Thursday, March 31, 2011

Visiting with Kate Collins and Leann Sweeney

ROBERTA: Following up on our Monday theme of best advice ever, we're delighted to have two veteran mystery writers visiting us today. They both have new books launching but they also have a lot of wisdom about this crazy business! Welcome Leann Sweeney and Kate Collins!

Kate is the author of the flower shop mysteries, including her 
upcoming April 5 release, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DANDLELION. And Leann has written the yellow rose mysteries and the cats in trouble mysteries, including THE CAT, THE LADY, AND THE LIAR, also coming out on April 5. Let's begin at the beginning--how do you start a new book? What do you need to know or do before you begin writing?

KATE: Before I begin to outline a plot, I need to know who gets killed and why, and a reason that my sleuth must get involved. Then I figure out which four people in the life of the murder victim would have a reason to want the victim dead. I give them backstories, means, motive and opportunity. The only other thing I need is the dramatic ending. With all that figured out, the outline is much easier to write.

LEANN: I am an outliner. Once I start my narrative synopsis the story begins to flow and I know so much about the characters before I even begin the creative part. I also need a title. Strange, perhaps, but the title is very important to me. It keeps me focused on what this particular story is really about.

ROBERTA: Kate, since you have a long-running, popular series, with more books in the pipeline, I'm wondering how you keep from getting stale in this series? And tell the truth, are you ever sick to death of your own characters?

KATE: What keeps the series alive for me is the relationship that has been developing between my little florist/sleuth, Abby Knight, and the hot hunk who owns the bar down the street, Marco Salvare. Readers have loved seeing them go from that first spark-filled meeting to a growing attraction to a deep love. We're still moving forward with Abby and Marco, with lots of fun to come. So far, I haven't grown sick of my characters. I like watching them grow. What I do get tired of is having such tight deadlines, but I'm working on that issue. I want to love the process, and that can get tough on close deadlines.

ROBERTA: For Leann, I'm wondering what it was like to switch from the yellow rose series to the cats in trouble. And also I'm curious about whether you use your background in psychiatry in your writing, and if so, how?

LEANN: I thought the switch from Yellow Rose Mysteries to Cats in Trouble would be easy. So NOT easy. I had been writing the Yellow Rose Characters for more than a decade, long before I was published, so I knew them so well. Plus, those books are set in real life city that I am very familiar with. Everything in the Cats in Trouble Series had to come from my imagination. And making my two heroines very different was important. It was a whole new writing learning curve! As for the second part of your question, my psychology background is invaluable. I have met so many "characters" and have the college course work behind me that explains much about why people behave the way they do. Yup. Invaluable.

ROBERTA: Now for both of you, where do you think is the best bang for your promotional buck--and for your energy?

KATE: In general, the Internet affords the chance to reach the widest audience. I love to meet with readers at booksignings and at mystery conferences, as well, but since my time is limited, I can “talk” to many more readers through Facebook, Goodreads, and other similar sites.

LEANN: Since I have several chronic illnesses, I rely on things I can do from home. Facebook is my friend as far as connecting to readers, but I also network with other writers. And I have some very amazing writer friends who have gone the extra mile to help me get the word out about my books. I can never thank them enough. Bookmarks, buttons, cute business cards and now stickers with my cat character names are all part of the promotion.

ROBERTA: Thank you both for visiting--we know how busy this time is! Good luck with both of the books. You can read more about Kate and Leann at their websites.

And tomorrow (drum roll please!) we accept entries for our first crime fiction concept contest...see you in the comments...


  1. I love seeing how you both approach your writing style because they are both great books and I can't wait to read "Night of the Living Dandelion" and "The Cat, The Lady, and The Liar."

  2. The books sound like fun! Kate, you say you outline and know how it's going to end -- but are you always right?

    Leann, what a GORGEOUS cat! You say the book is from your imagination, but are all the cats in it completely made up too?

  3. The cats are made up, but I never realized how real they would become to me, how complete their personalities were almost at once. Maybe because I have had so many cats over the years? I don't know, but the "organic" part of the writing process really came into play when I created Syrah, Chablis and Merlot. Of course Chablis looks EXACTLY like my Indigo, the 16 year old fur friend in the picture.

  4. Hey you two! Such fun to her how you think. And congratulations on your wild success. I also need a title, Leann--why is that?

    Hallie, good question--Kate and Leann each say they're outliners..but how much of that survives?

  5. My changes from the outline usually happen about page 50, however the changes are not "wildly" different. That synopsis is my road map and whenever I get "blocked" (don't really think there is any such thing--you've just deviated from the true story and it stops you)that outline is my best friend!

  6. I have to have a title, too, even when I know the working title might get changed. Weird, isn't it?

    Kate and Leann, thanks for visiting. I'll look forward to your books!

  7. Welcome Kate and Leann.
    A non-outliner myself. I wish I could outline. I'd be less in panic mode when I write!
    And I'm sure Social Networks are the way of the future when it comes to connecting with fans, although I still love to see real faces in a bootstore, don't you?

  8. Interesting you are both plotters. I am, as well, and I think it would be really difficult to write a mystery without some outline, even if you get better ideas along the way. I'd love to hear how Rhys does it--and does it so well.

  9. Hello, Ladies,
    Thanks for visiting will you both be at Malice this year? That show has such a great reunion feel to it!
    Rhys, I'm just writing a piece about how I enjoy Social Media but really appreciate seeing those faces in a bookstore. I know it's easier to stay home and tweet, but I keep going out there!

  10. HEADLINE NEWS: Jungle Red’s Rosemary Harris will be one of the twenty-one authors participating in Murder 203: Connecticut’s Mystery Festival, April 9th and 10th. Rosemary will be sitting on panels and signing books. Visit lovely Easton, CT to spend some quality time with Rosemary and several other mystery writers, including Guest of Honor, Carolyn Hart.

    Come to meet Rosemary, enjoy the discussions and stay for the party! Discounted registration fee for Jungle Red members-$55 rather than $75. For details visit

    We now return to our original programming...

  11. Leann and Kate, thanks so much for sharing how you both approach creating the plot of a new book. I'm more of an organic plot developer myself, so it's really useful to see how you guys do it, especially since you're both on regular deadlines. I'm curious, do you know if other people tend to come up with ideas based around settings or characters first, and develop the actual plot around that? It's how I tend to work. I often see something on a PBS documentary and go, "Oooh, that's a fascinating slice of history that's just waiting to have a book based around it," and I go from there.

    I'll be looking forward to picking up your books, and will pass them onto my mom, who loves cozies. Thanks so much for the informative post!

  12. I tend to start with a 'what if' question when I begin plotting. Best example is one of my Yellow Rose books. I started with "What if the Extreme Home Makeover reality show leveled a house and they unearthed a body?" Having a beginning question, where the ordinary world is upset, I start creating the cast, the season, the beginning and the end.

  13. My story often develops differently than I'd planned, but as Leann said, it's a valuable road map that helps when I veer too far off track. But my ending always stays the same. I have to know who the killer is when I start the book. How I get to the end is what often changes. At least it keeps the writing process fresh.
    Thanks for having me!