Friday, September 30, 2016

To Cozy? Or Too Cozy?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Okay, I’m just gonna step back and let LeslieBudewitz talk. She’s hilarious, brilliant, and a dear pal. She’s the immediate past president of Sisters in Crime—and did an absolutely stellar job. She's a nationally best-selling author who lives in the wilds of Montana, and she’s fearless.

As she proves in this essay.

            By Leslie Budewitz

Ah, the poor cozy. In some circles—and I know you’ll be shocked—it’s fashionable to denigrate the cozy. To dismiss the amateur sleuth as a busy-body who should stick to running her book shop, her catering business, or her spice shop, and leave the down-and-dirty world of investigating murder to the cynical and jaded private investigator or his cousin, the cynical and jaded police detective.

I’m not buying it.

There is a reason we love the amateur sleuths of cozy world, and I’ve got a theory.

It’s not because we love the food they cook or the sweaters they knit. Well, not just because of the food and sweaters.

I’m not going to define the cozy—I could, but that would be another post! Suffice to say, as the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, we know it when we see it.

But here’s the key, for me. Whether the cozy is set in a small town or a community within a larger city, in the past or the present, whether the amateur sleuth is single or widowed, young or old, whether we like the victim or think she needed killing, the murder is a shock that disrupts the norm. It must be solved—and this is key—to restore a sense of order. Of course, there’s one in every book, so the reader isn’t shocked, but the residents are. They share an underlying belief is that people are basically good, and natural order can be restored.  

Some writers don’t like the term cozy. The great Carolyn Hart, whom I adore, says what’s more uncomfortable than murder in a small town where everyone is affected? I live in a small town, and she’s right. I never want to forget that murder is not just a means to tell a story—it’s real, and it hurts everyone.

But I like the term, because ultimately any book with an amateur sleuth is about community. Our intrepid sleuth steps away from her busy life to investigate because it’s necessary. The job of the professional investigators is to restore external order by making an arrest and bringing the killer into the justice system. But the job of the amateur sleuth is to restore internal order within the community. To restore the social order.

How does she do that? She’s part of the community—sometimes new to it, sometimes a local girl who returns home. Her occupation—running a coffeehouse or a pet-friendly hotel, catering, or midwifery—puts her at the heart of the community. She knows everyone. She understands the dynamics. She can see things the professionals can’t see and ask questions they can’t ask, because she knows what goes on. Often, her expertise gives her an advantage—because she knows the true value of the stolen rare book, beyond its price, she can understand the motivation to take it and identify the killer the police never suspected.

Ultimately, the cozy is about community. The characters and their relationships drive the plot, and the entire novel. And so I find the label “cozy” a positive choice. A hopeful choice.

As I often tell readers, cozies are the comfort food of the mystery world. And don’t we all crave a little mac and cheese now and then?

HANK: That’s such a great way of putting it.  What do you think, Reds and lovely readers? Have you had the “cozy” battle, er, discussion with anyone? Who's your favorite cozy author?


In Seattle's Pike Place Market, Spice Shop owner Pepper Reece is savoring her business success, but soon finds her plans disrupted by a killer in the latest from the national bestselling author of Guilty as Cinnamon.

Pepper Reece's to-do list is longer than the shopping list for a five-course dinner, as she conjures up spice blends bursting with seasonal flavor, soothes nervous brides fretting over the gift registry, and crosses her fingers for a rave review from a sharp-tongued food critic. Add to the mix a welcome visit from her mother, Lena, and she's got the perfect recipe for a busy summer garnished with a dash of fun.

While browsing in the artists' stalls, Pepper and Lena drool over stunning pottery made by a Market newcomer. But when Lena recognizes the potter, Bonnie Clay, as an old friend who disappeared years ago, the afternoon turns sour. To Pepper's surprise, Bonnie seems intimately connected to her family's past. After Bonnie is murdered only days later, Pepper is determined to uncover the truth. But as Pepper roots out long-buried secrets, will she be digging her own grave?

Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two cozy mystery series. KILLING THYME, her third Spice Shop Mystery, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, is due on October 4. DEATH AL DENTE, first in the Food Lovers' Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. The immediate past president of Sisters in Crime, she lives and cooks in NW Montana.

Find Leslie and excerpts from her books on her website, and chat with her on Facebook.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A BRAND new you!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What’s your brand? I don’t mean Armani, or Tide, or Pepsodent or Crocs. But hey—when I say those names—you get a vision, right?

And I’m sure you know there’s a lot of talk about branding your self!  (Not THAT kind of branding. It doesn’t hurt. Except maybe your brain, a little.)  

And THIS book will not only tell you why, but how you as an author—or you in any career, actually!—can successfully figure out how to do it.

And listen. What the amazing Dana Kaye is about to reveal is the kind of stuff you usually only hear behind the closed doors of consultant offices and publishing houses.  

Your Author Brand: What It Is and Why You Need One

Almost every author I’ve met, whether they write literary fiction for a small press or category romances for Harlequin, has considered themselves an artist of some sort, and no one wants to equate selling their art to selling Kellogg’s or Coca-Cola. They don’t view their books as commercial products.

But the purpose of branding is the same whether you’re selling books or breakfast cereal: to let customers know what they’re going to get before they buy. When you pick up a Coke, you know exactly what the soda is going to taste like. You know that the Lexus will have more luxury features than the Hyundai.

When you pick up the latest Nora Roberts novel at the grocery store or a James Patterson book at the airport, you know what types of stories are within those pages. Known brands are comfortable, familiar, and come with limited risk.

How do you identify this unique author brand? By implementing this formula:

You + Your Book = Your Author Brand

Your brand consists of who you are and what you write. For most of you, the “Your Book” piece of the equation will be easy, especially if this is your first book, if you write series novels, or if you’ve written multiple books in the same genre.

Where it gets tricky is if you write in different genres, for different age groups, and have a wide scope of work under your belt. Identifying one unique brand for many different books can be difficult, but it’s far from impossible. You just need to find your common denominator.

For each one of your books, fill in the following:

1)   Primary themes
2)   Secondary themes
3)   One line about the protagonist
4)   Genre category

Then, go through and highlight any patterns. Your books may be more similar than you think, and those common denominators will make up the “Your Book” portion of your brand.

Next, you have to figure out the “You” portion of the equation. Start out by asking yourself a few questions:
1)   Where do you live?
2)   What is your day job or background?
3)   What did you study in school?
4)   Are you considered an expert in any field?
5)   What do you do when you’re not writing?
6)   Do you have kids? Pets?

Once you have your list, highlight the responses that directly link to the book. For example, if you write a cozy mystery series and you also happen to knit, that would be a key part of your brand. On the other hand, if you went to school for molecular biology, that wouldn’t quite fit into your author brand.

Use your responses to come up with a tagline and a brand summary. Think of your tagline like a twitter bio: it should be short, clear, and memorable. Your brand summary should be a longer, 3-4 lines, and should convey a clear message about who you are.

For example, my tagline (and twitter bio) is: Publicist, triathlete, and all-around hustler. These 6 words accurately convey who I am, what my philosophy is, and a sense of what I’m like to work with. It’s also memorable and sets me apart from others in my field.

My brand summary is: I’m a book publicist with a knack for staying ahead of the trends and I there’s no substitute for hard work, creativity, and a whole lotta chutzpah. I’m passionate about books, spreading a love of reading, and educating authors on best publishing practices. I frequently jump off cliffs and build my wings on the way down.

This summary doesn’t encompass all that I do, but again, it conveys an idea or feeling of who I am and what I’m about, and that’s what you should expect of a brand.

I encourage all of you to take some time, go through the steps outlined above, and create your unique tagline and brand summary. Then the next time you’re at bookstore event or writers’ conference and someone asks “What do you write?” or “What kind of an author are you?” you’ll have a clear and concise answer that people will remember.

Feel free to share your taglines in the comments section. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

HANK: Oh, this is so HARD!  But Dana is here to help.  How about you, Reds and Readers, do you have a brand? And what books (and authors) do you think are successfully branded?  And why? Does it work?

Dana Kaye is the owner of Kaye Publicity, Inc. and author of Your Book, Your Brand: The Step-By-Step Guide to Launching Your Book and Boosting Your Sales. Known for her innovative ideas and knowledge of current trends, she frequently speaks on the topics of social media, branding, and publishing trends, and teaches online courses at

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Best Birthday Present Ever!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  There’s one critical thing every book must have.  Yes, a great character, and a great setting, and an important problem and a lot of secrets and a wow of an ending. But before all that. There’s one pivotal thing every book needs.

The germ, the gem, the nugget. The perfect unique twist or moment or action.
In other words: A good idea.

And the terrific Gigi Pandian got one for her birthday.  (and leave a comment to be entered for a copy of MICHELANGELO’S GHOST!

Milestone birthdays led to MICHELANGELO’S GHOST
                        By Gigi Pandian

Two years ago, I’d figured out the basic ideas that formed my latest novel, MICHELANGELO’S GHOST: A lost work of art linking India to the Italian Renaissance. A killer hiding behind a centuries-old ghost story. And a hidden treasure in Italy’s macabre sculpture garden known as the Park of Monsters.

I loved this new story I was crafting with an India-Italy connection. All of my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries involve a present-day crime linked to a treasure from India’s colonial history, and I felt like I was well on my way—but there was a problem. I hadn’t visited Italy in nearly two decades, and I’d never been to the Park of Monsters.

My silly husband has never been fascinated by Italy (I told you he was silly!), so I was preparing to take this research trip on my own. I’ve always been a good solo traveler, but the universe lined up to make sure I didn’t have to take this trip on my own.

Last year, I turned 40. Within a few months of my birthday, my mom turned 70 and my dad turned 80. (Yes, this is how we’ve always been able to keep track of each other’s ages!) Both of my parents were anthropologists before retiring, and my dad is originally from India, so starting when I was 10 years old they began taking me with them when they traveled abroad

To celebrate our milestone 40/70/80 birthdays last year, we decided to take a trip abroad together—just the three of us, like we hadn’t done since I was a kid. When I learned my father had never been to Italy, that settled it: we’d travel to Italy as our family trip. We’d visit Rome for my dad and the Park of Monsters for me.
Have you heard of the Park of Monsters? Also known as the Gardens of Bomarzo, it’s a Renaissance garden located between Rome and Florence built by eccentric nobleman Pier Francesco “Vicino” Orsini, that after centuries of neglect is now a popular destination for both horror film-makers and Italian families with small children. The park has always fascinated me because the gigantic, moss-covered stone statues are like oversize gargoyles, and they’re filled with such personality. My favorite is the ogre, with its wide mouth serving as a door that leads to… not a dark dungeon, but a picnic table!

I’m not telling this story here because it was a fun trip (even though it was great to relive the spirit of those childhood family travels—this time with none of my pre-teen eye-rolling). I’m sharing it here because the trip had an added bonus: traveling with my parents turned out to be essential to writing Michelangelo’s Ghost.

Before I left for Italy, the novel had a rough draft plot and some scenes I thought were rather exciting. But… It didn’t yet have a title. It didn’t have its main twist. And most importantly, it didn’t have its heart. I’ll tell you a secret: at the time, Michelangelo wasn’t involved at all.

But once I was in Italy, it was impossible not to breathe in the rich artistic history everywhere I turned.My father—who’s basically a walking encyclopedia—made an off-hand comment about Michelangelo being difficult to work with and not taking apprentices. With that, the story fell into place like a curling row of dominoes. Michelangelo and the mystery linked together perfectly. I don’t know how I didn’t see it sooner, but that’s how writing goes!

I’m sorry (but not sorry) that I’m not going to reveal the twists here. But I can tell you this much: I do my homework to get my history right. The treasure and the twists are historically accurate. And next week, you can read the mystery and history in Michelangelo’s Ghost.

Do you enjoy traveling by yourself, or with your family or friends? Or are you more of an armchair traveler who loves to experience the world through books?

HANK: How about you, Reds?  Do you like your travel real or in your imagination?  Or-- if you’d rather--what’s the best birthday present you’ve ever received?

(Oh—and the winner from yesterday of SAY NO MORE is SUSAN in Williamsburg!

Send me your address via H ryan at whdh dot com and I will send you the ARC of SAY NO MORE!)   And watch this space—I’ll give away another one later in the week!)

MICHELANGELO’S GHOST: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery

Publishers Weekly says: “Everything a mystery lover could ask for: ghostly presences, Italian aristocrats, jewel thieves, failed actors, sitar players, and magic tricks, not to mention dabs of authentic history and academic skullduggery.” 

When Jaya’s old professor dies under eerie circumstances shortly after discovering manuscripts that point to a treasure in Italy’s Park of Monsters, Jaya and her brother pick up the trail. From San Francisco to the heart of Italy, Jaya is haunted by a ghost story inexorably linked to the masterpieces of a long-dead artist and the deeds of a modern-day murderer.

USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her cultural anthropologist parents, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery short stories. Gigi’s fiction has been awarded the Malice Domestic Grant and Lefty Awards, and short-listed for Macavity and Agatha Awards.

To hear more about the stories behind the book, you can also join me for my virtual book launch party next Tuesday, October 4, on my Facebook page: (And in case you’re in California, you can join me in person:

Connect with Gigi via her email newsletter ( ), Facebook ( ), and Twitter )