I am thrilled that my first interview with a cozy author is with the New York Times Bestselling Krista Davis. She has two delightful cozy series, the Domestic Diva mystery series and the Paws & Claws mysteries, set in pet-friendly Wagtail, Virginia.
I’ll be giving away a copy of her most-recent Domestic Diva novel, The Diva Steals a Chocolate Kiss, as part of my April giveaway, along with books by Lisa Klink (signed by the author!) and Steph Cha, and a $10 Amazon gift certificate. To enter, just sign up in the box on the right.
Her 10th Domestic Diva mystery, The Diva Serves High Tea, will be published on June 7th. We chat about cozies – including the conversation around #SaveOurCozies, where readers are banding together to convince publishers that cozy mysteries are worth supporting. For a little more on what’s going on, you can check out posts on these sites:
Any others I should link to? E-mail me at Laura@DestinationMystery.com
If you’d rather read than listen, below is the transcript of our chat. Enjoy!
Welcome to Destination Mystery, a podcast for readers who love a good mystery. I’m Laura Brennan.
Krista Davis writes what she knows. Like her protagonist, Sophie Winston, Krista had a gregarious Ocicat named Mochie; lived for a time in Old Town, Alexandria; and loves to entertain family and friends.
Her Domestic Diva mystery series is a three-time Agatha Award nominee, and both of her series were on the New York Times Bestseller list, with Murder, She Barked, the first in her Paws & Claws mystery series, hitting the top ten. Her cozies include recipes, tips for gracious living, great characters and tremendous heart. I don’t know how she does it all.
Laura Brennan: Krista, thank you for joining me.
Krista Davis: Thank you so much for having me, Laura.
LB: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
KD: You know, I think I have. I went through periods when I did other things in life, but I go way way way back to grade school when I wanted to write and to read. And I even remember sitting in the window of my very boring house on a very boring street and thinking that books could just take you anywhere in the world and even to outer space. They could really introduce you to people that you would never meet otherwise. And I just thought they were marvelous.
LB: Tell me how the Domestic Diva — that was your first series — tell me how the Domestic Diva mystery series started.
KD: My agent suggested that I write a proposal for a different series. And when the editors were looking at that, they came back and asked, would this appeal to readers of Real Simple? Well, I had no idea what Real Simple was. So I hopped in the car right away and went to the CVS, and it was actually in the drugstore, looking at the magazine that the diva concept came to me. Real Simple in my mind is sort of the anti-Martha. It’s for people who want the lifestyle, and the nice food and the nice home and all the things that Martha Stewart is about, but just not so complicated. So I was just standing there and I thought, oh, gosh, there could be two Domestic Divas, one who does things simply and the other one who just has these just incredibly difficult, wonderful things that she does.
So the original idea before them was — everyone thought it was going to go. They were very happy about it, they got good reads on it and at an editorial meeting it just was killed in like two seconds. So, I think that the editors felt kind of bad about that, because they really thought it was going to be purchased. So they came back again to my agent and said, send us three ideas and we’ll tell you which one we’re interested in looking at. Which almost never happens, but they did it. Which shows that you never know what could happen. And the one that they chose was the one that I was calling the Dueling Divas. I got the call nine years ago yesterday.
LB: Oh congratulations!
KD: Thank you! Pretty amazing. I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for nine years. It’s like a dream. So, they wanted the Dueling Divas, but there was a caveat. And the caveat was, they have to be friends. And I had planned on them being arch-enemies. I thought that would be lots of fun. And they said no no no, they have to be friends. And in the end, I think that was a better decision. Because it made for more depth in the books, because I really had to dig deep to find a reason for these two women to be friends. Because everything was going against that. And I think that really helped both of their characters.
LB: Well, I have to tell you, when first I picked up the first book, The Diva Runs Out of Thyme, I pegged Natasha for the victim very early. I was like, oh, we have to kill her off, right? But not only did you not do that, but you gave her so much depth that her, the victories she does score against your protagonist, Sophie, I’m okay with them. It was a really interesting choice.
KD: And it wasn’t my choice originally, obviously! But I do, I think that really did help. And they continue throughout the series. Natasha is still a pill.
LB: Yes, yes she is.
KD: And she thinks she knows everything. And she thinks she’s being helpful to Sophie when she does what the rest of us see as criticism. She thinks she’s helping her learn and making her a better domestic diva. And I think that that really, in the long run, I think that helps. Which just goes to prove what I learned very early on and that is that the editors really know what they’re talking about. And in the end I’m glad that it worked out that way. I’m glad that they made that suggestion, yeah.
LB: Okay, so I have to ask: are you a domestic diva?
KD: My friends would say yes, but you have to understand their context. They tend to be take-out divas. To them, anyone who cooks at home is a domestic diva. So I am a little bit. I really loathe cleaning. I will be honest, I’m not a cleaning diva. But I do like to cook, I really do. I grew up in a household where home cooking was very important. My mother was unbelievable. She really knew how to cook and she followed Julia Child. So I was used to really good food. And just as luck had it, one of my first jobs was working at a very large convention hotel. So large that they had a cafeteria and a kitchen just for the employees because they had to feed about 1000 people a day as employees. But they brought down leftovers from the other kitchens. And I got really used to really really great food. At that point, I was very young and living on a budget and my roommate with say, oh, we’re gonna go out and get some fast food, and I just turned up my snubby little nose at it and wasn’t interested, because I had just had chocolate mousse. Why was I gonna go get a burger? So, yes, I am a little bit of a diva. But I’m not an over-the-top kind of diva.
LB: You’re more Sophie than Natasha.
KD: I’m definitely more Sophie than Natasha. And I have a lot of readers who are Natashas. And they love it, they decorate everything to the hilt. And I envy them because I don’t really have the time or the talent to do that. But I’ve learned a lot doing the series, too. And that’s been fun.
LB: I have to say, I am not a domestic diva but some of Natasha’s ideas just make me drool. It does create this beautiful image, a gracious living kind of image. So for all that Natasha is a pill, she does, she brings that crystal sparkle, I guess, to my fantasies.
KD: Yes, and that’s a little bit of what it is. I think Martha Stewart is a little bit of that fantasy, too. It’s the lifestyle, it’s the idea that you would live graciously like that. And some of the ideas are very simple, that really everyone can do. So I think it has made me a slightly better hostess probably.
LB: Your books are very intricately plotted. How do you develop the whodunit aspect?
KD: I am what they call a pantser. I write by the seat of my pants.
LB: Really? I would not have guessed that.
KD: I hear that from a lot of people. In fact, my editor calls me a Twisty Christy because I love a good plot. And I really like plots that aren’t linear. You know, life doesn’t happen in a linear fashion. The information that comes to us comes in bits and pieces like a puzzle and you have to put it together, and this is for everybody’s lives. Even if you’re just getting, Fed Ex says yes, a package was delivered but you know you don’t have it. You have to start putting together the clues, where did it go? And I think life is to sort of like that. So, anyway, yes, I love complicated plots. I usually start with what I like to call a nugget of an idea. Something that I want to play with or explore more. In The Ghost and Mrs. Mewer, for instance, I was really interested in exploring ghosts and some of the things that they do on TV with psychics and ghost stories, and it was a ball to learn about them. People always ask, do you any do you do any research? Yeah, we do a lot of research to write these mysteries. But I start with some little nugget and then just I start fleshing it out a little bit. But I’m one of those people who develops the story largely as I go. And it’s all in my head.
LB: Wow, that’s impressive.
KD: Kinda scary actually.
LB: A little scary but very impressive.
KD: I have tried doing the outline, and I’m just dull. I’m just, just dull. And I think I’m a pantser because I entertain myself when I’m writing. The story is new to me then too. I’m not just importing information, the story is going on in my head as I go.
LB: Your 10th Domestic Diva mystery is about to be released.
LB: What you know now about writing a series that you wish you’d known with that first book?
KD: I wish I had known to be more relaxed about writing. There’s so many rules that you hear. It took me 10 years of writing before I got the Domestic Diva deal. And over those years, I had been trying and trying and trying, and writing manuscript after manuscript, and you hear all these things — don’t use adjectives, don’t use adverbs, don’t do this, don’t do that. And I think that all of that information can kind of clog you up and make your writing very dry. So I think what you’ll find if you read the first book and then the 10th book, I think you’ll find that I have relaxed into a different voice. Not completely different, but I think — I feel like there’s a difference now. And I know that with the first book I was going through with a hatchet. Chopping things out that now, I don’t worry about them, because I think that they’re part of the voice.
LB: You have a second series now, the Paws & Claws mysteries.
LB: How in the world did you take on a second series? You’re already writing a little bit more than a book a year.
KD: Well, pretty much my editor called me up one day and said, it’s time for you to start writing a second series. That’s really how it happened. And I was stunned. I was completely stunned. And it’s — I find it very difficult, frankly. I’m writing one book every six months. I find it difficult to do. I have friends who write three and four books a year, so some people obviously just write faster and some people write slower. On the other hand, I was talking with a very well-known author, I won’t mention her name, and I said, you know, I’d really like to get back to one book a year, that seems just much more reasonable to me because I’m under a lot of pressure with two books. And she said, are you kidding? I’m hoping to get to one book every two years. To me, that’s like the ultimate luxury, that’s like a year of vacation and then a year of writing. But everybody has a different pace.
LB: Is it the pace or is it a different headspace for each?
KD: For me, it’s the pace. It really is. The two series are different enough that I don’t have trouble flipping between them, I really don’t. But I concentrate on one and finish that one, and then go to the other one.
LB: Let’s talk about some of the fun stuff then, because these are, they’re charming and they’re delightful, as well as being good mysteries.
KD: Thank you.
LB: Oh, you’re welcome. But they’ve got to be fun to write. Tell me they’re fun to write!
KD: They are fun to write! I wouldn’t be doing it if they weren’t.
LB: What’s the fun part?
KD: I think the, the most fun part for me. Well, first of all, let’s face it, the Paws & Claws mysteries, Wagtail Mountain is like my dream place. When I was setting it up, because obviously it does not exist and I keep waiting for some brilliant guy who constructs residential neighborhoods to say, hey, let’s do this, let’s make a place like this. I love the idea that everybody walks around town and you don’t have to get in a car to go everywhere. I love the idea that there are almost no cars, and people drive around in these very quiet electric golf carts. So that that’s safer for everyone, for the dogs and the cats who are walking around or who get loose. I love the idea that dogs and cats can go everywhere, and that they can go into hotels and in the restaurants and there are special menus for them. I mean, what fun is that? Not to mention coming up with silly names for stores and restaurants. It’s just a lot of fun to set that up.
But even better than that, the best part of both series when I’m writing is when the characters sort of come to life. It makes it sound like writers are just sort of daft, that we’ve lost our minds. But the characters do sort of come to life and start doing things on their own. There are things when — I love that eureka moment when you realize, oh my goodness, that’s what she wants, that’s what she’s doing. And things start falling place.
LB: I want to talk about animals, so Wagtail. Love Wagtail. I want to say, it’s not necessarily a clue as to who the killer is, but it’s always a clue to whether or not we’re going to like these people if they like or don’t like animals.
KD: Yes. Probably true in life, too.
LB: Probably true in life, too.
KD: I dated a guy once — and you’ll notice it was only once — and when I was talking to my dog, he said, you know he can’t understand you, and I thought, oh, you’re such an idiot. It was pretty much the end of the date right there. I went ahead and went out to dinner with him, but I could tell — and of course he had never had a dog. So there you go, that was the story. I’m actually sort of drawing on that relationship right now in the book that I’m writing, Mission Impawsible, with the “pos” part being “paw,” because I think people who don’t understand animals are a little bit different from the people who love them. And we all know that dogs are great judges of character, that goes without saying. And animals are big part of my life. The joke in my family is that “amimal” was my first word.
LB: Aw, that’s perfect. What is next for you?
KD: Next for me is, well, Mission Impawsible is due in less than two weeks. So I’m wrapping that up right now. And then I will start on the 11th Domestic Diva mystery, which does not yet have a name.
LB: One last thing I wanted to ask: cozies are an enormous genre, and beloved. But there seems to be some retrenching in the industry right now over cozies. Do you want to comment on that at all?
KD: I will, I certainly will. And I think that a lot of people are getting the wrong idea. Cozies are still very popular. In fact, from what I see they’re probably more popular than ever. I get a lot of email from people who say that they were just introduced to cozies and that they’re so glad that they found them, because they’re just really not interested in reading some of the more grisly things, more grisly mysteries out there. I mean, there’s room for everyone, obviously, we all like different things and that’s great. But I think a lot of people are just finding cozies and getting familiar with them. And I anticipate seeing a lot of great new cozies coming along in the very near future.
LB: Thank you to my guest Krista Davis if you want to be part of the conversation around the future of cozies, check out the Twitter hashtag #SaveOurCozies.
Show notes and transcripts are available at DestinationMystery.com