Sharon: Please welcome Ellen E. Kennedy to our Meet The Author Day. (She waits for the applause to die down.) Ellen, May I get you a cup of coffee? Tea? A soft drink? Or just plain water?
Ellen: Water with lemon, please. Or no lemon, whatever you have. Bottled water, or a glass of water or one of those Styrofoam cups with ice or maybe I could just step into the hall and use the water fountain. Whatever works for you. Actually, you know? I’m not really thirsty. Thanks, anyway! (The audience chuckles.)
Sharon: As long as you don’t mind if I drink my sweet white coffee!
So, Ellen, when and how did you get interested in writing?
Ellen: Though I majored in history, my career after college was as a copywriter.
I wrote commercials, newspaper ads, brochures, you name it. I used to joke that it fit my attention span: thirty or sixty seconds.
Sharon: Did you enjoy copywriting?
Ellen: It was fun and kind of exciting with a touch of glamor. I would produce and direct local TV and radio commercials. That’s about as close to show business as I cared to get because I hate rejection. (Which begs the question--an expression I dislike intensely, by the way--if I really hate rejection, why on earth would I become a writer?)
Sharon: Isn’t that the truth!
So when did you begin writing fiction?
Ellen: I began this novel-writing phase once our daughters were grown. Cozy mysteries in the tradition of Agatha Christie were what I read all the time, so that’s what I’ve tried to create in the Miss Prentice series, beginning with IRREGARDLESS OF MURDER and followed by DEATH DANGLES A PARTICIPLE. Titles amuse me, and it’s fun coming up with ones that reflect my character and her profession: a high school English teacher.
Sharon: Love the titles. I enjoy mysteries.
Who has been one of your best encouragers on your writing journey?
Ellen: My husband has been wonderful. He’s a mechanical engineer, with a number of patents to his credit, and understands the creative process. One of the most helpful things when working on a story is to bounce ideas off him. His reactions help me gauge how I’m doing. He’s also made some great suggestions, especially with titles and character names. We like to talk about these things as we ride together in the car. I admit it, I’m blessed.
Sharon: Yes you are.
Besides having your husband’s support, what makes your writing different than other writers? What is your brand? What can a reader expect every time he or she picks up one of your books?
Ellen: I don’t know if I’m all that different from others, but I will stress that I’m all about entertainment—wholesome entertainment. I’ve always loved mysteries and a number of years ago, I read a mystery that was so lousy, I literally threw it across the room (fortunately, it was a paperback) and declared: “Even I could write a better mystery than that!” So I decided to write something that I wanted to read. I think that’s the key.
My brand, if you will, is cozy mystery with a Christian world view. My books aren’t evangelistic, but my main character and many other characters are believers. I also like to think that my books are funny. One of the biggest compliments I received was in an Amazon.com review. The reader, a teacher, said that something I wrote made her spit out her latte. Here’s the quote she liked: (Amelia is saying that she gave up the idea of becoming a ballerina.)
“I had decided instead to become a teacher. Fortunately, body proportion is seldom an issue in my profession, as is clearly evident from a glance at the yearbook’s faculty pages.”
What I hope a reader finds in my books is an intriguing puzzle, some characters they like to spend time with and an occasional laugh--and all this without being grossed out or embarrassed.
Sharon: How do you choose the settings for your books?
Ellen: In the time-honored tradition of “write about what you know,” I decided to start the Miss Prentice series in my favorite place—the public library—in the town where I was raised in northern New York state. I never mention the name of the town in the books, and I’ve changed things like street names and stores, but for the most part, when I’m writing about Miss Prentice, I’m picturing the Plattsburgh of my childhood.
I have two other books, ANOTHER THINK COMING, an as-yet-to-be published novel, and TEXAS FIRES, a romance novella e-book I’ve self-published. They’re both set in Eastland, the tiny central Texas town where we raised our two daughters. I love that place!
Sharon: Of your own experiences, what influenced the writing of the Miss Prentice books the most? What features became aspects that were Amelia’s alone?
Ellen: Amelia Prentice, a high school English teacher, is an amalgam of the many teachers I’ve had, combined with my experiences as a substitute in my daughters’ high school. Many of her insecurities are mine, too, but I’m a little less naïve than she is. What’s more, it’s no secret that she’s a lousy cook, and I’m only a so-so one. She’s a lot prissier than I am, she’s a better teacher, I suspect.
As the series progresses, though, I find I’m incorporating more of my own experiences in the stories. A case in point is in the upcoming third book in the series, which will be released in September, MURDER IN THE PAST TENSE. I once saw in a tabloid newspaper that a long-ago acquaintance of mine--an actor--had been murdered and since the crime had gone unsolved, I decided to solve it--fictionally. I managed to include much of my experiences in summer stock theater in the story. It’s my favorite book in the series, so far.
Sharon: Now that is interesting! Would you say being published changed your life in any way?
Ellen: It’s a wonderful thing to be able to follow one’s own creative bent at a time when many people are retiring. Both my husband and I continue to work, and I think it’s awfully good for us!
Sharon: In other words, being published makes you content. That’s great!
What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?
Ellen: To quote a character from that old TV show, The A Team, “I love it when a plan comes together,” or rather, when a plot comes together. It happened in IRREGARDLESS OF MURDER when I changed villains and suddenly, everything in the story up to then made total sense!
I don’t mind doing promotion for my books, but it’s terribly discouraging sometimes. Recently, it’s been like pulling teeth to find places willing to have book signings or guest speakers. Everything has become much more bureaucratic in the last few years. If it isn’t handed down from the head office, it’s not happening, so it’s hard to get one’s foot in the door. My publisher, though wonderful and highly professional, is very small and can’t do everything.
Sharon: Yes, that is true. Even the big publishers expect their authors to do a good bit of their own promotion.
Are you planning more books?
Ellen: Definitely! I’m currently working on number four in the Miss Prentice series, tentatively titled, INCOMPLETE SENTENCE. I have a general idea about the story: a serial killer who may be a guest at my character’s B&B. Haven’t worked out all the details yet, though.
My publisher has also expressed an interest in publishing ANOTHER THINK COMING, a full-length Texas novel. It’s about a grandma who takes the law into her own hands to go after a drug dealer, repents, but is suspected of murder, anyway. It has tragedy, comedy and redemption in it. There’s talk of making it a series, because the character of Hester MacBride is so funny and feisty. That’s in the future.
Sharon: How can readers find you on the Internet?
Ellen: I’m on Twitter as @eekmystery, and on Facebook as Ellen Edwards Kennedy. I love getting email: firstname.lastname@example.org. My website, which offers sample chapters of the books and other goodies, is www.missprenticecozymystery.com. My books (both e-style books and paperback) are at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christianbook and Deepershopping.
Sharon: Thank you so much for joining us today. Do you have any parting words?
Ellen: I’d like to encourage readers to communicate with the writers who have entertained and enlightened them. Don’t be shy! And don’t hesitate to write honest reviews on the various review sites: Goodreads, Amazon, etc.
And finally, God bless you all! You’re the reason I keep at it.
Q4U Readers: Thank you for joining us today. Can we have a show of hands on how many of you reading the blog today enjoy mysteries (Sharon raises her hand)