Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Debut Author Kari Lee Townsend: It Only Takes One Yes

Kari Lee Townsend
Kari Lee Townsend lives in Central New York. She says her very understanding husband, her three busy boys, and her oh-so-dramatic daughter keep her grounded and make everything she does worthwhile…not to mention provide her with loads of material for her books. Kari is a longtime lover of reading and writing, with a masters in English education, who spends her days trying to figure out whodunit.  According to Kari, it's funny how no one at home will confess any more than the characters in her mysteries!

Kari, thank you for visiting our blog to talk about writing. You’ve been busy so we’re especially happy you could join us. First congratulations on the publication of Tempest in the Tea Leaves: a fortune teller’s mystery and for making it to #11 on the Barnes &Noble mass market list within a week and now a national bestselling author . Given this is your first book and with all the great reviews, you should be proud of your accomplishment. Now, on to the questions.

People often think of writers as having “overnight success”.  How many years have you been working toward “overnight success”?

Kari: When my editor informed me that I am "officially" a National Bestselling Author, I could have cried. If a newbie like me can make it, anyone can. It took me 14 years to sell! Times are tough, but there are still readers out there.
I kept writing what I really wanted and kept hearing they loved my voice, but didn’t have a spot on their list for that kind of book. What else did I have? Then I got smart. You don’t have to write to the market, but be aware of it, and don’t be afraid to try something new. With both of my book deals, the books we pitched didn’t sell. But I had backup plans. Always be ready with something else in case the first doesn’t work but they like your voice. That’s huge. Don’t waste those opportunities. And in Berkley’s case, I came up with something specifically for them that I knew would fit their needs. It’s all about how badly you want it, and what you are willing to do to get it.

What has this journey been like for you? Agent? Queries?

Kari: I signed with my agent, Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency, back in November of 2006 and she is amazing! I will never have another agent. We just have that kind of relationship. These are tough times. It took her 3 years to land me a deal, but then she landed me two 3-book deals at two different houses just 5 months apart. Persistence really is the key. You have to go through a whole lot of no’s, but it only takes one yes to get the ball rolling. And these days it takes being unique. Do your homework. What’s out there? What’s already on your dream publisher’s list? Most importantly…what’s not? Then give them something they can use. This is a business. Be smart.

What galvanizes you to keep writing?

Kari: I think being a writer is who we are, not just what we do. I have always written in some form, because creating stories has always been a part of who I am. I love coming up with a great idea, and then creating fun characters with quirks, and telling their stories. It keeps me smiling all day long, especially when things go well. And even when they don’t, the excitement I get when I brainstorm with my CP, Barbie Jo Mahoney, and the perfect solution comes to me, is thrilling. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Not to mention I get to stay in my PJ’s all day if I want 

Could you share a bit about your book and characters?

Kari: Sunshine Meadows is this big city psychic who moves upstate to the quaint small town of Divinity NY to open her fortune-telling business in the ancient Victorian house that is rumored to be haunted. She finds a big white cat living here, and after several clues, she thinks he’s immortal, names him Morty for short, and suspects he’s the one doing the haunting. During her first reading for a frazzled librarian, she predicts murder. When the woman winds up dead, Detective Mitch Stone, aka Grumpy Pants, names Sunny his number one suspect. She must clear her name and vows to make the cynic a true believer. While the detective is just as determined to prove she’s a quack.

What inspired you to write cozy mysteries?

Kari: It’s like I said. It’s all about being aware of the market, stepping out of your box, and trying something new. I knew cozies were doing well, especially light fun paranormal cozies. So I scoured their website, wrote down all the themes, and then came up with a topic I didn’t see, aka fortune telling. My editor, Faith Black, loved the proposal and bought the first three books. Turns out I love writing cozies, and I think I might be good at it  I have always loved romance and humor and my books have always had some sort of mystery, so it really was a perfect fit. Cozies are all about small towns, quirky characters, and an interesting mystery for readers to try to solve. The romance and the humor were added bits I threw in, but those are the kinds of cozies I like best.

Your book is humorous. Is there some technique you could share with readers and writers on how to write humor?

Kari: Humor is tricky. You’re either funny or you’re not. And not everyone will like my sense of humor. I get that, and I’m okay with that. I think if you “try” to be funny, it won’t work. Write what tickles you, and it will often make others laugh. Real life is hilarious. Pay attention to funny situations you see people in, funny reactions you see people do, and funny lines or comebacks you hear people make. It can also be fun to have a running joke, so to speak. Like in book two, Corpse in the Crystal Ball, I introduce a new character. Sunny’s Granny Gert. She’s a hoot and loves to bake all kinds of cookies. Her favorite saying is, “There’s a cookie for that.” The line itself is not funny, but when she pops up out of nowhere and says it at just the right time, it winds up being funny. Timing is everything in humor. Even when you’re building up to something. Make sure you do just that. Build up the joke and then wait to deliver the punch line at just the right time. That’s when you get your biggest chuckles.

How do you give your characters the depth and detail necessary for readers to want to cheer them on?

Kari: I love, love, LOVE characterization. Great characters come from all the details you add to them. Don’t just describe them, but “how” you describe them makes all the difference and tells us so much more about who they are as people without having to resort to info dump. Goes back to show don’t tell. Someone who wears no makeup, a flowy skirt, and a peace sign T-shirt is going to be different from someone who is perfectly made up, has highlights and artfully styled hair, and a designer suit on. And then give them quirks. Character A could say the same thing as Character B, but real people don’t say it the same way. What kinds of words or phrases does each of your characters use. And quirks. What fun habits, gestures, etc. can you give your characters? Think outside the box, and use a secondary character as your comic relief so your hero or heroine doesn’t come off as a flake.

What challenge or struggle do you face when you try to build emotional bonds between the characters?

Kari: This goes back to characterization. If you’ve done your job right, they will be three dimensional human beings with flaws and weaknesses. Giving your characters weaknesses makes them human. Which is great. But then those weaknesses sometimes interfere with allowing them to connect emotionally and form real relationships.

How do you, then, go about addressing the part you struggle with.

Kari: Since these characters are like human beings, they should change and grow. Allow them to have ups and downs. Moments of being strong and stubborn and sticking to their guns. But then throw something at them that taps into those weaknesses and makes them vulnerable. That’s when they will allow another character in and the reader sees that sweet emotional bond between them….until the author throws another wrench in the story, and the walls go back up. That chemistry and tension is what keeps readers reading.

Which is more important in your stories character or plot or are your stories mostly character driven?

Kari: Cozy mysteries really are all about the great cast of characters. You still have to have a solid mystery, but if you don’t have great characters, then no one will be invested or care. I think that’s true in any genre. If you love the characters, chances are you will forgive a lot of flaws in the plot. Yet if the plot is fascinating, but the characters fall flat, then it’s hard to truly root for them or care. A reader’s much more apt to put a book down because of flat boring characters rather than a so-so plot. If you have to best of both worlds, then you just might have a best seller 

If this is a series, how do you determine which secondary character will be the next main character in the series?

Kari: Cozy mysteries series are not like romance series where each book is based on a cast of characters and with each new book, you have a new hero and heroine. Cozies will always revolve around the same hero or heroine and his or her adventures in trying to solve murders. In my case, that’s Sunny. So for me, I have to choose a new murder victim, and then choose a new person to be the main suspect. For Sunny and Mitch, their chemistry and connection will continue to build and grow with ups and downs, as well as her relationship with the towns people. Think of it as a TV series. There is no true happily ever after until the end of the series!

What do you find most rewarding about your writing career? Most disappointing?

Kari: I absolutely love when I hear from readers who’ve read and love my books! Tempest has only been out for a week, but already I’ve received a lot of fan mail. It makes my day and reminds me of why I do this. Sharing my stories with others is an amazing feeling. As far as disappointing, I haven’t really been disappointed. What I find most difficult, however, is balancing my time between writing a new book and promoting a book that is out. Promotion is a lot of work but necessary to get the word out and buzz going about a book. Buzz is the key to sales. And good sales numbers is the key to the publisher buying more books in the series  I’m having so much fun with this series, I don’t want it to end anytime soon.

If you could give writers one small piece of advice, what would it be?

Kari: Don’t give up, do your homework, step out of your comfort zone and try something new, and be prepared with a backup book in case an editor loves your voice and wants to know what else you have. Take chances, come up with something unique, and keep looking around that corner…you never know what’s ahead!

What is something that you often see beginning writers doing wrong?

Kari: Spending way too long on one book, insisting it will sell. I did that for sooooo long and wasted so much time. Also, writing what we want to write, period, even if there’s no market for it. You can be the most amazing writer, but if there isn’t a need for what you wrote, then chances are it won’t sell. An editor might love you, but these days it often takes a team of people to say yes. Yet you can be a pretty good writer, but if you have an amazing idea, chances are an editor will take a chance on you. Be smart and do your homework. I can’t say that enough. I repeat, it’s a business. You have to give them a product they need. So find out what they need and get writing.


What book are you reading right now?

Kari: Several. I just love funny authors. I’m reading Donna Andrews, Tamar Myers, Annette Blair, Peggy Webb, and Janet Evanovich of course. There are too many to list, really.

If you could have a beer, coffee, or tea with a literary luminary living or dead, who would it be and why?

Kari: It would be wine, actually, and it would be Janet Evanovich. She is the one who first turned me on to Cozy mysteries. I just love her Stephanie Plum series, and I am dying for the movie! Her characters are amazing and her humor is in a class by itself. And if Janet was busy, I’d choose Annette Blair. I just love everything she’s ever written.

What’s next for you?

Kari: Well, I just finished book two, Corpse in the Crystal Ball, which comes out in June 2012. So now it’s time to start book three, Trouble in the Tarot, which won’t come out until March 2013.


Where can we buy your books and find you on the web?

Kari: My books are at a bookstore near you, or online. Even Walmart carries them, and if it’s not in a store near you, you can always order it and have it shipped to your nearest Walmart for free. Or to your home from Amazon or B&N. To find out more about me all my books you can go to my website at and my group mystery blog at Follow me on Twitter at Like my Facebook Author page at Thanks so much for having me. It’s been fun:)

Do you read cozy mysteries? What aspects of the books attract you and keep you coming back for more?
Leave an answer with your email address for a chance at a free book on Friday.


Kari Lee Townsend said...

Thanks guys, I've had a ball writing this series and am just so thrilled it is doing well! That's all thanks to people like you.

Good luck on winning the giveaway!

Liz Lipperman said...

Kari, it's good to see you here. I'm from Dallas and had no idea about this group.

Your overwhelming success with Tempest is well deserved. I know how hard you worked. As a cozy writer myself, I can say your answers to the questions were spot on. Knowing you, I had to laugh at your response to the one "short" tip you'd give writers. LOL

And don't put my name in the hat for the free book. I already have it and loved it.

Anonymous said...

I like cozy mysteries because of the quirky characters. It takes a special talent to be able to create characters that are funny and likeable. I grew up in a small town and believe me a psychic fortune teller would havc been the main source of gossip.
Thanks for the advice. Looking forward to reading the excerpt on Friday.

Ruby Johnson said...

Thanks so much for visiting our blog. You should be awarded the prize for perseverance. So glad you hung in there and achieved such success so quickly after publication.

Marlena Cassidy said...

Hi Kari! Congratulations on your immense success! And your advice is really good for aspiring authors. I think a lot of us forget that we're in a business and have to treat it accordingly.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Thanks guys, and yeah, this is definitely a business. We love what we do, but it is still work and we have to look at it as a produce someone needs. And then give them what they want.

Good luck to you all :-)

Rebecca said...

Hi Kari! Congratulations--you deserve it. I'm looking forward to reading. :)

PamelaTurner said...

Great interview. I love the idea of the mysterious white cat. :-)

As for cozy mysteries, I'm fairly new to them, but would have to say it's the characters that keep me reading. However, if I can't connect with a character, even the antagonist, I'm not likely to enjoy the story. I have to root for someone.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Thanks guys, hope you enjoy Tempest. And I agree, cozies are all about the characters. I'm the same way...I have to root for someone, so if I don't connect with them, then I'm not likely to keep reading, either.

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