by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a fun theatre mystery from Cindy Brown, along with an interesting interview with Cindy. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Ivy Get Your Gun, and a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
Ivy Get Your Gun: An Ivy Meadows Mystery by Cindy Brown
Review by Cynthia Chow
When Ivy Meadows (Olive Ziegwart’s stage name) receives a panicked call from her friend Marge, it’s not Timmy in the well who needs rescuing, but Lassie. Marge’s beloved pug Lassie has gone rogue and joined a feral pack of roaming Chihuahuas, and “Arizona’s Ethel Merman” is begging Ivy to bring him home. Ivy may be a full-time aspiring actress, but she is also a part-time detective trainee at her Uncle Bob’s Private Investigative firm. Before Ivy can start tracking down the rogue pug though, shots ring out at Marge’s boyfriend Arnie’s Western theme park. This is expected during the old-fashioned, staged gunfight, but the gunfighter remaining dead is not. Encouraged by his newly discovered son Nathan, Arnie, or more accurately, Marge, invested in the Gold Bug Gulch, a tourist attraction built out of the remnants of a deserted mining town. Although Arnie refuses to question Nathan’s legitimacy, Marge pressures Arnie into hiring Ivy to discover whether the bullet-swapping was an accident, sabotage, or the result of Arnie’s feared family curse.
Working undercover as an actress in dual roles for a Gold Bug Gulch Arnold Opera House stage production, Ivy blusters through her investigations with her forthright questions and inquisitive mind. The old West becomes a recurring theme in both her professions, as Ivy is auditioning for a regional theater company production of Annie Get Your Gun, in the hopes of portraying the legendary sharpshooter Annie Oakley. No one is more devastated than Ivy to discover that the stage and movie adaptations ignore Annie’s trailblazing feminism and acts of charity, choosing instead to showcase her as a ditz who could never catch her man. It’s a concept Ivy is determined to correct, even as she confronts the continuing ideology that women can only fit into one of two roles; Madonna or Whore. At least Ivy is able to use this to her advantage, playing the bimbo in order to investigate the deceased Mongo’s family history, a bat-crazy environmentalist, and connections to the rest of the cast.
This novel excels at operating at several different levels. While it is endlessly entertaining and full of humor, the author is not afraid to tackle serious topics and confront contemporary issues. Ivy continually finds herself juggling between two roles: actress and detective, independent woman and insecure girlfriend, young woman and mature adult. One of the greatest joys of reading this series is watching Ivy grow up before our eyes. Ivy definitely has her comical moments of klutziness, which include falling into cholla cactus, disguising as a nun, literally butting heads with Arnie’s son, chasing down Chihuahuas, and displaying hunger-induced scatterbrain. Yet at the same time Ivy steadfastly proclaims Annie Oakley’s true character as a woman who challenged the precepts of her time. A tragedy from childhood that led to a neglected childhood continues to impact Ivy, and despite her nimble tap-dancing around the issue, it is coming to a breaking point with her secret boyfriend. Ivy’s use of humor to deflect uncomfortable situations may be frustrating for Matt, but it is a treat for readers. This being a true novel of dualities, the fourth in the Ivy Meadows Mystery series is a masterful blend of mystery and the entertaining fun of the theater world.
Interview with Cindy Brown:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Cindy: I’ve always loved to write; I first took it seriously about 25 years ago. I was teaching theater to children and couldn’t find scripts that had enough speaking parts for all the kids, so I wrote plays for them; my fave was Snow White and the Seven Aliens. I wrote short plays from then on (I’ve had about a dozen one-acts produced), and later veered into screenwriting.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Cindy: Macdeath (January 2015) was my first novel. One day in 2007, I woke up with the character of Ivy Meadows in my head. I knew she was an actor and part-time PI; I knew she was involved with a murder during a production of Macbeth (the play is cursed, you know), and I knew she didn’t fit into a play or screenplay, so I decided to learn how to write a novel. Luckily, I had just moved to Portland, Oregon, which has more support for writers and readers than any city I’ve ever seen. Macdeath was nominated for an Agatha Award for best debut novel, and my Portland writing community (and the fabulous editors at Henery Press) deserve a lot of the credit.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Cindy: My plays and screenplays were all comedies. I especially loved to write romantic comedies, and often liked to include a dog. Case in point, my short film “Out West” was a Western/romantic comedy/dog movie.
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.
Cindy: My mom sent me a newspaper clipping in November 2015: A gunfighter/actor in Tombstone, Arizona really shot another actor doing a reenactment of the gunfight at the OK Coral. Voila! I had the opening and the main mystery plot for Ivy Get Your Gun! In my book, Ivy investigates the incident by going undercover as an actress in a melodrama at a Western-themed town (I once acted in one at Pioneer Living History Museum). And, like every book in the series, I gave Ivy several character arcs so that she grew as an actor, a PI, and a person. In this book, she finally does a bit of successful improvisation (her actor arc), learns to handle a gun (PI arc), and figures out why she tends to sabotage her love life (personal arc). Plus there are marauding Chihuahuas, inspired by another real-life incident. True story.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Cindy: Though I definitely write to entertain, each book has an underlying theme, e.g., Oliver Twisted explores what family means, and Ivy Get Your Gun is my “Girl Power” book. And through all of the books, Ivy struggles with her feelings about her brother, who has a cognitive disability. She’s riddled with guilt about the accident that caused his brain injury, and also learning to accept him as the adult he is now.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Cindy: I schedule writing time every day, but that schedule changes depending on the stage of the book I’m in (see below), the other work I need to do that day (I’m a ghostwriter), life in general (trips to the grocery store or the community garden), and my little Terrier Seamus, who does not always understand the difference between writing time and playtime.
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 while you are writing it?
Cindy: I use dramatic structure to help me outline my books. Before I begin writing, I know the inciting incident (the bang! that starts the book), the turning points for each act (big twists that turn the story in a new direction), and the climax. I also know each of Ivy’s arcs (see above), and any other subplots I might want to include. I always do extensive character work before beginning, so once I have these bits of the plot in mind, I let my characters loose and they drive the story.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Cindy: My best writing time changes depending on what stage of the draft I’m in. During first draft stage—when I’m trying to get the story on the page—I like to write in the morning, when I’m not quite awake. As you can imagine, my morning brain doesn’t work well for later drafts, so I use afternoons or evenings for organizing and editing. And I love to write late into the night but find it difficult to go to sleep afterward (I can easily stay up until four in the morning), so I’ve shelved night-writing for now.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Cindy: Yes. I had to rewrite Macdeath a bunch of times, and one of the rewrites took nearly a year. I had originally written the entire book in shifting first person point of views, i.e., a chapter from Ivy’s POV, then one from Linda the stage manager, then one from Simon the famous British actor, etc., etc. Agents told me that particular structure might work for literary fiction, but not for a light mystery—too much work for the reader. So I rewrote the entire book from Ivy’s point of view.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Cindy: When I first started submitting my work, my friend and mentor April Henry, a best-selling YA author, gave me some advice that really gave me positive perspective on rejections: Take a piece of paper and write “no” 100 times, followed by one big “Yes!” Each time you get a rejection, cross off a “no,” and you’ll be able to see that you’re moving toward “Yes!”
KRL: Most interesting book signing story—in a bookstore or other venue?
Cindy: A writer came up to me after a recent library event in Camas, Washington. We had a delightful time talking about writing a series, using different points of view, and outlining versus “pantsing.” She had just finished her third book. She’s 11.
KRL: Wow. Future writing goals?
Cindy: I have a billion ideas in my head: for mysteries, romantic comedies, plays, even a disco musical. I’d love to be able to write a little more efficiently so I can get more of them out of my head and onto paper.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Cindy: I have so many! If I had to pick one who made a big difference in my life, it would be Sue Grafton. Her books were the first ones I read that featured a female PI, and her sassy sleuth Kinsey Millhone definitely inspired Ivy. Even better, Sue was the judge for the Words with Jam First Page Competition, and she awarded me third place for The Sound of Murder. That honor was one of the things that made editors and agents take notice of my work.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Cindy: I love research, and I do a ton of it. For Ivy Get Your Gun, I ran the PI, legal, and medical issues past the wonderful Crime Scene Writers listserv and the even more wonderful Arizona private investigator John Hopper; I talked to experts on rifles, mines, non-profits, bats, and septic tanks; and I toured Goldfield Ghost Town, the Hassayampa River Preserve, Bridgetown Forge, and Wickenburg Arizona’s Rancho Bar 7.
KRL: What do you read?
Cindy: I read really widely, everything from poetry to thrillers. Two exceptions: I don’t read a lot of nonfiction except for essays, and I can’t read anything that is too close to my own writing because my subconscious will mimic other writers’ voices if I’m not careful. I once caught myself dreaming in another character’s point of view (Davis Way in Gretchen Archer’s fabulous books).
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Cindy: As you might imagine, I love mysteries and comedies. I recently watched all of Ann Cleeves’ Shetland, and I’m really looking forward to Kenneth Branagh’s version of Murder on the Orient Express. Favorite TV comedies include 30 Rock, New Girl, and Arrested Development, and I love the movie Little Miss Sunshine—such heart in that comedy.
KRL: Advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Cindy: I think it’s important to get feedback about your writing from critique groups or workshops. I also think it’s important to protect your voice and your original story idea. Listen to the advice about what’s working and what isn’t, but tell the story you want to tell. There’s a great critique method by choreographer Liz Lerman that I particularly like. You can read more about it in this blog post I wrote for Henery Press.
KRL: How do you feel about the growing popularity of ebooks?
Cindy: Though I love (and prefer) physical books, I think ebooks are fabulous. Their low price point makes it so much easier for readers to take a chance on a new author. My first two books are $2.99—less than a fancy cup of coffee!
KRL: Do you read ebooks yourself?
Cindy: I do. I especially like to read them when I’m traveling, partly because a Kindle is lighter than a load of books. But also because I like to read late into the night without keeping my husband or roommate awake.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Cindy: My newsletter, Slightly Silly News, is really fun. Every month readers get a “Best Places to Hide the Body” photo, a trivia quiz, random stuff that makes me laugh, and a smidgen of book news. Folks can see the latest newsletter here (and can sign up to receive it at the link near the bottom of the newsletter, by the quiz answers).
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Cindy: Wow, I don’t know. I’m kind of an open book, and I love puns—can you tell? ? If people haven’t met me in person they probably don’t know that I have a slight disability. I live with a condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, which basically causes my joints to dislocate easily. I became disabled in my mid-30s, and though my disability definitely affected my acting career, it also pushed me toward writing. I also had a tremendous amount of support from the arts community and the good fortune to be hired as the first director of ARTability, a national award-winning organization that helps provide access to the arts people with disabilities.
KRL: Wow! That may be the top answer to this one yet.
Website? Twitter? Facebook?
KRL: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
Cindy: It’s tough. I think it helps that my books are a little different—they’re funny in a sort of old-fashioned screwball comedy way. I also love to do events and connect with readers. It satisfies my extrovert nature. Other than that, I just try to make sure each book is better than the last one. Onward!
Check out other Henery Press mysteries on their website.
To enter to win a copy of Ivy Get Your Gun, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “ivy,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 1, 2017. 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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