by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of the latest Wine Trail mystery by J.C. Eaton along with a fun interview with the couple who make up the writing team of J.C. Eaton. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win either an ebook or print copy of Divide and Concord and a link to order it from Amazon.
Divide and Concord: A Wine Trail Mystery by J.C. Eaton
Review by Cynthia Chow
With only three months to go until her sister and brother-in-law return to take over their Two Witches Winery in Penn Yan, New York, Norrie Ellington is eagerly anticipating the return to her full-time job as a screenplay writer. So far life in Seneca Lake has been inundated by too many corpses, and it doesn’t look like the near future will be any smoother. An unexpected snowfall has shifted Norrie’s current movie site from Niagara Falls to the winery, meaning that a Canadian film crew of celebrity actors and assistants will be descending on the town during the same weekend as the annual Wine and Cheese Festival. The timing couldn’t be worse, but that’s nothing compared to the demands of the temperamental and obnoxious director Devora Dobrowski. Threatening both Norrie’s career as a screenwriter and as the manager of the wintery, the Cruella de Vil of directors leaves Norrie fuming and spewing a few threats herself. She’s not the only one to have confrontations with the director, with the star actress Pricilla McCoy having one of the loudest. When Norrie’s Plott hound Charlie discovers a body in vineyard pond wearing Pricilla’s necklace, Norrie makes the obvious conclusions and calls the police alerting them of her discovery.
That’s not the first of Norrie’s rush-to-judgments, resulting in Yates County Sheriff’s Deputy “Grizzly Gary” Hickman habit of rolling his eyes and disregarding her many assertions. Her belief that the police are plodding along motivates Norrie to conduct an investigation of her own, enlisting her friends and staffers as researchers into the social media lives and backgrounds of the suspects. A law school-taught divorce case, rival directors, aspiring actors, and candy company investment become a part of Norrie’s growing investigative list as she leads the charge to track down a killer.
The quirky and entertaining characters of Penn Yan are the attraction for this light-hearted series, which has them enthusiastically engaging in off-the-books investigations. Norrie has no qualms about breaking-and-entering or in confronting suspects head-on, and while the deputy may be slow-paced, he’s not stupid. His interactions with Norrie are as hilarious as the ones she has with entomologist Godfrey Klein. They may have exchanged a kiss, but their ability to converse without actually listening to one another is a delight. Norrie’s chemistry with attorney Bradley Jamison is far more fiery, but the time limit on her stay in Penn Yan curtails possibilities for their future. Norrie’s sense of self-preservation may be somewhat questionable, but what never waivers is her determination to solve the murder and track down the truth. This fifth in the series is at its best when it highlights the absurd nature of movie-making, along with fascinating details involved in running a winery. This is a fun-filled read that combines the chaos of the entertainment business with the nuance of crafting wine and growing grapes. Funny dialogue, an unexpected reveal, and thrilling conclusion make this a satisfying and intriguing read.
Interview with Jim and Ann Goldfarb aka J.C. Eaton:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Jim & Ann: Ann wrote for trade magazines before penning YA time travel mysteries under her own name in 2008. We began to collaborate on cozy mysteries in 2013 with our first novel, a comic whodunit, Booked 4 Murder.
KRL: Have you always written together?
Jim & Ann: No. Jim wrote informational materials for the winery business while Ann focused on educational articles in her role as a teacher and school principal. She moved on to trade magazines and teen novels before discovering it was more fun to write humorous cozy murder mysteries with Jim.
KRL: How did you come up with the pen name JC Eaton?
Ann: Since we didn’t want readers to confuse our cozies with the YA novels, we needed a penname. J.C. are Jim’s initials and Eaton is his mother’s maiden name.
KRL: What is your routine like when you write a book together?
Jim & Ann: Once we have a premise, Jim crafts a rough plotline for the first quarter of the book. We embellish it with shared dialogue and movement. Then Ann fills in lots of descriptions. Then more plotline, then Jim edits. More dialogue. More movement. We go back and forth in small increments. Jim works in one part of the house and Ann in the other. We used to collaborate at area coffee shops but now we do that at our kitchen table.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was the title, and would you tell us a little about it?
Jim & Ann: Thanks to our amazing agent, Dawn Dowdle from Blue Ridge Literary Agency, and our fantastic editor, Tara Gavin, from Kensington, Booked 4 Murder, came out in 2013. It’s a cozy mystery set in the retirement community of Sun City West, Arizona, where Harriet Plunkett believes the ladies in her book club are being killed off due to a book curse from something they are reading. She convinces her bookkeeper/accountant daughter, Phee, to fly out from Mankato, Minnesota, to find out what’s going on and to put a stop to it. Not only does Phee have to contend with her mother’s wacky friends, but with Streetman, the neurotic Chiweenie dog Harriet adopted.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Jim & Ann: Ann wrote a Sci-fi thriller for teens called Time Tracer in addition to the historical fiction time travel novels.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Jim & Ann: When we retired from New York and moved to Sun City West, we were astonished at the stories we heard. Too unbelievable to make them up. Jim got the idea to exaggerate them and work them into murder mysteries. The senior community setting is priceless.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Jim & Ann: Life is challenging enough. We want to entertain our readers and keep them laughing and guessing whodunit.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Jim & Ann: For the most part, we write every day. Mostly mid-mornings and early afternoons. Once in a while Ann writes at night but I wind up editing most of that out by the next day. LOL.
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?
Jim & Ann: Oh my gosh. We really admire authors who outline well. We don’t. We create a murder map, complete with visuals and graphic organizers. Then a rough plotline that keeps expanding.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Jim & Ann: First thing in the morning but the dog needs to be walked, the cats need to be fed, the litterbox needs to be changed and by then, it’s mid-morning.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Jim & Ann: Yes!!! We had more rejection letters from our queries than imaginable. Still, we kept going.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Jim & Ann: Before the stars aligned and we got an agent and a contract with Kensington, we revised a novel for another publisher and did everything they wanted. They agreed it was what they had asked for. Then they rejected it saying they had selected a similar one instead. Those kinds of things happen but we learned so much from the revision process.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Jim & Ann: Not at a book signing but Ann has gotten a few emails from people who claim to be real time travelers. At one of our book signings, a woman took out a giant folder of notes and handed it to us. She wanted us to write her life story. I was tempted to tell her that if it didn’t include a murder mystery in a fun-filled cozy setting, we couldn’t do it. Instead, he was very polite and told her that our schedule would not allow it.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Jim & Ann: More cozies with our usual cast of quirky characters.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Jim & Ann: We are always amazed at those authors who juggle families and full-time careers while writing. We are still trying to master time management.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Jim & Ann: Years ago, we trekked to the libraries. Now we use the internet for anything and everything.
KRL: What do you read?
Jim & Ann: Jim – thriller and suspense mainly. Favorite authors: Robert B. Parker, Clive Cussler, C.J. Box
Ann – gothic horror, historical fiction, YA, cozy mysteries, and some romantic comedy.
Currently reading: Nancy Atherton and C.J. Box.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Jim & Ann: The Court Jester, by far, is our ultimate favorite! Coming in next are: Meet Me in St. Louis, The Dirty Dozen, and George Washington Slept Here.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Jim & Ann: Don’t let rejection stop you from writing. Learn from reading good novels and find a solid critique group or beta readers you can trust. Attend lots of writer’s conferences when they are up and running again.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Ann: Yes. When writing a series, keep a dossier on your characters. It’s important to remember things like what car they drive, what’s their favorite breakfast food, etc. We kept great character lists but found out we needed more. We are still playing catch-up.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Jim & Ann: We collect rocks and minerals. We are lousy cooks, but we are avid animal lovers and foster failures. All of our fosters get adopted by us!
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win either an ebook or print copy of Divde and Concord, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “concord,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 4, 2020. U.S. residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address if you want a print copy. BE SURE TO STATE IF YOU WANT EBOOK OR PRINT. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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