Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Conversation with Mystery Author K.J. Larsen

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with K.J. Larsen

We are delighted to welcome author K.J. Larsen to Omnimystery News today. Actually, that should be "authors" as K.J. Larsen is a pen name used by three sisters, who co-write the Cat DeLuca mystery series.

Their latest book in the series is Bye, Bye Love (Poisoned Pen Press; April 2015 hardcover, trade paperback, and ebook formats) and we recently had the chance to catch up with the authors to talk more about their book.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us how this series came to be.

K.J. Larsen
Photo provided courtesy of
K.J. Larsen

K.J. Larsen: Three guilty sisters, Julianne, Kristen, and Kari Larsen, write the Cat DeLuca Mysteries. The unexpected idea to co-write a novel was fueled by too much wine and a decided lack of good sense. There's minimal bloodshed, but it's crazy fun. Cat's interfering, Italian family has us in stitches. I don't remember talking about writing a sequel. The day after we sent Liar, Liar to the publisher, we began Sticks and Stones.

Captain Bob Maxfield, at Chicago's Ninth Precinct, has been a recurring character in the Cat series. There's a lot of history between the captain and the DeLuca family and in each book, more of that relationship has been revealed. Last year, we sisters were astounded when a group of Chicago Red Hat Club women said they have a crush on Captain Bob. He's their favorite character and they want a book that tells Bob's story. I confess they saw more in the character than we did. But when two hundred grandmas tell you something, you get cracking. Captain Bob spills the beans in book five.

OMN: You mention that there is minimal bloodshed, so Into which mystery subgenre would you place your series? And do you think it's helpful to categorize it as such?

KJL: A cozy whodunit, soft-boiled, with a twist of sass.

As authors, we grumble about pigeon-hole labeling. As readers, we find genre labels helpful.

OMN: Tell us something about your books that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopses.

KJL: PI Cat DeLuca is an irreverent character with her own sense of justice. The endings of her books are always unexpected.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in the books?

KJL: We wish Cat's extraordinary adventures and hunky guys were our own. Regrettably, we write fiction.

OMN: How do you go about splitting the work in writing these mysteries?

KJL: Each morning three bleary-eyed sisters meet on Skype and ask, What does Cat do today? We'll have a loose outline to work from, usually just a few paragraphs. We throw out ideas, divvy up scenes, and write independently. Each sister has the freedom to follow her muse wherever she takes her. But if she can't convince the others to follow her story line, she's in for a rewrite.

On our best days, the story writes itself. The writing is fresher when we're able to have no expectations and go with the flow. When we write, we want to be as surprised as the reader by what happens next.

We're usually in the final scenes of a story before we agree on whodunit. We'll have conflicting ideas on who the bad guy is. One sister has to convince the others that her character is the killer. Writing this way creates a scramble at the end with extra editing and a few additional scenes. But it's also more fun.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?

KJL: Fact-checking is a family affair. Papa and our three other sisters do most of the research. A few phone calls and a little computer time takes care of it. The three writing sisters do field research that involves lunch or coffee or a cold beer. Before beginning a new book, we like to hang out in Bridgeport, Cat's stomping grounds. We talk with Chicago's Finest at the Ninth Precinct and check out the Italian-American Club, Gino's Deli, Jackalope Coffee, and Shinnicks Pub to get a feel for the community, history, and local slang.

OMN: The series is set in south Chicago. How true are you to the setting?

KJL: We try to keep true to the streets and local environment. We use some of Bridgeport's favorite shops and restaurants etc, for some scenes and we create fictional places for others. The fictional locations are vague enough to not be distracting to our Chicago readers.

OMN: If we could send you anywhere in the world to research the setting for a book, where would it be?

KJL: We would see Greece … the Parthenon, Mykonos, St. Savvas Monastery, and Ancient Delphi. We'd travel from the Acropolis of Athens to the grand palaces of Istanbul. We were adolescents when we fell in love with the enchanting hills and mythology of Mary Stewart's Greece. We still read My Brother Michael, This Rough Magic, and Moonspinners. We sisters dream of writing a novel in Greece together; sitting on a hillside with a bottle of wine, a crusty loaf of bread, cheese, and a fistful of olives. It's on our bucket list.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your books?

KJL: We're a musical family and Cat's assistant, Cleo, sings in nightclubs. We channel our love for baking and creating fabulous food through Tino's Deli and Mama. We're huge sports enthusiasts and each book references Chicago Bulls, Bears, and/or White Sox. Sadly, our characters refuse to channel Kristen's yodeling.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as authors? And what might you say to aspiring writers?

KJL: Best advice comes from Michael Connelly: Put your head down and write for yourself.

The harshest criticism: Someone said our car bomb scene was hijacked from Stephanie Plum. Because we all know, Janet Evanovich invented car bombs.

Advice to aspiring authors: Forget everything you've learned. Make peace with your magical, creative self. Your story is inside you. Only you can tell it.

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "We are mystery writers and thus we are also …".

KJL: If you are a mystery writer, you're somewhat eccentric, fanciful, and of dubious character. This comes from spending your days fantasizing about murder, conjuring up poisons, and plotting to knock off your husband for not taking out the garbage.

OMN: How did the title of Bye, Bye Love come about?

KJL: We were writing our fourth book, referring to it as "Four" because we couldn't come up with a name. In this story, a character, Bernie Grant, was killed in the first few pages. One morning on Skype, one of the sisters began unconsciously humming the tune, Bye, Bye Love and suddenly, we all started laughing. We changed the character's name to Bernie Love and we had our title.

OMN: What kind of feedback have you received from readers?

KJL: Our readers have been generous but we appreciate all feedback. If readers have a suggestion or want their name used as a character, we try to oblige. We've brought characters originally intended for one book into the next because readers want to see more of them. Everyone loves Mama's cannoli so we keep it coming. Mama is the best cook in South Chicago and she serves up enormous portions of pasta and guilt

OMN: Suppose your series were to be adapted for television or film. Who do you see playing Cat DeLuca?

KJL: Three sisters picks: Sophia Bush, Kaley Cuoco, Keira Knightley.

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young? And do you think they may have influenced how and what you write today?

KJL: There were too many favorites mention. Topping the list: Little Women, the Ramona books, White Stone by Gunnel Linde, C.S. Lewis' Narnia series, and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. But at the very, very top is the strawberry blonde in the powder blue convertible. We sisters were Nancy Drew maniacs. We read each book more than once and acted out our own Nancy Drew mysteries. Without Carolyn Keene, we probably wouldn't write mysteries today.

OMN: And what do you read today for pleasure?

KJL: For fiction, we read many books and we pass around our favorites. Here are a few that come to mind: Jack Reacher, Mary Russell, Hamish MacBeth, Maisy Dobbs, Anna Pigeon.

The characters are unusual, strong personalities and they're fresh and real. Most importantly, the writer is successful in making us care and cheer for her protagonist.

OMN: Create a Top 5 list for us on any topic.

KJL: Favorite authors: Laurie King, Donald Westlake, Lisa Scottoline, Jennifer Cruisie, Gerald Browne, Margaret Millar, and Ruth Rendell.

OMN: What's next for you?

KJL: We sisters are wrapping up cat's fifth outrageous adventure now. We're also working on a mystery for children. And if the gods are smiling, we'll take a slow boat to Greece.

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Sisters Kari, Julianne, and Kristen write under the pen name K.J. Larsen. Writing a novel together was second nature for the three sisters who created their own Nancy Drew mysteries as kids.

Kari Larsen lives at the foothills of Mt. Rainier and loves hiking, stand-up comedy, and the Blues. She's written a column for a local paper as well as numerous plays and children's stories. She's a mean baker and a bit like Cat's crazy Mama. Her cannoli will drop you to your knees.

Julianne is the youngest of the six Larsen girls and spoiled as God intended. She teaches classes in organic gardening and is a gifted artist and poet. She lives on a farm with her horses, her beagle, and more four legged children than any person with good sense. Like Cat, she prefers jeans and a sweater but she cleans up nice.

Kristen is a gifted writer, weaver and actress and has appeared in plays off off Broadway. Her eyes are green like Cat's and she's a shoe-in for the role in the blockbuster movie to come. She lives in the Chicago area and was recently spotted dancing in Bridgeport with Chance Savino.

For more information about the author, please visit their website at KJLarsenAuthor.com and their author page on Goodreads, or find their on Facebook and Twitter.

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Bye, Bye Love by K.J. Larsen

Bye, Bye Love by K.J. Larsen

A Cat DeLuca Mystery

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)iTunes iBook FormatKobo eBook Format

Chicago's Pants On Fire Detective Agency targets liars and cheats. But PI Cat DeLuca is once again up to her smokin' skinny jeans in murder. Cat is out running in a neighborhood park when she crashes over the faceless body of Bernie Love. Bernie was the finance guy to the scary Provenza family, with whom he grew up. And friend to Cat's shady, Ferrari-wheeling-cop Uncle Joey. As she hauls out her phone, Cat is assaulted by someone with a Rolex, stun gun, and wheelbarrow.

When the cops show up, the killer is gone. And so is the body. Captain Bob, a stickler for habeas corpus, blows off Cat's story. Stung by a chorus of snickers from the Ninth Precinct, home base for DeLuca men, Cat vows to make her case and goes after Rolex man. The murderer, desperate to silence the only person who can place him at the park, comes after Cat. She's quickly on a collision course with the deadliest adversary she's ever encountered―but she has the help of her beagle partner, her gun-happy assistant, an ex-spy (or two), and her outrageous, interfering Italian family. Meanwhile her hot, FBI-boyfriend seems sidelined in Vegas.

Bye, Bye Love by K.J. Larsen

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