Welcome author of the Magical Bakery Mystery series, Bailey Cates, to our blog! She believes magic is all around us if we only look for it. She
studied philosophy, English, and history and has held a variety of
positions ranging from driver's license examiner to soap maker. She
traveled the world as a localization program manager for Microsoft, but
now sticks close to home where she writes two mystery series, tends to a
dozen garden beds, bakes up a storm and plays the occasional round of
Her next Magical Bakery Mystery, Charms and Chocolate Chips, releases November 5, 2013--which I will be reviewing this month. She is currently working on the fourth in the series, Some Enchanted Eclair. I reviewed the second book in her series, Bewitched, Bothered, and Biscotti (click here.)
I pretty consistently start with a plot idea, and that idea often comes from a set of circumstances. For example, the Magical Bakery Mystery that I'm working on now revolves around a movie set. Then I put my characters in and play with what might happen. From that I can see the logical victim, and then I figure out whodunit. Sometimes those last two are switched.
Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc) before sitting down and writing?
I used to plunge in as soon as I knew the beginning and the end. However, since we're talking about mysteries here, that often resulted in going back and fixing things, making them consistent or planting clues, after I'd written all the way through to the ending. I was concerned that if I outlined too much I'd lose some of the mojo of discovery. However, when I gave in and tried a (fairly rough) outline I was delighted to find the magic was still there -- both in the problem solving during the outlining process and during the actual writing. Now I outline all my books, though in a very informal way and rarely at a scene-by-scene level. Before I write a scene I write about it for about five minutes. That way I go in understanding the choreography, motivations, goals and tension for that scene.
Katie Lightfoot is an enjoyable character, and the rest of the crew is great as well. What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?
Oh, I love playing with characters! While there are lots of ways I do this, timed free-writing is probably the method I use most. I start with a few interview questions and answer from the character's point of view. New characters always have to tell me what they really want and what they are afraid of. Those answers generally launch into a half dozen pages of information and backstory, some useful, some not. I also mind-map character reactions to strange situations -- whether the situation is in the book or not, their reactions tell me a lot about who they are. And finally, as I'm outlining and writing the story I watch for how characters will change from the beginning to the end of the book.
This is a bit more than the typical paranormal cozy with more accurate Wiccan portrayals. What attracted you to writing such a witchy mystery series?
I chose to link a lot of the magic in my books to Wiccan practices for three reasons. One is simple respect for that belief system. I like that it's a gentle magic for the most part, and the Rule of Three -- the belief that anything you do will come back to you threefold -- strikes me as a good moral tenet no matter what you think about magic per se.
Another reason is that I'm very interested in traditional herbal craft, especially in terms of healing. The original herbalists were usually healers, and often considered witches.
And finally, I'm simply more interested in researching and conveying information with a basis in reality than completely building a new world -- and coming up with rules so that it makes sense to the reader. There are paranormal writers who are really great at doing that, and I admire them a lot.
Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
One thing I always do is review what I'm going to be writing that day. I sketch out settings, think about what the characters will be doing and what their mental states are. Each morning I think this stuff through on my morning walk. Then, if I can manage it, I write at my desk with a cup of tea, a scented candle (lemon verbena, lavender or rosemary), some soft instrumental music on the stereo and my cat, Minerva, dozing in the basket at my feet.
That's ideal, but I've learned not to be precious about writing. There isn't time, and I strive to live a full, balanced life. I take a notebook or my iPad everywhere, so I can get in a little writing whenever the opportunity arises. I write in parks, coffee shops, when camping, on car trips, in hotels and restaurants and airports. But when I'm at home I have the tea-and-candle ritual so I'm not too tempted by distractions like the garden -- or the refrigerator. :)
What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?
I try to write four hours a day, six days a week. That's writing, revising or editing, not researching, not blogging, and in fact not online at all. Usually that four hours doesn't happen all in one block -- usually one two-hour block and two one-hour blocks. And that time might come at any time in the day, depending on what's going on. I aim to be done with the day's writing by noon, but that doesn't always happen.
As for how long it takes to write a book, I can generally finish in about six months. Eight is better, of course. But I'm done when the calendar and the editor tell me I am.
What in your background prepared you to write not just mysteries but a paranormal mystery?
My stepdaughter was interested in pagan and Wiccan practices, and I wanted to know more about that. That was several years ago, but I did a lot of reading. Add to that my interest in herbs from a natural healing standpoint. For a while I learned about the chemical constituents of plants from a master herbalist -- and it turned out he was also a practicing druid.
And mysteries have always been among my favorite things to read. I've never really wanted to write anything else.
In literature (not your own) who is your favorite mystery/suspense character and who is your favorite paranormal character?
I adore Mary Russell in Laurie R. King's mysteries about Sherlock Holmes and his new assistant after he retires from Baker Street. My favorite paranormal character is tougher. I really like Harper Blaine, who is the greywalker in Kat Richardson's Greywalker series. Those books are far more hard boiled than cozies, however. I do love Sookie Stackhouse, as well as most of Charlaine Harris' paranormal characters.
Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?
Oh, dear. I suppose I should be honest and admit that it's Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her series still sits on my bookshelf, right by my desk, and I read them every few years. They aren't mysteries -- I did read all the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Dana Girls, Trixie Belden, Robin Cane and the rest -- but the Little House books inspired me to try new things, buck up, be persistent, and learn pioneer skills. I still bake bread, make soap and have my own spinning wheel. My Home Crafting Mysteries, which I write as Cricket McRae, feature a different colonial craft in each one. I blame Ms. Wilder for that.
How did you get your first break to getting published? Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?
I think I mentioned persistence? I attended writer's conferences, but I managed to gain my agent's attention via query letter. That was, mind you, after getting a pile of rejections. She took me on as a client based on a mystery I'd written that wasn't a cozy. It was set in a small town in Montana, and she never did sell it. However, I'd also written the first of what became the Home Crafting Mysteries, and she sold that as a series. Recently I dumped everything about the Montana mystery except the setting and wrote a new one. That one came out in September -- Shotgun Moon, written as K.C. McRae.
What are you currently reading?
A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert. It's the story of the secret collaboration between Rose Wilder Lane and her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, on the Little House books I was just yammering about.
I'm also reading Cooked by Michael Pollan, which is nonfiction, and Peach Pies and Alibis by Ellery Adams -- I love Ella Mae!
If your Magical Bakery mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your top character's roles?
I'm afraid I just don't go there. I'm sure there are lots of writers who like to have an image of an actual person in mind while they write, but not me. It feels too definitive, too limited, and I want readers to have their own interpretation. Walt Longmire will always look like Robert Taylor in my mind when I read Craig Johnson's books now, and Sookie Stackhouse can't help but look like Anna Paquin. As a writer I enjoy the vision I have of my characters, and none of them look like a real person I could name. Of course, I wouldn't worry about that at all if the Magical Bakery Mysteries were actually made into a movie!
Tell us your thoughts on the growing genre of paranormal mysteries and its popularity (i.e. is it here to stay or a fad, is it pushing the mystery genre envelope etc?)
Paranormal mysteries are here to stay. For one thing, they are a delightful mix of two very popular genres, and readers obviously love them (including me). Magic has fascinated people pretty much forever. Adding magic of whatever kind to mysteries, especially lighter mysteries, ups the escape factor, affords new kinds of characters and plot twists. It's simply a very good marriage.
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THANK YOU Ms. Cates for a great interview. I remember the Dana Girls mysteries, and read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books too. The image of tea, soft music, and a sleeping cat at your feet is the picture of perfection.
Readers, what struck you in the interview? Any questions for Ms. Cates?