by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of another magical mystery, It Takes a Coven by Carol J. Perry, and an interesting interview with Carol. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of It Takes a Coven, and a link to purchase it from Amazon and an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
It Takes a Coven: A Witch City Mystery by Carol J. Perry
Review by Cynthia Chow
Living in Salem, Massachusetts, Lee Barrett has become accustomed to living in a community with a long history of witches and witchcraft. What she’s still getting used to is her growing ability to see visions in reflections, unsettling sights that are often vague but in hindsight always come true in the end. An instructor of TV production for the Tabitha Trumball Academy of the Arts, Lee has been asked to be the maid of honor for her student Shannon Dumas. Even the news that an African pied crow will be the designated ring bearer doesn’t seem too out of the norm, nor that it will be an all black-and-white wedding with a magician cake baker. What is alarming is the news that three witches have died in the past month, two of whom had yet to come out of the figurative broom closet and openly admit to their Wiccan practices.
Lee’s best friend River North, who hosts a call-in tarot-reading show for WICH-TV, has her own conclusions about the deaths and believes that her bad thoughts led to fates. Lee’s not a practicing witch herself, but she can’t believe that her caring friend could ever have come close to wishing someone dead. Lee’s boyfriend Detective Pete Mondello is in no hurry to have the accidents declared something more, as he may have come to accept her visions and ability as a scryer, but he also needs hard evidence. Lee’s involvement kicks into high gear when she has the opportunity to intern at the television station as an investigative reporter, finally moving her towards the career she intended and past her stints as a weather girl and shopping channel host.
Casting an eerie tone through this novel is the arrival of thousands of crows, who baffle scientists and provide Lee with the perfect puzzle to explore for a fifteen-minute news segment. The more she learns, the more Lee believes that their presence is connected to the deaths of the witches, especially when she has unwelcome visions of the first witch to be hanged in Salem. This sixth in the series ties back to earlier entries with a seemingly indestructible spell book, one which is far too powerful to remain on this plane of existence safely. Details surrounding the planning of a wedding are always entertaining, and here they balance out the darker elements of Lee’s Wiccan visions.
Further enlivening the novel are the glimpses into the workings of a television news production, not to mention Lee’s joy at achieving her goal. Having a legitimate excuse for snooping definitely gives her an out with Pete, and her investigations take her in a completely unexpected direction. A delightful array of characters that include a charming but untrustworthy art thief, Lee’s brilliant librarian aunt, and of course the familiar cat O’Ryan, ensure that this mystery delivers intrigue, humor, and perfect amount of scares.
Interview with author Carol J. Perry:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Carol: I’ve been writing, in one way or another, since childhood. I remember producing a laboriously hand-lettered neighborhood newspaper when I was around 10. Wrote a play when I was in seventh grade, wrote stories for the high school magazine…always have had a love of the English language. I grew up to be an advertising copy writer and enjoyed that career enormously! I wrote lots of non-fiction magazine articles, too. The novels are a more recent departure.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Carol: My first novel was a middle-grade book titled Sand Castle Summer. It came out in 1988 and was distributed by School Book Fairs. The world’s tallest sand castle was built near my home in Florida and I had written a magazine article about it. I thought the sand castle would be a good background for a story for young people.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
CJP: That book was followed by several other middle-grade novels as well as a couple of biographies for the same age group. None of them were mysteries. I’ve also written a travel guide book and a three-act play.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Carol: I’ve been a reader of mysteries since back in my Nancy Drew days. Love them! When I decided to write one, I chose the magical city where I grew up: Salem, Massachusetts, the “Witch City”—for the setting. (I was born there on Halloween Eve!) My Witch City Mystery series features Lee Barrett, a young widow who has the ability to see visions in reflective surfaces—she’s called a “scryer.” She has a police detective boyfriend named Pete Mondello, Aunt Ibby, a tech-savvy librarian, and a remarkable cat named O’Ryan, who used to belong to a witch. I’m working now on Book #8 in the series which features the same characters, along with assorted other people (and cats) as they solve mysteries together.
KRL: Do you write to entertain, or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Carol: I like to give readers some “take-away” value which usually involves some of Salem’s rich history. (I still sometimes write magazine articles about antiques and collectibles, so I’ve given Lee some pretty nice vintage stuff for her apartment which readers might like to know about!)
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Carol: I like to write early in the morning when everything is quiet, the phone’s not going to ring, and no one else is awake. Just me and the dog and the cat and a pot of coffee. Also, when a deadline looms, I sometimes check into a local Holiday Inn for a weekend and write uninterrupted for many hours. Works great!
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?
Carol: I don’t outline, although I greatly admire those who do. I know the beginning and the end of the story but what happens in between is strictly seat-of-the-pants writing.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Carol: Getting published isn’t easy for anybody. I had the advantage of many years of stringing words together for a living, so I knew some tricks of the trade, which opened a few doors for me. Even so, I’ve had my share of rejections. But hey, if this was easy, everybody would do it!
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Carol: When I began querying agents about my first mystery, Caught Dead Handed, most of the dozen or so I queried sent polite rejections, wishing me luck in placing it elsewhere. It was shortly after I’d signed my first book contract that I received a note from the last agent I’d contacted stating, “I don’t believe I could possibly interest a New York publisher in this piece of work.” I took snarky delight in writing to him: “Thank you for your comments on my book. I’m sure you’ll share my joy over my recent three-book contract with Kensington.”
KRL: Most interesting book signing story in a bookstore or other venue?
Carol: At the book launch for Book #5 in the series, Grave Errors, the very first person to arrive signed the guest book and said, “I’ll bet you don’t know who I am.” I had to admit I didn’t recognize her. She told me her name and I was amazed. We’d first met in nursery school in Salem, attended high school together, even went to each other’s weddings. She’d recently moved to the Tampa Bay area and had seen the notice [of my book signing] in the paper. Ever since then we’ve met regularly for coffee and renewed our long friendship!
KRL: Future writing goals?
Carol: I hope to keep the current series going for as long as possible! In my spare time though, I’m picking away at a romance novel. It’s my first attempt at that genre. It has a Florida setting. I’d like to write a young adult book someday too. We’ll see.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Carol: We lost one of my dearest writing heroes recently. Sue Grafton was such an inspiration to mystery writers. Another favorite was Phyllis Whitney. Martha Grimes is wonderful. Loved all of Lillian Jackson Braun’s cat series. Sofie Kelly’s Mystery Cats are a delight. Holly Robinson is so gifted. Carolyn Hart is a wonder. So many books—so little time!
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Carol: I do a lot of research for every book. That’s because sometimes the characters want to wander into fields I don’t know much about—so I have to learn as I go! For Murder Go Round I needed to delve into Russian history, and for Grave Errors I studied up on commercial laundry machines! I’ve had to learn about the Tarot and feng shui because recurring character River North is involved in those topics. Lee Barrett knows all about automobiles, and Aunt Ibby is a techie. Pete Mondello knows cop stuff. The book I’m writing now involves scuba divers. I keep learning!
KRL: What do you read?
Carol: Mostly these days I read mysteries (when time permits). My TBR pile keeps growing. I try to keep current with what’s selling in the cozy mystery field.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Carol: Don’t have a lot of time for either movies or TV. I like radio because I can listen and write at the same time. I watch news and sports, mostly at night. I like Hallmark movies, and especially the British mysteries. Guilty pleasures? Storage Wars, Antiques Roadshow, and old Golden Girls reruns.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Carol: Treat your writing as a profession. Read the genre you want to write. Go to writers conferences whenever you can. Join a local critique group, or round up a few more aspiring writers and start one. Don’t rush it. Take your time. Rewrite. Polish. Rewrite some more. You’ll get better and better. I promise.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
CJP: Here I’ll quote fellow author Judith Arnold: “Anyone who becomes a writer for the money needs a reality check—which I’m afraid, is not the same as a royalty check.”
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Carol: I’m a Scorpio. I don’t tell that stuff.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Carol: My website is in dire need of updating. I don’t Tweet, and Facebook seems to consist of pictures of grandkids. But the cat, O’Ryan, does a pretty cool newsletter, and if your readers would like to subscribe they can contact him at cperry3042@verizon[dot]net, and put O’Ryan in the subject line.
To enter to win a copy of It Takes a Coven, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “coven,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 10, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section.
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