Wednesday, December 30, 2015

To shag or not to shag? In a mystery, that is.

LUCY BURDETTE: I love it when a new book in a favorite series is coming soon, and that's the case with my pal Jenn McKinlay's London-based cozy, COPY CAP MURDER, out January 5. I invited Jenn to visit today, telling her that I especially admire the push-pull between her main character and a love interest. It takes a deft touch to do this well, and Jenn has it...

JENN MCKINLAY: An interesting thing happened on my way to writing mysteries. After much ripping out of hair follicles, gnashing of molars, and pacing holes in my living room carpet, my murderous plotlines became romantic comedies but, you know, with dead bodies. Because nothing says “I’m warm for your form” in the beginning of a relationship like finding a person poisoned, stabbed or strangled, am I right?

Seriously, when I set out to write the traditional mystery six years ago, I really did plan to make them straight up mysteries with no hanky-panky or nonsense. Sadly, this was not a great fit for my writer’s voice as I am the sort of person who loves the absurd and the ridiculous and life without shenanigans really seems dreadfully dull. Thankfully, my characters have proven to be a mischievous lot and they frequently do things that surprise me and make me laugh and aggravate me to no end.

Some characters, such as Scarlett Parker in my London Hat Shop mysteries, invite more absurdity than others. Scarlett is twenty-seven and an incorrigible flirt. After a nasty break-up goes viral (she is filmed heaving cake at the boyfriend she thought was single) she flees the States to take up her half of the millinery shop her grandmother Mim bequeathed to her and her cousin Vivian Tremont. Viv is the hat designer while Scarlett is the people person, charming their customers with her genuine care for their happiness and well-being which includes donning the cap of amateur sleuth when murder comes in to play, natch.

When I began writing the hat shop mysteries, I purposefully made Scarlett’s public humiliation as awful as I could so that she would reject any sort of romance during the series. Yeah, by page seven of CLOCHE AND DAGGER, the first book in the series, all of my grand plans and good intentions were a bust as Harrison Wentworth, the girls’ business manager, entered the scene and caused Scarlett to get all a flutter. Honestly, how could she not fall for a guy who calls her “Ginger”? The attraction between Harry and Scarlett was instantaneous and impossible to ignore. Darn it!

I was so irritated. Why did romance keep happening in my mystery series? I debated killing Harry off, but I liked him so that was a no. Then I debated marrying him to another but my heart wasn’t in it. Finally, Scarlett and I negotiated terms and agreed that she needed to declare a vow of celibacy for one year to prove that she could get by without a man as previously in life, she had never gone more than two weeks without a boyfriend. Yay! Problem solved or so I thought.

With the fourth book COPY CAP MURDER coming out on January 5th, we are eight months into Scarlett’s vow and it has not been easy. Harrison, smitten with “Ginger”, has told her he’ll wait for her. Yes, this does make him the perfect man, I know. Except, in this mystery, Harrison’s long time business rival Winthrop Dashavoy is murdered, strangled at a Guy Fawkes bonfire party, and Harrison who just had a fist fight with Win when he got fresh with Scarlett is the prime suspect. 

Can Scarlett stick to her vow when Harrison might be arrested and go to prison for a crime he didn’t commit? Could you? In the case of Scarlett and Harrison, falling in love raises the stakes of the story’s outcome, as it makes them vulnerable and causes their actions to be more reckless than if they weren’t emotionally invested.

Now that I have resigned myself to my fate of writing mysteries with romantic comedy subplots, I can’t imagine a mystery without a strong romantic subplot giving the reader a glimpse into the character’s inner life, but that’s just me.

What about you? Does it blur the lines of genre fiction too much to have a strong romance blended into the mystery or does it open up the character’s deepest vulnerability making them more accessible? And how much romance is too much? Do we want to go full frontal or do we prefer a kiss at the door? To shag or not to shag? That is the question.

Thanks for inviting me to visit Jungle Red today. It’s always a pleasure.
Happy Reading!

Bio: Jenn McKinlay is the author of several New York Times bestselling mystery series. She lives in sunny AZ, in a house overrun with kids, pets, and her husband’s guitars.


  1. Oh, goodness, I love a little romance [please leave something to the imagination, though] in the midst of my mystery!
    I'm looking forward to reading "Copy Cap Murder" . . .

  2. Why is it the term "shag" brings buck teeth to mind??? Oh, right. Never mind. While I love a romantic interest in a cozy, full frontal seems so wrong. The cozy is all about sleight of hand and off stage intensity. Afterglows are fine, but let the waves break on the beach during the ahem, real deal.

    Scarlet sounds delightful, and poor Harrison. This is a new series to me, so I think I'll start with #1. Happy release day coming up.

  3. I know you'll enjoy this series Joan and Kait, because Jenn is all about the relationships and the story. No shocking sex scenes here:). And she's very funny!

  4. I'd agree with Kait, full frontal seems a bit too much for a cozy. And romance is just a part of life--without it, a character would be more of a cut-out 'amateur sleuth.' Even married romance works--look at Katherine Hall Page's character Faith--now married these many books and with *gasp* children! The series still works. Also Susan Wittig Albert's series set in fictional Pecan Springs, Texas. Not suggesting you marry off Scarlet and Harry right this minute.... the dance between two characters is usually lots of fun!

  5. Is there anyone else out there who thinks of dancing when they hear the word "shag"? I am from GA but have spent enough time in NC to have that be my first thought. That said, I love the Hat Shop mysteries.
    Anonymous in Atlanta

  6. Yes, anonymous, shag is ALWAYS dancing to me.

    Let's talk about hats, though, too. How'd you do your hat research, Jenn?

    And Reds, do you wear them?

  7. Welcome, Jenn! "Shag" makes me think of Austin Powers... Well, I love romance mixed with mystery personally, so I can't wait to check out Jenn's books! IHank, I wish I were a hat person...

  8. I like romance with mystery as long as it's organic and not forced. But yes, leave a little to the imagination.

    So not a hat person. More's the pity.

  9. I guess I am a bit behind in slang. To me shag is a haircut :-) but the series is terrific and I must play catch up.

  10. Ha. Shag makes ME think of carpet. And haircuts. Love how you describe the relationship, Jenn, and Scarlett's Very Good Reason for keeping her distance. But oh, my, you have raised the stakes for the poor man, haven't you?

  11. Ha ha! Kait and Joan - to me, shag is always carpet but the London series has caused me to open up my vernacular - oh dear, that sounds perverted! I agree that the hotsy-totsy stuff should stay off page in a cozy, but they should definitely have complicated relationships - it really helps the writer out.
    As for hats, I love, love, love them but I don't have a hat shaped head. I've tried. Nothing looks good on me, but they still fascinate. Hank, I used the millinery premise for this series to go do intensive research in London - as a reporter, I'm sure you'll agree it was quite necessary! I met with several milliners and had a lovely time trying on hats worth $700 and up (no, not kidding). It is a crazy cool business!

  12. I have one beach hat that I found in Australia that works--even our kids admired it, so I know it passed a very stringent test:). Otherwise, it's baseball caps all the way. I'll be 80 years old and still wearing a faded KEY WEST POLICE DEPARTMENT cap--I hope!

  13. When there's explicit sex in a mystery I skip over it. Honestly the worst are male author who try to write from a woman's perspective. They're embarrassing. I love my ROKU because now I can skip over the steamy parts of HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER and THE GOOD WIFE. But a little romance? Not a problem.

    Anonymous: Dancing? Can you use it in a sentence... as in We did the Shag... or They were shagging to the music... Or is your next shag taken?

  14. Hi Jenn! How did I miss the last two books in this series??? I'm putting them on my tablet right now to read on the plane to London on Monday! I love these books. They are funny and clever and the atmosphere is great. Not to mention that I love Scarlett and Harry, too. Oh, and I'm fascinated by the hat business. And I love hats. I can wear them, and often do in the UK. Here in the U.S, except for baseball caps (yay, Lucy!) I always feel a little odd in one.

    And yes, I very much like a little romance in a cozy mystery. But not explicit--that would spoil the whole charm of the books.

    Shagging means the same thing to me as it does to you:-)

  15. Shag is a weird word, no matter what connotation it's given! It's one of those terms that make me cringe, including (maybe especially) when it's related to carpet.

    I do love hats! And have a lot of them, although limited opportunities to wear same. There's an annual fundraising luncheon here in Cincinnati, Hats Off, sponsored by the volunteers who have funded or raised money for some extraordinary goodies for our local parks (including a fabulous hand-carved carousel). Everyone wears Derby-worthy hats, including the men, whilst sipping their champagne. I've been a couple of times, but now I'm out of hats that are fancy enough for the day, so not sure I'll go again.

    And then there's the St. Catherine's Day parades, are you aware of these, Jenn? St. Catherine is the patron saint of milliners, and the parade originated in Paris, where women wear fabulous chapeaux. There is also a parade in New York City, and a friend of mine, a former milliner herself, started one in New Orleans several years ago. Her version includes "chevaliers de champagne", male counterparts who serve champagne to the ladies in the parade. My husband and I went in 2014, and after the party we counted 43 empty bottles (everyone is asked to bring a bottle to share), which did not count those discarded on the parade route, or spirited away by either a hat-wearing participant or a member of the wonderful band escort. There's a Facebook page, if you're interested, with lots of photos, and links to more.

    Love the idea of a hat shop mystery, too.

  16. Kids, pets, and her husbands guitars. Interesting. No husband?! Just joking.
    This series sounds like great fun.
    Romance is fine as long as it doesn't take over and turn the story into a "bodice ripper".
    And humor? The best seasoning around.

  17. The Shag is a dance, like the twist, right? Big in 70's80's North Carolina, beach music. Isn't 'Build me Up Buttercup' a shag song?

    Oh, St. Catherine's Day--I didn't know about that. And whoa, a 43-bottle event. Yeesh!

    Lucky you, Roberta, seriously. I can't wear baseball caps. My ears stick out, it's ridiculous. And my head it too big, so I usually can;t even get them on.

    And Jenn, that;s wonderful! WHat terrific research assignment--and of course, necessity!

  18. First of all, I've been loving all the euphemisms for "loving." Even in a procedural or a thriller, it's not a bad idea to err on the side of restraint. As comedian Chris Rock reportedly once remarked, loosely paraphrased - that he'll "work blue," but Ray Romano who doesn't lives in a much larger house.

    Hats are a big deal in horse racing, especially for the Triple Crown races. Racehorse retirement home and charity Old Friends is connected with milliner Maggie Mae for horse-themed hats to benefit the farm, which has stables in both Kentucky and New York. Scroll down to see hats both modeled by retired jockey Rosie Napravnik AND a detailed post regarding the creations of some of the hats inspired by the horses and using the colors under which they ran. They're all lovely and works of art themselves. Enjoy!

  19. Rhonda - Thanks so much for the link. I will absolutely check it out.
    Libby - Ha! The guitars come with the Hub but he takes up less room.
    Hallie - Yes! I have yet to read a love scene written by a man that wasn't cheesy.
    Deborah - I am so jealous of your upcoming trip - there are no words. Have a
    wonderful time! What a great way to kick off 2016.

  20. Karen- I have not heard of the St. Catherine's parade! Thank you so much. I have to check it out. The next book
    is set in Paris - more research - it's brutal, truly.
    Gram and Leslie - I totally forgot about the shag haircut. I don't think I ever had one as I'm sure I'd remember.
    FChurch and Mary - I do believe less is more when it comes to sex in mysteries. It's all about the anticipation.

  21. Jenn, although I've enjoyed many mysteries without even a hint of romance I really do like having that sort of relationship in the background of a story… I think it makes the protagonist more vulnerable, more human, and it just makes the storyline a lot more fun! One vote for shagging over here! :-)

  22. As for "The Act," or the explicit details of shagging, I don't think it belongs on the page in a light-hearted mystery. I like romance in a mystery when it helps to make things more difficult for the protagonist. If it can be done in a way that fits with the "it's complicated" relationship, even better. As for the word "shag," I was familiar with the term, so I knew exactly what you meant. The Brits have some great sayings and it's nice to see them pop up every once in a while.