by Grace Topping
Sarah E. Burr is the latest author to join us at Writers Who Kill. So, it was a pleasure getting to know more about her and her books. In the past few months, Sarah launched two books in two different series: #Follow Me for Murder, the first in her Trending Topic Mystery Series, and You Can’t Candle the Truth, first in the Glenmyre Whim Mystery Series. Since both sounded so intriguing, I decided to feature both in her interview.
#Follow Me for Murder
After selling a tech startup to Facebook in a multi-million-dollar deal, blogger Coco Cline has returned to her hometown of Central Shores, Delaware to launch her own social media consulting firm. Her new clients, Sean and Olivia Chen, are ten days away from the grand opening of their specialty consignment shop when Coco stumbles across their assistant Stacy dead behind the register.
Worried that a cloud of suspicion will ruin their chances of a successful business launch, the Chens ask Coco to work alongside the inexperienced Central Shores police to speed up the investigation. Using her celebrity status and social media savviness, Coco realizes Stacy’s seemingly ordinary life was all an act. Following a trail of cryptic online posts, confusing timelines, and muddied gossip, Coco and her friends discover Stacy’s questionable relationships just might be the reason for her untimely demise.
You Can’t Candle the Truth
Welcome to Crucible, a small town with a storied history. Founded by five prestigious families, Crucible has been tucked away in upstate New York for centuries under the protection of a shield enchantment cast by Jedidiah Glenmyre, Hazel's revered ancestor. The enchanted barrier is meant to protect Crucible from anything bad ever happening to the town. No crime, no awful weather, no natural disasters…a haven from the greater world.
Until the heir to a billion-dollar company is found dead in his home. With the help of her uncanny power, known as a "whim," Hazel realizes foul play is involved. But more than being concerned about a murderer running loose and Jedidiah Glenmyre's protection shield deteriorating, Hazel and her aunt Poppy are worried the town's kindhearted art teacher will be charged with the sinister crime. Determined to prove her friend innocent, Hazel is ready to shine a light on the real killer…if they don't snuff her out first.
Thank you so much for having me, Grace! As a big fan of your Laura Bishop Mysteries, it’s a delight to talk about all things mystery with you.
In the first of your Trending Topic Mystery Series, #Follow Me for Murder, Coco Cline has just sold her tech startup to Facebook in a multi-million-dollar deal, an amazing feat for someone so young. Where does a young entrepreneur go from there?
After her startup’s acquisition, Coco is amazed by all the media attention she gets, something she always dreamed about when she was younger. However, fame isn’t at all what Coco thought it would be, and she soon desperately misses her privacy. So, she makes a pretty big decision to uproot her life in the city and move back to the safety of her hometown, Central Shores, Delaware. Coco likes to keep busy, though, so she is definitely not going to take her money and ride off into the sunset. She is lucky enough to have the financial security to do what she wants, and what Coco wants to do is help people. Since her background is in communications and social media, Coco sets her sights on using those skills to help small businesses succeed. Shortly after returning to Central Shores, Coco launches a one-woman operation, Center of Attention Consulting, where she works with business owners to enhance their brand and increase customer growth through social media.
When readers are introduced to Coco at the beginning of #FollowMe for Murder, she is helping her latest clients with the grand opening of their specialty consignment shop. But, unfortunately, a dead body found in their store puts the brakes on that.
Social media consulting must be hitting the main stream if it has become a career for a cozy mystery main character. What is driving this?
Social media is no longer restricted by age or generation. For example, when Facebook first came about, you needed to be a student at Harvard. Now, anyone above the age of thirteen can be on Facebook. With so many different platforms out there, today’s technology is more accessible than ever, and it’s become an integral part of how we communicate, whether we like it or not. Its popularity also allows entrepreneurs and businesses to engage with a vast consumer base...if they are doing their outreach correctly.
Coco uses her social media savviness to build another business and help others. What motivates her to do this now that she is so wealthy?
I think a couple of things are at play here. First, Coco genuinely enjoys helping people, and she believes she can help them by putting her PR skills and tech knowledge to use. She loves working alongside a team and feeling like she’s contributing to her community. There’s also the fact that Coco received a windfall of cash when she was just twenty-five and maybe didn’t make the most intelligent financial decisions. Coco went on quite the big spending spree: she bought a beautiful beach home, a new car, renovated her parents’ house, and set up a college tuition fund for her nieces and nephew. Because Coco opted to take the intellectual property rights to her blog, Trending Topic, over a bigger payout from Facebook, she still needs a steady source of income to maintain her current lifestyle.
In the Trending Topic series, will you continue to feature Coco Cline, or will you be addressing other trends?
Coco will be trending for at least two more books. She and her friends have more fun adventures ahead of them in Central Shores.
Like fiction imitating life, you are also a tech entrepreneur with your BookstaBundles online service. Is that where you got the idea for Coco? Please tell us about BookstaBundles.
It’s actually the other way around! I got the idea for BookstaBundles from Coco. A few writer friends asked who designed all my book promotion graphics. When I told them I made my own, they immediately inquired if I’d be willing to create graphics for their new book releases, much like Coco helps her clients curate their online content. Since graphic design is a soothing hobby got me, I was thrilled to have fun projects to do in my spare time. I love helping people however I can, a trait that Coco and I share. Once word began to spread throughout the author community about my designs, BookstaBundles was officially born.
It’s incredible to see how BookstaBundles has grown in just a year. I’m so grateful for all the referrals I’ve received and thrilled that authors and their books benefit from my work.
Based on your degrees in Political Science and Philosophy & Religious Studies, you frequently weave these themes into your writing—something that can be difficult without sounding preachy. Is it challenging to include these themes? Is that what drives you to write about the paranormal?
I lean into my academic roots most when writing my Court of Mystery series. The series takes place in the fictional Realm of Virtues and features a young woman who solves crimes. Beyond unmasking dastardly killers, my heroine, Duchess Jacqueline, is on a quest to make the realm a better place for all people, not just the elite nobles. This undertaking is where I really put my degrees to use, helping Duchess Jacqueline construct the “perfect society.” My background has also helped me establish the realm’s current political systems and socio-economic structure. The ideals Duchess Jacqueline promotes boil down to equality and opportunity, two themes that I believe are essential to living a good life.
In the first of your Glenmyre Whim Mystery Series, You Can’t Candle the Truth, Hazel Wickbury knows when someone is going to die, an ability she finds a burden. Please tell us about this inexplicable ability and her family mantra, “With our whims, do good.”
Hazel descends from the mystical Glenmyre clan, one of the original founding families of Crucible, New York. While Hazel doesn’t like to use the term “witchcraft,” her ancestors definitely had powers that we would equate to magical beings. However, over time, the strength of their supernatural powers faded, leaving present-day Glenmyres with minor, limited abilities that they refer to as “whims.” Hazel’s whim allows her to see a glowing countdown above the heads of people around her, a “lifeclock” that reveals the amount of time the individual has left on this earth. Knowing when someone is going to die is quite a burden for Hazel to bear, and she can’t help but be a little bitter about the whim she’s been given. Her aunt, Poppy, sees colorful auras around people, indicating their moods and feelings. Hazel often laments how she wishes she had a more practical, helpful whim like Poppy’s. The Glenmyres have long believed that their whims were given to them for a reason: to help the people of Crucible. That belief is why both Hazel and Poppy feel such a deep sense of obligation to help their community when trouble arises.
Although Hazel feels bound to do good with her whim, what about her own happiness?
Thankfully, Hazel can suppress her whim’s morbid power by wearing special glasses made by her Great-Aunt Ruthie. When Ruthie was alive, she shared the same whim as Hazel, so Ruthie knew the toll it took on her own life to be surrounded by inevitable death. As a result, Ruthie spent most of her life keeping people at a distance. Luckily, she uncovered the secret to hiding the dreaded “lifeclock,” and now, Hazel reaps the benefits. As long as Hazel has her glasses on, the countdowns around her remain hidden, and she can enjoy a relatively normal life.
However, there are moments when Hazel chooses to use her whim to help other people make possibly life-changing decisions. Many decisions are made based on our fear of dying, so Hazel decides to serve as a guide in those instances. While the process is emotionally and physically jarring, Hazel is comforted by the fact she can help someone, which brings her happiness. I think achieving satisfaction through selfless acts is a special kind of joy.
Hazel lives in Crucible, a town that is one of the safest places to live in the U. S. Supposedly, nothing bad ever happens there—until a murder occurs. Please tell us about Crucible.
Crucible, New York, is a beautiful little lake town near the Finger Lakes region. The main street, Rosewood Lane, is lined with local businesses and is home to Hazel’s candle shop, A Wick in Time. Other fun Crucible establishments are the bookstore, The Poignant Page, Bright Moon Café, and Cold Cauldron Brewery. You’ll notice a nod to the supernatural in some of the names; even though the Glenmyre whims have been kept a secret over the centuries, there are lingering rumors that Hazel’s ancestors were witches who escaped the Salem Witch Trials.
Crucible is one of the safest places to live due to an enchantment cast by Hazel’s ancestor, Jedidiah Glenmyre, to prevent evil from penetrating Crucible. For centuries, the protection shield has kept Crucible safe from natural disasters, bad weather, and crime. Not even traffic accidents can slip through. That is until Kevin Finchmore is murdered. While residents are understandably shocked by the crime, Hazel and her aunt Poppy are even more unsettled. Has something happened to Jedidiah Glenmyre’s protection enchantment? Are they able to fix the shield with their diminished powers?
Hazel creates her unique brand of candles that she sells in her shop. Are you into candle making? Did you have to make some for research?
My hobby is more buying than making candles, but I did have to do a deep dive into the candle-making process to showcase Hazel’s experience authentically. I did make candles, but not in the abundance that Hazel does. Her industrious process took a lot of research to understand. I learned that you don’t just wait for candles to harden to consider them ready. Candles need to “cure” for at least a week (sometimes less, depending on the wax used) to allow for the fragrance to permeate the entire candle. There are times when Hazel can’t afford to wait a week because demand is so high, so she uses paraffin wax, which can cure in less than seventy-two hours.
With several books in your epic fantasy Court of Mystery series, what drove your switch to contemporary cozy mysteries? Are you planning to write more books in the Court series?
I began writing #FollowMe for Murder about five years ago. I love the concept of the amateur sleuth, something that all my books share. I’ve loved amateur sleuths ever since I was a kid, reading Nancy Drew books. I rediscovered the cozy mystery genre after our big move to New York. I felt uncertain about the future, being in a new state, and I started reading cozies as a source of comfort. I was probably on my fiftieth read when I asked myself, “Hey, Sarah, you love reading these so much. Why don’t you try to write one of your own?” And that’s how Coco and Hazel came about. I fell in love with the genre as a reader and wanted to explore it as a writer.
Of course, my Court of Mystery series is never far from my mind. As my first published work, the series is near and dear to my heart. I am working on Book Nine as we speak!
How do you juggle three different series (and manage BookstaBundles)? Do you have a favorite among them?
I ask myself this question every day. How am I doing this? It all comes down to managing my time effectively. I view my characters as friends, so I visit them when the timing works out. I write both indie-published and traditionally published books, so I carve out these visits based on my publishing schedule. I dedicate each month to visiting a different world, and I try to stay there the whole time. It can be challenging because I sometimes wish I could visit Central Shores rather than the Realm of Virtues, Crucible, or vice versa, but I have such a deep love for all these characters that we work through our growing pains to keep moving forward.
I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I feel like my favorite series changes daily. Right now, I am looking forward to returning to Crucible. In February, I finished the first draft of Too Much to Candle, so it has been “marinating” while I work on my next project. I’m planning to dive back into revisions come May, so I am looking forward to seeing Hazel and her friends again.
Now that you’ve written and published several books, what is the most valuable thing you’ve learned along the way?
I’ve learned so, so, so many lessons. Save frequently. Title your manuscripts clearly. Keep old drafts, just in case. Don’t delete large chunks of text without saving them somewhere for later consideration. Set expectations with yourself on your progress. But the most important thing I’ve learned is to give myself credit for all the hard work I am doing.
I write full-time. It’s my job. And just like other people take time off their jobs, I’m allowed to take time off writing. When I first began this venture, I thought I had to be writing or marketing myself twenty-four-seven. If I wasn’t writing or doing something related to my manuscript, I wasn’t working hard enough to further my career. That type of thinking is really, really dangerous for writers. It can lead to burnout or, worse, mental distress. So, I always encourage writers, new and veteran, to give themselves credit for their efforts. Even something that may seem small deserves recognition. A few weeks ago, I spent two hours on one sentence. I dedicated two hours of my life to what ended up being fourteen words. But those fourteen words eventually formed the closing line of my manuscript. It may not seem like significant progress, but any progress is noteworthy and should be celebrated in this business.
What should we be on the lookout from you next?
There’s always mystery and murder on the books for me. This fall, I am looking forward to releasing Hazel’s next mystery, Too Much to Candle. The next Trending Topic Mystery launches in February 2023, which will be here before we know it. And in other fun news, I have a new upcoming cozy mystery series with TouchPoint Press called The Book Blogger Mysteries. Yes, you read that right. Another series. What can I say? I love what I do. The Book Blogger Mysteries features bookworm Arwen Lark. Arwen sets out to prove her famous twin brother innocent of murder before the Hollywood paparazzi descend on her peaceful Massachusetts home and unveil her as the brains behind the internet’s favorite book blogger, The Wren.
I’ll also be attending Malice Domestic this year. It will be my first book conference, and I could not be more excited to meet readers and authors alike!
And last but certainly not least, author J.C. Kenney and I recently launched a web series called “The Bookish Hour.” We pull back the curtain and chat about books and writing with special guest authors twice a month. What’s fun is that we live-stream on YouTube and take questions from our audience during the broadcast. Check us out at www.thebookishhour.com.
Thank you, Sarah. Wishing you much luck with all of your series.
Visit Sarah at https://www.saraheburr.com to learn more about her books and BookstaBundles.