I must admit to a fascination with Kate Carlisle, our June author, especially her Bibliophile mysteries. After I read the first one, I was hooked, probably because protagonist Brooklyn Wainwright, a bookbinder by trade, loves books even more than I do. Plus, she has a really hunky love interest, which adds a lovely romance to the mix! But before we start talking to Kate, let me tell you a bit more about her. She is a New York Times bestselling author of two ongoing series: the Bibliophile Mysteries, which feature San Francisco bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright, whose rare book restoration skills uncover old secrets, treachery and murder; and the Fixer-Upper Mysteries (as seen on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries), featuring Shannon Hammer, a home contractor who discovers not only skeletons in her neighbors’ closets, but murder victims, too. Kate’s newest book is The Grim Reader.
Janet Irvin: Welcome, Kate! I’m delighted to have you as my guest this month, especially as it marks the debut of THE GRIM READER. Although I haven’t quite caught up to this volume in the series yet, I’m working my way through Brooklyn’s adventures. Let’s begin with your novels. You have these two wildly successful series, The Fixer-Upper Mysteries about a contractor-sleuth and the Bibliophile Mysteries featuring a bookbinder heroine. Is there a particular episode in your life that determined this course and these characters for you?
Kate Carlisle: Certainly my personal experiences have influenced both series, in different ways. The first mystery series I started was the Bibliophile Mysteries. The book arts have been a serious interest of mine since I was a child. Although I have never been a professional bookbinder, I’ve taken many, many bookbinding and book arts courses and have a small but precious collection of rare books.
So when I was setting out to write a series of intelligent mysteries, creating a bookbinding heroine was a natural fit for me. To make it more interesting for me and more fun for the readers, each modern-day murder is linked to a rare book that Brooklyn Wainwright is restoring, and the themes of the contemporary story echo those of the book in her care. For example, in The Grim Reader, the action centers around Little Women, and astute readers will discover lots of little connections to Alcott’s story. (But don’t worry; if you haven’t read Little Women, you’ll have no problem following along. The Grim Reader works without any prior knowledge of Little Women.)
When I set out to create a second ongoing mystery series, I created contractor Shannon Hammer in honor of my father, who was also a contractor. I learned a lot from him, and I have a brother I can turn to for how-to advice when needed. Shannon specializes in Victorian home restoration in her hometown of Lighthouse Cove, California. If the Fixer-Upper Mysteries sound familiar to you but you haven’t read the books yet, you’ve probably seen the movies on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Jewel and Colin Ferguson did a terrific job of bringing my characters to life.
J.I.: Many people ask writers about their books. Few ask about the writing itself. How much revision do you do for each novel?
K.C.: I do a lot of revision. My first pass is to get the structure of the story down, and after that, I go back through and fill in what’s missing. Which usually means adding 50-100 pages to the story, and finishing it at midnight the day before my deadline. To my everlasting chagrin, I’ve discovered that panic is part of my process.
J.I.: What is the most difficult aspect of writing for you?
K.C.: Writing the first page. Although logically, I know I should be able to just write anything and then come back and revise it if need be, I’m neurotic when it comes to the first page. I have to have the book’s opening set in stone before I can move on. When I’m stuck, I play a lot of solitaire. Something about distracting my brain seems to work, though it doesn’t work as quickly as I’d like.
J.I.: That is interesting, and affirming. I use spider solitaire to help with thorny plot problems, too. 🙂 Setting is so very crucial to your novels. Your own background in California obviously contributes to the stories set there. But Brooklyn Wainwright travels abroad as well. How much travel/research do you do for novels set in other locales??
K.C.: Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities in the world, so when I sold my first Bibliophile Mystery, I immediately decided to set the second one, If Books Could Kill at the world-famous Edinburgh International Book Festival. The underground alleyways and abandoned homes beneath the city are the perfect backdrops for a murder mystery. I went there before I was published, and took copious notes and pictures, and then filled in the blanks with online research.
The Book Supremacy, which came out in hardcover last year and in paperback this past April, started out in Paris. I probably could have done all my research online, but where’s the fun in that?
J.I.: Thank you, Kate, for sharing with us this photo of a bouquiniste in Paris! You provide more photos, recipes, and maps on your web site, which I love. I especially like the Secret Room for those who sign up for your mailing list. However, these sites take time to create. Can you share with us the process for creating and updating the site?
K.C.: Thank you! I work closely with my very talented webmaster, Maddee at xunidesigns.com to create the site. I asked her to create a special section with bonus content for members of my mailing list, my way of thanking my most enthusiastic readers. Inside the Secret Room, you’ll find maps to accompany each of my series, with locations from the books—including murder sites; free bookmark and autographed bookplates; word search puzzles from each Bibliophile Mystery; book cover puzzles; a pattern to make your own gift box; a quilting pattern for bibliophiles; loads of recipes; and a lot more. My assistant helps me create the content and ensure the website is kept up-to-date.
To visit the Secret Room, click this link and enter through one of the doors: https://katecarlisle.com/secret-room.php
Speaking of recipes… I’ve included seven delicious breakfast recipes in The Grim Reader—a bonus for my readers.
J.I.: You continue to create and publish new books. Tell us about the forthcoming novel.
K.C.: In The Grim Reader, Brooklyn and Derek return to Dharma, California, the wine-country commune where Brooklyn grew up, in order to help with the first annual Dharma Book Festival. Brooklyn’s mom Becky is the head of the organizing committee. When a local man who threatened Becky turns up dead, Brooklyn and Derek have to find the real killer before Becky goes to jail for a crime she didn’t commit. Read a free excerpt at https://katecarlisle.com/grim-reader.php
J.I.: Do you have a favorite out of all the novels you have written? A favorite character?
K.C.: I really do love all of my characters. At least, all of the ones with good hearts. This has gotten me into a sticky situation in the past. In Books of a Feather, I had intended for a particular character to be the murderer, but I liked him or her so much that I simply couldn’t picture him or her doing the deadly deed. (Sorry for the awkward phrasing. I’m trying to be vague so I don’t spoil anything for readers who haven’t enjoyed Books of a Feather yet.) Two of my favorite secondary characters are Becky and Meg, the mothers of Brooklyn and Derek. Each one is independently something of a troublemaker, so when they become the best of friends and team up—watch out. They make me laugh frequently as I write. They play a significant role in The Grim Reader, which was a lot of fun.
J.I.: When you’re not writing, which author(s) do you read?
K.C.: Oh, so many! Like most writers, I’m a reader first. I read across genres. A few of my favorite authors include JD Robb, Paige Shelton, Jenn McKinlay, Susan Mallery, Pat Conroy for beautiful prose, Melinda Leigh, Kendra Elliott. I love audiobooks, too. When I’m listening as opposed to reading, I often like darker suspense.
J.I.: Now, some questions just for fun: You like wine. Care to share your favorite kind? Do you have a favorite way to celebrate the completion of a new novel?
K.C.: I celebrate completing a new book with a short break of champagne and a nice dinner… followed by several days of freaking out about all the stuff I left out. (That’s what revisions are for, right?)
My favorite wine is pinot noir. Must be Californian, of course. I’m a California girl. For food, I like almost everything. Pasta, steak… Basically, when you see one of my characters rhapsodizing about some particular food, it’s because I love it, too.
J.I.: You say you like to watch other people cook. What dish do you like to see them preparing?
K.C.: In The Grim Reader, as I was reading the first draft, I realized that my characters were eating a great variety of breakfasts. That’s why I decided to include the breakfast recipes in the book. Everything from breakfast tacos to pancakes with banana whipped cream. In Buried in Books, the book in which Brooklyn and Derek got married, I included book-themed appetizer recipes from their wedding.
J.I.: Is there anything you’d like to add to our conversation?
K.C.: In June, to celebrate the release of The Grim Reader, I’ll be giving away jigsaw puzzles featuring the book plus cats, books, and murder weapons from the covers of the previous Bibliophile Mysteries. I’ll send an announcement to my mailing list when the giveaway goes live. Readers can sign up at http://pages.katecarlisle.com/signup
For more information on Carlisle’s books, please visit her website, KateCarlisle.com.