Christmas is just around the corner, and the ladies of the Cumberland Creek Scrapbook Crop are thrilled when Sheila wins the first place prize in a scrapbooking design contest: a ten-day scrapbook-themed cruise in the Caribbean. Vera and Paige decide to tag along, which should pose the perfect opportunity to learn some new techniques, mingle with fellow croppers, and get in some rest and relaxation before the chaos of Christmas. But when Sheila finds a famous crafter dead, and investigators determine she was poisoned, the luxury cruise veers toward disaster as Sheila becomes the number one suspect – or was she really the intended victim? Just as the croppers begin un-wrapping the truth, a storm strands them at sea, and they’ll find it’s harder than ever to survive the holidays with a killer on deck…
MW: Your first Cumberland Creek Mystery introduced the ladies of the Cumberland Creek Scrapbook Crop and featured ex-investigative journalist Annie in the role of lead amateur sleuth for her “crop circle”. While Annie held that role in later books, readers got to know her crop friends more intimately as the series progressed. After reading the synopsis of A CRAFTY CHRISTMAS, it appears Annie may take a backseat in this book, leaving all the glory to Sheila, Vera, and Paige. Am I guessing correctly, or will Annie come to the rescue once again? If not to the rescue, will she at least show up in the story?
MCB: Annie figures very prominently in CRAFTY CHISTMAS. She doesn’t go on the cruise with the other scrapbookers, but they call her and Skype with her. Plus, a good chunk of the book happens after the other croppers return from the cruise.
MW: According to your website, you describe your series as being “on the edge of cozy”. Could you explain why you label your books in that way?
MCB: Yes, I want my readers to know what they are getting into. In many cozies, for example, you won’t even see the word “sex,” but in mine, my characters will sometimes talk about it. Also, some of the issues in my books—things like suicide, abuse, cults, and so on—are not often addressed in the genre. But my books are still cozy because they never veer off into the graphic depictions of these issues or sex or violence. They skim along. As a reader, you know they are there, but you don’t get a deep view of it. I call this an edge.
MW: Annie’s life journey from busy investigative journalist to equally busy stay-at-home mom seems to mirror your own personal story. How alike are you to Annie, and how is Annie different from you?
MCB: Annie and I are a lot alike—but there are parts of me in all of my characters, even Beatrice. Annie is Jewish and I am not. And Annie is tall and dark. I am not. She has boys and I have girls. But the part of her that’s a newcomer, different, and doesn’t quite fit in, that’s me. In truth, I think there are many of us that identify with that part of her.
MW: Scrapbooks were the “in” thing back when I was a kid. Mine was a plain black-paged book filled with my vast collection of matchbook covers interspersed with photos from family events. It was quite different from the highly embellished scrapbook my children made to celebrate my husband’s and my 40th wedding anniversary a few years ago. How and when did you get interested in scrapbooking as a hobby? Why do you think scrapbooking has grown in popularity among women over the past 15-20 years?
MCB: I’ve scrapbooked my whole life. When I was a teenager, I made scrapbooks of my favorite singers and movie stars. I think it was an impulse to save and organize. I wish I had those scrapbooks now. And I’ve always journaled—which is a very important part of scrapbooking.
But as a hobby, I think it really started when my daughters were born—the first one about 15 years ago. We all want to capture our memories, of course. But the hobby can also be a very social one—with friend getting together and sharing supplies and stories. It’s very much like the old quilting bees. It gives you a sense of community while your “working.” There’s a lot of digital scrapbooking these days and the definition of scrapbooking is evolving. For example, some blogs are really nothing more than a digital scrapbook. Blogging as scrapbooking? Yes! It’s an exciting time to be a scrapbooker, with so many options available.
MW: The role of food in your Cumberland Creek mysteries seems secondary only to murder and scrapbooking. Your characters are quite often found baking, cooking, or sharing with each other some kind of delicious fare, be it soup, muffins, or spaghetti sauce. Why is food so significant to your stories? Does it have anything to do with the two cookbooks you wrote before starting the Cumberland Creek series?
MCB: I am a very food-centric person. I wrote cookbooks and made my living as a freelance food writer for years. I love every minute of food writing. Food tells readers so much about characters. It gives a glimpse into culture that nothing else can. It’s a great vehicle for fiction writing.
MW: I understand you enjoy running and spend time doing so most mornings. Is this your special way of getting away from it all, or do you spend your running time thinking up plots for your mysteries?
MCB: Remember how I said earlier that every character has a bit of me in them? Well, Sheila has my compulsion to run. It really is a way to think of nothing but one foot in front of the other, which is so good for me, with all of the things I have going on. It’s sort of like a meditation in movement. But I do have thoughts when I run—and I share them on my blog. I used to do it every day. Now, it’s just every so often.
MW: Prior to A Crafty Christmas, your most recent offering in the Cumberland Creek series was a novella called Scrappy Summer. Obviously, the decision to release a novella midway in the series was made by your publisher, but how do you as the author benefit from such a move? Did you enjoy the switch to a shorter form of fiction writing? Do you plan to release another novella featuring the Cumberland Creek characters?
MCB: Yes, there will be another novella between this book and the next. I think it’s a good option for me because I have many stories about my characters. Sometimes they have to be cut out of my books because they have nothing to do with the main story. The other thing is readers have a voracious appetite when it comes to series. They want books faster and faster. Even if I could write faster, I’m not sure my publisher could get them printed as quickly as they might like! So we thought this was fun way to keep the readers happy and engaged.As for short writing…I don’t prefer it. I admire short story writers very much—it’s such an art. But I prefer writing novels. That said, I’d rather share my stories with readers than just have them sitting on my computer doing nothing.
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