by Grace Topping
It’s always a pleasure to see the debut novel of an author who has labored long and hard to get to publication. Rose Kerr, with her debut novel, Death on the Set, joins that group of authors who report they spent about ten years learning the craft of writing a mystery and taking the long road to finding an agent and then a publisher. It was a pleasure learning more about Rose and her character, Brenna Flynn, and seeing the results of her hard work.
Death on the Set
Former high school guidance counselor turns amateur sleuth to save herself from a murder charge while working on a reality show.
Brenna Flynn, returns home to Bayview City after the sudden death of her husband. Unable to find work in her field, she signs up with a temp agency to find employment. Sent on an interview for a cooking reality show, she aces it and gets the job of a production assistant. On her second day at work, Brenna discovers a body in the studio. She soon learns she's the police's primary suspect. Determined to clear her name, she uses some skills she's honed as a guidance counselor to learn more about the victim. Drawing people out comes naturally to Brenna, and she becomes a confidante to cast and crew on the show. The stakes are raised with threatening notes, poisonings, and blackmail. Can Brenna uncover who the killer is before someone else dies?
Welcome, Rose, to Writers Who Kill.
In Death on the Set, Brenna Flynn takes a new job as a production assistant for a reality TV show—work she hasn’t done before. She picks up on what needs to be done remarkably fast. What is her secret?
As a high school guidance counselor, Brenna actively listens to people and quickly identifies the important pieces of information. She’s smart, a quick study, and organized. She also makes notes of key pieces of information. Brenna uses these skills in her everyday life. In Death on the Set, she uses those skills when investigating the murder.
What prompted you to select a cooking show competition as the setting for your book? If this is the first in a series, will you be continuing with the cooking show theme?
Death on the Set is the first of three books to be published by TouchPoint Press. My main character, Brenna Flynn, is a high school guidance counselor. Due to budget cuts in education, she can’t find work in her field. She turns to a family friend who owns a temp agency for help. Brenna will work temp jobs in Bayview City for the foreseeable future.
As for selecting a cooking show as the place of employment, that came about while watching a cooking reality show on television with our son. The head chef was particularly nasty on one episode, and I said, “He’s going to get knocked off one day.” Our son said, “Mom, that would be a great story.”
I was surprised to read in your book that your competition show had scripts and held rehearsals. Is that typical for this type of show?
With Death on the Set, I did a lot of research. I spoke with a production assistant who worked on a cooking reality show and an executive producer for Canadian shows on HGTV. I learned some reality shows have a script, and the host follows a format laid out from the script. Sometimes, hosts deviate from the script, like Sean does occasionally in Death on the Set, but the script helps the chefs and judges know what kind of questions the host might ask.
You sounded very knowledgeable about the stage setup for the cooking show and what has to be done and in place each day. Was this from first-hand knowledge or lots of research?
I’ve never worked in television, but one of my neighbors did and she shared some industry contacts with me. One of whom was a production assistant, the other one an executive producer. They generously answered my many questions on the production side of reality tv.
My husband and I vacationed on the Mexican Riviera, and I met a fellow resort guest who was a production assistant for a cooking reality show. We spent an afternoon poolside chatting about what her role was. She had information on stage setup, the day-to-day operation of a reality show, and what the role of a production assistant was. I watched a lot of cooking shows: MasterChef, Hell’s Kitchen, and Chopped were three of my favorite shows. The Food Network magazines had an interview with the host of a food show, and he took readers behind-the-scenes on a typical day in his life.
I always enjoy learning something new when I read. Your scenes with the crime scene clean-up crew were interesting. Did you interview clean-up companies for the information you included?
Our local police department was helpful. The officer I spoke to provided me with information on the basics and gave me the name of the company that provided clean up in our area. They gave me good information I could use.
Your book illustrates that the past is never far behind us. Did you have this theme in mind when you started writing?
Your past is part of who you are. Part of Brenna’s backstory is her life with her husband. After he died, she learned he was living a double life, and now she isn’t sure if she can trust anyone again. This figures prominently in Brenna’s life.
Since your home is in Canada, why did you set your book in the U.S.? I would love a book set in Canada, and I’m sure other readers would as well.
That was a publishing decision. What I have done is develop a fictional town (Bayview City) based on small towns and cities I lived and worked in while we were living in Northern Ontario. Lake Superior is part of the fabric of Northern Ontario, and it’s part of Bayview City as well.
(Photo of Lake Superior courtesy Ryan on Unsplash.)
You belong to a number of writing organizations. What does membership in these organizations contribute to your writing career?
I belong to Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and the Guppies Chapter of SinC. All the organizations have provided me with support from other members, courses, webinars, and workshops that taught me about the craft of writing, marketing, and promotion. There’s so much to learn about the business of writing and these organizations make it fun. I’m also a member of my local library writing group.
With Death on the Set being your debut novel, you’ve recently been introduced to the world of book promotion. Do you find it a pleasure or challenging?
At first, I found it overwhelming and thought how do people do this all the time? But after talking to other authors about their experiences, I realized it was a necessary part of the business and that my attitude could make this part either fun or a chore. I’ve decided I’m going to have fun with the promotion. It’s a great way to meet new people!
How was your journey to publication? Was it on a smooth path or on a rocky, twisting road?
It was long, almost ten years! And the path was, shall we say, scenic. There were some discouraging moments when I thought I’d never get an agent or be published, but I didn’t quit. I kept taking courses, reading craft books, and learning about writing. I finally connected with my agent and we’re a good fit. When I got the call from my agent about my offer from a publisher, I was so excited. We celebrated long into the night!
What’s next for Brenna Flynn?
Book 2 is tentatively titled Death in Academia, and is scheduled for a 2023 release. I’m currently working on book three, where Brenna is working with the Parks and Recreation department for a festival. Brenna’s dog, Jake, will continue in the series.
(Photo of Jake)
Since you began your fiction writing career, what is the most valuable thing you’ve learned along the way?
I have this quote as my screensaver, I don’t know who it’s from: “The difference between a published author and an unpublished writer is perseverance. Don’t give up on your dream!”
Thank you, Rose. I look forward to books 2 and 3, and hopefully many more after that.
You can find out more about Rose at the following sites:
Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/3dxhSBU
Rose Kerr lived most of her adult life in small towns. She and her husband raised their family in a small town in Northern Ontario. The town was on the shores of Lake Superior. Currently, they live in Southern Ontario with their dog, Jake. Rose is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Guppy Online Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and Crime Writers of Canada. For more info visit: www.rosekerr.com