In Checked Out for Murder—the fourth book in The Haunted Library series—the filming of a new movie in Clover Ridge is suddenly overshadowed by mystery, mayhem…and murder. Protagonist Carrie Singleton not only has her hands full dealing with the death of a new friend but also finding herself involved in her mother’s marital problems. Author Marilyn Levinson (writing as Allison Brook) takes time from her busy schedule to share why cozies are so popular with fans of mystery novels.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: For readers who aren’t familiar with a “cozy,” what are some of the elements which differentiate this subgenre from other mysteries?
A: Cozy mysteries are called that because aside from the murder or murders in each book, they evoke a cozy feeling in the reader. The setting is a picturesque small town where people know one another. The sleuth is usually an amateur detective who gets involved in solving a murder because either he/she is a suspect or someone close is a suspect. The murder or murders occur off scene, and children and animals are never harmed.
Q: What aspects of writing cozies especially appeal to you?
A: I love writing cozies because I enjoy writing a series that enables me to write about my sleuth and her friends and family and activities that take place in the town where she lives. The story lives on and on, and there’s no need to say good-bye to the main characters because they reappear in the next book.
Q: The physical backdrop/setting of a novel is just as important as any of the characters who populate it. Tell us about Clover Ridge and whether it bears any similarity to actual places you’ve lived in or visited.
A: Clover Ridge is a town that I created. That said, I created it based on my visit to Guilford, Connecticut. I was impressed by the centuries’ old buildings that were built around the village green. I loved the idea of the green, and that’s where I set the library where my sleuth, Carrie Singleton, is head of programs and events. I also liked setting the town close to the Long Island Sound, across from Long Island, where I’ve lived most of my life. Also, my family had a summer home in Connecticut when I was growing up and I have always maintained a love for that state.
Q: What’s not to love about amateur sleuths? Not only is your heroine, Carrie, someone who can’t turn her back on murder and mayhem but she is also paired with a paranormal partner who is equally zealous about seeing that criminals get properly “booked.” How and why did Carrie’s librarian friend become a mainstay of the series?
A: Evelyn Havers—the ghost in my series— is a woman in her sixties who used to work in the Clover Ridge Library and appears in the library very often. Of course, the only people who can see and communicate with Evelyn are Carrie and Carrie’s four-year-old cousin. Evelyn isn’t the first ghost I’ve included in a book. There’s a ghost in my mystery Giving Up the Ghost and in my children’s novel, Getting Back to Normal. Evelyn often helps Carrie solve mysteries and crimes, but holds back information when she feels it casts one of her relatives in a bad light. She often asks Carrie to handle or investigate personal requests, which always seem to connect to the unsolved mystery.
Q: And why is there a cat?
A: I love cats and cozies often include a cat or a dog or a furry creature of some sort. In the case of the Haunted Library series, Carrie discovered Smoky Joe one day when he walked through the woods separating her cottage from the farm where he was born. He jumped into her car and she found herself bringing him into the library where he immediately became the library cat. Smoky Joe is beloved by the library patrons. He helps to solve a mystery in Read and Gone.
Q: Plotter or pantser?
A: I do plot my books. That said, I’m a pantser when it comes to linking scenes and explaining why something happens. Then, of course, something completely unplanned occurs. So I suppose I’m both plotter and pantser.
Q: What are some of the challenges inherent in penning a series versus a standalone?
A: When writing a series, you’re dealing with a cast of characters, many of whom continue to appear from book to book. I often find that something I mention about a character in one book, has an impact on the events in a book further on in the series. Also, my characters change and evolve through the series. Carrie, who comes from a dysfunctional family and has never felt secure in any one place, grows more confident and becomes an active member of her community. Her father, a thief for many years, makes important changes in his life. These are challenges but are very rewarding to me.
Q: Does anyone get to read your works-in-progress and offer feedback or do you make everyone wait until you have typed THE END?
A: My editor is the first person who reads my manuscript. If I have a plotting problem I throw it out to the members of my little group of seasoned mystery authors. We’ve been together about twenty years. Invariably, their comments either provide a solution or inspire me to come up with my own solution to the problem.
Q: Does romance have a place in your cozies or do you feel it detracts from the mystery aspects?
A: I always include a romantic interest in my mysteries. I think it adds a dimension to the story. In the Haunted Library series, Carrie has a love interest. Though her relationship with Dylan Avery continues to deepen with each book, it never detracts from the mystery. In fact, in Book Number Six, which I’m currently outlining, the mystery affects Carrie’s fiancé and she learns more about Dylan’s earlier life.
Q: Two female arrivals to Clover Ridge cause Carrie plausible apprehensions. Who are they and which one generates the higher degree of angst for your protagonist?
A: One is Daphne Marriott, a psychic, whom Carrie befriends. Though Daphne shares some of her past with Carrie, she omits the most important elements, elements Carrie finally unravels at the end of the book.
The other female who comes to Clover Ridge is Carrie’s mother–a visit Carrie dreads and generates the most angst for her because she and her mother don’t get along. Linda, or Brianna as she now calls herself, has come to Clover Ridge because her second husband, who is twelve years her junior, is featured in a movie being filmed in Clover Ridge. Neither Carrie nor her mother is prepared for the turmoil this visit provides.
Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?
A: My wonderful agent, Dawn Dowdle, found Crooked Lane Books for me. I might add that I’ve written many books before this series.
Q: Where do you see the publishing industry headed in the next 5-10 years?
A: Good question. I think books will continue to thrive and e-books will continue to grow in popularity. Audios as well.
Q: When you’re not writing, who/what are you reading?
A: I read and listen to mysteries, of course. Loved The Guest List and The Silent Patient as well as several cozies. I also read and listen to mainstream novels. I recently enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: I often procrastinate before I sit down to write each day.
Q: Best advice to fellow wordsmiths who want to enter the world of cozies?
A: Read several cozies by a wide range of authors to get a feel for the genre.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: I’m doing edits for Dead On The Shelf, which will be out in the fall of 2021. I’m also outlining the sixth book in the Haunted Library series.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: You should read and write what you like, not what other people tell you to read and write.