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!