by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Laura Levine’s latest Jaine Austen mystery and a fun interview with Laura. At the end of this post are details on how to win a copy of Killing Cupid.
Killing Cupid: a Jaine Austen Mystery By Laura Levine
Review by Cynthia Chow
As fans of the absolutely hilarious Jaine Austen series know, Jaine has a pretty abysmal record with romance and her choice of paramours. Besides her ex-husband The Blob, past suitors have included philanderers, murderers, and a few murder victims. So maybe the freelance writer – and award winner for the In the rush to Flush? Call Toiletmasters! slogan – isn’t the obvious hire for renowned professional matchmaker Joy Amoroso during the Valentine’s Day season. However, Jaine soon learns that Dates of Joy is as phony as its owner and that Jaine has been hired to dummy up phony profiles of fake clients who were lured in by a non-existent model casting call. What is real is the hefty membership fee of ten thousand dollars and the sad lonely hearts who pony up in the hope of finding their one true love.
Through bribery Jaine finds herself dating a geriatric Don Juan who seems more infatuated with her sociopathic cat Prozac than Jaine, but before she can get a payoff, Joy’s greed with her expensive truffles causes her demise when she drops dead from a poisoning. Unfortunately an anger-filled fake brochure (comparisons of Joy to Hitler at a Bar a Mitzvah may have been made) Jaine is once again a suspect in the eyes of the police, so this, along with curiosity and the desire to get some of her list wages has her questioning the broken hearts of Joy’s clients, her exploited employees, and her Boy Toy.
Laura Levine’s twisted wit can always be counted on to entertain readers as poor Jaine usually gets herself involved in no end of travails. Apparently it is an inherited trait, as her father’s ubiquitous emails document his own insanity as he attempts to steal back a questionably valuable ring from his nemesis Lydia Pinkus. Shoe maven and neighbor Lance Venable also adds to the chaos when he finagles a free match from Joy and somehow manages to land the one true catch. Apparently. I love this series and the hapless adventures Jaine definitely has a hand in creating, and somehow always emerges from alive. By the end of this fourteenth in the series Jaine may finally find her life on the upswing, but if her track record stays consistent that will probably end soon, with Prozac probably lending a paw.
Interview With Laura Levine:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Laura: For almost (gasp!) fifty years. My first job was as a reporter/photographer at a weekly newspaper so small we had our pictures developed at the local camera store.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?
Laura: My very first novel came out in 1989. It was a Young Adult story, originally called Beverly Hills Flop. Unfortunately, it was published only in Germany, and those wacky Germans changed the title to the far more catchy, Wir Haben Die Gleichen Traume. As far as I know, it’s available absolutely nowhere.
My first book in the Jaine Austen series, This Pen for Hire, was published in 2002. I’d always wanted to write a murder mystery, so I thought I’d give it a try. Given my background as a comedy writer, I decided to make it a comedy. I didn’t feel comfortable writing a tough gal protagonist (it’s so not moi), so I made Jaine a scaredy-cat chocoholic, who stumbles and bumbles her way through her adventures in homicide, an Almond Joy bar never far from her side.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Laura:After my brief stint as a reporter, I worked for several years as an advertising copywriter. Main claim to fame: I created Count Chocula and Frankenberry cereals for General Mills.
When I first came to Los Angeles to break into show business, I started out by selling jokes to Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller. In those days, if you sent them a self-addressed stamped envelope, they’d send you a list of joke topics. You’d mail them your jokes, and if they liked any, they’d buy them. Fortunately both of these very talented ladies bought some of my jokes, for which I will always be grateful. Because from that point on, I could say I’d written comedy material for Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller.
Soon I was writing jokes for other stand up comics, and eventually I broke into the wacky world of sitcoms where I spent the next seventeen years, working on shows like The Bob Newhart Show, Laverne & Shirley, The Jeffersons, Three’s Company, Love Boat, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
KRL: How cool. What was it like working in Hollywood?
Laura:Writing the scripts was easy. Watching them get re-written to smithereens was hard. And scripts always get rewritten in sitcoms. It’s part of the collaborative process. That’s why I love writing the Jaine Austen books. At last, as a novelist, I get control over what I write.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Laura:My latest book, Killing Cupid, is a Valentine’s mystery. Being the highly creative person I am, I got the idea to write it when my editor said to me, “Laura, how about writing a Valentine’s mystery?” In spite of much begging and pleading on my part, however, my editor refused to supply me with a plot, so I had to come up with that on my own.
I’ve always been fascinated by old-fashioned matchmakers, the kind of gals who take out ads in the back of local magazines and newspapers. Usually the ads feature a picture of a hardened blonde, shot through layers of Vaseline, promising to hand-pick the soul mate of your dreams. Call me a cynic, but I always figured these gals had to be on the shady side, and thought it might be fun to kill one off. Hence Killing Cupid.
In this stirring saga, Jaine gets a job working for one of these matchmakers—a ghastly gal with a penchant for lying, cheating, backstabbing and blackmailing. (And those are her good points.) When the psycho cupid gets bumped off on Valentine’s Day, Jaine sets out to find the killer in her unending search for truth, justice, and Valentine’s chocolates.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Laura:I write strictly to entertain. The only thing I want readers to take away from my work is the free bookmark they get if they show up at one of my book signings.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Laura:I’m usually at my computer at the crack of noon, often in my pajamas, honing my work avoidance skills.
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?
Laura:I absolutely outline. Never work without a net. Sometimes I’ll stray from the outline, but I like to know where I’m going before I start out. I plot out my books the way I used to plot out my spec movies (only one of which ever got produced, by the way.) I put each scene on a separate index card. One color for the mystery scenes, another for the comedy scenes. Then I lay them out on my dining room table to check for pacing and an overview of the story.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Laura:Afternoons and evenings are best for me. I’m definitely not a morning person.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Laura:Fortunately, I had a long list of writing credits when my agent submitted my manuscript, so my book sold fairly quickly.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Laura:Some day I’d like to try my hand at a straight comedy novel, ala my comedy idol P.G. Wodehouse.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Laura:As mentioned above, P.G. Wodehouse. Also, for comedy, Joe Keenan and Dave Barry. Literary fiction: Anne Tyler. Just love her.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Laura:As little as possible. That’s why I make up most of the locales in my novels. I don’t want to have to worry about getting the facts straight.
KRL: What do you read?
Laura:Mostly fiction. Occasional show biz bio. Recent faves: Gone Girl. The Dinner. The Silent Wife. Currently reading Sue Grafton’s W is for Wasted. I’m in awe of the way Grafton has kept her series alive and compelling for more than twenty books.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Laura:Love Alfred Hitchcock. Especially Shadow of a Doubt and Notorious. Other faves: Rosemary’s Baby. Sideways. Sunset Boulevard. And finally, for when I want to mellow out and relax, a movie probably nobody ever watches but me: a sweet comedy from the 1940s starring Peggy Ann Garner called Junior Miss.
As for TV, I’m an unabashed reality TV addict: Project Runway. Dancing with the Stars, and (gasp!) Real Housewives (of NY & Beverly Hills). I also watch Masterpiece Theater. (Does that atone for my sins?) Sitcoms: The Middle, Frasier re-runs. Favorite new show: Bates Motel.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Laura:I will pass on a piece of advice given to me when I first started out in show business and I was teamed up with an experienced sitcom writer. We were working on a script together and were having a tough time getting started. My mentor told me, “Everything stinks in the beginning, Laura. Just keep on going. We can always come back and fix it later.”
Those words are so true. Writing is always hard, especially at the beginning. That’s when you’re filled with self-doubt and at your most vulnerable. Don’t let your inner critic slow you down. Just keep on going. The more you write, the more the momentum builds.
And remember. Writing is a skill. The more you write, the better you get.
KRL: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Laura:I think it’s safe to say that my Kindle is my Significant Other. I love it to pieces. It’s instant gratification, plus I can pump up the print.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Laura:Those of you who’ve read my books might be surprised to know I’ve never even tasted Chunky Monkey ice cream (Jaine’s favorite snack). (See? I told you I hated to do research.) I used the name because I thought it sounded funny. (My favorite flavor is actually—snore—vanilla.)
Laura: Laura Levine Mysteries
KRL: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
Laura: I write the best I can, and hope people will enjoy my work.
To enter to win a copy of Killing Cupid, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Cupid,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen May 31, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.