Today, I have author Jen Collins Moore from Chicago here to talk about herself and her new release, Murder in the Piazza, the first Maggie White cozy mystery.
Hi, Jenn. Please tell us how long you’ve been published? What titles and/or series have you published and with which publisher? Have you self-published any titles? Please give details.
Murder in the Piazza (9/2020) from Level Best Books is my first publication. I have not self-published any titles.
Congratulations! Please tell us a little bit about your books — if you write a series, any upcoming releases or your current work-in-progress. If you have an upcoming release, please specify the release date.
Murder in the Piazza is the first Maggie White Mystery. I’m hard at work on the second title in the series, Murder in Trastevere, which is also set in Rome. It is scheduled for launch September 2021.
Nice. Good luck with that.
Describe your goals as a writer. What do you hope to achieve in the next few years? What are you planning to do to reach these goals?
My goal is to entertain readers. Like most writers, I love to read, and I’m writing the types of books I like to read myself: smart and funny with relatable characters. I love armchair travel and so have set the books against the backdrop of Rome, and I’m keeping the tone light and entertaining, so it’s a great read after a long day at work.
Great goals. I also enjoy writing books that I like to read. I’m a fan of all types of mysteries, although I do read (and write) other genres.
What type of reader are you hoping to attract? Who do you believe would be most interested in reading your books?
I’ve been delighted to find that my book appeals to traditional mystery readers and general fiction readers alike. People interested in the art, food and culture of Italy will particularly love this series.
That sounds like a wide audience.
What advice would you give other authors or those still trying to get published?
Keep working! Seriously. If your first draft isn’t working, revise and keep going. If you send out a query letter and you get a rejection, send out three more. And if there’s a trend in the rejections, take another look at your manuscript to see if the agents might be seeing something in your work that you might want to address.
The first version of my book was set in the 1980s. I thought it was a fun time period and fit my character’s emotional journey, but I got consistent feedback from agents that the time period would be a problem when selling the book to publishers. I took the note and revised the manuscript. I was amazed at how easy it was to make the changes and how much better it made the story bringing it to present day! That doesn’t mean you should change your vision to match someone else’s, but when you hear the same thing over and over again, it’s worth asking yourself if it’s something you should consider.
Good advice. I’m still querying agents for a for the first book of a new cozy series.
What particular challenges and struggles did you face before first becoming published?
I think the hardest thing for me was learning the craft. I love to read and always received high marks for my writing in school and in business. Then I wrote the opening to my book and submitted it to my local Mystery Writers of America chapter critique program.
I honestly thought I’d be told it was amazing, brilliant, all that stuff. But the author who read my early draft gently and kindly told me all the things that weren’t working. I had no idea how bad it was until she told me!
But she also said enough good things that I made me want to double down and keep going. So I signed up for a year-long writing class focused on novel writing, and then its year-long follow-on class on revising, and with those two years and many, many, many rewrites, I got better.
I had no idea how hard writing would be when I started out. And that’s probably a good thing, because no sane person would choose to do this with their time if they knew up front how long the road would be!
LOL. I totally agree with you. Writing books is far from easy. I belong to Sisters-in-Crime, but they don’t currently have a local chapter. I’ve thought about joining Mystery Writers of America, but my publishers aren’t on their list. One of my publishers is on the list for International Thriller Writers to which I also belong.
Do you belong to any writing groups? Which ones?
I have a wonderful writing group. Six of us were members of a year-long novel writing class, and when that class ended we continued meeting monthly to critique and cheerlead. Providing feedback on other people’s work has enabled me to see my own writing in a fresh light. Participating in critique is invaluable, and I recommend every writer beginning his or her journey find opportunities for it.
I’ve taken a few writing classes through Sisters-in-Crime and found them helpful, although the members didn’t form any groups afterwards. Great idea, though, and I’m sure helpful.
What are your hobbies and interests besides writing?
I’m not sure if a family counts as a hobby or not, but I love spending time with my husband and two young boys, playing with our dog, running, reading, cooking, and knitting.
It’s important that you can make time for your family. My daughter is a teenager, so I treasure spending time with her and our 3 cats who we both adore.
What do you like most and least about being an author? What is your toughest challenge?
A successful author told me once “It’s all hard,” and she was right. But it’s also all fun. What better problem is there than to face than to go to your imagination and figure out a story? The thing I like most is hearing from readers they love my stories, that I entertained them and brought pleasure into their day. The toughest challenge is when I sit down to write and the words don’t come easily or don’t sound right. But I tell myself revision is a wonderful thing and move on.
That’s so true. I don’t have that problem with writing, although I don’t edit myself until I’m done with the first draft. My problem with writing is finding the time.
What do you like about writing cozy mysteries?
The readers! Cozy mystery readers have high standards when it comes to an entertaining plot, clever puzzle and quirky characters, and I love getting to interact with them.
Yes, cozy readers are great. I’ve met many at Facebook parties and in groups. The Cozy Mystery Village Facebook group is wonderful, and I just had my own Halloween party that was hosted by, Sneaky, the character cat in my Cobble Cove mysteries.
Can you share a short excerpt from your latest title or upcoming release?
Absolutely. I’ve pasted 500 words below.
Thanks for sharing.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your books?
Now, more than ever, we all need a some feel-good escapism. Since I can’t be in Italy in person right now, sitting at my desk, imagining my characters walking the cobbled streets, eating warm pastries and enjoying a glass of wine at a café is bringing me more joy than I expected. I hope reading the book gives readers the same experience.
You’re absolutely right. We had planned a trip to Italy but haven’t yet gone. The last trip I took before the pandemic was to California. It was great, but I miss traveling. Virtual traveling isn’t the same, but it certainly helps and is less expensive, plus you don’t suffer jet lag – lol!
Please list your social media links, website, blog, etc. and include some book cover graphics and author photos if possible.
Murder in the Piazza Excerpt
The city of Rome celebrates its defeat of the barbarians in 753 B.C. with reenactments of battle scenes and an impressive fireworks display. Guests of Masterpiece Tours will enjoy the view from Lord Philip’s private terrace, staying, quite literally, above the chaos and crowds that spoil so many Roman holidays.
—Masterpiece Tours “Welcome to Rome” pamphlet
Maggie White started fantasizing about Lord Philip’s death on her third day. Just a painless, but fatal, heart attack that would strike her boss down in the middle of the night. When that failed to materialize, she imagined him taking a wrong step in front of a speeding bus. Today she moved on to poison.
Maggie was the “new girl” at Masterpiece Tours, which offered exclusive painting holidays to well-heeled Americans. She was seated on the rooftop terrace of a minor 17th-century palace on the Piazza Navona with guests on the current tour. It was a lovely April evening, her chair was comfortable, and she was pleasantly full. But Maggie had had as much of Lord Philip Walpole as she could take.
Could she sneak arsenic into Lord Philip’s whiskey? Maggie considered this as the tourists around her oohed over a particularly brilliant firework bursting over the Colosseum in honor of Rome’s birthday celebration. Would he notice the taste? How much would it take?
Getting the deadly liquid would be a problem. She seemed to remember arsenic came from juniper berries, but perhaps that was cyanide. She took a sip of her drink. Espresso, smooth and strong. Maybe slipping the poison into Lord Philip’s morning coffee would be safer.
It was only her sixth day on the job—four days with the tour group and two before the guests arrived—and the man had reduced her to tears five times. And Maggie wasn’t a woman who cried easily. She’d been in Italy for five months, spent three of them trying to fit in as a woman of leisure, then two fruitlessly looking for a job, and it wasn’t until she met Lord Philip that she’d lost control.
Maggie breathed in the scent of the flowers in the giant pots around Lord Philip’s rooftop terrace and sighed. She wouldn’t kill her employer, pleasant as it was to imagine. She’d managed to survive fifty-five years without killing anyone—including that awful Lana Harrison, who thought she knew more about managing an advertising campaign than Maggie—and she would survive without killing Lord Philip, too.
She could quit, just as her husband, Burt, said she should. But Maggie wasn’t a quitter. Hadn’t she been the youngest woman ever promoted to vice president at Bells & Wallace? Hadn’t she single-handedly saved the PTA bake sale when 450 cupcakes, cookies, and Rice Krispies treats were savaged by Mrs. Simpson’s basset hound, Napoleon? And hadn’t she sent two high-spirited children off to excellent liberal arts colleges?
Quitting now would prove her husband was right about this job being a mistake, and Maggie wasn’t about to admit that.
Excellent excerpt. Thanks for the interview, and I’ve shared your blog tour and giveaway below. Best of luck with the series and your forthcoming books.
Murder in the Piazza: A Maggie White Mystery
by Jen Collins Moore
About Murder in the Piazza
Murder in the Piazza: A Maggie White Mystery
1st in Series
Publisher: Level Best Books (September 22, 2020)
Paperback: 278 pages
Digital ASIN: B08FBL9GV8
Maggie White, a downsized American executive stuck in Rome on her husband’s expat assignment, is finding the dolce vita isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She’s taken a job offering painting instruction to well-heeled travelers and her boss-a rather unpleasant English lord-has turned up dead in his penthouse. Maggie’s left with a palazzo full of suspicious guests, a valuable painting her boss might have stolen, and a policeman who’s decided she’s the prime suspect. Now Maggie must keep the tour up and running while she tracks the killer and works to clear her name.
About Jen Collins Moore
Jen Collins Moore is the author of the Maggie White Mysteries. Her short fiction has appeared in Mystery Weekly, and she is the editor of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest newsletter. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, as well an established marketer and entrepreneur. A transplanted New Englander, she lives in Chicago with her husband and two boys.
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