I reviewed the Pumpkin Muffin Murder in the Fresh Baked Mystery series (click here.) You may have read other works by Livia under different pen names. In the eighties she wrote westerns published in hardback by M. Evans, while writing mysteries for Tor Books under the name Washburn. She co-wrote with her husband several historical novels as J.L. Reasoner, and her first small town romance, MENDING FENCES as Livia Reasoner, an Our Town book, was published in January of '98 by Jove. Under the name Elizabeth Hallam, SPIRIT CATCHER was published by Jove, July '98 in their Haunting Hearts series and during the summer of '99 her medieval paranormal ALURA'S WISH (available on Kindle). October 2006 was the release of A PEACH OF A MURDER -- the first book in the Fresh-baked series.
I am delighted that Livia has graciously agreed to an interview, so please welcome her with comments and/or questions.
Becoming a writer was sort of accidental for me, because I got started doing it by helping my husband with his writing and discovered I enjoyed it and had a certain degree of talent at it. I wanted to see just how much I could accomplish. I guess I'm still trying to find out. I enjoy the writing process, but I think it's more enjoyable to see the end result. These days I'm motivated by deadlines and the thousand and one other things I'm trying to do!
What is your routine when you're facing your next novel? Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?
It can really vary from book to book. Sometimes I have a good title and build a book around it. Most of the time, though, I have an idea of what I want the book to be about, an event or a setting or something else that sets things in motion, and then I figure out the victim and the killer, usually in that order.
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 always write an outline before I write the book, and the solution to the mystery has to be present in that outline, although sometimes in the writing the way I get to that solution can change somewhat. I don't recall ever changing killers from the one that was in the outline, though. The outlines themselves aren't very detailed, just a few pages summarizing the general structure of the book.
What do you and Phyllis Newsom have in common? How are you different?
The main thing Phyllis and I have in common is that we both love family and friends, and finding out things. One thing I discovered early on when I started writing is that I like doing research and learning about things I'm not familiar with. Phyllis usually has to do some sort of research to figure out the solutions to the mysteries that confront her, and that's a reflection of the research I do to write the books. And of course we both love cooking. We're different in that I was never a teacher, but I come from a family of teachers and have been around the educational system all my life.
Phyllis Newsom is a refreshing 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? How do you handle minor characters?
The characters definitely have their own opinion about things! I suppose in the beginning I had to put some thought into developing them, but it wasn't a very deliberate process. Really, right from the start they walked in and starting saying and doing the things that seemed right for them. A lot of their personalities came from bits and pieces of real teachers I've known over the years. The same thing is true for the minor characters. I just try to make them as realistic as I can.
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?
I don't have music playing while I work. It's too much of a distraction for me. Most of my writing is done in my recliner with two little dogs asleep in my lap and the computer slightly to one side so it won't disturb them. There's no doubt who really runs things around here!
What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?
Since I'm also pretty busy these days as a small press publisher for Western Fictioneers with Troy Smith, and Prairie Rose Publications with Cheryl Pierson, I write when and if I get a chance, so I don't have a set schedule. It usually takes around six months to get a book done, not counting all the figuring out of the plot and writing an outline beforehand. You will find me experimenting with recipes until the day the book is due.
What in your background prepared you to write mysteries?
Mostly being a long-time mystery fan and reading them as far back as I can remember. It certainly doesn't hurt being married to a mystery writer (and reader), either.
In literature (not your own) who is your favorite mystery/suspense character?
Archie Goodwin! I mean, I like Nero Wolfe, too, but what a voice Archie had. And those were the first mysteries I read where food played a major part in them, what with all of Wolfe's cooking. I also loved the Donald Lam/Bertha Cool books by A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner).
Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?
My husband James Reasoner, without a doubt! I wouldn't be a writer if it weren't for him.
How did you get your first break to getting published? Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?
That goes back to the answer just above. I sold my first few stories to the same magazine where James was selling regularly, MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. The first novel I sold was a collaboration with him, sold through the same agent who represented both of us.
What's the one thing a reader has said that you've never forgotten and perhaps found startling?
Not really one thing, but the response the books get from readers has always surprised me a little. By that I mean, people seem to either love them or hate them. There's not much middle ground.
If your Fresh Baked mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your top character's roles?
Well, Sam is easy. Sam has to be Sam Elliott. Jamie Lee Curtis might make a good Phyllis. I've always seen Betty White as Eve, although a younger Betty White than she is now. I'd lean toward Kathy Bates as Carolyn.
Tell us about your next book in the series - or next
project? What is your biggest challenge with it?
The next book in the Fresh Baked Mystery series coming out is TRICK OR DEADLY TREAT, but that is written and turned in. The next one to write in this series is THE CANDY CANE CUPCAKE KILLER. I'm sure the biggest challenge will be finding the time to write it. The next thing I have to write, though, is a novella for the Western romance anthology LASSOING A BRIDE, which will be out this summer.
Do you have a newsletter or blog for readers to stay informed of your news?
My blog can be found at liviajwashburn.blogspot.com, although I don't keep it updated as well as I should. I can also be found on Facebook and I'm always glad to hear from readers there.
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Thank you Livia for the interview. I love the image of you writing with your laptop balanced around your dogs in your lap. Archie Goodwin, such a good one.