Sharing a fun interview experience with Cozy Cat Press...
Tonya was gracious enough to take the time to be interviewed by Cozy Cat Press. In the interview you learn about Tonya, Baubles to Die For, and about writing.
An Interview with Tonya Penrose
Q: Baubles to Die For is your first cozy mystery novel. How did you get started with cozy mysteries? How did you learn about the genre? What was the first cozy mystery story you wrote?
A: Okay, I guess it’s time for a confession. When I wrote Baubles to Die For, I didn’t know the story was a cozy. Nope. It was a well-respected author that informed me that I’d just completed a cozy mystery. I mean, the genre sounded super inviting and I felt pleased to be categorized so easily. I had to go to the University of Google to learn about this fun genre. Now I use the cozy name with wild abandon.
Q: You live in the mountains and your first novel Old Mountain Cassie is set there. Why did you choose a beach setting for Baubles to Die For?
A: Our family has a beach place that I adore going to. Staring out at the ocean one morning, I thought, “How can I get my very practical husband to agree to return more often and stay longer?” I hatched the perfect plan. I pitched him that my next story was going to be a novel set at the beach and that I needed to spend copious amounts of time in the setting of my characters. He took the bait and then I had to produce.
Q: The main characters, Page Wright and Betsy Ross, have quirky names in Baubles to Die For. They talk about this in the story. How and why did you pick the character names?
A: Yep, these quirky names needed to be laced in humor. When the two character names came to me, I laughed. I knew right then that Page Wright (her mother was an editor) and Betsy Ross (the unlikely descendant of the sewer of our flag) were sleuths I’d adore spending time with. They’ve been a fun pair, too. I’m missing them already.
Q: In Baubles to Die For, the backgrounds of Page, Betsy, and Steve are touched on, but there is a bit of mystery about their pasts. Can you tell us a little about the characters and what their lives were like before Baubles to Die For?
A: In the book, Page shares about the loss her husband a few years before. He was a college professor and renowned archeologist. Page logged her career years as a feature writer at the local newspaper until his death. She then escaped to the mountains and opened a bookstore to allow herself to heal.
Betsy is the type who flitters through life always looking for where her next passion can take her. Spending time with Page has always helped ground her. And when Page’s snooping genes get activated, Betsy’s always around to play support, albeit reluctantly. Shell Isle’s lure invites her to ponder a different kind of grounding - one that might finally anchor her spirit.
After leaving the Seals, Steve got his JD (attorney), and found freelancing for the FBI and other agencies kept his life interesting. He’s not the type to be confined to an office and regular work hours. Moving to Shell Isle allowed him to savor his passion for sailing and make the shift to slow down a bit. As for the absence of ardor in his personal life, it’s returned to his radar screen and he’s plenty bothered.
Q: In Baubles to Die For, Page has “inklings”. Can you talk a little about inklings? Can you tell us what they are? How did you come up with the idea? What do you think it brought to the story?
A: Inklings express Page’s unique gift that places her in situations where her sleuthing skills are needed. She gets feelings, inklings, that let her know there’s something important coming her way and she needs to be aware and investigate. Page’s intuiting adds another intriguing layer to the sleuth’s deducing. Inklings serve to propel the action and they allow Page and Betsy access to where critical clues await.
Q: Without giving too much away, for about half of the story Betsy is reluctant to be a sidekick to the sleuthing Page. How did you decide on Betsy’s view of investigating? How did you know when it was time for her to be more eager to help?
A: Betsy craves fun at Shell Isle and not another mystery to get tangled up in along with her cousin Page. This vacation represents a needed escape and emotional re-calibration. Only when the events and clues latch onto the sleuths, does Betsy finally admit they’ve been given another case to solve. Betsy’s long devotion to Page’s unusual gift causes her once again to engage fully to find the latest murderer.
Q: A lot of cozy mysteries talk about cooking – but not like Betsy cooks for Page in Baubles to Die For. How’d you decide on Betsy’s, what might be described as interesting, culinary skills?
A: Betsy is the comic relief character. She’s never succeeded locking into anything she can do well, but that truth escapes her. Well, except for her dismal report card with male relationships, which she owns. Still, Betsy’s at a crossroads in her life and looking for spice, which she literally makes horrible use of in preparing food for her and Page. A long and ever suffering Page must contend with everything from spiced French toast to cayenne kale and quinoa tossed with cantaloupe balls. Betsy’s situation though gives an opportunity to develop the characters in the story. And, in the last scene, the importance of spice brings a surprise for Page and Betsy.
Q: In Baubles to Die For, Betsy reads Dowager Gertrude novels? Are these real novels? If not, do you ever plan to write the stories?
A: An unhappy Betsy arrives at Shell Isle devoid of a current love interest. This state always produces angst for attention grabbing Betsy. She grudgingly agrees to Page’s proclamation that this needs to be a reflective man-free vacation for her. Betsy’s left to find her swoon in a milquetoast kind of way…historical romance novels. She plops into the novel with Dowager Gertrude’s doings to fill the emotional void…at least until Page releases her from the no love interest pledge. Still, Betsy doesn’t let her forever roving eye miss an opportunity to acknowledge a man in her sphere.
I’m not aware of any Dowager Gertrude novels living on bookshelves. I’d be a buyer though. As for me penning Gertrude stories, I doubt historical romance can find my computer keyboard.
Q: Your first novel was Old Mountain Cassie: The Three Lessons. Can you tell us a little about it? Can you tell us about how the story is different from Baubles to Die For?
A: Baubles to Die For is a romp. It’s pure fun.
As for Old Mountain Cassie, I could only write this book because the story kept me enthralled. It serves up a dash of mystery, a bit of romance, a whole lot of laughs, pure inspiration, and a touch of magical realism. But there’s something enduring from Cassie too - the gift of her three life changing lessons.
You see, Old Mountain Cassie is unlike any character you will likely meet. She’s got a secret for how to live life in an amazing way which she shares with us and her seekers in the story.
Q: In novels, authors often weave in things from their lives. It might be hobbies, interests, places, or stories from their past. Can you tell us a little about something you wove into Baubles to Die For?
A: You betcha. I wove in Baubles…fancy baubles, which play a significant role in the story because I possess a grand affection for jewelry and gems. Shallow answer, right? Wait, before you judge me, I have a history in the jewelry business that fueled that weaving. My dedication page tells the story - “For those who love their baubles.” That’s me, in spades.
Q: Can you describe your “writing chair” and its importance?
A: Ah, I think the place to write needs to feel welcoming and purposefully tapped. But it’s the chair and its qualities that become my magic carpet.
Writing chairs, I’ve discovered, are powerful and must be chosen intentionally and with great care. My two favorite chairs act first as an anchor for writing and then as a conduit for creativity and word flow.
My mountain chair is dressed in a brown frame with mocha cushions and resides on my screen porch looking out at a lake. My comfy beach chair is upholstered in a sand shade and faces a big fixed glass window showcasing the ocean and its ever-changing mood. These chairs play a significant supporting role in my writing day. Sorry. Pun was intended and needed.
Q: How long did it take you to write Baubles to Die For? What was the process like? How much time did you spend working on the story once the first draft was finished?
A: Baubles to Die For was patient with its unfolding by allowing me to honor other work commitments. So, maybe I wrote the story’s first draft in 12 months.
The writing process begins with my commitment to the story and to the characters who show up for work on my writing days. At this moment, I see the process as a type of contract I’m entering into.
Once I’m satisfied the draft is complete enough to share, I send it to three trusted writers to read. If they catch the story’s wave and provide feedback for the next editing phase, then I go back to shine and polish. I won’t allow myself to tally the time I spend in this least favorite phase. With Baubles to Die For, it’s been substantially less time than with Old Mountain Cassie. I have a boundless respect for an editor’s expertise.
Q: Right now you’re in the process of updating your author website, Tonya Writes. What motivated you to update the site? How has the process been? Do you have any advice for other writers with their own sites?
A: First, I’m tech challenged and feel like a POI (that’s prisoner of the internet) whenever I’m sitting in front of a screen that isn’t Word or email. Motivation to do a refresh on my website got tapped when Baubles to Die For was released. I’m lassoing anyone with a beating tech heart to help me reach this goal. You’re asking me to give advice on web design and functionality? Here goes: Seek professional help.
Q: What’s next for Page and Betsy?
A: The sleuths delivered to me three more story ideas with titles the day I wrote the last scene of Baubles to Die For. Let’s see, here are three titles for future Shell Isle stories: Murder by Numbers, Pies to Die For, and Red, White and Boom.
Now, I must await the writing chair’s welcome to begin the next novel.