Monday, November 28, 2011

A Chat with Barbara Early, Author of Gold, Frankincense and Murder

I have the great pleasure of interviewing Barbara Early about her new release Gold, Frankincense and Murder, now available in Kindle, Nook, and PDF formats.

So, Barbara, tell us where you are from.

North Tonawanda, NY. Quite a mouthful, I know. But it’s a small city bordered by the beautiful Niagara River on one side, and the historic Erie Canal on the other, about midway between Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

Oh, that sounds lovely. And, when you were a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

As a child I switched career goals every five minutes. I remember once wanting to be a librarian, so I put lending cards in all my books. I wanted to have my own restaurant for a while--probably until I realized how tiring standing on your feet in a hot kitchen could be. I wanted to be a cake decorator, and then a caterer when I found out what that was. When someone suggested I become a nurse, I went with that for a while until someone told me I could be a doctor. That lasted until I dissected my first frog. (Which I still insist was backwards, by the way, and the basketball coach who was filling the teaching position didn’t understand that it happens.) I don’t recall, at least as a child, ever wanting to write books.

Oh, that sounds like me! I didn't figure out I wanted to write professionally until I was in my mid-twenties! What do you do when you are not writing?

I’m on Facebook way too much. I also like to play Scrabble and other games--both online and in person. I enjoy cooking and baking. Cleaning, not so much. But I do it anyway. Besides that, I just started a job as an editor for Pelican Book Group, who published Gold, Frankincense, and Murder. When I saw the open position posted on the web site, I thought the experience might be useful.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Not as early as many writers. I wrote some puppet shows for church, and I knew I enjoyed that. But then later I played around (and yes, I mean played) with fan fiction. I never intended it to be more than a fun diversion. But as I began crafting stories, and wanted to learn to make them better, I fell in love with writing.

Oh, goodness, I just discovered fan fiction myself. Great fun, but I probably waste too much time reading and writing that instead of doing my real job. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I had the hardest time calling myself a writer. Perhaps because my first attempts were just for fun, and I wasn’t sure I had what it took. I think the label became more comfortable when others began seeing me as someone with serious aspirations--maybe the contest final in the ACFW Genesis.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I seem to memorialize my cats in my books. I think it was because we lost our first cat when I was writing my first novel. Before I knew it, she had made an entrance into the story. It seemed to work, so I left it in. Our black cat disappeared while I was working on Gold, Frankincense, and Murder. So he showed up in that story. I miss him terribly, but it seems he has a little bit of immortality in print. And if I may say, he looks handsome on the cover.

I do that, too! All my books MUST have cats. Where do you get your ideas for your books?

I tend to start with character first. I look for an unlikely amateur detective. Who is least likely to get the job done? LOL. If there’s to be a romance, I would look for a character who is, in some way, the detective’s opposite. For the murder (and there is always a murder), I often look to the newspapers for motive and means. I’ll take a simple story and add what-if’s until it is completely unrecognizable.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

The toughest criticism I ever got was at my first writing conference. I signed up for a paid critique. While I had favorable feedback at my local writing group, I wasn’t sure how my work would stand up to a professional look. And the author told me that while I wrote well, my story put him to sleep! But he was right (and I won’t tell you how long it took me to come to terms with that), and I went back and rewrote much of it, trying to make sure there was more tension of some type in every scene. And that rewrite finaled in the Genesis. My best compliment to date? My second paid critique, when the author said the novel was ready to go, and that she had read it aloud to the people around her (an agent in the room),and everyone was laughing. And yes, it was supposed to be funny.

How did you come up with the title of your new book?

Well, the initial title was “Canned Pears in Heavy Syrup.” And since it was a Christmas release, I wanted something with a little more holiday spirit. I asked the "Inkies" to help me brainstorm. Anita came up with “Mayhem and Mistletoe” and I liked that a lot, but when I Googled it, it seemed like it had been used quite a bit. So I wrote down all the Christmas and mystery related things I could think of containing the letter M. When I had myrrh and murder on the list, I realized you could place one in for the other. I suggested Gold, Frankincense, and Murder. Everybody loved it. Brainstorming over.

Yes, it's a wonderful title! Is there a message in your story that you want readers to grasp?

This is a short, fun read. But if I had to pin down one message from the story it would have to be, “Be careful you don’t become so independent and self-sufficient that you forget you need God.”

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your book published?

I think the biggest obstacle for me has been that the genre I would love most to write in, is not popular in Christian fiction at the moment. Not many agents or publishers are looking at cozies. (Although I guess the Amish cozy is picking up steam.) Of those few that are, most want romance to be a major part. And my first novel wasn’t that. This is a shorter work that does have the romance and the mystery.

CBA mystery is a tough sell right now. I hope that's changing. Maybe your book can be the start of a new trend. So, tell us about it!

The story centers around a high school geometry teacher named Donna. Donna has remained single longer than many of her friends. But finally she meets a guy at the local food bank where they both volunteer. They get friendly. She gets to wondering if maybe they could be more than friends. And then he disappears. Donna goes looking for him, and meets his neighbor, Sam.

Sam is almost a polar opposite of Donna. Where she is reserved and analytical, he’s gregarious and emotional. And a beefy weight-lifter type that Donna refers to as “calendar art.” Well, the mystery (and the romance) is on, as Sam and Donna work together--although somewhat reluctantly on Donna’s part--to try to find out what happened to the missing man.

What do you think makes a good story?

I’m fond of mystery, so I’ll comment on that genre. I think a good mystery will challenge the reader, while being possible (but unlikely) to solve. The characters will be people you’d want to know (or feel like you already do), and the setting should make you want to visit.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

I think it was that everyone likes a little romance. This was the first story that I attempted that had romance mingled with the mystery, and it surprised me how light a touch you could play the romance and have it still be a romance. And I like that. My protagonist is an analytic type, and she doesn’t have much patience for all the mushy stuff. And when it happens to her, it only comes with a bit of self-loathing, which was fun to write.

Oh, count me in. I always want at least a little romance no matter what genre I'm reading. Do you have any advice for other writers?

Temper your dreams with shorter, attainable goals and lots of hard work. There is a fine line between a dream and a delusion.

Why did you choose to write cozy mysteries?

I love cozy mysteries. I find them relaxing and entertaining, and like the added challenge of trying to solve the mystery myself. I was first drawn to the mixing of humor and mystery through the television show Monk.

Oh, Monk is a great show and he's a wonderful character. So what about you as a character? If you were written about in the newspaper, on the front page, what would the headline say?

“News runs out of important people to cover,” probably.

 Hey, that's mine! Thanks for the laugh and for the interview. I hope Gold, Frankincense and Murder sells a million!

DeAnna Julie Dodson has always been an avid reader and a lover of storytelling, whether on the page, the screen or the stage. This, along with her keen interest in history and her Christian faith, shows in her tales of love, forgiveness and triumph over adversity. She is the author of In Honor Bound, By Love Redeemed and To Grace Surrendered, a trilogy of medieval romances, and Letters in the Attic, a contemporary mystery. A fifth-generation Texan, she makes her home north of Dallas with four spoiled cats.


  1. Great interview ladies. Though I cheated and read it earler. I never do that, I swear!

    Also, on my iPod the post is cut short. We don't get the whole thing? I hope it's just a glitch for me so no one else misses the rest.

    I really hope the mystery market opens up!

  2. No, it does seem to end abruptly. I'm going in to debug. If I don't come out in ten minutes, send in hot coffee and doughnuts.

  3. OK, I think I got everything back in there. Except for maybe a picture of me. Hmmm...maybe that broke it. :/

  4. Can't wait to read this now. I laughed out loud at the "calendar art" line. And I didn't know you were working as an editor, Barb. That's cool. I'm doing the same for WhiteFire, although I've gotten nothing done during this big Nanowrimo writing streak.

  5. Dina--

    I only started editing in October. Thankfully I'm not doing Nanowrimo, but it is a challenge sometimes balancing the writing and the editing. And the promotion. And the housework. And the holidays. Ack.

  6. This is such an intensive interview. Well done, DeAnna and Barb.

    DeAnna, I thought you were the one with the little Elizabeth cat but now I'm thinking it may have been Barb? I think I mentioned it in a comment last week even.

    I also wanted to be a librarian as a youngster and still have my recipe box card file for my first batch of books.

    Instead of being a nurse or doctor though, I wanted to own a store. In fact, during my 11th summer - just 2 months shy of turning 12 - my grandpa gave me an old jacknife and I began to whittle. I wasn't very adept except turning little blocks of wood into 3" high mini-medicine bottles. They weren't like the plastic prescription containers, but like the old flavourings for baking like the kind we'd get with vanilla extract, etc.

    And I didn't know you were an editor for the Pelican Group. That used to be White Rose Publishing, right?


  7. Yay, Barb! Congratulations! I'm so happy for you. Hope this leads to more sales for you. I love mysteries, and I love romance. And-this is probably well known to all the Inkies by now - I love Monk, too. I think Lisa does, too.

    I don't write mysteries, but the two books I was working on before school derailed me, both have suspense in them - one contemporary and one historical. I can't wait to get back to them. :-)

    Great interview DeAnna! I think I learned more about both of you!

    Barb, are you editing mystery or romance? Congrats on that, too, btw. :-)

  8. I think the Elizabeth cat must be DeAnna. I do have cats, though, including a new black kitten.

    Those medicine bottles sound interesting--probably an early clue about you interest in historicals.

    And yes, White Rose is the romance imprint of Pelican. The new non-romance imprint is Harbourlight.

  9. Oh, Barb, I forgot to mention - my son lived in Syracuse for a while. Unfortunately I never got to visit him there, but he said that entire area, and the Finger Lakes area are beautiful. Whenever he needed to feel like he was "home" he would drive to Fort Ontario on a stormy day.

    Also, I used to play "library" too, and made the lending cards and pockets. I would lend my Nancy Drews, but only to people I trusted.

    And Anita, the whittler - I love it!

  10. Thanks, Suzie--

    As to what I'm editing, so far it's been an interesting assortment. In a good way. And it's been a great experience honing my editorial skills to apply to my own self-editing.

  11. Suzie--The Finger Lakes are beautiful, and only a few hours drive for me. I'm a little farther west.

    So many people think of NYC when they hear NY, but when I look out my back window, I see cows.

  12. Great interview, ladies. I learned a lot about Barb and I am so eager to read this book!

    I wanted to be a librarian and run a restaurant, too! I used to make up little menus. I also wanted to be the person who got to name streets. Hmm, come to think of it, I still want that job.

    Thank you, DeAnna and Barb!

  13. Susanne--

    Has to be a writer thing.LOL.

    The library makes sense, because it involves books. But the restaurant and city planner? Oddly enough, I guess we do those things when writing fiction. Fictional restaurants, fictional streets, fictional houses. There's a lot of play involved there.

    Maybe we just never grew up?

  14. Oh dear. I won an award in middle school. The LIBRARY award. I was in heaven being a volunteer library assistant. All those books, all that order, all that quiet! The card catalog!!!

    Well, I do remember wanting to be an astronomer but I don't know about wanting to be a librarian. I should have gone for that!

    Someday we should do a video presentation of western NY, Barb. I can't see cows from my window but I hear them all the time!

    So, what are we going to do to get Christian publishers interested in mysteries and cozies?

  15. Deb, when I was working near NYC, I told one man I was from Buffalo, and he asked me if I drove in every day from there. Maybe that video of Western NY would be a good idea. One term I hate is "upstate."

    I'm hoping the emerging Amish cozies will open the door eventually for other cozies, but we shall see

  16. AAARGH!

    Sorry I've been AWOL. My computer just will NOT cooperate.

    Anyway, yes, tiny Elizabeth is mine. :)

    Sounds like you all enjoyed the interview. I was so happy to learn more about Barb! :)

  17. I just remembered... I worked in the school library during my senior year. Mostly putting away books and doing inventory. I really enjoyed the work.

    About 20 yrs ago I was at a city auction and they were selling a dozen or so card cabinets. I bought one for about $30. It is 5 drawers across and 9 down - yes, that's 45 of those little drawers. :) It didn't have any legs, but we have it sitting on cement blocks to bring it 18" off the floor. It's filled with my craft supplies and garden seeds.

  18. Anita--

    What a lovely conversation piece. Will young people even know what it is? I think the advances are great and convenient, but the sight of all those wooden cabinets lined up against the wall is making me a tad nostalgic.

    Then again, I remember how much work it was to collect books for a research paper. Maybe not so nostalgic after all. I love my Google.


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