshop called, “How to Be Funny on the Page (even if you’re not in real life),” so I think about writing humor a lot. For me, a couple of things are vital. One is not to try to be funny, but just write about things that I find funny. It takes the pressure off and I really get to enjoy the writing. The other incredibly important bit is rewriting. Sure, some stuff comes out funny the first time, but most of the time I tweak and tweak and tweak to make sure the timing is right.

It’s obvious in your books that you’ve done your homework on the production/writer that you are featuring. Even your analogies relate to them. “…the S.S. David Copperfield rose out of the fog like Miss Havisham’s wedding cake….” How much research do you do before you start writing?

Tons! I love research, especially when it involves reading novels or plays. I also read a lot of nonfiction about my subjects. For example, I read several biographies of Annie Oakley before beginning Ivy Get Your Gun. I also try to see as many dramatic productions as I can (theatre, film, TV). There’s a good story about that in Ivy Get Your Gun —it’s in the Reader’s Discussion Guide at the end of the book (and you allude to it in the next question).

In Ivy Get Your Gun, Ivy objects to how Annie Oakley is portrayed and attempts to correct fallacies about her life perpetuated in the movies, etc. Who is the real Annie Oakley? What did you like most about her?

She was an amazingly strong woman who survived a nightmare childhood to single-handedly pull her family out of poverty while she was still a teen. Even more impressive, she maintained her integrity after becoming the most famous woman in the world. One story I love: Prince Edward once extended a hand to congratulate Annie on her marksmanship. Instead of taking it, she went first to his wife Princess Alexandra and shook her hand, maintaining that, “In America, ladies came first.” It was a huge breach of custom, and Annie did it deliberately, since Edward was well known as a womanizing lout, and Alexandra a gentle spirit devoted to the poor. Gotta love her.

In Oliver Twisted, Ivy’s fear of water complicates her job of going undercover on a cruise ship. What lies behind her fear of water?

When Ivy was 11, her brother fell through the ice while skating on a frozen pond. She was supposed to be watching him. Instead she watched as the black icy water closed over him. It’s the defining point of her life.

You’ve done library appearances with other writers. What part of promotion do you enjoy the most, or the least?

While I enjoy hunkering down in my writing cave, I also sometimes feel isolated, so I love in-person events. I also love connecting with readers, whether in-person or by email. It tickles me no end to know that we have both experienced Ivy’s world. I have to admit that I don’t always enjoy social media. I like the connections, but it also means more time in front of a computer screen, and can distract me from my writing (look, a puppy video!).

Any hope that your books will come out in an audio version?

My publisher is working on it.  I really hope it happens, because I would love to read the books myself—I’ve done a fair amount of voice work.

 I read that you placed third in the international Words With Jam First Page Competition (judged by Sue Grafton). That’s impressive. What advice can you give to aspiring writers about first pages?

Someone once told me, “Open with a question.” It doesn’t have to be a literal question, but something that draws the reader in. The first page that won accolades in the Words With Jam contest opens with this (from The Sound of Murder):

            I should never do anything pre-coffee.

            “It was only a teeny fire,” I told my Uncle Bob over the phone.

See the inherent question(s)? Here’s another great first line that works that way, from Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth: “The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.” Love that line.
So far Ivy has worked in productions related to Macbeth, Oliver Twist, The Sound of Music, and Annie Get Your Gun. How do you select the works that you feature in your books? Have you picked your next production? If so, can you tell us about it?

My choices are fairly narrow: I need to work with plays that are familiar to readers, and stories that don’t have too many copyright restrictions. The next book, The Phantom of Oz, takes place during an outer space-themed production of The Wizard of Oz (called The Wizard: A Space OZpera), and is set in a haunted theater. It’s been a blast trying to write slightly silly spooky stuff.  

You wrote that you would most like to be remembered for helping to launch ARTability in Arizona. Please tell us about that.

I was the first statewide director for ARTability, an organization dedicated to providing access to the arts for people with disabilities. It began as a coalition of Arizona arts organizations and disability organizations. Having buy-in from both the arts and disability communities made us very effective: We were able to do a lot to make arts events more accessible (sign language interpretation, audio description, wheelchair-friendly exhibits, etc.). That kind of collaboration hadn’t been done before; in fact, we won an innovation award from the NEA (The National Endowment for the Arts) and NASAA (The National Association of State Arts Agencies). I am a firm believer that the arts enrich and even save lives and am very proud to have had a small part in making art accessible to all.

Is your work area neat or messy?

See photo :) 

Readers, what do you think?

Thank you, Cindy.

Thank you for having me!

Below is a description of Cindy's latest book--available in bookstores and online today.

Ivy Get Your Gun

There’s a new sheriff in town—and she can sing! When Gold Bug Gulch’s actor-gunslinger Mongo winds up shot for real, actress and part-time PI Ivy Meadows goes undercover as the ingĂ©nue in the tourist town’s melodrama. Unfortunately, she’s distracted by a pack of marauding Chihuahuas, a problematic love life, auditions for Annie Get Your Gun, and a personal mission: to show people the real Annie Oakley. What’s more, the no-good, yellow-bellied varmint who killed Mongo isn’t finished with the Gulch—or with Ivy. Will our heroine prove she can get a man with a gun—before the killer gets her?

To learn more about Cindy Brown and her series, visit her at


  1. It was a pleasure chatting with you at B'Con in New Orleans. I look forward to reading your books.

  2. I'm such a fan of both Cindy and her work. Great to read the interview here, and congrats, Cindy, on the new book!

  3. Another Portland, OR writer. Cool.

  4. Cindy, thank you for the great interview, and I hope you have a terrific time at your launch party. Wishing you continuing success with your series.

  5. Oh, this series sounds like so much fun! I'm a theater lover from way back (ever since I was "featured dancer number two" in Brigadoon in high school). Best wishes for great success, Cindy.

  6. Thanks, all (especially Grace-what thoughtful questions you ask)!
    I'm sure there's a way to reply to your individual comments, but I can't figure it out (only one cup of coffee this morning), so will just say how happy I am to be part of this wonderful community. I had a blast (gun pun intended:) writing this book - hope you enjoy it!

  7. Messy, but it must suit you. I've had you on my TBR pile for a while now. BTW: I arrange classes for the SinC Guppies, Cindy--maybe we could talk about your teaching! I'll get your email address from Grace. Good luck with the book (series).

  8. E.B., would love to talk about teaching. And hope you enjoy Ivy's misadventures!


  9. Cindy, this sounds like a series I'd love to read. I'm putting it on my TBO list.