by Cynthia Chow
This week we have the first in a new series by Barbara Early-Death of a Toy Solder. We also have an interesting interview with Barbara. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Death of a Toy Soldier. We also have a link to order it from Amazon, and from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Death of a Toy Soldier: A Vintage Toyshop Mystery by Barbara Early
Review by Cynthia Chow
Since she began working for her father at his Well Played vintage toy store, Liz McCall has become accustomed to Hank McCall’s frequent ventures out to resume the activities of his former career. The retired police chief continues to enforce East Aurora, New York’s laws and make citizen arrests, and while exasperating and worrisome, the new police chief Ken Young seems willing to go along with his “deputy.” That comes to a halt when Liz discovers a break-in at Well Played, a dead body, and her injured father standing over the corpse.
Hank had missed an earlier appointment with the deceased, who had come into Well Played for an assessment of a possibly valuable collection of tin toys. When the deceased’s identity comes into question, Liz begins to question what led the man to the toy store and why those now-missing toys seem to be behind a series of nefarious events. A concussion has Hank unable to remember the moments that led to his attack, and unfortunately all evidence seems to be implicating him in the murder. Liz’s sister-in-law and fellow employee at Well Played enthusiastically throws out theories and avenues of investigation, which somehow leads to Liz and her father crashing a wake, bringing donuts to a widow, and participating in a séance.
The author of the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery series under the name Barbara Allen, Early debuts a new series that celebrates the nostalgia of vintage toys. The emotional connection and memories they awaken are as important as their actual monetary value, and one can’t deny the creepiness of a toy monkey playing the cymbals. Liz’s relationship with her father is refreshing and warm, and she finds herself somehow transforming into the overprotective one worrying about Hank’s health and safety. His ample use of puns and humor never outweigh a past with Liz’s late alcoholic wife, but perhaps that explains Liz and her father’s close connection. Scheduled night board game competitions accompanied by old-fashioned candy treats serve as information gathering centers, and may stir up fond memories in readers as well. This is a warm and thoroughly entertaining cozy mystery of humor, unconventional characters, and even an added dash of romance.
Interview with Barbara Early:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Barbara: I’m not the author who says she’s been writing since she was three. Rather, it kind of sneaked up on me. I really didn’t start writing fiction until my daughter went off to college, back in 2007. But when the bug bit, it bit hard!
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Barbara: My first novel was Bloom and Doom, published under the name Beverly Allen. It came out in 2014. On April 1st. (When I got my release date, I felt for sure it was an elaborate practical joke!) It featured a bridal bouquet shop florist named Audrey Bloom, who specialized in making bridal bouquets based on the language of flowers ? when she wasn’t solving crime and capturing killers.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Barbara: Besides a totally incomprehensible college thesis, I probably could trace the origin of my writing to puppet scripts I wrote for my local church. I’ve also written a few hymns and Christmas programs which were performed, but never published. I then went through a stage of writing Monk fan fiction, just for fun. At least at first. I loved the juxtaposition of a twisted mystery and humor and found myself studying episodes to figure out how they did it. From there, I was challenged to write something original, and I did that as a bit of a lark. I’d heard it was crazy-hard to get published. I wanted to see how close I could get.
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.
Barbara: When deciding on a new series, I wanted to write something set a little closer to home. I live in Western New York State, and I considered several small towns close to me before picking the very real village of East Aurora. It contains just about any small shop you could imagine for a cozy, from a yarn shop to a cupcake shop to a quirky 5&10. I was poking around the chamber of commerce website and discovered the village was sometimes called Toy Town, because of their long history of toy manufacture. I thought, toy shop? It was almost there, but a “Vintage Toyshop” featuring pre-loved toys that we all remember, and that invokes that feeling of nostalgia–hit the mark.
As for characters, in Death of a Toy Soldier, my protagonist’s father is a former chief of police who has retired a little too early to suit him, and sneaks off to patrol the not-so-mean village streets and make citizen’s arrests. His thirty-something daughter, Liz McCall, manages his toy shop, and tries to keep him a little closer to home.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Barbara: I’m not ashamed to say I write to entertain. There is something particularly calming about the cozy mystery: a chance to walk around an idyllic small town, mingling with characters you’d like to meet, or maybe feel you already know, while presented with a mental puzzle to solve. Sometimes life is tough, and we need a place to get away.
I remember a time, not very long ago, when my mother was dying from ALS. There were times I needed to escape into a book. I read much of the Cat Who books during those final weeks. One of my goals as a writer was to provide that kind of refuge for someone going through a similar difficult time.
KRL: The Cat Who books are a great escape. Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Barbara: Ideally, I’d write every day. Mathematically, if I can write at least 1,000 words a day, I’ll have a novel done in less than three months. Much of the time it works just like that, but not always. Like many writers, I’ve found myself scrambling to meet a deadline.
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?
Barbara: I do outline, but my characters don’t always obey my outlines. New characters pop in out of thin air, sometimes with great ideas. It’s a very fluid process that keeps me revising my outline constantly.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Barbara: Mornings, just after the caffeine kicks in.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Barbara: Yes and no. I spent a couple of years trying to break into Christian fiction. Even though I was “finaling” in national competitions, I was repeatedly told the cozy mystery was dead in Christian fiction, at least at the time. But the delay might have been a good thing. It gave time for my writing to grow and evolve. Eventually, I sent one query letter to my dream literary agency, if I were to write mainstream cozy mysteries. It moved pretty quickly from that point.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Barbara: I once entered a national contest (I will not name) open to all kinds of mystery, specifically including cozy. One judge responded by saying that I “had a voice totally unsuited to writing mystery.” Later he added, “Well, maybe a cozy.” That same manuscript “finaled” in another national contest and eventually attracted my agent.
KRL: Good story. Do you have a most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Barbara: I’m having fun with the new series. I had the launch in a small bookstore in the town where the book takes place, and that was a lot of fun. The local paper put it on the front page, and people came in to buy books for all their family members that moved away. I even met a women who, get this, was the daughter of the former chief of police!
KRL: How fun! Future writing goals?
Barbara: I really try not to set those. I’d rather be surprised by the fun accomplishments that come along than be disappointed if I don’t meet any personal milestones.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Barbara: That’s a tough one for me. I guess I most admire those who succeeded in a writing career, but whose writing still shows that enjoyment and playful spirit. Doctor Seuss comes to mind. I’ve heard the stories of all the rejections he faced, but you can hardly find books more fun than his.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Barbara: The research for this new series isn’t that grueling. It mostly involves going to East Aurora and knocking about town, then coming home and looking at old toys on Pinterest and Ebay. I have gone to a few vintage toy shows, but they’re fun, too. Besides that, there’s occasional research into potential weapons and forensics and police procedure.
KRL: What do you read?
Barbara: I enjoy reading cozies, but I sometimes find it difficult to read them when I’m writing, so I often read cozier historical mysteries. I love Victoria Thomson, Rhys Bowen, Laurie King, and Alan Bradley.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Barbara: I love old boy-girl detective shows, but they’re not as common now. My favorites were Remington Steele and Scarecrow and Mrs. King. I also loved Monk. I liked Castle at the beginning, when the tone was lighter and more fun. I do enjoy the new mysteries they’re making from cozies on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. And I’m a big Doctor Who fan.
KRL: Those are all great shows. Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Barbara: Don’t rush the process. Do learn how the business works, but spend more time learning how to write well. It’s a craft and it can take years of study and practice, and never give up your day job!
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Barbara: I home-schooled my daughter from 3rd grade until she graduated high school.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Death of a Toy Soldier, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “soldier,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 12, 2016. 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 & short stories in our mystery section.
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