I have Barbara Jean Coast, the author of STRANGLED BY SILK, first in the Poppy Cove Mystery Series, as a guest today. Barbara Jean is actually Andrea Taylor and Heather Shkuratoff writing together. I thought we would start with a couple of questions about your writing process – I personally can’t imagine working with someone else.
Well before we get to your process, how did you come to write together?
> AT: Well, we have been friends since we were children and we’ve always looked at ways of working together on a shared project. We’re both creative in our own ways, I was always a writer ever since I could hold a pen and Heather was sewing since the age of seven, and with both of us sharing a love of fashion and mysteries, we embarked on this journey.
> HS: Both of us are avid readers and I had a story idea for a cozy mystery series set in California, revolving around the comings and goings of a dress shop – that was more my background, I was a custom designer and dressmaker with my own shop years ago. Within a few minutes, Andrea had run with it, fleshing out ideas for a couple of main characters and throwing out some basic murder plots and we felt we had something to go on.
Do you have a routine you follow daily and do you write together in the same place?
> HS: We try to write a little every day and have at least one full day a week we can both devote to writing together.
> AT: We have set up a writing room that we work together so we can leave the reference materials that we need for research and writing, spread around to make it easier to find information when we are looking for it.
Does one of you write for one character and the other for another character? In other words, who writes what, how do you split it up?
> AT: We share in writing all of the characters and stories. Neither of us really takes the voice of any one particular character. It’s truly collaborative, as the story takes shape as we talk it out.
> HS: We talk out loud all of the time, musing situations, plot and people, and usually Andrea makes notes and I type it out as we go. Much discussion and laughter goes on!
Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
> HS: Definitely outline. We come up with a basic plot, then as we shape the story, we break up the scenes into sections. If the plot changes, we go back over past scenes or alter the future outline to make sure it’s consistent and flows well.
> AT: We usually block out scenes as in a play. We ask each other what is it that we want to accomplish or say in a segment, plan it and write it out.
Is it easier to keep motivated because there are two of you – do you cheer each other on?
> AT: For the most part yes, because when one is flagging, the other offers humor and light. The whole process of building a world, characters, places and story is very social, and as we do our research, we talk out the story. Of course, we tend to encourage each other to toast every single success and celebrate at frequent cocktail hours, but that’s part of the fun!
> HS: For this project yes, I definitely think the two of us keep each other motivated and moving along. It’s really good when we read out the story back to each other, we tend to take turns reading aloud paragraph by paragraph of the drafts, so it seems to be very good for judging the natural flow of dialogue, narrative and description. As one person is reading it, the other can pick out details and help correct it.
Why did you pick 1957? (I love the clothes from that time.)
> AT: It was a prosperous golden age in America when society seemed to think it was the cat’s meow, still in a happy bubble after “the War” was won. Although, there was a new undercurrent of unease under the superficial confidence, a kind of light noir, which made for an intriguing and interesting time in history, giving us plenty of ideas for murder and crime, which was a very popular subject matter of the time. And of course, the clothes! Manners and style were very big then, creating an aesthetically pleasing time.
> HS: We wanted to set it in a time when dressmaking and small design houses were still a part of a small town scene, when a lot of things were still done by hand and not so much driven by technology, even simple communications. The human aspect of characters during this time when the social façade began to fall away, and we will explore further in the series, showing shifting roles and attitude changes as the years go by. A lot of darker character was hidden under the so-called perfect surface, so it’s fun to explore the cracks.
What do you like to do to balance the demands writing places on you?
> AT: I enjoy reading, cooking, watching movies and good television, listening to music (which includes pop, classical and jazz), watching opera and live theater, travelling and visiting art galleries. I love to write other things such as poetry, my two blogs (www.charlottesrow.wordpress.com and www.versesonmysleeve.wordpress.com), as well as other types of fiction. I’ve got two other literary fiction novels I am working on. I have many wells of inspiration, including doing collage and one day, learning how to play the cello!
> HS: I love to sew and plan on making some of the clothes that are featured in the Poppy Cove Mysteries, just for fun and to see how they work. I love to eat, cook, travel when I can, jog and do yoga and meditation to balance out my days. I watch movies and television, especially some of the great British mystery and drama series such as Poirot, Endeavour, Lewis, Foyle’s War and Downton Abbey.
Do you have children, a significant other, or pets?
> AT: Divorced and happily enjoying the parade of male eye candy the world has to offer!
> HS: No kids or pets (allergies), but I have a long term relationship with a great man for many years. We’re both creative people, so he understands where my head goes when I need to get involved in Poppy Cove as much as I understand when he gets absorbed in his work. When we set aside time together, it’s just us together. I’m lucky.
When you aren’t writing, what do you like to read?
> AT: I am a voracious reader, enjoying cozies and other mysteries, as well as fantasy and steampunk, good fiction both historical and contemporary, poetry and historical and investigative non-fiction. Some of my favorite authors include Tracy Chevalier, Joyce Carol Oates and Michael Ondaatje. I’m a Goodreads member and constantly adding books to my TBR shelf.
> HS: My reading is very eclectic. I always have a cozy series on the go, but also general fiction, or steampunk/sci-fi fantasy, even a western now and then. There are so many great authors out there that it feels like a shame to narrow it down to just a few names as favorites. I feel like I would be leaving someone out. Currently, I am reading Sharon Rose’s Calamity at the Car Wash and Kim Edward’s The Lake of Dreams and enjoying both immensely.
Did you read mysteries as a child?
> AT: Absolutely. It all began with the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys – I read all of them!
> HS: Yes! I read everything I could get my hands on, including Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, the Famous Five, Phyllis A. Whitney books and also Tintin!
Is there anything else you’d like the reader to know about you?
> AT: I hope that readers enjoy reading STRANGLED BY SILK and our future Poppy Cove Mysteries as much as Heather and I enjoy creating them.
> HS: I share in Andrea’s gratitude to all of our readers who enjoy STRANGLED BY SILK and the following Poppy Cove Mysteries we are developing. There is so much more to come. I think I can say for us both that we are honored to have the chance to share them.
> AT: Absolutely!
Thank you so much for your time, I wish you great success with your series. Readers can find Barbara Jean Coast at the links below the blurb.
Darlings! Here’s the scoop on the latest Poppy Cove mystery–STRANGLED BY SILK. It’s all about Daphne and Margot––two independent young California women in 1957––who own their own dress shop called Poppy Cove. When one of their top clients, Constance Stearns-Montgomery, is strangled to death with her own silk scarf at the opening ceremonies for her new girls’ academy, Daphne and Margot are shocked. They can’t believe that such a horrid crime could take place in their sleepy little oceanside village of Santa Lucia. Worse, they’ve lost one of their best clients. The two women quickly become embroiled in solving the crime. After all, if anyone can track down the killer, it should be them. Margot’s long-time beau is the town’s top cop, and Daphne is a master at using her flirtatious wiles to extract information from unsuspecting men. Of course, neither girl will let their snooping get in the way of more urgent tasks such as choosing new textiles and accessories for Poppy Cove or planning their fall fashion show or––most important––selecting the appropriate ensemble to wear for each and every occasion. But these two fashion detectives are on the case, and the murderer––and the poorly attired––had better watch out!