Elizabeth Spann Craig is the bestselling cozy mystery author of the Southern Quilting mysteries and Memphis Barbeque mysteries for Penguin Random House and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently. A mother of two, she has already published more than twenty books, the latest being a Southern Quilting mystery called Patch Of Trouble .
This was the very first author interview that I conducted and I absolutely cannot complete this post without saying how much of an amazing person Elizabeth is. I have come across several authors who often reply quite rudely to e-mails, maybe due to their busy schedules. Elizabeth on the other hand, always replied almost immediately and with such politeness. Being a full-time writer and a mother, I can only imagine how busy her life would be. So thank you so much, Elizabeth, for spending some of your valuable time in doing this interview.
Excerpts from the interview
- You have published over twenty books. How does it feel to know that people all over the world are reading your books?
I love it, but it’s humbling, too. I feel very fortunate that my books have resonated with others and it makes me want to not only continue writing, but to work harder on each story.
- From the very beginning did you want to write cozy mysteries or did you eventually discover it as your genre?
I did attempt to write other genres about twenty years ago. I took a stab at both YA (actually, YA wasn’t even a genre back then) and romance. But I didn’t successfully finish writing a book until I started with cozies. I started reading M.C. Beaton’s Hamish MacBeth series in the late-90s and I knew that I’d found my perfect match in genre.
- Whycosymysteries and not crime thrillers with say a serial killer? Are cozy mysteries harder/easier to write?
I think the cozy voice comes naturally to me and thriller writing would be much more of a stretch. My favorite books growing up had a very cozy feel to them: The Wind in the Willows, the Nancy Drew mysteries, even Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. Those stories influenced me and my eventual writer’s voice. Plus, you’re right—cosy mysteries don’t require forensic research to write whereas many thrillers and police procedurals would.
- What challenges have you faced in writing series novels? Is it easier with the protagonist being familiar to you?
Writing a series is both easier and harder than standalone novels. It’s easier when your protagonist and recurring secondary characters are developed and ready to go on another adventure. It’s easier because the settings are already established. But it’s harder because writers have to very carefully track facts in a series. Many series writers, myself included, use a tool called a series bible to help note details in their stories. Otherwise, you end up with a character with a cat allergy owning a cat in a later book.
It’s also challenging to write more than one series and go back and forth between story worlds. To make this easier, I outline the next book in a series directly after finishing writing a story in the same series (and before moving on to a different series).
- What was the eureka moment in your life, the moment you realised writing was your true calling?
I was in fourth grade (about nine years old) when I realized that I wanted to be a writer. I wrote over a hundred short stories that year in my spare time.
- For an aspiring writer, what do you think is the apt time to write a book? Do you think sufficient experience is necessary before writing a book? Further advice?
I think there is never a great time to write a book. Life has its way of throwing curveballs our way. If you’ve got a story idea, there’s no time like the present to write it. Decide what time of day you’re most naturally productive and write each day at that time. I’d also recommend setting the bar low—make your goal something that is easily attainable for you. It’s more important, in terms of motivation, to have a whole string of successful writing days than it is to set a goal that you’ll struggle with or that’s a burden. I started out with fifteen minutes a day when my daughter was a toddler and found that I could write a page in fifteen minutes. At that rate, you’ll have a completed draft in less than a year.
- How do you deal with writer’s block? Any tips you can provide to tackle it successfully?
In my experience, writer’s block is more like ‘writer’s reluctance.’ For me, it’s an indicator that I am avoiding writing the next scene. That’s when I start asking myself questions: am I simply not sure what to write next? Do I need to outline the next few pages? Does the scene not work and that’s why I’m reluctant to write it? Am I just not in the mood to write a sad scene or a happy scene? Sometimes writing a different scene (skipping ahead) or working from the end of the story to the place I left off will work. Sometimes less dramatic methods will work—maybe simply changing the time of day I write or the place or merely outlining more closely for the next few pages.
- Being a mother, how do you manage to be a full-fledged writer? Amidst looking after your kids and the several household duties, how do find time to write?
For me, it’s easiest if I awake an hour before anyone else in my household. Unfortunately, that does mean that I’m up at 4:30 a.m. But at that hour, there are (usually) no other demands on my time. I make it a point to write before I check email or social media. If I need to write more that day, I’ll work on my story while waiting in the carpool line for my daughter to be released from her high school.
- What are the challenges you faced in getting your first book published?
I found there are many obstacles to getting a book traditionally published. I believed in the story and my stubbornness (stubbornness is a good trait for writers) led me to send queries to agents for over a year. I ended up with around 100 rejections. That’s when I decided to skip submitting to agents and started submitting directly to publishers—and these were unsolicited manuscripts, so they went into the ‘slush pile’ at the publishing houses. But I received interest from two different publishers for that manuscript (Pretty is as Pretty Dies), so it worked well for me. I ended up with my agent a year afterward.
- What are you currently working on?
I’m currently finishing up the 7th Southern Quilting Mystery, Fall to Pieces, which should be released in late-January or early February.
PS: Many thanks to Mystery Thriller Week for providing me with a wonderful platform to interact with authors of mysteries and thriller books.