Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Jennie Bentley's DIY series
I met Jennie Bentley at Killer Nashville a few years back and have been a fan ever since. Her DIY Mystery series is as delightful has she is. The series includes Fatal fixer-upper, spackled and Spooked, plaster and Poison, and mortar and Murder, the titles done in an interesting manner.
Welcome, Jennie! Please tell us more about yourself.
Thanks, Susan. There’s not a lot to tell. I’m just not that interesting. Most of us writers aren’t. We live through our characters and spend our days playing with our imaginary friends and having conversations with the voices in our heads. Apart from that, I live in Nashville with a husband and two boys, a dog, a parakeet, a couple of frogs and a couple of goldfish. I’m allergic to cats, so I only have those vicariously. Writing used to be a hobby that’s now my profession, and I haven’t found another hobby to replace it yet. I do like to travel a lot, and I also spend a lot of time reading. I used to knit more than I do now, but maybe I’ll pick it up again.
When you decided to write, did you make a conscientious effort to write cozies or did it come naturally?
LOL! I never planned to write cozies. It’s not a genre where I’m particularly comfortable, to be honest, although I’ve been told I do it fairly well. I started out writing romance, and then ended up in a sort of romantic mystery hybrid that’s been compared to Janet Evanovich and Mary Kay Andrew’s Savannah Blues. The chance to write a cozy series came out of left field, I wasn’t going after it, but I didn’t think I ought to turn it down. I’m more comfortable with series than I am with standalone books – once I get to know charactesr, I like to keep playing with them! – but at the same time, the cozy subject matter is somewhat limiting, and I feel acutely the lack of sex and violence. Or more accurately, I feel limited by the fact that I can’t show my characters in bed together, when we all know they’re having sex, and there are certain subjects that aren’t considered ‘cozy’ enough, and those tend to be the subjects that excite me. I was able to push the envelope a little with Mortar and Murder, where I tackled human trafficking, but that’s as far as I’ve been allowed to go, and I had to tone it down considerably. It’s great that there are cozy mysteries out there for people who prefer their murders nice and clean, but for me personally, I like my mysteries a little grittier.
Interesting, Jennie. I write gritty stuff in my Logan Hunter series and have been told by a few readers to tone it down a little. Ha! I love Evanovich and Andrews as well.
I'm intrigued by the way your cover fonts are designed. Why are the title fonts designed the way they are?
I have no earthly idea. I have fantastic designers, for the inside of the book as well as the outside, and I have a really great cover artist who creates the picture that goes on the front of the book, but all of that has nothing to do with me. The art department at the publishing house does it. They show it to me and say “This is the cover for the new book, what do you think?” and if I have any concerns, they do their best to address them, but that’s the limit of my involvement with the exterior of the book. I have no idea why the publisher decided to brand the books the way they did – although I’m thrilled about it! The books are gorgeous, and I’m very happy the publisher did them that way – I think I have some of the nicest covers around! – but I don’t have any say at all in what they look like.
I love them too!
Each of your books includes design tips in the back. Do you have a background in home-renovation?
I do, as a matter of fact. My husband and I bought our first house in 2000. Now we’re in our ninth, or maybe tenth. All of them have been renovation objects, some more needy of fix-up than others. We’ve owned everything from an 1899 transitional Victorian to the current one, which is a mid-century brick ranch, like the haunted house Derek and Avery renovated in Spackled and Spooked.
I really like Avery Baker, a young lady who seems to find many a mystery to solve even though her background is textiles. How did you develop her?
When my editor and I first started talking about the series, she had a few ideas in mind for what she wanted it to be like. One of them was the very popular trope of fish out of water: a character dropped into a location/situation she’s ill prepared for. A big-city girl at heart, Avery inherits her Aunt Inga’s house in a tiny town on the outer edge of the back-beyond: the coast of
. I used to live in Maine , and a few chapters of the book take place there, so I gave Avery that background, since I could write about it with some degree of authority. I knew I needed to build in conflict between Avery and her love interest, so I made Derek a traditionalist, a restorer rather than a renovator at heart; someone who prefers to keep the integrity of the old architecture whenever possible, rather than updating it. Avery, meanwhile, came to Waterfield with her heart set on stuffing as many modern amenities into Aunt Inga’s old house as she could. She needed a profession and a background where she could innovate, where she wasn’t bogged down with history or preservation. Textiles sounded interesting, and besides, it allowed her to show some personality in her mode of dress. She’s developing and changing as the series is going along: the Avery from Fatal Fixer-Upper is quite a different character from the Avery of Mortar and Murder or Flipped Out, the book that’s coming in October. Her personality is still the same – she’s impetuous, quick to jump to conclusions, inquisitive, a little neurotic, and not as careful as she should be – but her actions and reactions have changed a little as a result of her new life and the people in it. New York City
Tell us more about Derek Ellis, the hunky “Mr. Fix-it”. Hubba, hubba!
LOL! Glad you like him!
Derek is Avery’s boyfriend. In the first book she sort of suspects him of wanting to drive her out of Aunt Inga’s house, but not really seriously. After Fatal Fixer-Upper is over, the two of them go into business together, renovating houses, and they also become romantically involved.
Derek is 34 when the series starts, 35 now, a year later. He’s a native Waterfielder, who grew up in a small, green Folk Victorian cottage on
. His father is Dr. Benjamin Ellis. The Ellises have been doctors for generations, and Derek went to medical school, too. While there, he met Melissa James, and married her. The two of them ended up back in Waterfield after Derek finished his residency. He was supposed to go to work with his father, but after a year or so, he decided he’d rather work on houses than people and left the practice, with his father’s blessing. Melissa wasn’t as understanding; she divorced him and took up with Avery’s cousin Ray instead. When Derek and Avery meet, it’s five years later, and Derek is finally getting to the point where he’s ready for a serious relationship again. Chandler Street
He’s just about six feet tall – quite a lot taller than Avery, who’s just 5’2”. He has blue eyes and hair that’s light brown in the winter and dark blond in the summer, when the sun bleaches it. He looks good in jeans and a T-shirt, and better without either. Avery is crazy about him, and I have to admit to having a bit of a soft spot myself.
I’m sure folks would be interested in more information about each book. Please give us a brief synopsis of each one.
Book 1, Fatal Fixer-Upper, starts with Avery inheriting her Aunt Inga’s house in Waterfield and deciding to spend the summer in
renovating it. She hires Derek Ellis, a local handyman, to help her, and things develop. There’s a little bit of romance, a few dead bodies, and a history mystery that dates back to Marie Antoinette and the French revolution, while going into some of Aunt Inga’s past. At the end of Fatal Fixer-Upper, Avery decides to stay in Maine and go into business with Derek, renovating houses. Maine
In book 2, Spackled and Spooked, Derek and Avery are renovating their first real project together – since Avery moved into Aunt Inga’s house and they couldn’t sell it. The house they’re working on is a mid-century ranch which is rumored to be haunted after a man killed his wife and inlaws there some seventeen or eighteen years ago. There are creepy footsteps in the hallway when no one’s around, and then Derek uncovers a skeleton buried in the crawlspace. When one of the neighbors end up dead, Avery realizes the murderer is very much alive and still keeping an eye on the house.
At the beginning of book 3, Plaster and Poison, Avery and Derek still haven’t sold the mid-century ranch, and they don’t have any money to take on a new project. Instead, they agree to renovate an old carriage house on their friend Kate McGillicutty’s property and turn it into a love nest for two in time for Kate’s wedding to Waterfield chief of police Wayne Rasmussen. But when a dead body turns up in the carriage house, and turns out to be someone from Kate’s past, someone Kate’s daughter Shannon has been spending a lot of time with, it’s questionable whether the wedding will take place at all. Add in Avery’s mom and stepfather, in town to check out Derek, plus a set of initials carved into the wall of the old carriage house that Avery is trying to trace, and it’s a complicated few weeks.
Book 4, Mortar and Murder, find Derek and Avery renovating a 1783 center-chimney Colonial on Rowanberry Island, off the coast of Maine. The island – and the house – has a past going back to the Revolutionary War, and it isn’t long before Avery suspects that smuggling is still going on on Rowanberry Island. Except this time, it isn’t tea and sugar being brought in; it’s young women. Women with a connection to Irina Rozhdestvensky, Avery and Derek’s realtor, a Ukrainian immigrant. Between Irina and Gert Heyerdahl, a reclusive thriller writer who spends his summers on Rowanberry Island, and an island population that doesn’t take kindly to outsiders, Avery has her hands full figuring out what’s going on.
Book 5, Flipped Out, will be released in October. Avery and Derek are filming an episode of a TV program that’s also called Flipped Out, the premise of which is to renovate – flip – a house in a week. The house belongs to Tony ‘the Tiger’ Micelli, anchor for Portland’s Channel Eight News, and when the television crew arrives, it turns out several of them know Tony from before. When Tony ends up dead, and his new fiancée Melissa James, Derek’s ex-wife, is arrested for the murder, it’s up to Avery to delve into Tony’s past and figure out who the real murderer is.
Congratulations on a unique and adorable series, Jennie. Please let me know when you have another book release.
Thanks so much, Susan! DIY-5 comes in October, DIY-6 sometime in 2012. Meanwhile, I’m self-publishing a series of Nashville-based real estate themed mysteries as e-books for Kindle and Nook under the pseudonym Jenna Bennett. A Cutthroat Business was released in May, Hot Property in June, and Contract Pending in July. Book 4, Close to Home, will be coming in September. Readers can find out more about those on my blog, www.jennabennett.com The website with more information about the DIY series is www.jenniebentley.com
Hope to see you at Killer Nashville again this year!
I hope to be there!