I’m very pleased to have Terrie Farley Moran with me today. Terrie is the author of a new cozy mystery series featuring Sassy and Bridgy, the proprietors of the Read ‘Em and Eat Cafe.
Lark (Bookwyrm’s Hoard): Terrie, welcome to The Bookwyrm’s Hoard! I’m so glad to have you here to chat with us today.
Terrie Farley Moran: Lark, it is so kind of you to host me. It is great to be able to chat with you and the folks who visit The Bookwyrm’s Hoard.
Lark: It’s my pleasure! Your biography (from the Women of Mystery website) calls you “a life-long New Yorker,” so I’m curious: How and why did you decide to set a cozy mystery series in the barrier islands of Florida’s Gulf Coast? And how did you research the location?
Terrie: True. I am very much a City girl. When my agent, the magnificent Kim Lionetti of Bookends, and I were talking about a new project she cautioned me against writing a cozy set in the Big Apple. I think it came up because so much of my short mystery fiction is set in the New York and Kim wanted to stretch my range. I was looking for a beach town in Florida north of the Everglades. My daughter lives down that way and she suggested Fort Myers Beach. I spend a lot of time visiting her and hanging out with my grandkids, so I took a look and it was love at first sight. As far as my research I have to give a big shout out to the Island Sandpaper, The Lee County Library System, The Fort Myers Beach Public Library and the Town of Fort Myers Beach. In fact at one point I called the Island Sandpaper to ask if they knew the dimensions of the clock in Fort Myers Beach Times Square. I’d been there, stood next to it, taken pictures of it, but all I could guarantee is that it is taller than I am. So Editor Missy Layfield and her husband drove to Times Square, measured the clock and emailed me the dimensions. How is that for research support?
Lark: That’s definitely above and beyond the call of duty – but what a fun “assignment”!
You’ve been writing and publishing short stories for a while now. What prompted the switch to novels, and how do the two formats differ (other than the obvious matter of length)?
Terrie: I actually switched from novels to short stories and back again. I started by writing a still unpublished cozy mystery novel, Driven to Death. As my rewrites were nearing completion my Sisters in Crime chapter put out a call for submissions for short stories for an anthology. I decided to try and found out I absolutely loved writing short. Short stories reflect a moment in time—could be an hour, a day, a week or thirty years but the story never wanders from the inciting moment until there is resolution. A short story doesn’t provide a lot of room for setting or character development because you only have so much space and it needs to be dedicated to plot.
In addition to its main plot, a novel carries a variety of long and short sub-plots. Some subplots last only a few chapters while others may co-exist with the main plot for nearly the entire length of the novel. The writer has to keep track so that the reader is satisfied, and not left with dangling questions. As to characters, a novel has room for many more characters than a short story, so the writer gets to know the characters intimately and can map out their place in the fictional world. And in a novel there is room for a character to push forward, take up more space than the writer originally intended. That often makes for a better book. That’s some of the differences.
Lark: What other jobs or occupations have you had? Do you ever make use of your prior experiences when you’re writing a story?
Terrie: I worked for the City of New York for more than twenty-five years, most of the time as an Administrative Manager in areas that required huge time investments. I loved every day of every job I had. When my closest friend from my high school days passed away, I decided I wanted to invest my time differently. I retired and began to write. I spent a lot of time on a cozy that never sold. When money got tight I took a job in a gym for three years. When that gym closed I was out of work for a while but got a job in another gym and stayed there for three and a half years until it changed ownership. I decided not to go back to work but to write full time. As to using my experiences, some of the Well Read, Then Dead ladies practice yoga and meditation which is outside the realm of my gym experience but if they decide they want to pump it up, I may fall back on my work knowledge. In my final job with the City I spent a mega amount of time figuring out how gazillions of dollars could be divided among dozens of capital projects across a span of four or more fiscal years. Your eyelids are starting to droop, right? Way too boring for the cozy crowd. So no. I don’t rely on prior experiences.
Lark: [laughs] I guess not! Which authors – mystery or otherwise – have most influenced you in your own writing?
Terrie: The Golden Age writers. You know, G.K. Chesterton, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Ellery Queen, Ngaio Marsh, and so on. I also have subscriptions to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I find the variety of short stories they publish broadens my view of a good mystery or crime story. Although my subscriptions have existed for decades, in full disclosure I will say I have had stories published in both magazines in recent years.
Lark: I’m pretty partial to the Golden Age writers myself – especially the British ones.
Can you tell us a little more about your main characters, Sassy and Bridgy? And if you could cast them (and any other characters) for a movie or tv production, who would be perfect for the roles?
Terrie: Sassy and Bridgy have the kind of relationship that lifelong besties will recognize instantly. Yin and yang. Sassy is the more serious, more determined of the two. Bridgy is more light-hearted and cautious. But if Sassy gets a little wild and crazy, Bridgy will take over as the serious one. And if Bridgy starts to demand that they spend their time chasing a killer around town, well Sassy will move into caution mode. It is fun to watch. Aimee Teegarden (Friday Night Lights) could play Sassy exactly. Blake Lively (Gossip Girl) would be the perfect Bridgy—she even likes to cook. In my mind Elizabeth Perkins has such a wide range of performance skills that she could play Aunt Ophie with the grand panache the character requires. Okay, Hollywood, where do we sign?
Lark: I don’t know the other two, but I can definitely see Elizabeth Perkins as Aunt Ophie!
Are there certain types of scenes you find easier or harder to write than others?
Terrie: Violence. I don’t like to write violence. I prefer when the violence is off stage. I can write about the victim of violence being in the hospital or in the morgue but I am uncomfortable writing about the acts of violence themselves. I have a short story, “Thanksgiving on the Throgs Neck Bridge” in this year’s NY/Tri-State Sisters in crime anthology, Family Matters: Murder New York Style. It centers on domestic violence and it is depicted graphically. Very tough to write.
Lark: Whew, I imagine so! In your bio, you mention learning to play the Irish Tin Whistle. What else do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?
Terrie: Oh the poor tin whistle. I can now play Mary Had a Little Lamb, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and I can struggle through The Irish Washerwoman. I think I am better suited to be a writer than a musician, so don’t be looking for me to lead the Saint Patrick’s Day parade come next March 17th.
My time is best spent hanging out with any or all of my seven grandkids, a fun bunch aged 4 to 12. As you can guess every age has a different interest and offers a unique delight. I love to read and because my professional life is so sedentary, I make sure I walk, go to my water aerobics class and visit the gym.
Lark: What’s a question no-one ever asks you about your writing, that you would love to answer?
Terrie: No one has asked if writing is a struggle for me or if I ever considered quitting. The answer to both is yes. The reason I haven’t quit is that another great story comes along and begs to be written, so I struggle to write it.
Lark: I’m very glad you haven’t quit! A few quick questions before we wrap things up: Favorite TV or movie adaptation of a mystery?
Terrie: Without a doubt the movie Witness for The Prosecution (1957) based on a short story of the same name by Agatha Christie. I was eleven years old and should never have been in the audience but in those days as long as there was a matron working to keep the kids in line we could go to whatever movie was playing. To this day I remember cringing in my seat when Marlene Dietrich leans over, pulls back her hair and says to Charles Laughton, “Wanna kiss me, ducky?”
Lark: Best time of day for writing?
Terrie: I am most productive in the morning, however I am an exceptionally slow writer, so to keep a respectable pace I go back to the keyboard after lunch and when I am on deadline I go back again after dinner. I do have to attend to the usual chores and medical appointments, and I have a tiny social life but I spend most of my time writing or having fun with my grandkids.
Lark: Favorite ice cream flavor?
Terrie: Vanilla with “stuff” in it—cookies and cream, chocolate chip, etc.
Lark: Coffee or tea?
Terrie: I drink more iced green tea than anything else.
Lark: Best time and place to read?
Terrie: In the recliner at night.
Lark: It’s been great to chat with you today, Terrie — thank you again for ageeing to talk with me! And congratulations and best of luck to you, to Sassy and Bridget, and to your new series! I look forward to seeing what they get up to in the next book.
Nestled in the barrier islands of Florida’s Gulf Coast, Fort Myers Beach is home to Mary “Sassy” Cabot and Bridget Mayfield—owners of the bookstore café, Read ’Em and Eat. But when they’re not dishing about books or serving up scones, Sassy and Bridgy are keeping tabs on hard-boiled murder.
Read ’Em and Eat is known for its delicious breakfast and lunch treats, along with quite a colorful clientele. If it’s not Rowena Gustavson loudly debating the merits of the current book club selection, it’s Miss Augusta Maddox lecturing tourists on rumors of sunken treasure among the islands. It’s no wonder Sassy’s favorite is Delia Batson, a regular at the Emily Dickinson table. Augusta’s cousin and best friend Delia is painfully shy—which makes the news of her murder all the more shocking.
No one is more distraught than Augusta, and Sassy wants to help any way she can. But Augusta doesn’t have time for sympathy. She wants Delia’s killer found—and she’s not taking no for an answer. Now Sassy is on the case, and she’d better act fast before there’s any more trouble in paradise. (Goodreads)
Well Read, Then Dead was a delightful surprise. Of course I expected to enjoy a cozy mystery focused around a bookstore-cafe combo, but I didn’t have an inkling how much I would like the characters – especially Sassy, Bridgy, and Aunt Ophie (who is a stitch!) Feisty old Augusta is also a favorite of mine, with her strong sense of justice and her habit of telling it like it is. The recurring supporting characters, including two policemen and a journalist, are also well-drawn and varied enough to be interesting and realistic.
I don’t want to give too much away, but Ophie comes down to help Sassy and Bridgie in the kitchen while their regular cook is out of commission. She’s a Southern lady to her fingertips, with that stereotypical blend of charm and steely will, flavored with a streak of eccentricity. She could have been annoying, but she became one of my favorite characters in the entire book. I hope she decides to stick around instead of going back home for the next book!
The plot held together well, and ended up throwing me one or two curve balls as well as misleading me entirely when it came to one suspect in particular. While I did spot the murderer pretty early on, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story at all — and after all, I could have been wrong! (I wasn’t, though.) The only thing that detracted at all was Sassy’s habit of not telling the police right away about things she knew or heard, and one flaming example of TSTL syndrome. . . which the heroine in question knew was stupid and did it anyway. Actually, that was what redeemed her decision a bit – that she knew it was stupid, but her curiosity was so strong she went ahead with it. I could understand that so much better than a heroine who had no clue she was being stupid. I mean, we’ve all done things we knew were stupid, for reasons that made sense to us at the time, right?
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a new cozy mystery series with a solidly written plot, engaging characters, and a healthy helping of humor, you don’t need to look any further than Well Read, Then Dead.
Rating: 4 stars
Category: Cozy mystery
Series: Read ‘Em and Eat Mystery #1
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Release date: Aug. 5, 2014
Book source: Review copy from the publisher for this tour, in exchange for an honest review.
About the author: A life-long New Yorker, Terrie Farley Moran is struggling to learn the Irish Tin Whistle, which is not nearly as much fun as hanging out with any or all of her seven grandchildren. Her stories have been published in numerous anthologies and in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Terrie’s noir short, “When A Bright Star Fades,” was named a Distinguished Mystery Story of 2008. Her paranormal mystery, “The Awareness,” can be found in the 2010 MWA anthology, Crimes By Moonlight, edited by Charlaine Harris. Well Read Then Dead is her first novel. (biography source: Women of Mystery website)
Connect with Terrie Farley Moran: Website | GoodReads