Lark (Bookwyrm’s Hoard): Welcome to The Bookwyrm’s Hoard, Liz! I’m delighted to have you here today.
You’ve been telling stories since you were very little. At what point did you decide that writing was what you most wanted to do with your life?
Liz Mugavero: Books were the place I felt most comfortable as a kid. And I loved to create my own stories, mostly for myself when I was bored. One summer when I didn’t have many playmates I decided I would be Nancy Drew and created my own mysteries to investigate. I made up stories about all my neighbors. The woods behind my house became a haunted witches’ woods where I would play by myself and hide from the evil spirits. By the time I was 11, I outlined my own soap opera – created the town, characters and general story lines. Alas, it never got picked up by a network, so I decided that I would be a novelist.
Lark: What led you to start writing mysteries, as opposed to, say, science fiction or romances?
Liz Mugavero: I’ve always been fascinated with crime. When I was in 6th grade, we had to write a research paper. I chose the Charles Stuart murder case, a big story in the Boston area where I grew up about a man who killed his wife and tried to frame a black man for the crime. The culprit later threw himself off a bridge when people started to catch on. Serial killers were another favorite topic of mine (yes, people have always wondered about me).
I’ve always been fascinated by the whys of a crime. My grandfather was a detective, and he used to tell stories about his work, which I could listen to every day. I figured it was either be a cop or be a mystery writer, and writing seemed the safer way to go.
Lark: Who are your favorite mystery authors, and (if they’re not the same) which authors have had the most influence on you as a writer?
Liz Mugavero: I absolutely adore Dennis Lehane – I think he’s a brilliant writer and storyteller. My dream (aside from being able to write and publish books) is for someone to compare my writing to his. Of course, that’s a different kind of book than the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, but the goal is the same. If you can get someone to feel something for your characters and become invested in your story, that’s huge, and he’s definitely influenced me in that area.
Other favorites (and I have way too many to name): R.J. Ellory, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Tana French, John Connolly, James Lee Burke, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Harlan Coben. My Wicked Cozy (www.wickedcozyauthors.com) cohorts write amazing books and also influence me every day with their strength, talent and friendship: Edith Maxwell, Barbara Ross, Jessie Crockett, Sherry Harris and J.A. Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes.
Lark: Can you tell us about your writing process? Do you plan ahead, or wing it? Write longhand, or use a computer?
Liz Mugavero: I used to wing it – the term writers use is “pantser,” or flying by the seat of your pants. A phrase I’ve never understood, by the way…. But my contract requires a synopsis of each book, so I’ve become more of a plotter. With A Biscuit, A Casket, that synopsis helped me immensely. With the third book in the series, The Icing on the Corpse, I threw the synopsis out and “pantsed” it. That book took a LOT longer.
I have to say, as much as I moaned and groaned about the synopsis, it was helpful to have that road map. Do I love writing them? Heck no.
And I always write on the computer. I use a lovely program called Scrivener, which lets you do all kinds of fun stuff that makes writing books much easier. It’s fabulous.
Lark: I know; my daughter and at least one writer friend use it too!
A Biscuit, A Casket is the second book in your ‘Pawsitively Organic’ mystery series. The series features a main character, Kristan “Stan” Connor, who makes her living creating organic treats for dogs and cats. . . and seems to be developing a habit of discovering dead bodies. How did you come up with Stan’s somewhat unusual career, and how do you see it helping or hindering her in her detective efforts?
Liz Mugavero: Stan was a lot of fun to create. When I was developing the proposal with my agent, John Talbot, we discussed a lot of different scenarios but that was the one we kept coming back to. It fit well with my interests and it fit with his perception of the market, so we went with it. For me, it allows me to combine my two passions – writing and animals – into one project, hopefully one that not only entertains people but also helps educate them.
As for her career helping or hindering her detective efforts, I think Stan’s cooking time is when she’s able to think through some of these puzzles. It’s definitely her happy place.
Lark: I gather you have several pets of your own. Would you tell us a little about them?
Liz Mugavero: I have a lot of pets! I’ve been heavily involved in animal rescue for more than a decade. As a result, I have a number of rescue cats, including Tuffy the Maine coon, who’s the basis for Nutty in the series. I also have a couple of orange tabby boys, Pumpkin and Johnny (aka Junkyard Johnny because he was rescued from a junkyard); a few black cats, including a slinky boy named Jack (after Jack Bauer); a few senior citizens; a couple of Siamese; and three rescue dogs: Shaggy the schnoodle, who is the basis for Scruffy in the books; Petey the terrier mix and Finnegan the Jack Russell/Bichon Frise mix.
Lark: I have to ask: As a mystery writer, are you ever tempted to base the victim or the murderer on someone real?
Liz Mugavero: Ha…can I plead the fifth on that one? I am tempted, and sometimes it happens – although I hope I disguise my victim just enough that said person or people wouldn’t be quite sure!
Lark: What do you do in your spare time? (When you’re not writing, that is!)
Liz Mugavero: Spare time sounds lovely. I don’t have much of it, but when I’m not writing I’m either working my day job, home with my family and furries, hanging out with the Wicked Cozy Authors, working out, or reading.
Lark: What’s next for Stan and her Maine coon cat, Nutty?
Liz Mugavero: The next installment, The Icing on the Corpse, begins on Groundhog Day in Frog Ledge – which is a really big deal. But the festivities are interrupted by the discovery of the town historian, dead in what appears to be a tragic fall. But not everyone thinks that’s the real story. Add some ghost hunters, a fifty-year old murder and a crazy medium to the mix, and Frog Ledge has some real problems on its hands! Of course, Stan gets involved – while trying to plan a doggie wedding and feeding Nutty and her own dogs quality food and treats. Life’s complicated sometimes!
Lark: Finally, a few quick questions. Type of pet you’d most want, if you didn’t have to worry about the practical aspects?
Liz Mugavero: That is a hilarious question. I would love a pig. Or a goat. I stayed at a B&B once where the resident goat was allowed to come into the kitchen for her snacks – so cute!
Lark: Dream job, if you weren’t a writer?
Liz Mugavero: Writing IS my dream job…but I also always wanted to be a homicide detective or FBI agent. Although I would want to be assigned to the X Files, and I’m not sure that’s possible….
Lark: *laughs* Probably not! Favorite TV show(s)?
Liz Mugavero: I am addicted to American Horror Story and The Following. Also delighted that 24 just had another run – I absolutely adore Jack Bauer! And, I’m a sucker for Gilmore Girls. When I have some downtime, I love to binge watch old episodes. Same with Sopranos.
Lark: Older shows are great. I’m partial to West Wing and several of the Star Trek series, myself.
Your funniest pet-related moment?
Liz Mugavero: That would have to be the time when some kittens I was fostering somehow found a way into the heating vents in my old condo. I was in the basement and heard them running through the wide, aluminum vents over my head, having a grand old time. Of course, it wasn’t funny in the moment when I contemplated what I would have to do to get them out of there, like possibly rip open the walls and all kinds of other horrible things (and thank goodness it was summer and the heating system wasn’t on!) but right before I freaked out and called a contractor they ran right back out of the hole they’d gone in and continued their game of chase. I plugged the hole and counted my blessings.
Lark: Thank goodness they came out again!
Thank you so much for stopping by to talk with me today, Liz, and for agreeing to answer my questions. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to chat with you, and I’m looking forward to the next Pawsitively Organic mystery!
The small town of Frog Ledge, Connecticut, has wholeheartedly embraced Kristan “Stan” Connor’s new business–preparing quality organic treats for dogs and cats. On a healthy diet, the animals may live longer. . .but one local farmer won’t be so lucky. As Halloween approaches, Stan is asked to cater a doggie costume party hosted by the Happy Cow Dairy Farm. Part of a local co-op, Happy Cow specializes in organic dairy products, and farmers Hal and Emmalee Hoffman have started opening up the farm for parties, offering a “haunted” corn maze as an added attraction.
When Hal’s lifeless body is found in the maze, the police at first suspect his wife, but Stan soon learns the dairy farmer had plenty of enemies–from bitter family members to shady business associates. If Stan can’t extract a kernel of truth from the labyrinth of lies, she may be the next one to buy the farm. . .(Goodreads)
A Biscuit, A Casket is a quick, enjoyable mystery with an engaging heroine. It’s the sort of book I enjoy turning to when things are stressful, because despite the murder and mayhem, it’s just plain fun to read. The story and the characters carried me along, and there were moments that made me laugh as well as scenes that had me tensely turning pages to see what would happen next.
What I liked:
- Stan is likeable, particularly in how she cares about animals and the ways in which she gets sucked into helping her friends and neighbors. She’s not great at saying “No” — something I understand all too well! — and it gets her into some interesting situations.
- Stan’s pets aren’t just there for background. They have individual personalities, especially Nutty the cat and Henry the lovable pit bull, and it’s clear Stan loves them. But they’re not anthropomorphized in any way, either; they behave like normal animals.
- There’s a hint of romance brewing between Stan and bar owner Jake McGee; I’m looking forward to seeing it develop in the next few books. (I also like the Irish music and dance aspect of the bar.)
- Frog Ledge (what a name!) sounds like a nice small town, one I wouldn’t mind visiting or even living in.
- Many of the secondary characters are interesting, and I find myself wanting to know more about them — especially Izzy and Char. I’m also really intrigued by the family dynamics between Jake, his sister Brenna, and their sister, Trooper Jessie Pasquale. There’s some sort of story there that Stan hasn’t figured out yet, and I’m curious to know what it is.
- There are a number of potential suspects with possible motives, some likeable and some less so. That felt very realistic and helped me buy into both the story and the characters.
What didn’t quite work for me:
- The motive for the murder seemed a little off, maybe a little contrived. I suspected the murderer, but had the motivation entirely wrong. Another motive might have made the story stronger.
- Stan pulls a few unwise moves that could put her in danger — though to be fair, at least one quite dangerous situation wasn’t her fault. As some of you know, TSTL syndrome is one of my pet peeves when it comes to cozy heroines (or any heroine, for that matter.) Stan doesn’t fall in that category, but she flirts around the edges once or twice.
- I had to exercise a touch more suspension of disbelief than I like regarding the plausibility of Stan pursuing an investigation on her own. That’s not uncommon with cozy mysteries, but it always bothers me a little.
Bottom line: A Biscuit, A Casket is entertaining and charming, and all of the cons I mentioned above were minor imperfections, very easy to set aside. All in all, Liz Mugavero has given us an appealing book, heroine, and series. I’m sure I’ll be returning to Frog Ledge for Stan’s next adventure!
Rating: 3.5 stars
Category: Cozy mystery
Series: Pawsitively Organic Mystery #2
Release date: April 1, 2014
Book source: I received a review copy from the publisher for this tour, in exchange for an honest review.
About the author: Liz Mugavero has been writing stories since she could hold a pen. Before that, she would tell them to anyone who would listen (not many at the time). After deciding early on she would write books for a living, she practiced by writing bad, angst-filled poems, short stories and even a storyline for a soap opera–all by age 15. She never wavered from her goals despite all the usual questions including, “So are you going to be an English teacher with that degree in English?” or, “That writing thing sounds nice, but how are you REALLY going to make a living?”
She went on to get a master’s in writing and publishing and spent time in journalism, PR, and presently, corporate communications. And she’s confident this writing thing IS the way to make a living.
Aside from writing, she loves animals (has a houseful), the beach, reading other writers’ masterpieces and Starbucks coffee.
Originally from Massachusetts, she lives in Connecticut with her family, but has every intention of getting back to the Bay State sooner rather than later.