Episode 35: Maggie King

moonshineIf only I could learn to say no, I wouldn’t be perched on a barstool in a redneck bar, breathing secondhand smoke and pretending to flirt with men sporting baseball caps and Confederate bandanas, their eyes riveted on my Victoria’s Secret-enhanced cleavage…

I hit the rewind button on my life and stopped a few days earlier, at the point where Phyllis Ross threw a cup of coffee in Nina Brown’s face…

— Maggie King, Murder at the Moonshine Inn

Maggie King says on her website (which you should definitely go check out) that she writes cozy with a touch of noir — traditional mysteries that sizzle just a bit more than your usual cozy.

Well, with a book group as the focal point, what did you expect?group

There are two books so far (and counting) in Maggie’s Hazel Rose Book Group Mystery Series, Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She is also the author of several short stories in a variety of anthologies: Virginia is for Mysteries, Virginia is for Mysteries II, and the upcoming 50 Shades of Cabernet.

Maggie gives a couple of fun shout outs: to writers Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, Gillian Roberts and Joan Smith; and to two favorite characters from the old Little Lulu comics (I remember those!), Witch Hazel and Little Itch.  

Alas, our audio fell out a few times, but I want to make sure you know that in addition to her website, Maggie blogs regularly on Lethal Ladies Write

Finally if you’re on Instagram, follow her here!

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

Transcript of Interview with Maggie King

Laura Brennan: Maggie King’s novels are a sassy, suspenseful cross between traditional mysteries and cozies. Her protagonist, Hazel Rose, is a romance writer who wants nothing to do with murder. And yet, more than once, it falls to her to uncover the truth.

Maggie, thank you for joining me.

Maggie King: Thank you so much for having me, Laura.

LB: You write the Hazel Rose Book Group Mysteries and in fact your first novel was called Murder at the Book Group. So, I have to ask: did you join book groups because you had an idea for a murder, or was it being in a book group that made you want to kill somebody?

MK: (Laughter) Well, that’s a great question. The first book group I was in was back in the 1990s in Santa Clarita, California. And it was a themed book group, very much like the book group in Murder at the Book Group. We read by theme, it could have been mysteries set in New York City or books where the detectives were journalists, something like that. And all the people were just absolutely lovely. And it occurred to me, well, what if they weren’t so lovely? What if they had secrets and scandals?

I’ve been in many book groups ever since, a lot of my characters are based on people who I have known a book groups. I can’t say that anyone was ever murdered, or that I even wanted to murder anybody, but there’s always a certain amount of conflict in book groups because there a lot of opinions and people are very passionate about books.

LB: Well, I was thinking about book groups: they’re one of the ways in which we re-create villages, you know? We create a small community of people who are bound together in this case by a love of books, but they may not all get along. It makes me think of Miss Marple in her village, to see how all of your characters interact. And your book group as a whole functions with a desire for justice.

MK: Yes. Yes, they are very strong advocates of justice.

LB: That really resonated with me. Do you think that’s one of the reasons why we’re drawn to mysteries?

MK: Absolutely! Absolutely. We want to see justice. So often in the real world, we don’t see justice served. And I think that’s one of the reasons I like to write mysteries as well, because I have a strong sense of justice. I have to say though, I play a little looser with the justice in my short stories. Some of them are little morally ambiguous, let’s put it that way.

LB: Well, short stories are a different animal altogether. What made you decide to start writing them?

MK: The first short story I wrote was for the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology, and there was a call out for people to contribute to it. And at that point I hadn’t published Murder at the Book Group, so I saw this is a good opportunity to get published and to get my name out there. And it worked out very well. And I published also in the follow-up, Virginia is for Mysteries Volume II. And then, this coming March, I have a story that’s called, “Wine, Women, and Wrong,” and it’s in an anthology called 50 Shades of Cabernet.

LB: Oh, that’s perfect.

MK: Yes.

LB: I’m intrigued by the moral ambiguity, because there isn’t any moral ambiguity in your novels. They are very, justice really is served.

MK: Yes. Yes, and that’s very important to me. I think in short stories you can be more creative. With the traditional mysteries and especially cozy mysteries, the readers would get very angry if justice wasn’t served. So it’s important. And then Hazel is very much — Hazel and her book group — it’s very important to them that justice be served. They are very ethical people and they want to see wrongs turned right.

LB: Hazel Rose — Hazel and Rose, they are both such lovely, old-fashioned names. How did you come to name your main character?

MK: I liked the name Hazel for some reason. I think it’s just a beautiful name. And this doesn’t make sense, but when I was young, I used to read the Little Lulu comics. And there was a character, Old Witch Hazel, and she had, I think she was a neice, called Little Itch. And they were witches. And I always enjoyed those stories. And then I’ve known a few people named Hazel, who I liked. So was just a name that I thought, it’s not exactly unusual but you don’t hear it every day. And then I thought the combination of Hazel Rose, it was just a beautiful.

LB: Oh, it is. It’s a lovely name. It’s charming. Back to your book group: I love the dynamics of the women in that group and how they all work together, and yet they all have their own very distinct personalities.

MK: I like the idea of the book group because it was safer. Hazel is a successful romance writer and people just love to talk to her. In Murder at the Book Group, she got into a real challenging situation with the killer at the end and she was eager to repeat anything like that, even though she had been with Lucy at the time. And she was only solving this mystery at Murder at the Moonshine Inn because it was her cousin who was the main suspect. And she felt honor bound to do something to help a family member, even though he didn’t really recognize her as a family member. But she had a strong sense not only of justice but of doing the right thing for her family. But still, she balked at it — but then the book group was eager to participate. And maybe they were little tired of just reading mysteries and wanted to solve one. And so they’re all connected and they all know how to get what they want.

LB: So, true to your book group arena, you provide questions and discussion topics for book groups on your website for people who are reading your work. Do you like it when book groups reach out to you?

MK: Oh, absolutely! In fact, just today somebody asked me to visit their book group, so we made arrangements for that.

LB: So it’s MaggieKing.com?

MK: Right.

LB: MaggieKing.com. Great. One of the discussion questions that I would want to have, especially reading Murder at the Moonshine Inn, which just came out, congratulations on that, by the way —

MK: Thank you.

LB: — is the idea of learning how to say no.

MK: Yes.

LB: It’s something that Hazel struggles with.

MK: Yes. So many of us struggle with that. It’s a skill. We’re afraid to say no, we’re afraid that we’ll face disapproval or that maybe we’ll miss out on an opportunity like, if we had said yes, it would’ve been something really exciting, something we wish we had said yes to. It’s very difficult, and I think it’s especially difficult for women.

LB: Yes, I absolutely agree. I think it’s hard for us to say no.

MK: I think as we get older, it becomes a little easier.

LB: I do like that sense in your novels, too, that these are women who know who they are in the world.

MK: Right.

LB: You actually have a several year gap in Hazel’s life between your first book and your second book. Was that deliberate?

MK: Yes, it was. The first book, I kept it at 2005 because it took me many years to write it and I didn’t want to have to be keeping up with technology. So I decided to just kind of freeze it in one place. And then, by the time I was writing the second one, I decide to have it set in a few years, so I had it set in 2013. The third one will be set in 2015.

LB: Oh, excellent! I definitely want to know what’s next for her.

MK: What’s next is, Hazel — she’s dropped by her publisher.

LB: No!

MK: She’s published six books, in Murder at the Moonshine Inn, she’s published six books in her seventh one didn’t do well. So her publisher drops her. And of course these days were hearing so much about that kind of thing. And so she decides to become a mystery writer. She’s actually been thinking about it for quite some time. And so she enrolls in a writing class, she gets some of the book group members to join her in the class. And then when a very obnoxious student is murdered, there is no dearth of suspects, including the writing class members and their teacher.

LB: Oh, wonderful!

MK: (Laughter)

LB: I love how she talks about writing romances. She’s always looking for inspiration, shall we say. Her ears perk up when people start telling stories about their sex lives. It’s just so wonderful and fun and charming. Did you ever want to write romance?

MK: No, I can’t say that I did, but I think that mysteries, in fact all stories, even nonfiction, always has elements of romance in it. Anytime you have stories about human beings, you’re likely to have romance, or you might have people who are disappointed by romance. But there’s always something, there’s an element of that, it permeates the stories.

LB: I’d like to talk a little bit about genre. Mysteries have so many subcategories these days — and your two books have very different covers.

MK: Yes.

LB: One which really signals a cozy, and then your second book signals more of a traditional mystery. And your fans have often said you’re a combination of the two. How do you see yourself?

MK: A combination of the two. I consider mine — on my website, my tagline is cozy with a hint of noir. Some people said cozy with a sizzle, cozy with a bite. Or traditional mystery. I consider them traditional. What makes them cozy is that it’s an amateur sleuth and there’s no graphic sex or violence. There are cats.

LB: (Laughter) Well, there are it’s just any cats, there are your cats, right?

MK: Yes! Yes, so that makes it cozy, but it’s also edgy. And it’s very difficult to describe the difference between traditional and cozy. Some people say maybe there’s a little more of a real life feeling to the traditional mystery. They are not as cute, you know, cute and fluffy.

And also, cozies don’t have language. I like to have a little bit of language because it makes it more real. I mean, what do people say when they find a dead body? They don’t say, “Oh, fudge!” Not in real life.

LB: So who do you like to read?

MK: Well, I love — these aren’t cozy writers! My favorites are Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller.

LB: Yes. Not cozy.

MK: No. But I also like Gillian Roberts. She has a detective named Amanda Pepper, and they are set in Philadelphia. Amanda is a high school teacher. And Joan Smith, Joan Smith is a British writer. And they, I would consider them to be, like mine, on the edge of cozy and traditional.

LB: One of the things that I really loved when I was reading about you and your work, you tackle things outside of your own comfort zone. What you think is the benefit of doing that? Taking risks and going outside your comfort zone?

MK: It helps me to grow, it helps me to become a better writer. It makes me more comfortable in my own skin and it makes me more comfortable with other people. Anytime you can allay a layer of fear, it only helps.

LB: So how did you come up with the idea for Murder at the Moonshine Inn?

MK: The idea first came to me when my husband retired and started researching his family tree, and he discovered many relatives who he’d never known before. And he’s now in touch with all of them, except there was one who suspected that he only wanted money. He didn’t want to have anything to do with him. So I put something like that in with Brad, Brad Jones. And then years ago, I knew a family in California whose patriarch, who was a wealthy widower, he remarried a much younger woman who lived life in the fast lane. She could often be found sitting on a barstool in a redneck bar. And so I put those two ideas together and added a lot of fiction to it. And the result is Murder at the Moonshine Inn.

LB: You’re very interested in family dynamics, especially in the second book.

MK: Yes.

LB: What is it about family dynamics that fascinates you so much?

MK: That’s a great question. They’re so complicated and it’s a very complex relationship. It has a lot of layers, and there’s good and there’s bad, and there’s a lot of love. It makes for great writing.

LB: You are everywhere. You blog on your own blog, but then you do a blog tour and you are in several other wonderful sites, each time talking about something a little different. How do you find time to manage it all?

MK: It’s not easy. I love writing blogs, I found out that I love doing it. Probably I went a little overboard on this blog tour, but I just enjoy it. The interviews, people of course ask you different kinds of questions, and some of the people are very skilled at that.

LB: And how do you reach out to your readers, or reach them? Because I imagine you have some very devoted fans.

MK: I do have some. I’m very lucky, I have a growing number of them of authors and readers. Especially since, in the two years since I published Murder at the Book Group, my reach has really increased. I’m in a lot of Facebook groups, I have a personal and a fan page. Instagram, I like. Instagram’s a fun, fun part of the platform.

LB: Well, you also reach your fans in person. You had a launch party.

MK: Yes! Yes, I had a launch party. It was great. Great to see so many friends and people who were new to me. With my Sisters in Crime group, we have a lot of signings, especially with the anthologies.

LB: It’s great that there are so many ways that fans can reach you. Maggie, thank you so much for joining me today.

MK: Thank you, Laura.