Readers Respond

I recently re-read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, in which a writer gets to meet a number of her fans (as well as a few folks who are not enamored or her writing). If you haven’t read it, may I encourage you to do so? And I have to ask — do you re-read favorite books the way I do?

The book club I belong to keeps an ongoing list of all the books we’ve read (Guernsey was on it), as well as all the books we’ve thought about reading but, for one reason or another, have decided not to. We all vote each month on which book to read for the following month. I’ve been working my way through both long lists  — the club’s been around a long time, and I joined it only a year ago after they’d invited me to a meeting for which they’d all read A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, so I have a lot of books to catch up on.

The difference between the fictional Guernsey book club and ours is that the Guernsey group encouraged people to read a book and then tell the rest of the members about it, while we all read the same book and discuss it in depth. Sometimes the books are duds, but more often they turn out to be delightful. This month we’re reading Lizette’s List by Susan Vreeland, the first time we’ve ever read a book by the same author two months in a row (last month was Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue).

At any rate, I love to keep in touch with people who love to read. Over the years, I’ve received several hand-written letters from fans (GASP! a real letter with a stamp on it !!! – I used to put my PO Box address on my business cards), but most of my communication nowadays is via comments left on my Facebook author page and conversations with fans I’ve met at book signings.

Yesterday it occurred to me that I was missing a chance for some good interaction with a wider range of readers, so I finally sent out a newsletter, something I’ve done only about once a year in the past, and I’ve begun to get responses. Now I’ve vowed to shift to at least a quarterly schedule. I called yesterday’s newsletter TREES AND BOOKS AND COOKIES: WHAT DO THEY HAVE IN COMMON? I love taking disparate, seemingly unconnected ideas and stringing them together into a logical pairing. If you’re not on the newsletter list but would like to read about the trees and the books and the cookies, just sign up (look at the top right-hand corner of this site) and I’ll be sure you get a copy of it.

As we get closer to the publication date for A WEE HOMICIDE IN THE HOTEL, the third ScotShop mystery, I plan to send out some sneak peeks, but there will be other tree/book/cookie sorts of newsletters that will encourage you to let me know what you think. And then I’ll be able to answer you!

 

 

 

AudioBook, New Cover, & Fireworks

Last night as I listened to the booms and ka-pows coming from the houses around me in this usually quiet cul-de-sac, I began to imagine that the Independence Day Fireworks heralded a new beginning. I’d already read the Declaration of Independence and the entire U.S. Constitution, the way I do every year on July 4th; I’d already sung America the Beautiful, God Bless America, and the Star-Spangled Banner; I’d already comforted the cat-terror over all the loud noises. Now it was time to reflect.

There’ve been some big goings-on in the world of Fran’s Books lately. I will be eternally grateful to all the people who’ve bought my books, who’ve shared the word with friends, and who’ve helped to keep the book-buzz alive.

AudioBook Cover
AudioBook Cover

Many of you have asked when audiobooks would be available. Well, the first ScotShop audiobook, A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, is available now for pre-order from Tantor Media. I have to admit I was surprised at the whimsical nature of the cover when my editor at Berkley Press sent me the notice, but apparently that’s the style Tantor uses for all the cozy mysteries they record.

The great news is that I’m delighted with the voice of Tanya Eby, the narrator. Listen to the sample audio clip from the book (just click on the “MP3 Audio Sample” button). I love what she’s done with this sample of Peggy and Dirk’s conversation. And now I’m confident she’ll do justice to all the voices — Peggy, Dirk, Harper, Karaline, and all your favorite characters in WEE MURDER.

AWeeMurderInMyShopAs I explained to a book club I’d been invited to speak to a few months ago, authors seldom have much input into what the cover of their books look like. Here for comparison is the cover of the print version from Berkley Prime Crime.

Even though this cover looks like a totally different book, I assure you, they’re one and the same!

I can’t wait to hear the finished result of the recording. I have no idea when it will be ready, so I’m not holding my breath waiting for it. I’m just continuing to write books — working on the 4th book in the ScotShop series and the 8th Biscuit McKee mystery.

WEE DOSE OF DEATH CoverDid you know the 2nd ScotShop book, A WEE DOSE OF DEATH, is available for pre-order? Yep! And here’s the (wonderful) cover to prove it.

Thanks for being a reader. Without you, I’d just be talking to myself.

 

 

 

Parkview High School Forensics Classes

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking to the forensics science classes at Parkview High School in Lilburn GA. This is the third year I’ve been invited there, and it’s always fun. It’s also always a LONG day — I have great respect for teachers who keep up such a schedule consistently.

I was there to speak about how I wrap forensics into my murder mysteries, so I took copies of my own books plus a number of the reference texts I use on a regular basis: Deadly Doses: a writer’s guide to poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens, Grave Matters: a journey through the modern funeral industry by Mark Harris, Dead Men Do Tell Tales by William R. Maples, Bones: a forensic detective’s casebook by Dr. Douglas Ubelaker, Police Procedural: a writer’s guide to the police and how they work by Russell Bintliff, and of course, Forensics for Dummies by D.P. Lyle.

I spoke about the way I deal with specific social issues in my Biscuit McKee mysteries – bipolar disorder, suicide prevention, the long-term effects of childhood abuse, and so on. I do this because I consider it part of my responsibility as a writer to give people more than just a good story (although that’s very important, too!) I want to give my readers good information they can take away with them, which is why I list toll-free numbers and websites at the end of my books so people can get information or help for themselves or for a friend, relative, or colleague.

Whenever I speak, though, I go with the flow, and with each class it seemed right to read the first chapter of A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, my first ScotShop Mystery, which has Peggy Winn discovering that her boyfriend is cheating on her. She complains to her friend Karaline, at which time Karaline tells her, “Just kill him and get it over with.”

My friend Jackie White, who writes under the name Jaclyn Weldon White, read that chapter in draft form and then wrote a song called “Just Kill Him, Girl.” Naturally, I had to sing it to the students. It seemed to be a big hit, as a number of students asked if I would record it so they could download it from iTunes.

The loveliest compliment, though, showed up in my inbox this morning, with a note that Alex Bond had linked a post of his to my Fran Stewart Author Facebook page. Here’s what he wrote, as soon as school was over yesterday:

Fran Stewart just came to Parkvkew High School. She talked about her career as an author and the whole presentation was simply inspiring. As a songwriter, I was very intrigued with her stories. She also had said something that caught my attention. She said that she wanted her audience to be entertained by the stories, but she also wanted them to finish the book understanding her message and reason for writing for the stories. That was one of the many things I could relate to. I want my audience to finish my songs with a new perspective and an apprehension of the message in the song. Ms. Stewart’s visit was much needed for me personally and I plan to read her books in the future. Thanks Fran Stewart, you’re truly inspiring!

Thank you, Alex. And best wishes with your song-writing.

Hank and I

Hank Phillippi Ryan was teaching at the Mystery Writers of America University in Atlanta last week, and she stopped by Eagle Eye Books in Decatur to sign copies of her newest thriller TRUTH BE TOLD. Naturally, I was there (as were other members of the Atlanta Chapter of Sisters in Crime) to buy a hardcover copy and get it signed.

at Eagle Eye Books, Decatur GA
at Eagle Eye Books, Decatur GA

Besides telling us where the name Hank came from (nickname from her college years), Hank talked about how her work as an investigative reporter is a fantastic source of leads for story ideas.

“Where do you get your ideas?” That’s one of the most frequently-asked questions a writer hears. And it’s a great question, because where we get our ideas feeds directly into the stories we create from those ideas.

A hundred people can see one event – but it’s usually only the writer who will ask “what if…”

What if this happened? What if that happened? What if a man walked down this street instead of that one? What if a woman chose to leave for work earlier than usual (or later)?What if the fire had started in the garage rather than the bedroom? What if someone buying a new car found a body in the trunk?

Hank made me think about how I generate my story ideas.

Just as Hank asked what if there’s a dead body in that house where the eviction is happening, I had to ask, years ago, what if there’s a dead body in the library?

With that question in mind, I began to write ORANGE AS MARMALADE.

Why did I create Martinsville GA as the scene of my Biscuit McKee mysteries? And why will Hamelin VT appear as the scene of my new ScotShop series next March? Those two small towns come directly from the fact that I grew up as an Air Force brat. Four different schools in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades.

Still, there was one constant, in every place we lived – Germany, Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, South Carolina, Tennessee . . . a library. I must admit, I never did find a body behind the stacks, but Martinsville is the home town I always wanted, but never had – a feeling shared by many service families.

So, where does Hamelin come in? Well, there’s another question I had to think about: what if somebody bought a shawl in Scotland, and it had a ghost attached to it?

Now there’s a question to start off a book right!

Trip to New York

Part of the fun of being a (very lucky) writer is getting to know a wonderful editor. Last year after I signed the contract with Berkley Press for the ScotShop Mystery Series, I flew to New York to meet my agent and editor face-to-face. I had a great time, enjoyed them thoroughly, and felt like the trip was completely worthwhile.

Recently, though, I received the edits of A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP back from Michelle Vega, my editor, and I changed from simply liking her, to being eternally grateful that she’s the one handling my ScotShop mysteries. Every change she wanted me to make made absolute sense. I could see that she and I were in sync with the flow of the series, and I now feel so much more comfortable with placing my “babies” in her capable hands.

Last week, my second visit to New York was equally enjoyable, but this time I had the fun of telling her how very much I appreciate the way she’s editing my book. I look forward to many years in association with Berkley Press!