by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of the first book in a new series by Laurie Cass-Lending a Paw: A Bookmobile Cat Mystery. We also have a fun interview with Laurie, and at the end of this post are details on how to win a copy of the book.
Lending A Paw by Laurie Cass
After passing on her first choices of becoming either the President or a ballerina, Minerva “Minnie” Hamilton’s dream since childhood has always been to be a librarian. She achieved her dream in Chilson, Michigan, where she now works as the assistant director for the Chilson District Library. And despite the best efforts by the director Stephen to discourage her with as many bureaucratic barriers as possible, Minnie managed to fund and now drives the first Chilson District Library Bookmobile. Her success has been largely due to the very generous financial grant gifted to them by Stan Larabee, a senior citizen the town labeled a tight-fisted grump but whom Minnie finds charming and sweet. Chilson is a town that does not forgive and forget and memories last multiple lifetimes.
So it’s all the more devastating when on a bookmobile run Minnie and her pet cat stowaway Eddie discover Stan’s body at a ramshackle farm, obviously murdered. Minnie is heartbroken, but it is the reactions of the other townspeople that bothers her more. Although he believes that the library will be the chief beneficiary of Stan’s will, the normally pristine Stephen is becoming more and more distracted and disheveled, Minnie’s coworker and Stan’s distant relative has become a suspect, and a surprising number of Chilson residents still have very unpleasant memories and resentment of and for Minnie’s benefactor.
Even Minnie’s beloved Aunt Frances, who owns a guesthouse for the summer boarders she accepts only on their eligibility as unknowing matchmaking candidates, has an emotional reaction whenever Stan’s name is mentioned. Living on a houseboat surrounded by her fellow odd boating residents, Minnie and her newfound cat companion Eddie manage to question those who may have had motives for wanting Stan dead even as they navigate their bookmobile route bringing joy and books to children, homeschoolers, and a retirement community.
Bookmobile cat Eddie doesn’t talk, narrate, or actively investigate the mystery, but he does serve as a sounding board for Minnie as she works her way through her pursuit to find justice for Stan. Eddie’s contribution are more akin to the feline heroes of Lillian Jackson Braun’s mysteries, as he does seem to lead Minnie towards clues while contributing to a rescue just in the nick of time. Minnie is a delightful young woman who finds joy in discovering the perfect book for everyone, and in a hilarious scene attempts to venture out on a first date out in a town that seems to allow no privacy for their favorite librarian. This first in the series charms with a likable heroine, feisty and opinionated cat, and multi-dimensional small-town characters. Just like the Chilson community, underneath what at first appears to be a simple premise resides deeper levels of secrets with touching emotions and intelligence.
Interview With Laurie Cass:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Laurie: I first started writing seriously in 1998, soon after I made a job change that allowed my brain to have some free time. A short 11 years later, I had a book contract in hand.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?
Laurie:My first published novel (I say published because I also have 6.3 unpublished manuscripts languishing in the back corners of dark drawers) is titled Murder at the PTA under the pen name Laura Alden. It was nominated for the Agatha Award’s Best First Novel. Didn’t win, but you can’t have everything. In Murder at the PTA, a single mom/children’s bookstore owner is convinced by her best friend to volunteer as the local PTA’s secretary. When the school principal is murdered, it turns out that solving the murder isn’t so elementary.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Laurie:My first unpublished manuscript (and let it remain unpublished forever because it’s horrible) was a romance. No idea why I wrote a romance. I rarely read them, so I don’t know how they’re structured, how they’re paced, or anything beyond the basic premise that the girl and the guy get together in the end. My next unpublished manuscript was a mystery. So were the next two.
Then there was a…well, let me think. Oh, yes. I wrote a thriller and then I attempted a very dark suspense novel. I had to give up writing that one about a third of the way in. I just wasn’t a good enough writer yet. One of these days I’ll get back to it; the plot is still in my head, just waiting for me.
Then I wrote mainstream novel set in the White House with a main character being the president’s adult daughter from his first marriage, and next was Murder at the PTA.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Laurie:Since I have a day job and don’t have much time outside of working and writing, I took the path of least research and set this series in the area where I live. (It doesn’t hurt that I live in a region of gorgeous lakes and hills and summer tourists galore.) The bookmobile part came to me in a short burst of inspiration during an email conversation with a group of writer friends. No idea how that happened, but I’m very glad it did.
Minnie, my bookmobile librarian, turned out to be curly haired because I’ve always wanted curly hair. And she’s short because a few years ago while was I watching my not-quite-five-foot-tall mother-in-law try so hard to get a book off a high shelf, I thought, “You know, wouldn’t it be funny to write about a librarian who couldn’t reach her books?”
KRL: Why did you go with the pet-related setting?
Laurie:Two things. No, make it three. One, I don’t like to imagine life without pets and so writing a pet-related book was a natural for me. Two, my editor knows how attached I am to my cats and said, “Why don’t you write a cat book?” Three, my husband and I have a cat named Eddie, who is so personality-rich that I can’t believe it took me this long to get him into a book. (He can’t believe it, either.)
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Laurie:Since I’m still working at a full time day job, I need to write whenever I can. Before work, during lunch, after work. And always, always, always, a part of my brain is in writing mode, picking up scraps of dialogue, thinking about plots, and working on ways to deepen my characters.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track
of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Laurie:Once upon a time, I wrote by the seat of my pants. Yes, I was a “panster”! However, these days my publisher wants me to send in an outline for each book. And now that I’m writing a book every six months, I find that having a nice, long outline means I have less editing to do at the end. So I’ve gone from no outline to having twelve page, single-spaced outlines. Not sure what that says about me, but it probably isn’t good.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Laurie:In an ideal world, I’d be able to write full time. I’d start the day with a nice long bout of exercise, have breakfast with my husband and wave him good-bye when he drives to his office, then take a quick shower and write until noon. An hour break, then back to writing until my husband comes home. A perfect day!
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Laurie:Short answer: yep.
Long answer: absolutely positively yes. But looking back at it, for the first few manuscripts, my writing wasn’t good enough. Yes, I’m a slow learner.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Laurie:In January of 2009, I was laid off from my full time job. You remember what the economy was like back then – there was hardly a job to be found. At the time, I was trying to find an agent for the mainstream book I’d written and getting nothing but rejection letters.
Rejection letters for the manuscript on top of rejections for every resume I sent out was just too much, so I quit the agent search cold turkey. Just couldn’t do it. In those dark days, I couldn’t even bring myself to do much writing. What was the point? All I was ever going to do was be rejected. Why waste my time? Why not go back to playing the piano badly instead of writing?
Then a writer friend of mine, Lorraine Bartlett, said her agent was looking for someone to write a new cozy series. A few short months later, I signed my first publishing contract. So to any writer trying to find a publisher, I say; keep at it. Don’t quit just before you break through, because that break might be closer than you think.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Laurie:To be able to write full time. Bliss.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Laurie:All sorts of them! But Laurie R. King is in the top five, along with James Lee Burke, Ursula Le Guin, Robin McKinley, D. E. Stevenson, and Martin Cruz Smith.
Oh, wait. That’s six, isn’t it…
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Laurie:Honestly? As little as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I love to do research and I know the importance of getting things right, but research can take a tremendous amount of time and there are only so many hours in a day. Therefore, I…well, I cheat a little. My main characters are in professions that I’m familiar with and I set my books in places that aren’t too different from the places I’ve lived. Well, except for the (unpublished) novel that I set in the White House!
KRL: What do you read?
Laurie:Sadly, not enough of anything. But I squeeze in half an hour or so right before going to sleep so I can get through a book a week, or almost. Lots of mysteries, of course, some historical fiction, a little bit of non-fiction, and the occasional Young Adult book.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Laurie:My writer friend Sofie Kelly got me hooked on Arrow, and Thursday just isn’t Thursday without watching The Big Bang Theory. Other than that I don’t watch much TV – we only have one television in the house and my sports-loving husband starts to get itchy when I change the channel away from ESPN for too long.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Laurie:Write, write, write, and read, read, read. (Not necessarily in that order.) Add a large helping of perseverance, let marinate for a few years, then add some more perseverance.
KRL: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Laurie:Well, I guess I don’t care so much how people read as long as they are reading.
KRL: Do you read e-books yourself?
Laurie:Yep. At the bottom, I prefer print, but my husband really likes that I recently bought a backlit e-reader. It’s much easier for him to get to sleep when I’m reading in bed with the e-reader than with the bedside light on.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Laurie:If you love to read, there’s probably at least one person in your life who gave you a book that you still cherish. Send that person, or that person’s children, a thank you letter and share how much that book meant to you. It’ll make someone’s day.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Laurie:Until I was seventeen, I wanted to be a commercial pilot. Then I discovered that commercial pilots are required to have 20/20 vision. Since my vision was (and is) so horrible that I wouldn’t have been admitted to flight attendant training, I gave up that dream, went to college, and wound up with a degree in geology.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Laurie:Website at www.lauriecass.net. Twitter, no. Facebook at www.facebook.com/bookmobilecat. Every Friday I put up a photo of the real Eddie on the Facebook page, but please don’t tell him. He already has an inflated sense of his importance in the world.
KRL: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
Laurie: Well, to tell you the truth, I have no idea. All I know is that I love to write and that I will keep on writing, no matter what.
To enter to win a copy of Lending a Paw, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Paw,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 4, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.