Wednesday, May 3, 2017

An Interview with Marla Cooper by E. B. Davis

Last month Minotaur Books released Dying On The Vine, Marla Cooper’s second book in her Kelsey McKenna’s Destination Wedding Mystery series. Readers can’t resist the romantic venues of dream weddings topped off with murder. In this book, Marla brings readers to Napa Valley wine country. Main character Kelsey McKenna becomes involved in taking over a wedding from another planner who was fired by the bride’s father. Kelsey’s professional relationship with the previous planner prompts a visit to her office where Kelsey finds her murdered body. An accusation by the victim’s assistant forces Kelsey to find the murderer to save her reputation and business.

Marla keeps the books’ tones sweetly light-hearted, but she tempers what could be cloying with Kelsey’s professionalism and a smidgeon of snarky attitude. The series provides a glimpse of fabulous settings, interesting romantic situations, entangled mysteries, and practical solutions, all of which prove to be enjoyable reads.  

Please welcome Marla Cooper back to WWK.                                                             E. B. Davis

My most important question first, Marla. Do you have a recipe for lavender lemonade?

Although I enjoy lavender lemonade whenever it’s offered (including once at a wedding fair, just like in the book) I’ve never made it myself. However, I was so inspired by your question, I just started googling, and the key seems to be making a lavender simple syrup to add to your lemonade — or taking the lazy way out and buying Torani lavender syrup, which I now totally want to try.

Do you know wedding planners? How much research did you undergo to write the series?

Not only do I know a real-life destination wedding planner, she was the inspiration for my book! I got a job ghostwriting a nonfiction guide to throwing a destination wedding, and I basically got a crash course in the subject. Now my brain is full of odd tidbits like what to do if you’re worried your foreign marriage won’t be recognized in your home country — or where to rent luxury port-a-potties.

For Dying on the Vine, were you forced to tour Napa Valley for research purposes, of course?

Yes! I was forced. I’m glad you understand the sacrifices I’ve made in the name of fiction. It was awful, all that driving around the wine country on sunny days, sampling wine and picnicking under oak trees. A lot of people don’t understand why I actually needed to go taste wine to write a book, but they just don’t understand how dedicated I am to my craft.

Given a region, is the world of wedding planners small and competitive? Are there worldwide wedding planners for destination weddings?

I have to confess, the rivalry in the book between fellow wedding planners was more for dramatic purposes than it was an actual reflection of the industry. One person who reviewed Dying on the Vine said they didn’t know wedding planning was so cutthroat. It’s not! Most of them are perfectly lovely people and there’s plenty of work to go around.

As for your question about worldwide wedding planners, some people specialize in one region, like, say, Hawaii, and some of them are open to anything. The wedding planner I wrote the book with specializes in the Mexican Riviera and the California wine country, but she’s thrown weddings all over the world (and has the frequent flyer miles to prove it).

Stefan vilifies Kelsey when she didn’t interview him for a job. Was there anything she could have done to appease him?

Probably not. Stefan is loosely based on a guy I worked with (briefly, thank goodness), and I gave him the same sort of high-strung, looking-for-a-fight personality as my co-worker. I had to have a reason for Stefan to hate Kelsey so it wasn’t so random, but honestly, if it hadn’t been that, it would have been some other perceived slight.

Even though Laurel, Kelsey’s assistant, is a pesky morning person, she comes into her own by saving Kelsey from difficult, if not dangerous situations. Laurel clearly has Kelsey’s interests at heart, and she’s also quick thinking. Does Laurel have hidden depths yet uncovered that will help Kelsey and her business?

She does! In Terror in Taffeta, Laurel was just a voice on the phone, holding down the fort in San Francisco while Kelsey was embroiled in a murder in San Miguel de Allende. But I wanted to have another recurring character so that Brody can have a break from time to time, so in Dying on the Vine, Laurel became a real person. (Well, a fictional real person.) For that to continue, Kelsey will have to start letting her come along to weddings — which means Laurel has a lot of opportunity for growth.

Somehow a wine storage cave doesn’t seem particularly romantic, but your description made me rethink the venue. Did you base the cave on a real one?

I did! The wine cave at Higgins Estate was actually based on three different wine caves I visited. They all have the big racks with huge wine barrels stacked to the ceiling, and some are more utilitarian than others, but the wine cave at Bella Vineyards is particularly lovely, and it has a beautiful dining room they use for events. While touring the wine cave at Benziger, I noted that there was no cell phone service in the cave, and probably made the tour guide uncomfortable with my research questions. I finally explained why I was asking so he wouldn’t call security. 

After the murder whiteboard creates an awkward situation with a client, will Kelsey use it again or retire it?

The murder board wasn’t originally going to be part of the plot; it was just Brody’s way of showing Kelsey he was taking her investigation seriously. It ended up being a useful tool for Kelsey to organize her thoughts, but I think she’s learned her lesson about having the contents of her brain on display for other people to see.

What’s next for Kelsey, Laurel, and Brody (and where)?

They have a lot of weddings coming up, mostly inspired by trips that I took. I currently have Kelsey planning a wedding in Hawaii, because a beach wedding is a natural for a destination wedding planner. But after getting really inspired on a trip to New Orleans, I’m having to force myself to focus and not try to write that one at the same time.

Are you a red or a white wine drinker?

Red, all the way, with a special fondness for a spicy zinfandel or a bold cabernet sauvignon. (I’m also a big fan of sparkling wines.) Cheers—and thanks for having me on the blog today! You always ask the best questions.

When wedding planner Kelsey McKenna goes to the Wine Country Wedding Faire,
the last thing she expects to do is take on new clients. After all, she’s just there to
help out her friend Brody and maybe score some free cupcakes. But when a
young couple in a pinch asks for her help, she just can’t say no.

There’s only one problem: they’d been working with Babs Norton,
the self-proclaimed Queen of Wine Country Weddings—and things did not
end well. Kelsey wants to make sure there are no hard feelings, but
unfortunately she never gets the chance. When she goes to Babs’ office, she
finds the wedding planner dead on the floor.

Babs’ high-strung assistant Stefan knows exactly who killed Babs: Kelsey.
At least, that’s what he very publicly accuses her of at Babs’ funeral.
When Kelsey decides to do a little sleuthing to clear her name, she
uncovers a myriad of secrets and lies. And when a second wedding
planner is attacked, Kelsey begins to wonder if she might be next.

Set against the stunning backdrop of California wine country, Marla Cooper’s
Dying on the Vine is a mystery brimming with gossip, wine, and, of course…murder.


  1. Great interview! And great seeing you at Malice!

  2. reading about weddings is always fun. New Orleans is the #2 wedding destination in the USA.

  3. Such a fun series! Keep taking one for the team - I love reading about weddings, wine caves, beach front weddings....
    So much fun to see you at Malice!

  4. Thanks for visiting us at Writers Who Kill. It was a lot of fun hearing your panel at Malice. You did a terrific job. And congratulations on your Agatha nomination. You were in terrific company.

  5. It sounds like an interesting series. My California daughter lives just a little south of the wine country so I've gone through there - so many wineries. Also, her next door neighbor makes wine that has received lots of awards.

  6. As my brother-in-law likes to say, "The first obligation of a wine is to be red."

    I'm thrilled that the next destination wedding for Kesley to plan is in Hawai'i--maybe we'll get to drink some bold Cabs together while you're there!

  7. Great interview! Are you coming back to Hawai'i to do more research? Maui is the place to get married, you know!

  8. Thank you so much for all your nice comments! It was great seeing so many of you at Malice (and Lourdes at LCC!). Leslie, I love the quote; I kind of want to have it printed up like an inspirational poster and hang it on the wall. And Margaret, I didn't know that about New Orleans! I think I have no choice but to write both books at the same time.

  9. And Las Vegas is the #1 destination. So many places to visit and fictional weddings to plan!

  10. What fun! And you set such a good example by making the hard sacrifices for research! :)

  11. Love this interview. I can't wait to read Dying on the Vine--it's in my house right now, and I keep trying to grade a little faster so I can get to it sooner. Congratulations!

  12. A lovely interview, and I thoroughly enjoyed sharing some time together at Malice. May I suggest the Keys for one of your weddings? I can play tour guide!