Interview

An interview with author Kaye George  
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Mystery author Kaye George has been nominated three times for an Agatha Award and was a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award. She has written the Imogene Duckworthy Mysteries, the Cressa Carraway Musical Mystery series, and the People of the Wind series, including Death in the Time of Ice. Writing as Janet Cantrell, she is author of the Fat Cat series. She is also an award-winning short story writer.

Kaye has lived in nine states, from Minnesota to Texas, and currently calls Knoxville, TN, home. In addition to her writing, she is also a violinist and an online mystery reviewer. She is a member of the Sisters in Crime and its online subset, the Guppies.

 Her website is www.kayegeorge.com, and her blog is Travels withKaye.

 


Interview with BWG member Dianna Sinovic


 

 

BETHLEHEM WRITERS GROUP: Why did you choose mystery as your genre? What drew you to it? What keeps you writing in this genre?

KAYE GEORGE: I had written “literary” short stories for years, without ever getting published. One day I decided that a novel would be easier, so I switched. The ones I most like to read are mysteries, and I was familiar with conventions and structure, so that was it. I like the puzzle aspect—trying to put pieces together to figure out the ending. I also like exploring what makes people tick. At the deep end, in my own writing, I’ll forever be curious about how a person could arrive at the point where it makes sense to solve one’s problems by killing someone. That’s what I’m always exploring—what makes a person break the worst taboo of life. As far as keeping to the genre, I find a great latitude to explore people, settings, time periods, and anything else you can think of within the loose structure of solving a murder. And I have done a bit of horror/fantasy.

 

BWG: You have several mystery series going at once. What are the challenges of writing a series? How do you approach writing multiple series? (You have so many details to keep track of!)

KG: As you can probably guess, keeping track of who is where is the biggest challenge. I once gave one character’s car to another character in a different series. A reader caught that one before it was published. Over time, I developed a detailed spreadsheet for each book. I reuse the spreadsheet from the first book, relegating some items to the bottom and adding what I need to for the current WIP. On the character tab I have columns for things like age, appearance, mannerisms, vehicle, role, etc. I recently saw that someone puts the page number of the character’s first appearance on her chart. I should start doing that. I also have a plot tab where in the columns, I keep track of POV (if I’m changing it), day and time, chapter, which characters are in that scene, etc. I suppose I have a touch of CDO (OCD with the letters in the proper order), but at least I’m putting it to use.



BWG:
 Where did the character Immy, from the Imogene Duckworthy series, come from?

KG: I had an idea to create a humorous Inept Detective. I looked at those initials and immediately came up with the name Imogene, remembering Imogene Coca, a very funny comedienne from long ago. Then I cast about for a last name. We lived, at the time, in Taylor, TX, and the high school team was the Taylor Ducks, which I thought was hilarious. Her last name grew from that. I googled it and nothing came up. When I have a name, and it's the right name, I find it easy to create a character to fit it. I made her naive, bumbling, good-hearted, and well meaning. I thought that, if I liked her, readers would also.


BWG: Did you base her on anyone in particular?

KG: I can't say that she's based on anyone, she just popped up after I had her name.


BWG: How about the Texas settings? One reviewer said the settings were so vivid that they were characters in themselves. How did you go about crafting them?

KG: The setting is the town we had just moved from, Holliday, TX, near Wichita Falls. I renamed Holliday to Salt Lick and Wichita Falls to Wymee Falls. The town actually has one yellow blinking light. It's the literal wide spot in the road. I didn't have to stretch much to get humor from there. Wichita Falls, just like Wymee Falls, was named for a falls (more of a rapids) that got washed away in a storm. Rather than change the name of the town, the city built a fake waterfall, complete with plastic rocks and a pump to get the water to the top. It has to shut down if the river gets too low and silty so the pump doesn't get ruined. That was too funny to not use.


BWG:
 I’m guessing Cressa Carraway Musical Mystery series was inspired by
your musical background (you are a violinist). What can you tell us about its development?


KG: This is the first serious attempt I made at mystery writing. I envisioned a long, long series, with Cressa as a conductor, eventually (she gets there in the second book), so that she can guest conduct all over the world to avoid the Cabot Cove syndrome of having most of the people in the town killed off. I never knew how hard it would be and how long it would take 
to reach publication. This isn't the first mystery novel I got published, but I kept dusting it off and trying again until I did get a taker, Barking Rain Press.

I set the first novel at the cabin my mom had in rural Illinois. I gave it to Cressa's grandmother and gave the grandmother some of my mother's personality. Definitely her stubbornness.


BWG: So far you have released Eine Kleine Murder and Requiem in Red. Is a third book planned?

KG: Since the gleam in my eye about this series, I've pulled back a little. After getting the first one published, I intended to travel the world, seeking out settings for Cressa, and deducting the trips from my taxes. However, this seems a bit unrealistic now, for some reason. A third is planned and sketched out and will probably be the final one. It will wrap up the mysterious death of Cressa's parents when she was 11. (Imogene also lost her father at age 11. I have no idea why. That wasn't a traumatic year for me.) My tentative title is Song of Death, but the titles of the first two were changed by Barking Rain, so I wouldn't count on it.



BWG:
 You write under the pen name Janet Cantrell, for the FAT CAT cozy series. You also blog under this name. Why did you decide to write under a pseudonym?

KG: That series was a Work For Hire, which means that the publisher, Berkley Prime Crime, owns the copyright on everything--the novels, the characters, and even the name Janet Cantrell. At the time, a work for hire was a good way to get yourself in the door at this major publisher of cozies. You knew they would accept it, since the premise of the plot was theirs. I was given the characters and material that took me through the third chapter. I was given the victim, but I picked the murderer. From there, it was expected, if the books did well, that you could get a contract under your own name. Things happened, though. Berkley Prime Crime decided to mostly get out of the business of publishing cozies and concentrate on airport books. They are continuing a very few cozy series, but curtailed the many, many that they had in progress.


BWG: Did you base Quincy on a real cat?

KG: Quincy's appearance was given to me, an overweight tabby. But I used my own very smart late, great Agamemnon, a rescued feral shorthair black cat for his personality.


BWG: Talk a bit about your forthcoming Vintage Sweets cozy series. The first book is due out this year. What’s the title?

KG: I've recently learned that the release date will be March of 2020, but the second and third will follow quickly. The first title is Revenge Is Sweet.


BWG: Can you give us any details?

KG: It's being called the Vintage Sweets series. My sleuth, Tally Holt, in true cozy plot tradition, has returned to her hometown to open up a shop. She's recreating old-time sweets recipes from a metal box of index cards that belonged to her late grandmother. Yolanda Bella, her best friend from childhood, and the person who convinces her to return and start the business, has a gift basket shop next door. In the first book, one of the men working on the remodel of Tally's shop, a handsome bad boy, is killed in her place, but with a ribbon scissors belonging to Yolanda.

I'm so happy that everyone agreed to use Fredericksburg, TX, as the setting. It's a charming tourist town in TX wine country and has some great features, such as Enchanted Rock State Park (which may be haunted) and the curious little Sunday Houses, built by farmers and ranchers in the 1800s so they could come to town for the weekend for church and stay overnight if their places were too far away.


BWG: Talk a bit about your PEOPLE OF THE WIND series, which is about a
Neanderthal tribe. What appealed to you about prehistory?

KG: I think my interest in prehistory began in high school when a friend invited me to go along on a fossil dig with her family one weekend. I found a beautiful trilobite and I was hooked. From there I got interested in ancient animals and people. I read a quote by one author who writes an ancient series (I forget if it was Rome or Greece). He said, “The further back you go, the better.” Aha, I thought! I could go back way further than that. Scientists had just started sequencing Neanderthal DNA and were discovering something new about them almost every week. That was immensely exciting to me.

 

BWG: Where did you go for research?

KG: Everywhere. I’ve bought textbooks, visited museums, subscribed to online science sites, and have even recorded TV specials. I also belong to an online group of prehistory fiction writers. I think I’m the only mystery writer there, but all share a love and curiosity for ancient things. Since my books started to be published, I seem to have sparked interest in some people. I hardly have to keep up with anything any more. People who are interested in the series send me announcements of new discoveries and new books.

 

BWG: How was this series different to write from the others?

KG: This series was very difficult to get started. I tried approach after approach. At first I wanted to give them their own language. I researched how babies learn to talk, ancient Indo-European languages and what they have in common, and what the easiest sounds are for orally disabled people to make. So, I created the language and started writing using that for their speech, with translations. My critique partners nixed that at once—it was too difficult to read. Next, I wanted to give them telepathy, something to fill those large brains (bigger, on average, than ours). I studied the Aborigines and also read Temple Grandin, a famous, high-functioning, autistic woman, who says animals think in pictures, like she does. Conversing in pictures was equally difficult. I settled on having them use telepathy (in English), with occasional pictures when needed. They use the oral language I developed for official Pronouncements—important decisions. Brief statements that are translated. 

I also try to think the way they might have done, without the names for things that we have now. They have their own names for weather, sun, moon, stars, animals—everything, described as I think they would see them.



BWG: Let’s focus on DAY OF THE DARK, an anthology you compiled and edited (and which includes a story by our own Carol L. Wright). You were inspired to create the anthology by last year’s total solar eclipse, which you were able to see from your home – how cool! What were your expectations for the stories that were included?


KG: In my call for submissions, I asked that some sort of eclipse be included and that each story have an element of mystery. This is the first time I've done anything like this and, honestly, I just hoped to get enough good stories to make a whole anthology.


BWG: Were you surprised by the submissions you received?

KG: I was blown away. Not only by the volume of submissions, but by the quality. I got stories from a lot of different genres, settings, and time periods, and some partial and lunar eclipses, too.  A great variety. It bothered me that I had to decline some very good stories because there were just too many to make a practical-sized book that people could afford.



BWG: You have also organized/published several short story anthologies for Guppies.
How did these g
et a start?

KG: I was the Guppy president when everyone in the Steering Committee decided to do the first Guppy anthology. We felt our way through it, deciding on submission, vetting, and acceptance policies. We at first thought we would have to self-publish, and were delighted that one of the publishers we approached, Wildside Press, took it on. They also publish short story anthologies for other Sisters in Crime chapters.

 

BWG: How often are the Guppy anthologies published?

KG: The Guppy group went on to publish another one every two years. The fourth one came out in 2017.

 

BWG: Who may submit?

KG: Submissions are open to all members of the Guppy chapter who joined a certain number of months before submissions began.

 

BWG: You mention on your website that you spend more and more of your time in online interactions. What advice do you have for writers in making time for social media?

KG: That’s not a good thing! I spend far too many hours messing around online. I think some of it does me some good, but I could spend less time there. My clever plan is to set a timer for an hour, then get off when the hour is up. It works some days.

 

BWG: How do you balance your own time – between writing and self-promotion?

KG: I set aside sacred time, as Ramona DeFelice Long calls it, for my writing. I work better later in the day, so I’m usually writing by 4:00 or 5:00, after my online messing around, running errands, and doing the small amount of housework I do. I consider attending conferences a major venue for self-promotion and I love going to them. I’m limiting myself to two per year right now, considering time and money. This year it was Malice Domestic and will be Magna Cum Murder in Indianapolis in October. I also blog for myself and for Killer Characters, and do guest blogs wherever I can when I have a new book coming out.

 

BWG: You are a past president of Sisters in Crime, a national women’s mystery writers group, and involved in its Guppies branch, a nurturing support and critique group for unpublished writers. How did you get involved in the group? How has it helped your career?

KG: I was Guppy president for two years after being the treasurer for many before that. I got involved in them when we moved out of Dallas. I had belonged to the local Sisters in Crime chapter there and enjoyed the group. In the Wichita Falls area, where we moved, I couldn’t find any other mystery writers. There were quite a few romance writers and they were very nice, but their books were nothing like mine. They dropped trou like I dropped bodies. So I found the Guppies, the online SinC chapter, and was very happy to connect with lots and lots of mystery writers. The group hit 500 members while I was president, and is now at 700 and counting. There’s a tremendous amount of collective wisdom, knowledge, and experience in the group.

 

BWG: How has it helped your career? 

KG: Being the Guppy president is a visible position and I think it greatly helped my name recognition, at least in the mystery community. I didn’t know each and every Guppy while I was prez, but they all knew who I was.

 

BWG: Why should a fledgling mystery writer consider joining?

KG: The purpose of the group is to help each other get published. That’s why it was formed, and it’s still the focus of the group. There are subsidized writing classes, critique groups, manuscript swaps, a group to help you write your query letter and synopsis, another group to help with marketing, and other groups as well.

 

BWG: What other advice do you have for fledgling mystery writers?

KG: Don’t give up. If you really want to get published traditionally, give it a few years. It was 10 for me. I wrote a total of seven novels while submitting and getting rejections, but, after 468 of them, I got an agent and now have three different publishers (which is crazy and which I don’t recommend). I’ve published 10 novels, have a contract for 3 more, and have over 40 short stories published.

 

BWG: Thanks for talking with the BWG Roundtable.

KG: Thanks so much for inviting me here for the interview!