Welcome! I am so thrilled to have Cleo Coyle here today to talk to us about the Coffeehouse Mystery series, which is one of my personal favorite Cozy Mystery series.
DEAD COLD BREW, the sixteenth book in the series just came out. What can you tell us about what’s going to happen in this book?
We’re happy to, and thank you so much for inviting us to join you today. Dead Cold Brew is an important book in the ongoing stories of our Coffeehouse Mystery characters. Our amateur sleuth sheds tears of joy over a surprise marriage proposal from her longtime boyfriend, NYPD Detective Mike Quinn. Unfortunately, the vintage coffee diamonds Mike slips on Clare’s finger open a Pandora’s box to a cold case of murder—one that occurred sixty years ago in the stateroom of the SS Andrea Doria, an Italian ocean liner that tragically sank off the coast of Nantucket in 1956.
The mystery uncovers a shocking inheritance, a decades-old family scandal, a charming jewel thief, and a deadly adversary for our sleuth—single-mom and coffeehouse manager Clare Cosi. For those of you who are new to our series, don’t hesitate to pick up Dead Cold Brew. We always do our best to fill in new readers on background elements, so every book can be read as a stand-alone, and if you like it, you have 15 more to enjoy.
Would you like to share your writing process with us? Who does what?
We develop the general outline together. We then write the scenes and sequences independently, in our own heads, at our own computers. Along the way, we get together often and go over each other’s work before moving forward again.
By the way, there is no sexism in our process. A writing week for Alice might involve male and female characters, an action sequence as well as cooking scene. The same holds true for Marc, who writes female narratives as well as male. The great advantage we have as a wife and husband writing team is in the revision process. We do our best to check and balance each other with a goal of keeping the narrative as smooth, authentic, and entertaining as possible.
How do you begin the process and develop your stories?
Our sparking idea always comes from an actual crime or real life event. Our first Coffeehouse Mystery, On What Grounds, began with our discussion of the tragic death of a dancer here in New York City. Our thirteenth, Billionaire Blend, was a result of our fascination with Smartphone culture, tech-whiz billionaires, and the 2010 car bomb planted in Times Square. Last year’s bestseller, Dead to the Last Drop, involved a Washington politician and missing emails—which turned out to be far more timely than even we thought at the time we wrote it.
Our latest title, Dead Cold Brew, sprang from a few ideas, including the real-life murder of a beloved Greenwich Village jewelry designer and the tragic sinking of the SS Andrea Doria. We linked the two events, dropped them into our Coffeehouse Mystery world, and grew the story from there.
Once we latch onto an interesting and timely theme, we’ll talk it over for days—over breakfast, over dinner, on long walks through the city. We use a digital recorder to recall our discussions as we expand the basic story with subplots and character arcs.
We like to challenge our characters, dropping them into difficult situations to see how they’ll cope. In fact, one of our favorite characters, the octogenarian owner of our Village Blend coffeehouse, has a saying that applies, especially for Clare, our amateur sleuth: “Survive everything. And do it with style.”
If and when conflict arises, how do you handle it?
Dueling pistols at dawn! (Kidding, kidding.) Honestly, we have a healthy debate. The fact is nobody survives 17 years of marriage without developing conflict resolution tools—and, as often as not, our open discussions yield a third solution, one neither of us considered.
You tend to have a lot of layers in your books where different things are happening at one time. How do you like to keep track of events like this?
When we’re writing, we live through the eyes of our cast of characters. Consequently, it’s easy and fun for us to keep track of what’s going on in each character’s life.
Think of your own life. You are aware of your own narrative, so to speak—your goals, worries, daily routines. But that’s not where your awareness ends. You are also aware of other lives around you—your friends and family, your boss, a neighbor. Each of these people has a “track” and you might be concerned about your father’s surgery that morning and your best friend’s blind date that night.
When we’re writing a story, a character’s life doesn’t stop when he or she walks off the page. We think about each character’s “narrative line” through forward moving time, which makes keeping track of their various storylines (on and off the page) an easy task. They intersect for you, the reader, when we frame them for drama, and this is one way we strive to give our work richness and verisimilitude—that feeling of being dropped into an actual, multi-layered life.
Do you have a favorite book in the series? If so, which one is it and why?
Our favorite book tends to be the one we’re working on—after about halfway through. Starting a new book can be thrilling but also frustrating. There are always setbacks, snags, and worries. By the middle, we’ve worked out many of the problems. The story kicks in and we’re rolling. That’s when it becomes our favorite book.
How would you describe DEAD COLD BREW in three words?
Engagements are murder.
Who are some of your favorite authors to read for fun?
We’ll give you two…
From Alice: I enjoy reading Raymond Chandler, a writer who started in the pulps and ended in the Library of America. Chandler didn’t publish his first story until the age of 45, after he lost his executive position in an oil company during the Great Depression, so it’s no surprise his characters are world-weary. Yet his work displays a dry wit that’s hard to resist, and his stories make it clear that he had a keen sense of justice and regarded basic goodness as a higher virtue than status or wealth. I feel the same, which makes him an author with whom I never regret spending time.
From Marc: Many writers can point to an author who inspired them, but not many can point to a specific story. For me it was “The People of the Black Circle,” written in the 1930s by Robert E. Howard. That story had everything: adventure, a strong hero, a determined heroine, evil sorcerers, violent action, palace intrigue. Many cite this as one of the finest adventure stories of the last century, and it was authored by a twenty-seven-year old, self-educated man from rural Texas with no literary background. Today Robert E. Howard is widely considered the greatest pulp writer in “The Whole Wide World,” which is the title of the movie about his life filmed in the 1990s.
What’s next for Cleo Coyle?
We’ve begun development on our 17th Coffeehouse Mystery with our longtime publisher, and we’re now finishing up a new entry in our Haunted Bookshop Mystery series. After five books, we put that one on hiatus for several years, but the “spirit” was always with us (so to speak), and we look forward to getting Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller into readers’ hands next year.
by Cleo Coyle
Released: December 6th 2016
Series: Coffeehouse Mystery #16
Published by Berkley
Coffeehouse manager Clare Cosi sheds tears of joy when her NYPD detective boyfriend surprises her with an engagement ring. But her bridal bliss is put on hold when a chilling mystery brings a wave of deadly danger to those she holds dear...
After everything Clare and Mike have been through, they deserve a little bit of happily ever after. So when Mike decides to put a ring on Clare's finger, Clare's eccentric octogenarian employer is there to help. She donates the perfect coffee-colored diamonds to include in the setting and the name of a world-famous jeweler who happens to be an old family friend. But while the engagement is steeped in perfection, the celebration is not long lived.
First, a grim-faced attorney interrupts their party with a mysterious letter bequeathing a strange, hidden treasure to Clare's daughter. Next, the renowned jeweler who designed Clare's ring is found poisoned in his shop. Both events appear to be connected to a cold case murder involving a sunken ship, an Italian curse, a suspiciously charming jewel thief, and a shocking family secret. With deadly trouble brewing, Clare must track down clues in some of New York's most secret places before an old vendetta starts producing fresh corpses.