Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Conversation with Mystery Author Carolyn Marie Wilkins

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Carolyn Marie Wilkins

We are delighted to welcome author Carolyn Marie Wilkins to Omnimystery News today.

Carolyn's new mystery, the first in a series, is Melody for Murder (Pen-L Publishing; July 2015 trade paperback and ebook formats) and introduces choir director and amateur sleuth Bertie Bigelow. We recently had the chance to catch up with Carolyn to talk more about her book.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about Bertie Bigelow. What is it about her that appeals to you as a writer?

Carolyn Marie Wilkins
Photo provided courtesy of
Carolyn Marie Wilkins

Carolyn Marie Wilkins: Bertie Bigelow is an African American choir director who teaches at a community college on the South Side of Chicago. Recently widowed and still in her early forties, Bertie struggles to cope with her new status as a single woman. On the advice of a friend, she agrees to go on a New Year's date with a prominent judge, a pompous fuddy-duddy nearly thirty years her senior. When the judge turns up dead the following morning, Bertie's favorite student is arrested for the murder. Soon, everything Bertie thought she knew about herself, her students and her career is called into question.

Bertie's character was really fun to write! As the story unfolds, she will be forced by circumstances beyond her control to call upon hitherto untapped resources.

OMN: How do you expect her to develop over the course of a series?

CMW: This is a wonderful question! While it's important to keep your lead character fairly consistent, I don't want to bore my readers. Bertie will face a series of new challenges in my next book. As the series develops, I expect her personality to develop as well.

OMN: Into which genre would you place this series?

CMW: The Bertie Bigelow books are considered cozy mysteries. They contain very little graphic violence, sex or profanity — although (spoiler alert) people do get killed.

OMN: Do you find there are any advantages to categorizing a series as such?

CMW: The advantage of a category is that it gives the reader a clear idea of what to expect. The disadvantage is that the story must remain within the genre's expected confines. The challenge is to make sure the story contains enough twists and turns to maintain the reader's interest while observing the conventions of the genre.

OMN: How would you tweet a summary of Melody for Murder?

CMW: When her student is arrested for the murder of a prominent Chicago judge, an African American choir director decides to investigate.

OMN: How much of your own experience have you included in the book?

CMW: I drew on my own experience quite a bit when I created the setting and characters for my book. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and I am a professor at Berklee College of Music. I taught in the Chicago City College system for two years although I hasten to add no murders took place under my watch!

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

CMW: My writing process is quite methodical. I know what needs to happen in each and every chapter before I begin to write.I don't see how one can construct a mystery in any other manner because the plotting, clues and characters all must adhere to a strict internal logic. That said, there are also times when the characters begin to come alive — they start talking and doing things you had not originally planned. When that happens, it's magic — time to abandon my outline and go with the flow.

OMN: How true are you to the setting of the story?

CMW: Melody For Murder is set in a predominantly African American neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Often vilified in the media as a den of violent crime, the South Side is home to thousands middle and working class families as well as some of the city's most impoverished individuals. This unique corner of the world plays a significant role in my story. While I did take a few liberties, I tried to convey my setting as accurately as possible for the most part.

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

CMW: I am a professional jazz musician. I've played the piano since I was five. Given my background, it's only natural that my book would contain a strong musical element.

OMN: Was Melody for Murder your working title as you wrote the book?

CMW: My title Melody for Murder sends readers a clear message about to expect. It's catchy and it's memorable. From the very first word, I knew I wanted to use this title. I even wrote a song using this title to use in my book trailer.

OMN: How involved were you with the cover design?

CMW: My publisher Kimberly Pennell designed it. I think it looks fabulous — don't you?

OMN: Yes we do! Suppose Melody for Murder were to be adapted for television or film. Who do you see playing the role of Bertie Bigelow?

CMW: In my dreams, Halle Berry will play the lead.

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?

CMW: I grew up on Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey. When I got older, I discovered the African-American detectives: Marti Macalester, Tamara Hoyle, Blanche and Easy Rollins. My whole family is addicted to reading murder mysteries.

People who know me well are not surprised that I now write books in this genre. In fact, they often ask me what took me so long to get started!

OMN: What selecting a book to read for pleasure, what do you look for?

CMW: I look for a great story, compelling characters and most of all, crisp, clear writing.

OMN: What's next for you?

CMW: I am currently at work the next novel in the Bertie Bigelow series. It's going to involve hexes, dating, property values and, of course, murder! At the moment, I am calling the new book Mojo for Murder. Stay tuned for further developments!

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Carolyn Marie Wilkins is a Professor of Ensembles at Berklee College of Music. An accomplished jazz pianist, composer and vocalist, Carolyn's performance experience includes radio and television appearances with her group SpiritJazz, a concert tour of South America as a Jazz Ambassador for the US State Department, performances with the Pittsburgh Symphony as a percussionist under Andre Previn, and shows featuring Melba Moore, Nancy Wilson and the Fifth Dimension. Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Carolyn now lives in Cambridge, MA.

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

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Melody for Murder by Carolyn Marie Wilkins

Melody for Murder by Carolyn Marie Wilkins

A Bertie Bigelow Mystery

Publisher: Pen-L Publishing

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)

On the South Side of Chicago, one sour note can lead to murder …

When recently-widowed college choir director Bertie Bigelow reluctantly accepts a New Year's date with Judge Theophilous Green, she never imagines the esteemed civil rights pioneer and inveterate snob will be found shot to death the next morning. She's even more surprised when her talented but troubled student LaShawn Thomas is arrested for the crime.

But Bertie suspects that someone in her tight-knit social circle is really the killer.

Is it hot-tempered Patrice Soule, the voluptuous diva and recent winner of the Illinois Idol contest? Is it Charley Howard, the BBQ Hot Sauce King, a self-made millionaire with Mafia connections? Is it the mysterious Dr. Momolu Taylor? Newly arrived from Africa, he's invented a hot new sex drug that's got some powerful politicians feeling frisky. Or could it be Alderman "Steady Freddy" Clark, corrupt South Side ward boss and would-be patron of the arts?

One thing is certain: Bertie Bigelow will need to keep her wits about her to avoid becoming the killer's next victim.

Melody for Murder by Carolyn Marie Wilkins


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