Monday, August 18, 2014

A Conversation with Joyce and Jim Lavene

Today I'm interviewing Joyce and Jim Lavene, authors of several series and stand-alone novels. Joyce and Jim write award-winning, bestselling mystery fiction as themselves, J.J. Cook, and Ellie Grant. They have written and published more than 70 novels for Harlequin, Berkley, Amazon, and Gallery Books along with hundreds of non-fiction articles for national and regional publications. They live in rural North Carolina with their family.

Jessie is thrilled when she finds Bill Warren, an old fashioned shoemaker, and he agrees to come back to Renaissance Village with her. She’s not so thrilled when claims to have elf magic, and he falls for Princess Isabelle. The dancing slippers Bill makes for Isabelle make him a suspect when the princess takes a leap from the castle terrace. Now, Jessie must find the lady or lord who helped the princess with her last dance before she loses her star attraction.  Purchase Link: Amazon

Author Links

MW:  BEWITCHING BOOTS is the seventh book in your highly regarded Renaissance Faire Mysteries featuring Jessie Morton, former assistant professor at the University of South Carolina and current director of the Arts and Crafts Museum at the Renaissance Faire Village and Marketplace in Myrtle Beach. In each of the first five books, Jessie apprenticed with various crafters at the Faire, learning everything from basket weaving, glass blowing, and sword-making to hat and toy making. How did you research the various trades described in your books? Did you seek advice from craftsmen at an actual Renaissance Faire?

J&J: We researched the crafts by talking with local craft people and visiting Renaissance festivals. We also did some research in books and online. We wanted to know as much as we could on the subjects. We couldn’t put everything we’d learned into the books, but research is a reward in itself. We enjoy the process.

MW: I love your play on words when naming Jessie’s sweetheart, Chase Manhattan. At 6’ 8”, the Village Bailiff certainly towers over the other characters in the book, much like the 60-story Chase Manhattan building towers over many other buildings in New York. Was this play on words a simple stroke of genius on your part, or did you choose the name for some other good reason?

J&J: Chase is a larger than life character! We planned him that way since he has so much to take care of in the Village. His name was an accident – taken from the bank while looking at our credit card. Chase’s family is rich and we wanted to use the Richie Rich concept, also naming his brother Morgan Stanley. Yet we made his family life in upheaval since his father went to prison for stock fraud. We wanted him to be a complex character, not just all brawn and beauty!

MW: You’ve written nine mystery series under your own names plus two different pseudonyms. How in the world have you managed to juggle writing so many series without ever making any two protagonists sound and act exactly alike?

J&J: Each character is different, just like we’re all different. We don’t think or talk the same. Once you get to know these people who inhabit your books, you have to be able to tell them apart. They become like family. I couldn’t confuse my first daughter with my second. It’s important to be a student of behavior as well.

MW: Do you work together on each story, or do you divide the writing by chapters or series? Who does the research for your mysteries? Both of you together, or do you do research individually depending on the series?

J&J:  We do most of the work together. We write the rough draft together by telling the story to each other as we type it in. Research is together too. The only parts we do separately are formatting and promotion. I promote and Jim keeps up with everything computer related since he once did this for a living.

MW: You’ve written some of your nine series using the first person point of view with the protagonist acting as narrator. Your Renaissance Faire series is an example of this; Jessie relates what’s happening in each story. At the same time, you’ve written other books using the third person point of view. How do you decide which point of view to use when you’re starting a new series? Are there certain aspects of the series that demand the use of a particular point of view?

J&J:  When you start writing and the characters start speaking to you, you know what voice to use. We’ve written several pages in one voice and then looked at each other and knew it was wrong for the story.  A lot of writing is guesswork and then tossing aside what doesn’t work. You have to be able to step back and let the characters take the lead.

MW: Have you ever considered bringing together characters from your different series to solve a murder in a stand-alone mystery?

J&J:  No. Actually we’ve never considered that idea. But  what an interesting notion! We may have to try that one day!

MW: Do either of you have a favorite series character, one who tickles your funny bone, or one who makes you dig deeper to explain her motivation?

J&J: Jim really loves Bart from the Renaissance Faire Mysteries. He pictures him as Andre the Giant from The Princess Bride. He likes his size and his ability to be compassionate. You notice Bart takes care of the computers in Renaissance Faire Village? This was no accident!
Joyce really likes all her characters and would never play favorites!

MW: You slipped a bit of the paranormal into your sixth Renaissance Faire mystery with the introduction of Wanda LeFey’s ghost. Will her ghost return to bother Jessie in BEWITCHING BOOTS?

J&J: Yes. We always thought paranormal was a good mix with the Ren Faire. We’d like to expand that as we continue the series. Buttercup the dragon will also be in Bewitching Boots.

Thanks for having us on your blog! Great questions!


Tour Participants
August 5 – Booklady’s Booknotes – Review, Guest Post
August 6 – Melina’s Book Blog – Review
August 7 – readalot blog – Review
August 8 – deal sharing aunt – Interview, Giveaway
August 9 – a chick who reads – Review
August 10 – Books-n-Kisses – Review, Guest Post, Giveaway
August 11 – Bea’s Book Nook – Review
August 12 – Shelley’s Book Case – Review, Interview
August 13 – Chloe Gets A Clue – Interview
August 14 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – Review
August 14 – Victoria’s Pages of Romance – Guest Post
August 15 – Back Porchervations – Review
August 15 – Melissa’s Eclectic Bookshelf – Guest Post
August 16 – Brooke Blogs – Review
August 17 – Teresa Trent Author Site – Interview
August 18 – Community Bookstop – Review
August 19 – Cicero’s Children – Interview
August 20 – dru’s book musings – Guest Post

For a chance to win a Bewitching Boots tote, a print copy of the book, and a $20 Amazon gift card, enter the raffle at 


Monday, August 11, 2014

Interview of Author Tammy Kaehler

Avoidable Contact: A Kate Reilly Mystery
Cozy Mystery
Poisoned Pen Press (August 1, 2014)
ISBN-13: 978-1464202384
Racecar driver Kate Reilly is suited up and ready for the start of the legendary 24 Hours of Daytona. But what’s ahead will test her will and nerve more than any other endurance race.
Even before the green flag waves over Daytona International Speedway, Kate receives word her boyfriend Stuart is fighting for his life after a hit-and-run earlier in the day. Still reeling from that news, Kate must absorb other shocks in the race’s opening hours, including an on-track accident with tragic consequences and an eyewitness who claims Stuart was run down deliberately by someone from the race paddock.

Alternating stints behind the wheel of her Corvette racecar with stretches of quizzing colleagues and searching for clues, Kate taps every possible source—friend, foe, and family—to find out who’s after Stuart and why. As the race clock counts down to zero hour, Kate must come to terms with her own fears about the past anddecide who she’s willing to trust. Only then can she identify who’s willing to kill to keep a secret buried—and stop them before they lash out again.
About The Author
Tammy Kaehler’s career in marketing and technical writing landed her in the world of automobile racing, which inspired her with its blend of drama, competition, and friendly people. Mystery fans and racing insiders alike praised the first two Kate Reilly Racing Mysteries, Dead Man’s Switchand Braking Points, and she takes readers back behind the wheel for the third time in Avoidable Contact. Tammy works as a technical writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars. Find out more at

Interview with Tammy Kaehler, author of AVOIDABLE CONTACT

MW:  Welcome to Cicero’s Children, Tammy. Thanks for meeting with us today. AVOIDABLE CONTACT is your third book featuring racecar driver Kate Reilly. Can you tell us a little bit about Kate’s past life and what inspired her to enter the highly competitive world of road racing and NASCAR?

TK: Seven-year-old Kate Reilly strapped into a child-sized go-kart at a friend’s birthday party, and never looked back. She raced her own kart, graduated into cars, moved up to bigger and bigger competitions, kept improving her skills, and kept winning.

Sportscar racing (in a Corvette) was the next logical step in Kate’s career, and she’s going to keep taking opportunities to race more and better cars in higher level series as long as she can. She’s never stopped loving the speed, the relentless pursuit of the perfect lap, and yes, beating the boys!

MW: In the U.S., only a handful of women have ever managed to successfully break into the sport of auto racing as drivers. Does placing your protagonist in such a male-dominated profession naturally increase the tension in your mysteries?

TK: Kate being a female in a male-dominated world and profession definitely amps up the tension. She’s the odd one out in a crowd, she’s the unusual driver, she’s the one who draws attention. Increased scrutiny is part of the equation, but it’s not all of it—because, especially these days, people don’t merely observe, they also comment. Particularly online.

So Kate has to deal with plenty of questions, uninformed opinions, and trash-talk, like people telling her women can’t ever be as capable as men behind the wheel. Like people assuming she slept her way to success. Or like being told she’s taking a seat that a more-qualified male driver should have.

What I find most interesting are the psychological implications of the fish-out-of-water syndrome. Kate doesn’t have role models. When she looks around, female drivers aren’t the norm—frankly, females in Spandex are. She receives no subliminal validation that female drivers belong in a race. Kate has to blaze a trail for herself, and that makes her career just a little bit harder for her than for others. Of course, toss in her propensity for finding dead bodies, and she’s got even more to deal with! Kate’s got to be extra, extra tough.

MW: Likable secondary characters are essential for the success of a mystery novel. Can you tell us a little about Stuart, Holly, and Jack Sandham and what role each of them plays in Kate’s life and adventures?

TK: In the grand tradition of mystery novels, Holly is Kate’s sidekick. She’s Kate’s best friend, and by Avoidable Contact, Kate’s third adventure, Holly has become Kate’s combination assistant, publicity person, and manager. But Holly’s not as slow on the uptake as Poirot’s Hastings or Holmes’ Watson. She’s smart, level-headed, and logical, which is often just what Kate needs to see something clearly. What Holly lacks, that Kate has, is a risk-taking mentality and a gift for intuitive leaps. Of course, that gets her in less trouble than Kate gets into!

Beyond Holly, there are a whole bunch of characters in Kate’s world that play special roles. Stuart Telarday starts as Kate’s antagonist—a stuffy, by-the-book official who always seems to be frowning at Kate—and ends up her boyfriend. He’s been good for Kate because she hasn’t been lucky in love so far in her life (of course, Stuart runs into some bad luck in Avoidable Contact that will shake up their relationship).

Jack Sandham, Kate’s team owner, functions as something like a father to Kate—calling her on her bad behavior and giving her kudos for a job well done. Aunt Tee is the loving, maternal presence that Kate really hasn’t ever had in her life—it was important to me to have a woman in Kate’s world who was unfailingly warm and supportive. Tom Albright, the team’s media guy, is a solid, sibling-like presence. And yes, there’s a theme to this….

What I’ve created—or re-created, I should say—is the kind of family structure that exists in the real-life racing world. Part of why I wanted to write these books was because I was fascinated by the juxtaposition of the big, sprawling, dysfunctional-yet-loving family that is the racing paddock with the adrenaline-filled, competitive, violent effort everyone is engaged in. The contrast makes for good stories and drama!

MW: I understand you attended racing school in Georgia before penning your first Kate Reilly mystery. Could you tell us about your experience at the school, what you did as a student, and how it helped in writing your series?

TK: My experience at racing school was simultaneously terrifying and empowering. I’m a chicken behind the wheel, I’ll say that straight out! I didn’t actually want to learn to race (or ever actually race), but I knew I needed to the experience. I was terrified almost every moment I was behind the wheel—and I wasn’t fast, that’s for sure.

Racing school was three days split between classroom work and on-track exercises, including how to control skids, find braking and turn-in points, heel-and-tow downshift, and pass other cars. After we’d (more or less) mastered the basics, we did follow-alongs in our racecars behind instructors, to learn the full track. Then we went out in small groups for increasing numbers of laps, returning to the classroom every so often to receive feedback on our handling of various points on the track.

The highlight for me was when I drove an instructor around the track, then switched places with him, so he could drive me around. That lap, with the instructor behind the wheel of the car I’d become intimately familiar with, was the moment I understood what it meant to push a car to its limits. And that’s the racecar driver’s job.

My experience overall at racing school was difficult and scary, but it was invaluable for getting inside Kate Reilly’s head. It also allowed me to prove to myself that I really can do anything I put my mind to—even if it scares the daylights out of me! That’s a lesson I remember every time I sit down to start a new book.

MW: Before submitting work to an agent or editor, many writers send their manuscripts to trusted beta readers who respond with honest feedback on what they feel works or what doesn’t work in a story. Do you use beta readers, and if so, are they primarily mystery fans, or are some of them racing fans and/or people employed in the racing business?

TK: I have a small group of beta readers who give me feedback on my manuscripts. Primarily they are other writers—in a variety of genres—but my husband is also part of that group, and he’s a non-fiction reader. From that group I’m looking for overall feedback on the plot and the characters.

I also have a set of subject matter experts in the racing world that I go to for research and fact-checking. Typically, I send only paragraphs of description or bits of chapters to these people, because they’re not readers, they don’t often have the same amount of time as my reader/writer friends, and their unique value to me is ensuring I’ve got the technical details right. The most important person in that group is a professional driver who checks every bit of my racing scenes and makes sure Kate is driving like a pro!

MW: AVOIDABLE CONTACT takes place in Daytona, Florida while your first book, DEAD MAN’S SWITCH, was set in Connecticut, and your second book, BRAKING POINTS, saw Kate racing in Wisconsin and Georgia. How much time do you spend researching the settings for your books? Do you rely on photographs, notes, or tape recordings to help you remember information about the locations?

TK: I take hundreds of photos and dozens of pages of notes about each track I’m going to write about, and I rely a lot on the television broadcast of the races as well. But my secret weapon is YouTube, especially for understanding what it’s like to be behind the wheel on that track. I’ve found that I need to attend a race at least twice before I feel comfortable with a published version of the race—fortunately, I like traveling around the country attending races! In fact, that was part of my sneaky plan for writing the series and deciding to set each book at a different track….

MW: I noticed that Kate has her own “Team Kate” fan club, plus a Facebook page and Twitter account. Does Kate answer her own fan mail and respond to FB comments and Twitter tweets, or do you, as official recorder of her many adventures, handle all that for the busy racecar driver? (What I mean here is, do you use Kate’s name or your name when replying?)

TK: I handle Kate’s PR everywhere except for her Twitter account (@katereilly28), where I respond as Kate—which actually is a lot of fun. Some of my racing friends (who are Kate’s fans) hunt for Kate when they’re at the races, and “Kate” responds with clues to her whereabouts.

MW: Kate drives a Corvette when racing at Daytona in AVOIDABLE CONTACT. Did you chose a Corvette for Kate because of its history (Chevrolet has built twenty-three Daytona 500-winning cars since the inception of the race in 1959) or simply because it’s one of the coolest and most collectible cars in the world? (I ask as the wife of a man who adored his 1963 Corvette convertible Stingray.)

TK: I absolutely chose to put Kate behind the wheel of a Corvette because of its history as America’s muscle car. Based on what and who I knew when I started this project, I really should have written about Porsche racecars. But I wanted to ground my mystery series and Kate in an American car. Honestly, when I began, I didn’t realize just how extensive and passionate the Corvette fan base really is—but I’ve definitely come to appreciate the Corvette community. And I’ve become a huge Corvette fan—I especially love the new Stingrays!

MW: Is there anything you’d like to mention before we part company today? Anything about Kate or your books or yourself?

TK: I write the kind of books I like to read: where a woman figures out just how strong she is and triumphs, where justice prevails in the end, and where the reader learns something. Racing fans will recognize a world they know and learn more about it from an insider’s perspective. Readers who don’t know a thing about racing will learn about a crazy and fascinating world. But you don’t need to know—or care—about racing at all to enjoy Kate’s adventures.
MW: Thanks for joining us here today at Cicero’s Children, Tammy. Good luck with your book!

Tammy is touring with Great Escapes Book Tours on the following websites:

August 6 –Shelley’s Book Case – Review, Interview, Giveaway
August 7 – Community Bookstop – Review, Giveaway
August 8 – Michele Lynn Seigfried’s Blog – Review, Guest Post
August 8 – Brooke Blogs – Interview, Giveaway
August 9 – readalot blog – Review, Giveaway
August 9 – deal sharing aunt – Interview, Giveaway
August 10 – A Blue Million Books – Guest Post, Giveaway
August 11 – Mystery Playground – Review, Giveaway
August 11 –Cicero’s Children – Interview
August 12 – Mommasez… – Review, Giveaway
August 13 – Back Porchervations – Review, Guest Post
August 14 – fundinmental – Review. Giveaway
August 15 – dru’s book musings – Guest Post, Giveaway


Monday, August 4, 2014

Review of Murder at Cold Creek College

Murder at Cold Creek College
by Christa Nardi
eBook File Size: 632 KB
Print Length: 340 pages

Sheridan Hendley is a psychologist and assistant professor at Cold Creek College in Virginia. The fall semester is about to begin, and Sheridan is preoccupied with uploading material for her two classes and an honors seminar she'll be teaching. The last thing she needs is to be pulled away from her computer to babysit a State Police officer. But fellow psychology professor Adam Millberg has been found dead in the college's rec center, and department head Jim Grant has assigned Sheridan the job of escorting Detective McMann as he interviews Millberg's colleagues. 

It soon becomes obvious that the thrice-divorced Millberg was quite the ladies' man. Sheridan's best friend at Cold Creek, psychologist Kim Pennzel, was his most recent conquest in the department, but apparently Adam was dating at least one younger female student at the same time. Complicating matters even further, it turns out that one of his ex-wives is also working at the college.

Ever curious, Sheridan decides to do a little sleuthing on her own when Kim becomes the prime suspect in Millberg's murder. Her snooping leads to trouble, though, in the form of slashed tires on her car. Detective McMann cautions her to stay out of it, but even though Sheridan is rapidly falling for the good looking cop and doesn't want to make an enemy of him, she persists in asking questions of those who knew Millberg best. 

What she discovers may help catch a murderer -- or, if she's not careful, it may just lead to her own death. Only time will tell.

Christa Nardi is the pen name of a real-life psychologist and college professor whose favorite genres are romance and mystery. An avid reader, Nardi prefers cozy mysteries to grittier crime stories. MURDER AT COLD CREEK COLLEGE is her first novel and features the essential elements found in both romantic and cozy mystery fiction. It's a fast read that explores the sometimes tangled relationships that exist in academia.

To learn more about Christa Nardia and her book, please visit:
Blog: Christa Reads and Writes

Purchase Link

Enter to win a copy of MURDER AT COLD CREEK COLLEGE at:

Follow Christa on her Great Escapes Book Tour at:
August 5 – Shelley’s Book Case – Review, Interview
August 6 – The Book Junkie – Review
August 7 – Brooke Blogs – Review
August 8 – A Blue Million Books – Interview