This is part of my series of interviews with aspiring cozy mystery authors. I thought it would be interesting to hear from folks who are in the throes of writing their first cozy mystery and planning its publication. It takes me right back to the start of my own writer’s journey before I hit the scary “publish” button with my first cozy.
So grab yourself a beverage and a snack, settle in, and find out more about what Lisa Leoni has to say about writing, penguins, and cookies.
1 – What inspired / motivated you to write cozy mysteries?
Writing cozies is a pretty recent development for me. I’ve been writing romance since I stumbled upon my first romance novel, just out of college. Outside of loving romance, I binge all sorts of true crime and crime drama media. I remember being a kid and sneaking reads of serial killer encyclopedias in bookstores (but trying not to crack the spine!). So if I love romance and murder, wouldn’t I want to write romantic suspense? Logic would think so, but the ideas never came, and I focused on contemporary romance.
I can’t recall how I stumbled upon what a cozy was (I wish I did), but I IMMEDIATELY knew it’s what I wanted to write. Humor, murder, getting to research all sorts of different topics, and some romance. It’s the perfect combination of my interests!
2 – What’s your favorite thing about cozy mysteries?
They’re happy little murder stories. When I say that to people who don’t read them, I get some weird looks, believe me. But I’m sure fans of cozies understand what I mean. I’m drawn to cozies for many of the same reasons I love reading/writing romance. They’re fun, have great characters, show women kicking butt and being brilliant, and have happy endings.
There’s a cozy movie series that gets the closest I’ve encountered to having all of my favorite things in a cozy: the Mystery 101 series on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Aside from those two being two of my favorite Hallmark actors, that series involves academia (I work in higher education), criminal psychology, writing fiction, and some romance, with the crime solving.
3 – What stage are you at in your writing and publishing journey?
After trying to finish a complete first draft of a novel for more than 10 years (a lot of false starts and a lot of ideas), I visited Scotland for the first time in 2015 and found my muse. I started writing Scotland-set contemporary romance and got into Pitch Wars in 2017 as a mentee. I then signed with an agent and we’re working toward selling my debut. I’m thrilled to be represented by an agent and working toward selling my debut. I’m actively writing cozy mysteries and contemporary romance and plan to publish in both genres.
4 – What are you most excited about in terms of publishing your first cozy? What are you nervous about?
I want to know which characters the readers love and be able to share the worlds in my head with other people. These days, I’m really leaning into the common advice that an author should write the book they want to read. That’s exactly what I’m doing and I can’t wait to meet the kind of people who love these same ideas and characters as I do.
In terms of cozies, the thing I’m most nervous about is the murderer and motivation being easily figured out early in the story. As a reader, I get disappointed when I figure everything out early so I feel a lot of pressure around that as an author. Even when I figure out who the murderer is, I love to be surprised by their motivation as that’s revealed over the course of a book.
5 – Tell us about the cozy mystery you’re currently working on. What’s your sleuth like? Where is it set? Do you have a hook?
I’m working on the first in a series that’s set in a small town in western Oregon. My sleuth is fun, lovingly snarky and has a love-hate relationship with her home town. She’s found herself back in her home town for the summer and it’s the longest she’s been there for more than a weekend since she left for college many years ago. It’s fun to watch her experience the town (and it’s quirky citizens) as an adult with more life experience. I’ve also woven in some nods to Scotland, which have me super excited.
6 – What’s your favorite cookie? If you don’t like cookies, what’s wrong with you? Oops, sorry, scratch that. My follow-up question was meant to be far more polite – “Why don’t you like cookies?”
I loooove cookies! Not as much as cake, but I like cookies more than ice cream, if I had to rank them. Mmmm cookies. Now I need to go bake some, BRB! Okay, I’m back with a plate of hot butterscotch oatmeal cookies. I love to microwave them so the chips are gooey. I also love frosted sugar cookies at Christmas (specifically using the recipe from my mom’s old Betty Crocker cookbook).
7 – A penguin walks through your front door wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why did he come visit you?
“I lost my passport coming back from Mexico. Can I use your computer to order a replacement?”
No one can escape government bureaucracy, not even penguins. He visited me because he saw my cats on Instagram and wanted to meet them.
8 – What else would you like people to know about you?
When I’m not writing, watching Hallmark movies or listening to true crime podcasts, I coach authors on social media and have my own podcast called Social Media Deconstructed. I’m also in early stages of launching a true crime podcast.
Lisa Leoni is a cozy mystery and contemporary romance writer who spends much of her time daydreaming about her next trip to Scotland and ways to murder people in her books. By day, she works in higher education and spends her evenings being herded by two ginger cats. She’s currently serving as president of her local Romance Writers of America chapter and was selected as a 2017 Pitch Wars mentee.
Thank you so much for participating, Lisa! I love your cat’s Instagram account – so cute 🙂 And Betty Crocker is such a great cookbook. My go-to apple crisp recipe comes from there.