Today Elizabeth McKenna is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about The Great Jewel Robbery, the first novel in the Front Page mystery series.
Welcome, Elizabeth. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
EM: The Great Jewel Robbery is book one of a new cozy mystery series called A Front Page Mystery. The story is told by Emma, a sports reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Her best friend and roommate, Grace, is also a reporter but for the Life & Style section of the newspaper. Grace is covering a charity gala at a lakeside mansion when one of the auction items, a multimillion-dollar necklace, is stolen. Emma is on hand as Grace’s “plus one” for the event, and they decide to investigate the crime to further their careers.
As the women are reporters for a large newspaper, future stories in the mystery series could be set anywhere, but I anticipate most of them will be in Wisconsin and Illinois. I am setting Emma and Grace up to have some love interests, which will keep them closer to home.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
EM: Though my first three novels have been romances, I’ve always loved a good mystery. I grew up reading and watching Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, Columbo, Matlock, Murder She Wrote, Monk, Psych, Law & Order—I could go on and on.
When I set out to write The Great Jewel Robbery, I was under a tremendous time crunch. I had read that Hallmark Publishing was accepting unagented submissions, and as an independent author, this was a great opportunity. Unfortunately, the deadline was less than three months away, and I am a slow writer. I calculated I would need to write at least one thousand words a day—something I’ve never done. That obstacle, along with a non-existent plot, made me ask for help.
Over drinks and a Friday night fish fry, my family and I brainstormed the plot. As I finished each chapter, I sent it to my daughters and my husband to critique. My girls caught typos and grammar, and once I convinced them I wouldn’t be upset, they offered character and plot criticisms. My husband was extremely helpful with the big picture. He’s an engineer with a logical mind that I was grateful to take advantage of.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
EM: There’s no profound message or theme in The Great Jewel Robbery’s plot. The book I wrote before this one, First Crush Last Love, was so full of angst, pulled from my teens and twenties that I needed to write something light and breezy. The one thing I try to do with all of my books is to make sure that the plot and the characters’ actions are logical or at least understandable. I don’t want convenient things to happen to move the plot along. For example, an early draft of TGJR had Emma leaving the gala and going to the mansion’s rooftop terrace with a man she had just met—alone. I’m not sure what I was thinking, as I am constantly telling my college-aged daughters to never, ever go anywhere alone at a party, nightclub, etc. A beta reader said her inner mom was screaming at Emma, and she was right. So, I changed the scene to include other people on the terrace.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
EM: Throughout the novels that I’ve written, the one constant has been all of the main characters have big chunks of me and also pieces of my daughters in them. Minor characters are often formed around people I know. I think the characters in my first book, Cera’s Place, will always be my favorite. It’s a historical romance with a tough female main character and a sexy rugged cowboy/ex-soldier. Besides mysteries, I love a good western, and in writing Cera’s Place, I fulfilled some fantasies.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
EM: Obviously, the internet helps with filling in gaps of my knowledge of a place. I’ve been to the locales of all four of my novels, but two of the stories were historical, so I had to rely on reference books and old newspaper articles, photos, maps, etc. My favorite novels don’t have lengthy descriptions, and I tend to be a concise writer. (I have a Journalism degree and was a technical writer for over twenty years.) I prefer to focus on dialog and actions.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
EM: The Great Jewel Robbery is set in a village near where I live, and the mansion where most of the story takes place is based on a real-life mansion built around 1900 on Geneva Lake (which is also near where I live). I did some research on the mansion so that I could describe its details and history accurately. I also researched diamond and gem necklaces so that I could set an accurate value. As the main characters are reporters and I was a Journalism major, I didn’t have to do much research for that.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
EM: I’m hoping readers will enjoy my venture into mystery. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback on my romances, which all had touches of mystery. Now, I’ve flipped it around to have mainly mystery with a splash of romance.
Thanks for answering my questions, Elizabeth, and good luck with The Great Jewel Robbery, the first book in the Front Page Mystery series.
The novel is available at the following online retailers:
About Elizabeth McKenna: Elizbeth’s love of books reaches back to her childhood, where her tastes ranged from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to Stephen King’s horror stories. She had never read a romance novel until one Christmas when her sister gave her the latest bestseller by Nora Roberts. She was hooked from page one (actually, she admits it was the first love scene). She combined her love of history, romance, and a happy ending to write Cera’s Place and Venice in the Moonlight. Her contemporary romance novel, First Crush Last Love, is loosely based on her life during her teens and twenties. The Great Jewel Robbery is her debut cozy mystery, and she hopes readers will like it as much as they have enjoyed her romances. Elizabeth lives in Wisconsin with her understanding husband, two beautiful daughters, and a sassy Labrador. When she isn’t writing, working, or being a mom, she’s sleeping.