Today’s author writes a cozy mystery series with echoes of my favorite film, “The Thin Man.” (Dashiell Hammett’s book is darn good as well, but I’m a sucker for Myrna Loy and William Powell.) Her Nick and Nora mysteries feature a crime reporter starting over back in her home town and a cat who may — or may not — be the reincarnation of a missing detective. Together with a wonderful supporting cast, they solve crimes and mete out justice. Meow If It’s Murder is the first in this charming series.
Toni and I chat about a lot of things: favorite authors (including the delightful Krista Davis, who you can hear interviewed here) and two charities she actively supports: Kids Need To Read (founded by Denise Gary, P.J. Haarsma, and actor Nathan Fillion) and Alley Cat Allies.
As always, here’s the transcript if you’d rather read than listen. Enjoy!
Transcript of T.C. LoTempio Interview
Laura Brennan: T.C. LoTempio is the national bestselling author of the Nick and Nora Mystery series, as well as nearly a dozen other books, ranging from paranormal mysteries to rom com. Meow if It’s Murder introduced Nora Charles, a crime reporter who longs for a quiet life, and Nick, the cat who adopted her.
Toni, thank you for joining me.
T.C. LoTempio: Thank you for having me, Laura.
LB: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What got you started writing?
TL: Okay. Well, I’ve been writing since I was ten years old. My mother used to read me stories at night, and I wouldn’t like the ending, so I’d make up my own. And then I’d buy comic books, and I wouldn’t like the way those ended, so I’d make up those stories. And it just progressed from there. I used to write fairy tales, you know, and I was always good at English in school. I got away from it a little bit. I got married, life got in the way as they say. And then, after my parents died, I kinda got back into it. I was at a training session with a friend, and we were learning how to do e-mails at the time, that’s how long ago this was. And she said to me, “Oh, you write such good e-mails. You should probably be a writer.” And I said, “You know, I think I am one. I just have to get back into it.” And it just took off from there.
LB: You’ve actually written many, many different kinds of novels. Are you finding your genre?
TL: I think it started out that way. Actually, the type of novel that I enjoy writing the most is the one that I stopped because agents would tell me there’s no market for it. It’s Horror. Stephen King-type books. And they said, unless you are Stephen King, there’s no market for it. So I figured, well, if I want to get published, I’d better write something else.
LB: I find that hilarious, since I’m a member of the Horror Writers Association and a lot of people are actually selling horror these days.
TL: Well, that’s good to know, if I want to start writing it again.
LB: Certainly in movies, almost the closest thing there is to a Whodunit is a horror film.
TL: I would tend to agree with you. I must’ve seen “Halloween” at least three dozen times, if not more.
LB: Yeah, and it’s too bad, too, because they used to make movies very much like — to bring this back to your wonderful series — very much like “The Thin Man.” And they don’t make those anymore.
TL: I know, and isn’t that a shame? I think maybe more people might go to the movies if they did that.
LB: Absolutely! So, tell me how “The Thin Man” — was “The Thin Man” really your inspiration? Because it trickles through your series so beautifully.
TL: Well, it was kind of a combination of William Powell and my cat.
LB: For those who haven’t yet read your series, just a little background. It’s a cozy series about a woman named Nora who’s in her thirties and she’s been very successful as a crime reporter in Chicago. But she moves back to California, to the small town that she grew up in, in order to take over her late mother’s sandwich shop. But she kind of misses the thrill of the crime beat, and so she starts to look in, when a friend of her late mother’s has died, suspiciously, she starts to look into it. She doesn’t believe it is an accident. And at just that moment, she is adopted by a cat, and she names him Nick. And it turns out that he actually is the cat of a private detective who went missing while looking into the same murder case. And there are influences, the obvious one is “The Thin Man,” but there are other influences woven through the story.
TL: I was always a big fan of those movies. I was trying to get published. As you know, I self-published some books. Most of them were paranormal suspense vampires. And I was sitting with my boss one morning and we were talking and he said to me, “Why do you write about vampires and all this stuff?” He said, “You want to get published, you should write about your cat. You love your cat.” So I went home and I was thinking about what he said. And Turner Classic Movies, “The Thin Man” happened to be on, so I put it on. And I was laying on the couch watching it and all of a sudden my 22-pound tuxedo cat ROCCO jumped onto my lap. And I — well, after I got my breath back that he knocked out of me — I thought to myself, wouldn’t that be interesting if Nick Charles or detective like Nick Charles got shot and came back as a cat and he got a girl to investigate his murder with him? And that was how the original manuscript Meow If It’s Murder came about. Because the original manuscript with nothing like the one that was actually printed.
LB: That’s interesting. How does it go through that kind of transformation?
TL: Mainly because the editorial board said, we love the setting and we love everything about this book, but we don’t love the cat talking. So if you change it, we will publish it and if you don’t, we won’t. So I changed it.
LB: Well, that’s funny, because you took that note and you ran with it. It’s very subtle how the cat manages to convey information, and manages to sort of get Nora involved in these cases.
TL: That’s probably because, in the original manuscript, Nick the cat was actually Nick the detective reincarnated as the cat. And he talks to Nora and they would have discussions on how to find the criminal. But Berkeley didn’t like that so I had to figure out a way to have him communicate with Nora. I thought about the Scrabble tiles, that’s how the Scrabble tiles came, he’s spelling the clues out. And I even have people write me fan letters, is the cat Nick? Is the cat Nick Atkins? Is the cat reincarnated? Well, yes he is, but I’m not really supposed to say that, so…
I think it’s whatever you wanted to be. So if you wanted to be the reincarnation, it is. If you just want to say, wow, this is a really smart cat, he’s really smart cat. Because my cat is really smart and a lot of Nick’s mannerisms and antics are what I observe from my own cat.
LB: So what about the inspiration for Nora?
TL: Well that inspiration kind of came a little bit from Lois Lane, a little bit from Nancy Drew, and a little bit from me. Because I always wanted to be an investigative reporter. And I kind of like combined all the people, all the people I admired and all the people I wanted to be, I combined into one person and I made that Nora Charles.
LB: One of the things I love about Nora is that, she’s a woman in her 30s and she’s the levelheaded, always-do-what’s-right one, compared to her sister Lacey. But also, she’s still, like Lacey, kind of finding her bliss. Even at, even those she looks like she’s got her act together. She still searching for what it is that really makes her heart sing.
TL: Well, I’m over 60 and I’m still searching for it, so I guess it’s possible.
LB: I think it’s very relatable, and as you said, life often gets in the way.
TL: Very true. Very true. I was married and divorced and then my parents got sick and I moved back home, and I had other things to think about other than writing. So until both my parents passed and I was on my own, I never really had the time to get back into it.
LB: I think that’s true, I think that’s true for a lot of women. We are the caretakers of the world… I love — I’m a huge “Thin Man” fan, I love “The Thin Man.” But you also sort of weave in references to all sorts of things that are associated with the mystery world. There’s a Bogart — somebody looks like Bogart. There’s a Sherlock Holmes, not just Sherlock is the old name, but you quote him and there’s just so many fun things. Who are some of the, maybe some of the writers and some of the movies that really influenced you? Other than “The Thin Man.”
TL: Oh, wow. I think I must’ve read every mystery that’s ever been written. That’s my favorite, favorite genre. I like Sherlock Holmes, of course. I like Agatha Christie. I have to say my very favorite is Perry Mason, Erle Stanley Gardner.
LB: Yeah, I love Perry Mason.
TL: I used to watch the television show with my parents years ago. My mother also was a big mystery lover. She used to read my Nancy Drew books before I even would read them. I couldn’t even name all the mystery writers that I read. I guess that’s where sometimes a lot of these plots and things come from. I have all these things buried in the back of my mind, then all of a sudden something will just pop out. I like Laura Childs, I like Krista Davis, I like Rita Mae Brown who writes the Mrs. Murphy series. We could sit here all day and I could tell you all the mystery writers that I like.
LB: I interviewed Krista Davis, too, she’s a sweetheart. She’s just wonderful.
TL: She is very nice. I’ve had her on ROCCO’s blog also.
LB: So, Crime and Catnip, the third in your series is coming out later this year. Can you tell me anything about it?
TL: Yes, that will come out December 6th of this year. Nora gets involved in a missing woman’s disappearance and murder, of course. And there’s a little, tiny bit of resolution to the mystery of what happened to Nick Atkins.
LB: I cannot wait.
TL: I’ll just leave you with that little bit of a teaser. It doesn’t entirely get resolved, but it’s getting there.
LB: That’s fantastic, yeah I love that. It’s a really fun sort of overlay for the series to constantly be wondering. But at the same time, I do want to know!
TL: You and a lot of other people. I get fan mail all the time. “Is Nick Atkins going to be Nora’s love interest?” I’m like, well I hadn’t planned on that one, but you never know.
LB: So will there be more to come?
TL: I’m hoping so. I haven’t heard anything definite yet, but I’m definitely hoping to continue Nick and Nora. I also have a new series that will be coming out next year, from Crooked Lane publishers, about two sisters who own an animal shelter. So there will be more mysteries coming for me.
LB: Oh, that’s terrific. A new series is always so exciting.
TL: Yes, it is.
LB: So will this one feature dogs as well as cats? What kind of animal shelter do they run?
TL: Well, they want it primarily to be cats because I guess cats are very popular with readers, but it’s also going to feature dogs, maybe a couple of birds, snakes, who knows?
LB: And how do you feel it differs from the Nick and Nora series?
TL: Well, it’s going to differin that the cat won’t be quite as prominent a detective in this series as Nick is in the other one. There will be a cat in there definitely, but it won’t be, he won’t be as instrumental in the solving of the mystery as Nick is. There’s only one Nick after all!
LB: That is so true. That is so true. So that’s going to come out next year — I’m sorry, what’s the title for the series?
TL: It’s going to be the Cat Rescue Mysteries. And the first book is entitled Purr M For Murder.
LB: Another wonderful reference! Oh, that’s great. So what, in terms of the Nick and Nora books, and actually in terms of your new series as well, what’s the biggest challenge in the writing?
TL: The biggest challenge in the writing for me is keeping the timeline accurate. I have a tendency to mix dates up, shall we say? But fortunately there are such things as copy editors that notice these things and help you straighten it out.
LB: And what do you, what do you love most about writing?
TL: Oh, I think I love the idea that I’m in charge and I can make things turn out the way that I want them to. Because as we all know, in life nothing ever turns out the way you really want it. At least most of the time. So I like the idea that I can make things turn out the way I want them to.
LB: You’re essentially rewriting the endings, just as you did as a child.
TL: Right. Exactly.
LB: You are also very involved in a charity, Kids Need To Read. I will link to it in the show notes, but can you also tell us a little bit about it?
TL: Oh, yes.Kids Need To Read is a charity that was founded by Denise Gary and P.J. Haarsma and Nathan Fillion, the actor who was just on Castle. And what they do is, they provide books to libraries that are in underprivileged neighborhoods so that kids who might not ordinarily get the chance to get good books have a chance to read. Because reading is very important and I think it’s something that has gone by the wayside in our society. You’d be surprised how many people, some of them really don’t know how to read well. And as an author, of course, you want people to read because you want them to buy what you write. So ROCCO and I both thought that would be a very good charity to start endorsing. I’ve actually been to Arizona several times and met with Denise Gary. And every year, this year it’s going to be in August, we hold an eBay auction and the proceeds from the auctions go directly to Kids Need to Read. And I’ve also participated in several book anthologies, and the proceeds from them also go to Kids Need to Read. So anything we can think of to help that charity, we try to do.
LB: Now, but that isn’t the only charity that you support, right?
TL: No, I also like to support various shelters and cat rescue groups whenever I can. And one that I’m particularly fond of is called Alley Cat Allies. The rescue and find homes for stray cats, alley cats, and twice a year I believe they also put out a calendar and different items that you can purchase. It’s a very worthwhile charity for anyone who’s a big cat lover.
LB: Terrific. I’ll link to them as well. Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Toni, for joining me. I really appreciate talking to you.
TL: Well, thank you, Laura. I’ve enjoyed it very much. And people who are interested can also check our blog, www.CatsBooksMoreCats.blogspot.com because ROCCO and I also interview authors and we do book giveaways usually twice or three times a month.
LB: Oh, great. I’m glad you gave out the address, and I will also link to that in the show notes so people can click to you easily, and I’ll link to your author website as well, because you’ve got a lot going on.
TL: Yeah, I do! I sometimes wonder how I do it all, but it gets done.
LB: Well, congratulations on everything.
TL: Thank you, Laura. Thank you for interviewing me.