Today I’m honored to visit with my friend Luisa Buehler, author of the Grace Marsden Mysteries published by Echelon Press. I first met Luisa several years ago at a mystery conference in Muncie, Indiana. Since then she’s become the more successful of the two with seven books to my two. Hopefully I can learn something from her! Anyway, she is a delightful person and a great writer; feel free to leave your comments.
Mike: Let me start off by asking how you began your love of murder mysteries? And how did you make the transition from fan to author?
Luisa: I blame Nancy Drew for my love of mysteries! I began reading about Nancy and her chums when I was in junior high. I read Trixie Belden, The Hardy Boys, and Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. When I started high school I discovered Agatha Christie's classic murder mysteries and never looked back. I knew in high school that I wanted to write mysteries. Actually in junior high I thought I might pursue a career as a 'girl detective' but my dad was a strict old country Italian father who wouldn't approve. When I read, An Unsuitable Profession for a Woman, I felt her pain. LOL
I majored in English in college and started writing short stories during those years. The idea of a body hidden behind the fireplace wall, the premise for The Rosary Bride came to me while I was attending Rosary College. I knew someday I'd write about my liberal arts, all woman Catholic college---it was such a great place for a murder!
M: Your publisher, Echelon Press, is an emerging small press (or perhaps it’s not so small anymore) and you were one of its first authors. How did you “hook-up” with Echelon and how have you both grown since it signed you?
L: I met my publisher, Karen Syed, at a friend's book signing. He introduced us and assured her that my book was 'awesome' 'fabulous' etc. He'd never read a paragraph of the book because I write cozies and he writes gory thrillers. He has a copy of the book but he jokes and tells me he uses it for a doorstop. He's probably not joking.
I've had a wonderful relationship with Echelon. I've turned in my 7th Grace Marsden Mystery, The Reenactors: A Staged Death, due out Spring 2011. Karen has grown Echelon into a solid, respected press which is strong in not only print but e-book publications.
M: I have to ask about Grace Marsden, who is she and how much of Luisa can we find in Grace?
L: Grace is a compilation of the women I knew from Rosary. Her appearance and Irish/Italian heritage are direct copies of three friends. Her OCD I must say is partially mine but mostly embellished. I do know how to tie those knots (I was my son's Webelos scout leader). Grace is braver than I am. She has the horse I always wanted. The main cat in the series, Elmo, is my Martin Marmalade, short hair Orange Domestic. I'm a bit of an anglophile so I have paired off Grace with an English husband. My husband, who is more wonderful than hers, is a solid Chicago native.
M: Your first Grace Marsden mystery, The Rosary Bride, was set at your alma mater, Rosary College, now Dominican University. Did you get any feedback from the college for that?
L: Boy, did I! I called the college about six weeks before the book was due to print to ask about taking a picture of the Cloister Walk for promotional purposes. They politely explained that the Cloister Walk was a trademarked structure for their promotional material. At that point the PR person asked if I used the name of the college in the book. I assured her I wasn't calling it Dominican University but I was using the old name of Rosary College. That didn't sit well with them and they explained that Rosary College was also trademarked and they would prefer I not use the name (they said their legal department advised them) because the concern was that prospective attendees might not matriculate if they thought murder and mayhem lurked in the tunnels. It was my first book; my press was new and didn't have deep pockets; I didn't want to alienate a school I loved; so at the eleventh hour Echelon did a universal change from Rosary to Regina. I wrote in another paragraph putting a rosary in the ghost's hands (to explain the title) and we went to press. The universal change also changed my credentials in my bio in the first printing of the book. It said I graduated from Regina College!
M: I believe it was in The Lion Tamer that Grace became a docent at the zoo. I recall that you were once a docent at the Brookfield Zoo…so tell me, what exactly is a docent?
L: I still am a docent. I've been volunteering at Brookfield zoo since 1987. A docent is an educator that talks with visitors explaining the animals' behavior, diet, habitat, etc. We don't work with animals, just people. We also handle the important questions like, 'where's the nearest bathroom', 'when does the dolphin show start', and 'why do the baboons have red butts'!
M: You’ve had a ghost in a wedding dress, Satanic rituals, and skeletons in the basement: how do you come up with your plot ideas and how do you keep your writing fresh?
L: The ideas are everywhere. I was always a 'what if' kid. Couldn't care less about the 'why'. I was always adding, 'yeah, but what if...' I drove my family nuts.
It's difficult to keep an amateur sleuth written in first person fresh. I have to find different and plausible ways that Grace can uncover the clues. I try to make the reasons she becomes embroiled in these cold cases compelling and believable. I always yell at the television when the heroine decides to go down into the basement when she hears a noise. I would have to have Grace want to run first (what most sane people would do) but make the decision to investigate because she hears what sounds like a child crying or a faint shout for help and she can't turn away. I might have her carry fireplace poker or golf club with her.
I think I have run the course of my series arc with Grace and her pals and because my concern is that people will read number 9 or 10 and say, 'she should have stopped sooner.' So the book I just turned in, number 7, will be the last in the series.
M: Tell me about the Mystery Mavens. How have they helped you promote your books?
L: Sandy Tooley and Mary Welk and I travel around as the Mystery Mavens. Since we each have our own spheres of influence and contacts we have been able to triple our outreach to readers. We do library, school and club appearances. Our programs range from the always fun, "50 ways to leave your lover...Dead" to an informative "Write it Right" research program. The best part is the camaraderie – if no one else shows up at least we have each other to talk to.
M: It looks to me like your last book, The Inn Keeper, was released last year. You also have a couple of novellas available for download. Are you working on any new projects?
L: The Reenactors: A Staged Death will be out in 2011. I have written a Boy Scout adventure story for middle school boys. I am currently looking for an agent for that work.
M: How do you approach writing? Do you set aside a certain time of the day or week to write, or just make time when the urge strikes?
L: In the beginning, I tried to set aside chunks of time to write but weeks would go by without getting back to it. Once I had a contract with Echelon I knew I had to treat this like any other deadline. I try to stay on schedule. Between work and writing and family I am pretty structured to get it all in. Housekeeping goes by the wayside.
I write every morning from 5 to 7 before I get ready for work. I set a timer for the last 15 minutes and during that time I clean, dust, tidy, run a load of clothes, etc. This attempt at housekeeping assuages my guilt and actually gets something done. I call it my Swiffer Minutes (only 15 never more!) Saturdays I keep the same writing schedule but on Sundays I sleep in until six a.m. I write every day to keep the ideas churning during the rest of my day. I am a morning person so this is the best schedule for me.
M: Do you have any hobbies? Or maybe I should ask: do you have any spare time?
L: I love to garden. This year with all the rain and my deadline I have neglected the weeding. It seemed it rained every weekend (my only time to garden). I'm waiting for cooler weather and fewer mosquitoes to reclaim my garden.
I've played two rounds of golf so far this year on the two hottest days of the summer. I'd like to play more golf and play better.
M: Where can we find your books and how can readers contact you?
L: My books are available through Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, and independents like Centuries & Sleuths in Forest Park, The Nook in Lisle and Old Towne Books & Tea in Oswego. The Rosary Bride is out of print but I'm hoping Echelon will re-issue. Most of the titles are on kindle.
M: Thank you for your time, Luisa. One final question: how can readers and fans contact you?
L: I would be delighted to hear from readers through my website at http://www.luisabuehler.com/ or they can join me at http://www.luisabuehler.facebook.com/
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By the way, the Mystery Mavens can be found at http://themysterymavens.com/. Let us know what you think.