I’m delighted to have Canadian mystery writer Janet Bolin with me today on Moving Target. Janet learned to sew before she could thread a needle. (She says she would still like someone else to thread needles for her.) She loves the magic of turning fabric and thread into clothing, toys, bags and soft furnishings. Embroidery designs are another kind of magic that Janet creates.
And so is writing stories. Janet combined her writing, sewing, and embroidery skills, and the result was the Threadville mystery series. Its protagonist, Willow Vanderling, owns an embroidery boutique in Threadville, Pennsylvania, a village of textile arts shops. Janet says she wishes stores like those were closer to her home near Port Burwell, Ont. “I just had to invent Threadville,” she says.
But Willow does more than teach embroidery and sell the supplies that go with it. Aided and abetted by (and sometime hindered by) her dogs and by other Threadville shop owners, Willow solves murders. The Threadville series now stands at four mysteries: DIRE THREADS, THREADED FOR TROUBLE, THREAD AND BURIED and NIGHT OF THE LIVING THREAD. A fifth will be out next spring.
Janet, you are becoming well-known as a writer of “cozy” mysteries. What does the cozy sub-genre mean to you?
Cozy is a sub-genre of the traditional mystery—think Agatha Christie—in which the reader can attempt to solve the puzzle along with the sleuth. In a cozy, readers won’t encounter overt violence (except for the murder itself, but gore in cozy mysteries is held to a minimum), gratuitous sex or profanity. The sleuth is an amateur, often with a skill or hobby that may help solve murders. Cozies take place in a defined space where everyone usually knows everyone else. It gives a whole new meaning to “cozy,” doesn’t it?
Do your novels require a lot of research?
It’s terrible! I have to visit sewing and embroidery shops and try out the latest embroidery machines and software. I can hardly stand that. (Where’s the nearest sewing store? I’m on my way!)
Is the protagonist at all like you? If so, in what ways?
Willow is in her early 30s. She’s tall, slim, talented and feisty. Yep, that pretty well describes me. No? Well, we do share a similar sense of humour and a love of all things textile.
What are the most difficult scenes to write in the series and why?
The entire middle third of a manuscript. The first third is the set-up and the last third sort of writes itself as different (ahem) threads have to be tied up. But sneaking in those little (or not so little) clues and red herrings and trying to fool the reader into suspecting the wrong people can be tricky. The hardest part, though, is coming up with a motive for anyone going to the extreme of murder.
Cozy mysteries are popular. There are culinary series, gardening series, crafting series, and many others. The cozy mystery community is collegial and supportive, and authors often recommend one another’s books. Fans of one cozy series are usually fans of many cozy series. I’m that sure my publisher, Berkley Prime Crime, uses that to our advantage when marketing my books.
Tell us about your writing schedule.
I write every day when I can. I’ll write for a couple of hours, take a break, write for a couple more, take another break, write for a couple more . . . Walking dogs is always a good break. And inspiration can hit any time, including when washing dishes or shovelling snow. Or sewing…
Are you a character or a plot-driven writer? Do you have a plot sewn up before you start writing?
I put my characters in a situation, and their personalities dictate what they do. I don’t have much control over them, so I have to keep throwing obstacles in their way to make them squirm out of their latest predicaments. Writers have strange powers.
I used to just sit down and start writing Chapter One, but I often went off in the wrong direction and needed to start over, again and again. I revise less and finish a manuscript more quickly (deadlines are efficient motivators) when I outline, but I never write a really detailed outline beforehand, and I change the outline and the story as I go along and new ideas occur to me. Or as my characters insist on doing things their own way.
What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
I absorbed great advice from listening to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation greats Shelagh Rogers, Bill Richardson and Jurgen Gothe. Some radio personalities talk to hear themselves talk, but these three speak directly to their audiences. From them, I learned to picture my readers as I write, and to write what I think my audience would like to read.
Who has influenced you the most in your writing career?
For many years, Krista Davis, Daryl Wood Gerber and I critiqued one another’s suspense manuscripts. Then Krista noticed that cozy mysteries were selling well. So she started writing cozies and sold her Domestic Diva series to Berkley Prime Crime. Then Daryl, writing as Avery Aames, sold the Cheese Shop mystery series to Berkley Prime Crime. Those two would not leave me alone until I switched to cozies too, and sold the Threadville Mystery series to Berkley Prime Crime. (They say it’s not what you know but about who you know.)
All three of us have zany senses of humour. Both Krista and Daryl are now writing two series for Berkley Prime Crime. Yes, we can write blood, gore, car chases and explosions, but I was too fond of throwing puns into the darker scenes. I’ve found that writing lighter stories is great fun. I can leave in the puns, for one thing.
What do you hope readers will take away from the Threadville mysteries?
I’m happy if I entertain my readers. Tell me you laughed aloud, couldn’t figure out who the culprit was and can’t wait for the next book, and you’ve made my day.
Thank you, Janet!
DIRE THREADS was nominated for the Agatha award for Best First Mystery. DIRE THREADS, THREADED FOR TROUBLE and THREAD AND BURIED were all nominated for the Bony Blithe Award. THREAD AND BURIED was a national bestseller in the U.S.
The fifth Threadville mystery, SEVEN THREADLY SINS, will be released in June 2015.
Visit Janet’s website at http://ThreadvilleMysteries.com/
And read Janet’s mysteries! Here’s where they’re available: http://threadvillemysteries.com/THREADVILLEMYSTERIES.html