Today Elizabeth Penney is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about Hems and Homicide, her first novel in the Apron Shop 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.
EP: HEMS AND HOMICIDE is the first in the Apron Shop Series, set in small town Blueberry Cove, Maine. Iris Buckley, a former fabric designer, is the main character in the series. After getting downsized from a catalog company, Iris returns home and starts selling vintage aprons and linens online. Her widowed grandmother, Anne Buckley, convinces Iris to open a shop on Main Street called Ruffles & Bows. Anne is also her business partner. The shop cat is an orange tabby named Quincy.
Blueberry Cove is home to an eclectic array of Maine natives, with spice added by newcomers and tourists. While launching and growing their business, Iris and Anne find themselves embroiled in small town mysteries and murders. Subplots include the lives of close friends, often connected to mysteries, and a touch of romance as Iris and Anne both begin to date again.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
EP: One of my favorite plot devices is solving a mystery from the past, probably sparked by voracious reading of Nancy Drew as a child. All those secrets in the attic! Anyway, I decided to include two murders, one past, one present, but related to each other and to someone Iris loves, her grandmother. Anne is seventy, coming of age in the early 1970s, so I created a mystery featuring Maine in that period.
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
EP: Cozy mystery series are built around a premise and there are many wonderful ones already published, which can make it hard to come up with something different. But during my idea phase, I realized that aprons offer numerous story possibilities. In addition to being beautiful garments, they are rich in history and cultural associations, i.e. plot ideas. In recent years, aprons have also enjoyed a surge in popularity and you can even buy them in big box stores! Iris Buckley, my main character, searches out antique aprons in all kinds of intriguing places, managing to stumble into murder and mayhem along the way. Quite often secrets of the past come to light.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
EP: Character creation is a mysterious process. In this case, I started with my premise of an apron shop and then thought about my main character. An association many of us have concerning aprons is the 1950s, when they were very popular. Iris, my main character, favors mid-century style and she has a curvy figure suited to those clothes. She’s also a fabric designer so she’s well-versed in textiles, research, and fashion design. I also wanted to include an older character so I created Anne. With Anne, I wanted to step out of the stereotypes about older women. She’s energetic, active, and entrepreneurial.
I love all my characters and they come to seem quite real to me. But I do have a special fondness for some of the quirky cast members that seem to pop up when I write. HEMS AND HOMICIDE features a pig named Bacon, for example.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
EP: I grew up in Maine and I live right next door now so it’s fairly easy to make visits and absorb the atmosphere. I try to include little details that really put you there: the cry of seagulls, the smell of salt, the breeze on your face as you watch waves roll in.
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
EP: I do a blend of in-person (for atmosphere and inspiration re: the town) and online. Typical research includes apron history, periodicals from a period (if writing about the past), law enforcement procedures, current news, and societal trends. For example, a trend I highlight in THREAD AND DEAD, book 2, is the growing interest in seaweed farming in Maine. I love including quirky and little-known details of Maine life in my books.
Thanks for answering my questions, Elizabeth, and good luck with Hems and Homicide, the first book in the Apron Shop Mystery series.
The novel is available at the following online retailers:
About Elizabeth Penney: She is an author, entrepreneur, and local food advocate living in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In addition to writing full-time, she operates a small farm. Elements that often appear in her novels include vintage summer cottages, past/present mysteries, and the arts. She is represented by the fabulous Elizabeth Bewley at Sterling Lord Literistic.
Elizabeth’s writing credits include over twenty mysteries, short stories, and hundreds of business articles. A former consultant and nonprofit executive, she holds a BS and an MBA. She’s also written screenplays with her musician husband. She loves walking in the woods, kayaking on quiet ponds, trying new recipes, and feeding family and friends.