Episode 21: Duffy Brown

DemiseIt is such a delight this week to welcome cozy author Duffy Brown. I have been reading (and loving) Duffy since her first mystery, Iced Chiffon, number one in her Consignment Shop mystery series. Endearing characters, victims who richly deserve to be killed, and Southern charm, what more could I ask for? Oh, and funny! And a heroine to root for! And romance!

OMG, they’re catnip.

You can learn more about Duffy at her website. She has two ongoing series, The Consignment Shop Mysteries (set in Savannah) and the Cycle Path Mysteries (set on Mackinac Island) and you can click on these links to find the books in order.Braking

She also gives a shout-out to two of her favorite writers, Janet Evanovich and Arthur Conan Doyle. Duffy also gives away a spoiler for her most recent book, Demise in Denim, but it is *not* a spoiler about the mystery. It has to do with heroine Reagan and the hunky lawyer, Walker Boone. Did I mention there was a little thread of romance?

I will be giving away Iced Chiffon as part of the August book giveaway, so if you’re not on my mailing list, join now to be entered. Every month, I give away three books and a $10 Amazon gift card. Everyone on the mailing list on the last day of the month is automatically entered to win, so you only have to join up once.

As always, if you’d rather read than listen, here is a transcript. Enjoy!

Transcript of interview with Duffy Brown

Laura Brennan: My guest today is best-selling author Duffy Brown. I have been a fan of Duffy’s writing since her first cozy, Iced Chiffon. Both her Consignment Shop and Cycle Path mysteries are filled with humor, friendship, light romance, and victims who richly deserve what they got.

Duffy, thank you for joining me today.

Duffy Brown: It’s great being here. Thank you for asking me.

LB: So, how did you get started writing?

DB: I’ve been doing this for about twenty-five years now. I started in romance. And I think how I got started it, I was reading the romances, and I got to the point like, “This is the worst ending ever!” and I would mentally start rewriting the endings. And then eventually, I was rewriting the whole book, and I thought, maybe I should try and write my own book instead of correcting somebody else’s book. So I was kind of a closet writer to begin with, but I wrote for, actually, I wrote for nine years before getting published with Harlequin. Then I wrote for Harlequin for six years, then I transferred over to Kensington because I wanted to write the bigger books. And then from Kensington, which is kind of a hotter read, it was a Brava line — you  know, when Fifty Shades of Grey came on the scene, it started to kick all the romance stories up a notch. And I didn’t want to go that extra steam part.

So I switched over to mystery, and now I write what I absolutely love. I probably should have been here all the time, but you kind of go where your heart takes you first of all. But I do love writing the mysteries.

LB: Iced Chiffon is the first book in your first mystery series.

DB: Correct.

LB: And it hit all the notes. I was just pitch-perfect from the get-go.

DB: Everything I watch is always mystery, I’ve read a lot of mysteries. And then I had some friends who were writing cozies, and they said, you know, you really should write the cozies. Because I’m used to that Happy Ever After ending, and in cozy mysteries, there’s always the Happy Ever After ending, meaning the bad guy gets caught. That part I kind of had nailed down. And then, in the cozy mysteries, as in a lot of mysteries, there’s always a little bit of romance thrown in just for the fun of it. But of course the thrust is on the mystery part of it.

LB: How did you come up with the idea for the Consignment Shop mysteries?

DB: Aw, that’s interesting. I work in a consignment shop! I have worked in a consignment shop for 25 years. I just work very part time, and you know how they say, write what you know. I know consignment shops! And a lot of my friends shop consignment shops, and I shop them and whatever. So I thought, why not do a mystery centered around a consignment shop. The shop that I work at is called The Snooty Fox. So I changed it to The Prissy Fox for my series, because Prissy fits more with the Southern flair anyways. So that’s how I got into it.

LB: Well, I love the Southern flair. I love Savannah.

DB: I love Savannah, too.

LB: Have you lived there?

DB: My daughter went to school there, she went to Savannah College of Art and Design. And of course we would go down and visit her when she was down there and my husband and I just absolutely fell in love with the city. It is like, it’s just kind of like out on a little peninsula almost, so it’s kind of like a city that time forgot. And another part is, during the Civil War, the city surrendered to Grant when he came in because they did not have the forces to defend the city. So they just surrendered. So instead of being burnt to the ground like Atlanta was, the city pretty much stayed intact. So you still have these big old homes, these big trees, the layout of the city is the same. It keeps very much that very Southern flair to it, and I just love that about the city.

LB: So, how do you come up with your plots?

DB: Oh, boy. When I start, when I first start this, often I’m trying to think, what am I trying to do with this story? You just kind of let your brain go wild, you know? What can I have fun with? My books are about humor. There’s no angst, there are no tears. Not saying they aren’t heartfelt, because there’s a relationship between the mom and Reagan, her daughter, and the aunt. So they are heartfelt. But this is not a sad book, it’s not an angsty book. None of my books are that way. I write for fun, so I’m going for fun. I kind of think of, what can we have fun with that is still going to be a mystery. So that is kind of what I go with.

LB: Well, it occurred to me that you find wonderful victims.

DB: (Laughter) They all deserve to go dead, I can tell you that!

LB: They really do. In fact, you know, I have a list…

DB: I think I’ll have one of those T-shirts made up: Be nice to me, or you’re going to find yourself a victim in my next book. I think there’s a lot to that, yes.

LB: So, I do I love your plots, I think they’re a lot of fun, but your characters are really what make the book.

DB: Thank you.

LB: So, with Reagan, how did you come up with her as your central character?

DB: You know, when you get to be my age, I know several women who are divorced and have gone through messy divorces. Very few divorces are good divorces, sad as it is. And I thought I was going to write about someone who had been through a particularly nasty divorce and who was married to this total creep, and who was trying to say the one good thing that had come out of her marriage was this old house, this old Victorian house, that she dearly loved. And it opens up with her opening up the consignment shop to save the house, because it’s in terrible disrepair and she needs money for that. And that her ex comes back to her and says, I have to sell the house because I’ve been accused of murder and I have to pay the legal fees. And then she thinks, the only good thing to come out of this rotten marriage is this house, so then she sets out to find the real murderer on her own. So that’s kind of how it happened. I have no idea how I came up with that. I couldn’t tell you!

LB: The most recent book in that series, Demise In Denim

DB: Yes.

LB: It harkens back to the first book in an awful lot of ways. I don’t want to suggest that this is the end, but it feels very complete.

DB: Well, you know, when you get to the very end — this is probably a spoiler, but whatever — she and the attorney, they start off in book one, she and the guy named Walker Boone, he is the attorney who represents her ex in the divorce settlement. And so they start off in book one bitter enemies, I mean she can’t stand the guy.  Because he is taking her to the cleaners in the divorce. But by the time you get to Demise In Denim, they are coming closer and closer together. So at the very end, he does ask her will you marry me. And then there’s no answer. So the next book, which is called Lethal In Old Lace, picks up right from that very moment and we go on to see what happens next. So this is not the end. I’m working on the next book right now, and it should be done hopefully, God willing, in about two more months.

LB: Oh, that is wonderful news. I was so worried.

DB: The whole series with, at the end, Will you marry me? And then nothing. That’s like — I can see people pounding on my door with pitchforks or something saying, what do you mean? What you mean? What’s the end of this? So, no, it is not the end. There’s lots more to come.

LB: Great, great, great news. I just want to talk about one more character from this, because I just adore her. And that is Aunt Kiki.

DB: Aunt Kiki is the aunt we should all have in our lives. Auntie Kiki is family first, and she is the one who leaps before she thinks about what she’s leaping into. And she does all the fun stuff that we all wish we could do. And she says all the fun stuff that we wish we had thought of at the time. Yes!

LB: There is a lot of warmth to the books in the relationships between, well particularly between women.

DB: Yes.

LB: There’s so much reality TV of women being pitted against each other. And here, in this world, women are there first and strongest support.

DB: There is an online book, it’s like a novella, and it’s called Dead Man Walker. And in that book — it’s only a novella, you can only download it because it’s a short book — and we see all, how Walker Boone got to be where he is now. And it’s about the male bonding, because I always am very intrigued about how different male friendships are than women friendships. And they are entirely different. Male friendships have always really intrigued me. You know, the Semper Fi, no man left behind, always have your back kind of attitude. So I really like that. And then the women, of course, I have three daughters, so I can kind of write that from the heart as well.

LB: You have a second series now.

DB: I do.

LB: The Cycle Path Mysteries. Again, they hit all the right notes. It also has a really different feel to it. This is a woman who is really making a big choice, the choice wasn’t forced on her. She made the big choice and stepped into the new world. So tell me a little bit about how that came about.

DB: Oh, so this one’s kind of personal, too. I have a daughter, a middle daughter, the one who went to Savannah College of Art and Design. And when she graduated, she jumped into, she went to New York City. I mean, she’s a little — I’m in Cincinnati, she’s a little Midwest girl. She went to Savannah, which is the land of Southern gentlemen. And then you go to New York City, and it’s like oh my God. So even though Evie, who is in Geared For The Grave, the main character, she’s from Chicago,  but it’s the same thing. It’s about a woman who is in the big city, then she goes to Mackinac Island where she has a complete culture shock, and how she adjusts to that. You know, going from one situation to the other and how you have to adjust, and what you have to do to get ahead in this world. Because the reason Evie is going to Mackinac Island is to help her boss’ father who has broken his leg and owns a bicycle shop. And she thinks, I’m gonna rally it up to the boss, I’m gonna help the dad so that I can get the next promotion. So it’s kind of like, even though we are on this nice little island where everything is lovely, the motive for Evie doing what she’s doing and going to this bicycle shop is that, I really want a promotion. And that’s kind of how it gets into it.

LB: Now, do they really call people Fudgies? Tourists, Fudgies?

DB: They do! They absolutely do. I didn’t make that up. I think they sell like 10 tons of fudge a year or something. It’s an enormous amount of fudge. I mean I’ve been there, I’ve been to Mackinac, taken my bike and ridden all over and loved the place. And they do, they have like 18 different fudge shops and they all make different kinds of fudge. And it’s very fudge oriented. Have you ever been? Have you ever had a chance?

LB: No, no. No, I haven’t.

DB: It’s fantastic. There’s no cars on the island. So the first thing that strikes you when you get off the ferry, and that’s you get to the place, is by ferry. Or you can fly in. You get off the ferry and all you hear is nothing. You hear the clip clop of horses but there’s no cars, no trucks. There are no traffic jams. There’s no traffic lights. Because there are no cars, there’s no motorized vehicles at all. So the quiet completely takes you over. My daughter, the one that lives in New York, she went with me to Mackinac Island and she flew in from New York. We got in the car, we drove, and when we got off the ferry, she looked at me and she said, “Do you think we died and went to heaven?” I mean she has gone from Times Square to this place that has no cars in a matter of 12 hours. It’s like, what the heck’s going on? But it does strike you like that. It’s a wonderful place to visit.

LB: You travel quite a bit, don’t you?

DB: I do. Not as much as I’d like, but enough. We try to get around. My daughters are always dragging me off someplace. We’ve gone to the Grand Canyon and did white water rafting down the Grand Canyon for a week, which was a spiritual experience. That was great. Glacier National Park, Zion — we’ve hit a lot of the national parks. We’ve really had a lot of really good times.

LB: Well, I ask because in your books there’s sort of a feeling, there is an indomitable spirit in people. I’m probably mispronouncing that word. Your characters, no matter what they get hit with, they’re always looking for ways forward and looking to move forward. Sort of a very, yeah, adventurous, very adventurous spirit to them.

DB: You know, I’m an older woman, shall we say. I think by the time you get to be my age, you’ve been through a lot. I mean, you survive. And not only you survive, you survive well. You know, I am not a looker-backer, shall we say. I’m a looker-forward. So I try to put, I think that comes through in my characters. I don’t want them to be morose or just stop moving. I want them always to be thinking, what’s next? What’s out there? There’s a lot of really neat stuff in this world. There’s a lot of fun things going on. So I hope I kind of put that into the books.

LB: Oh, you do. I think they’re very optimistic. As optimistic as one can be when dead bodies are falling around you.

DB: There is that, yes!

LB: And there’s also a real love for the cozy genre.

DB: I do like it. I just feel like — and people do like the angsty part and they do like the more grisly part. I am not a fan. I mean, if I went angsty and grisly… All you got to do is pick up the paper. There’s enough there to fill volumes. So when I read a book, or even go to the movies, go for escape. I want to go someplace where I can have some fun and have some laughs and see what somebody else is doing. And like I said, it’s kind of an escape. It’s almost like a mini vacation. So when I write, I write with the same thing in mind. I figure people have got enough trials and tribulations. When they come to my books I want them to have fun. And I get a lot of fan mail from people saying, you know, I’ve really been going through a bad patch or whatever. And they’ll say, your books really helped me. I get a lot of fan mail like that and I think that’s one of the reasons I keep writing, is because I feel like we have fun and we get through this together.

LB: Now, one of the things that you said that I loved, you wanted to take Sherlock Holmes to the prom.

DB: That’s true! (Laughter.) See, I’ve always loved the mystery part. And I thought, wouldn’t this just be great? And to sit down with him, see how his mind works and plus he would be a really great date. I just thought that would be fun.

LB: Other than Arthur Conan Doyle, who do you read? Who do you like?

DB: I love Janet Evanovich. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a chance to read Janet. Have you ever — the Stephanie Plum series?

LB: Oh my gosh, of course.

DB: They’re all really great, but to me the first three are pure magic. I think she just starts off the series with such a bang. One For The Money, Two For The Dough, and Three To Get Deadly are my favorite books all the time, and I have reread them so many times that One For The Money is literally falling apart. I love the characters, I love the humor, how the girl is having troubles but she works through the troubles, and not everything goes right. I’m not one of these people who likes the characters to be 14 carat gold, everything is perfect. Life is not that way. Life is like one step forward, two steps back kind of thing for quite a while. So I love Janet Evanovich’s work. I truly do.

LB: So you have a new book coming out the beginning of next year?

DB: I do. I do. I’m working on it now. That’s Lethal In Old Lace, that will be the next one to The Consignment Shop series.

LB: Oh, but there’s also another one in the Cycle Path mysteries coming out.

DB: That is. That will probably be a little bit later. I’m working on Lethal In Old Lace now, and then there’s going to be Tandem Demise, and that will be the next one coming out in the Cycle Path Mystery Series. So they are a little bit further apart, but we’ll get them out there that’s for sure.

LB: Okay, so we have the answer to, “Will you marry me?” coming up.

DB: Correct.

LB: But then, in the Cycle Path mystery, can you tease a little bit? Is anything you can tell me about it?

DB: One thing about the Mackinac series is that there’s always people coming and going. I mean, there’s only 500 permanent residents that stay there year-round, and there’s a reason for that. I mean, it gets like 30 below zero. So there’s only 500 residents who stay year-round. So most of the people, they’re coming, many tourists come and go all year long. And one of the characters that are coming in, it happen in the last one, he wound up dead. And I think there’s going to be somebody else who’s coming in and maybe has a little bit more to do with the Detroit mob coming to visit and not quite settling in as much as they should. So I think the next once going to be a little bit more mob oriented in a place that they shouldn’t be.

LB: Oh, that’s fun. That also takes care of your Cabot Cove syndrome.

DB: Yes, it does! And I really like writing two different series that are set in different parts of the United States. The southern series, the one that set in Savannah, and then the one set on Mackinac Island, when you write them they are two entirely different geographic points. The way they talk, the way they eat. Thanksgiving in Savannah is entirely different than Thanksgiving on Mackinac Island. The southern way of doing things or saying things is why use one word when 10 words will do just as nicely? The southern way is that they stretch everything out, it’s very flowery and it’s very slow, and that’s the way they talk in Savannah. Then if you go to Mackinac Island, it’s more Minnesota-ese, if you’ve ever listened to Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion, it’s more the clipped way of doing things. Short sentences, to the point. So writing with two different geographies is a lot of fun too.

LB: Well, there are also two different — the central theme of both, I think, is very different. In the Consignment Shop mysteries, she is rooted in that place. She has family and friends that she grew up with.

DB: And that makes a difference, because when you’re trying to find information, people know you, so they will talk to you. And like her Aunt Kiki, she teaches dance down there. Dance is a very big part of the culture because you have cotillions, you have big dances, the country club dances, the children or the teenagers, they are coming out and there are parties. So dance is a very big part of the culture down there. Kiki knows everybody, she can get the information, and so can Reagan, and so can her mother, who was a judge. So they’re, like you said, very rooted in the city of Savannah, so they know people and can find information. Whereas Evie, who is a transplant to Mackinac Island, she, people do not trust her. She is a come-here. So trying to get information is much more difficult for her, and she has to try to rely on her friendships with others, but a lot of times she gets stonewalled or even lied to because she’s a come-here and who’s going to trust her? So it’s coming at it from two different points of view, you’re absolutely right.

LB: Yeah, yeah. A little bit of fish out of waterness for her, too.

DB: Yes.

LB: The one allows you to see Savannah as if you lived there, as if you were a native. And the other one gives you the joy of seeing Mackinac Island for the first time.

DB: I think that’s kind of from personal experiences. With my daughter living in Savannah, she knew it intimately, because she went to school there for four years, and then she went back and even went to grad school there. So she knew all the restaurants, what to order at the restaurants, where to go to get a sandwich at midnight. I would call her and say, all right, I’m at this street corner, what restaurant am I going into and what should I order? And she would tell me. So I really knew it from an insider’s point of view. Whereas when I went to Mackinac Island and I took Anne-Marie with me, we discovered it together. So I could write Evie because I knew what she was going through, because we discovered it. And the face that they put on for the tourists, many the people that are on Mackinac Island put on an entirely different face for tourists, because it’s happy and it’s kind of a throwback to the 50s and whatever. But of course there’s this undercurrent of how people really live. So when I went there, I stayed at a bed-and-breakfast. And the reason I did that is so I can get the dirt on what’s going on. So I would get the chambermaids and I would get the manager of the little bed-and-breakfast, and I’d say, okay, now tell me what’s really going on here. And they had just great stories. So that was a way to discover the island on our own.

LB: Oh, you are a detective yourself.

DB: Oh, we had fun. It’s just fun. And when you tell people, I’m a mystery writer, I’m going to set my book here, oh they just want to help you and tell you everything. So it was great. We had such a good time.

LB: Well, this has been just delightful. Is there anything that I missed? Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

DB: Oh, you know, for those people who are listening to this and who are aspiring to be writers, I always tell them don’t give up. This is really a tough business. And when I started 25 years ago, of course, I had to go to New York City. That was the only way to get published. But now, there are these wonderful venues through Amazon or any kind of independent publishers and I encourage you to do this. Sit down, put your stories on paper, get it professionally edited and then put it out there and have some fun with it. If you are having fun with the story, your readers are going to have fun with the story.

LB: Thank you so much for joining me, Duffy.

DB: Thank you so much for having me. This is been a blast.