by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Off the Books By Lucy Arlington, along with an interesting interview with Lucy (aka Susan Furlong). Details at the end of this post on how to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it where a portion goes to help support KRL & an indie bookstore.
Off the Books: A Novel Idea Mystery By Lucy Arlington
Review by Cynthia Chow
Life seems to be aligning perfectly for Inspiration Valley’s newest literary agent, Lila Watkins. Not only is Lila engaged to Detective Sean Griffiths, but the Novel Idea Literary Agency is coincidentally hosting Booked for a Wedding, a weeklong event promoting their authors of wedding-themed books. Helping to promote the event are displays by floral vendors, photographers, caterers, and more, concluding with a bride and bridal party fashion show. Lila is proud that her newest author Lynn Werner will be promoting her first mystery novel, Wed ‘til Dead, at the North Carolina event. If only Lila’s reputation as a Murder Magnet wasn’t fulfilled by the death of local handyman Chuck Richards, who is lethally nail-gunned and left smashed in a wedding cake, ominously reminiscent of scenes out of the books of two of Novel Idea’s clients.
Evidence has the police quickly making an arrest, but a prominent client in jail ensures that the author’s book sales will decline just as quickly. As a result, Novel Idea’s owner Bentley Burlington-Duke enlists all of her agents – literary, of course – into investigating and clearing their clients of murder. It’s just as well that Lila’s initial goal of using the event to plan her own wedding is hijacked by the crime, as Sean has so far failed to follow through on either a promised engagement ring or an actual wedding date. With the victim having a seedy past as well as substandard carpentry skills, Lila will have her hands full juggling bridal events, emotional authors, and an unhappy fiancé.
The standout element of this novel is following Lila’s endeavors to discover and promote aspiring authors. The spark felt from a compelling submitted synopsis can lead either to disappointing early pages or the thrill of skillfully written first chapters. Lila is fully aware of the responsibility and power she wields, and she must determine on whom to focus her time and editorial efforts.
The sudden return of her son from college, as well as seeing her own tarot card-reading mother enter a new relationship, has Lila in danger of overreacting due to her fear that she may have neglected her personal responsibilities. The genial cast of literary agents, Inspiration Valley business people, and a rambunctious fostered Cavalier King Charles spaniel, ensures a humor-filled mystery and a deeply satisfying conclusion. The Novel Idea Literacy Agency’s next project is sure to entice even more readers into this literary series, and the rewarding bonus will be accompanying Lila on her journey into a new phase in life.
Interview with Lucy Arlington aka Susan Furlong:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Lucy/Susan: Twenty years ago, when our first child was born, I quit my job as a high school language teacher and began writing from home. I worked first as a freelance translator, then moved into academic writing. My first peace of fiction, a short mystery, was published in 2010.
KRL: When did your first novel come out?
Lucy/Susan: Murder for Bid was published in 2013 and features a burned out Chicago stock broker turned trash-to-treasure diva. She peruses garage sales, consignment shops and garbage cans in search of cast-off treasures to ‘upcycle’ and resell. Of course, along the way she discovers a body or two!
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense?
Lucy/Susan: Yes. I’m an avid mystery reader, so I feel most comfortable writing mysteries.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Lucy/Susan: I didn’t. I copied the setting and characters from two other authors. *giggle* Let me explain! The Novel Idea Mystery series was initially conceived by Ellery Adams and Sylvia May, who wrote the first three books in the series. They originated the concept, pen name, premise, setting, characters … everything, and the series proved to be extremely popular with cozy mystery readers, even hitting the New York Times Bestseller list. However, as their own careers grew, Ellery and Sylvia didn’t have time to continue the series. My agent asked if I’d be willing to take over and write the next two installments: Played by the Book and Off the Books. After reading the first three books, I fell in love with the characters and wanted to see their stories continue. It’s been a thrilling opportunity for me. And readers have reacted well to the change of authorship.
KRL: Tell me a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Lucy/Susan: All the Novel Idea Mysteries are set in the fictional town of Inspiration Valley, nestled in the picturesque hills of North Carolina. The quaint hamlet is portrayed as the ideal location for book lovers. The businesses have book-themed names such as the Sixpence Bakery, Sherlock Holmes Realty, The Secret Garden nursery, and the James Joyce Pub. The main character, Lila Wilkins, works as a literary agent and spends her days reading queries and manuscripts from promising mystery authors. She’s joined by a cast of quirky co-workers who scheme brilliant ways to promote the agency’s authors: book festivals; a celebrity chef cook-off for a competitive group of cookbook authors; and in the latest installment, Off the Books, a bridal expo to showcase the agency’s most popular bridal books. Of course no event is ever complete without a little mayhem. And while Lila would prefer sticking to fictional mysteries, she often finds herself caught up in solving real whodunits.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Lucy/Susan: Both. I mostly enjoy writing about regular, middle class folks who struggle with extraordinary issues, such as murder, as well as ordinary, everyday problems. I enjoy interweaving several subplots and growing characters throughout the series. When I write, it’s always my hope that I’ve made the characters come to life for the reader.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Lucy/Susan: I try to keep a strict schedule, writing every day while our kids are at school. Depending on the circumstances, I sometimes need to write in the evenings and on the weekends, too. For example, I may be editing a soon-to-be released book while wrapping up a deadline on a different book that’s due on my editor’s desk, all the while trying to eke out time to brainstorm a proposal for a future book. Marketing also takes a big chunk of time. So, it’s all a balancing act. If I slack off, things fall behind schedule quickly.
KRL: Do you outline?
Lucy/Susan: Yes, but it’s my least favorite writing chore. I’d much prefer to jump in and make up things as I go, but that usually gets me into trouble. I’ve learned that I need a loose outline upfront along with a list of character descriptions and motives. I also keep binders with extensive notes on characters and events for each book so that I can maintain consistent details throughout the series. Above my desk hangs a bulletin board chock-full of notes, maps, and index cards with scene sequences and plot threads that I need to remember. Instead of wall paper, I have yellow post-it notes.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Lucy/Susan: I do my best writing early in the morning.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Lucy/Susan: Yes! I’ve had my share of rejections, believe me. Every author’s road to publication is unique, but overall, I feel most published authors have a few things in common: a drive to write and create, a strong work ethic, and dogged determination. Even with all that, it still takes a certain amount of timing and luck to break into commercial publishing.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Lucy/Susan: My most thrilling acceptance came when my agent called with an offer of representation. We clicked right away and I knew she’d be able to help me achieve my publication goals.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Lucy/Susan: At one of my first signings, two readers drove from four hours away to attend. I was surprised and incredibly honored that they’d travel so far to visit me. After the event, we had coffee together and we still stay in contact. It was really nice.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Lucy/Susan: I’m writing a proposal for a non-cozy mystery. I’m excited about the challenge of writing something different.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Lucy/Susan: Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dorothy Sayers, G. K. Chesterton … and too many more to list.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Lucy/Susan: If possible, I travel to the location of my book’s setting. This helps me get a feel for the place and I think it shows in my writing. I also reach out to a variety of resources to double check facts. For example, Off the Books touches on topic of spousal abuse. I contacted the director of a women’s shelter and picked her brain for a while. Most people are incredibly generous with their time and willing to help out an author in need.
KRL: What do you read?
Lucy/Susan: I read all sorts of mysteries from cozy to hard-boiled. Recently, I’ve been on a thriller/suspense kick and am devouring books by Tami Hoag, Robert Crais, and Lisa Unger. I also enjoy biographies.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Lucy/Susan: I’m hooked on the older detective shows: Columbo, Perry Mason, Murder She Wrote, Matlock, Rockford Files. I also DVR the Masterpiece Mystery programs – for me, there’s nothing better than spending a day curled up on the sofa with a long playlist and a ready supply of junk food.
KRL: Sounds perfect! Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Lucy/Susan: Write every single day. If you’re in the process of submitting your work to agents or publishers, don’t give up! And always have another project in the works. That way, while you wait to hear on the fate of one project, you’ll have a backup plan.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Lucy/Susan: I also write the Georgia Peach Mysteries under my real name, Susan Furlong. The first in the series is titled, Peaches and Scream. The second, Rest in Peach, will release this April.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Lucy/Susan: I’m a third degree black belt and a former competitive fighter.
KRL: Wow that’s impressive! Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Off the Books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “books,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 20, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
You can use this link to order this book & a portion goes to help support KRL & an indie bookstore:
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section.