Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about the fun research she does for her cozies.
Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get as an author is “do you do much research for your books?” The answer is a definite…it depends.
I write cozy mysteries. By their definition, the plot revolves more around the people, their characters and motives than around events that require a lot of research such as the inner workings of the CIA or how to operate a submarine. That said…cozies do require research of a sort.
I decided early on that I wanted my books to be about more than just the murder and finding out who did it. I wanted to frame the stories with some kind of occupation or event that made the protagonist need to learn something she hadn’t known before and hopefully the reader as well. I don’t mean ‘the hook’, although that’s important. Ellen McKenzie is a real estate agent and Mary McGill is retired and runs every committee in town. I didn’t want to write a ‘how to’ book either. I wouldn’t want to teach anyone how to set up fraudulent partnerships or smuggle drugs in a horse trailer, but I wanted a theme that would run through the book, making it a vital part of the story. That’s where the research came in.
The first two books centered on things I already knew something about. Dying For A Change involved land purchase and fraudulent partnerships, Give First Place to Murder horse shows and horse transport. About then I ran out of first hand experiences and needed to collect information.
And Murder For Dessert opens in a winery during a prestigious wine maker dinner, featuring a famous chef who ends up dead in a wine fermenting tank. Such fun. The town where I then lived was home to some of the most famous wineries on California’s Central Coast. I had visited most of them and was fortunate enough to know some of the owners and wine makers. I had sipped wine on the cellar floors, wandered in the vineyards, and represented both buyers and sellers in the purchase or sale of wineries and vineyards. I’d done a lot of research but not for the express purpose of writing the book. That came later but I made good use of the knowledge I’d gained.
A lot of Murder Half-Baked takes place in a bakery, and as I’ve said about cozies, it is mainly about the characters, why the victims came to be that way-dead-and what happened to make the killer kill. I did a lot of research about domestic abuse to write this book, its effect on the abused woman, her children, and its long term effect on the whole family. However, since it is in a bakery it seemed only fair to look into how a bakery works, which isn’t much like your average household kitchen. At least, not much like mine. I’d never heard of a pouffer and at first thought I had the spelling wrong. I didn’t. It’s a sort of oven that gets the bread/pasteries to rise more quickly. It turns out bakery people are very generous with their information as well as their cherry Danish. I learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes while feeding my sweet tooth.
Murder by Syllabub was different. I had been to Colonial Williamsburg several times and was fascinated by life in the eighteenth century. Did you know that the expression “sleep tight” came about because there were no box springs, just rope ties and if they weren’t tied tight you sagged? All night. That’s just one piece of trivia I learned. I went to Williamsburg twice just to do research, stayed in the historic district, watched women make wigs, cook in the Payton Randolph house and the Governor’s mansion and tend the flower and vegetable beds which contain no flowers not planted in the eighteenth century. I bought books on eighteenth century living and poured over them investigating rooms both modest and elegant, read recipes, and learned how to tell if an oven is hot enough or too hot by sprinkling flour on the bottom. I also learned about Syllabub, a sweet dessert drink, and a couple of really good ways to poison people with things found in a typical eighteenth century garden. Such fun. You really should read it.
Then I started a new series. The Mary McGill canine mysteries, and her cocker spaniel, Millie. In the first book, Purebred Dead, I ended up calling dog breeders and the president of the Bay Area Poodle club in search of information about genetic traits in dogs. What I found out was fascinating and I used it in the story. Curtains for Miss Plym is about an elderly lady who wanders, in both body and mind. I had to do research on dementia to get her right. There are many different types and different degrees and I found the subject fascinating. How to keep track of someone suffering from dementia was also a subject of research. I found some interesting ones, not always ways I approved of but one I used. I also learned something about quilt making.
The third Mary McGill and Millie is in progress. This book starts during a 4th of July celebration and I meant to write about German Shepherds and fireworks. It’s not working out that way. Instead it’s about jewelry designers and jewelry store robberies. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. But I’m finding out things I never knew before. Like how to melt gold, that designers make their initial designs in wax, and how to rob a jewelry store and get away before the alarm goes off. Interesting things to know, but not too useful for most of us. And, there is a German Shepherd along, of course, with Millie and her three legged pal, Morgan. I’m not sure how it ends, but the research has been great fun. I’ll let you know what happens as soon as I figure it out.
The working title for this book is Blood Red White and Blue. If you have a suggestion for another title, I’m open.
In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about making jewelry, please use the internet. I’m still trying to understand what ‘lost wax’ means.