As someone who was a big fan of Hart to Hart and has always loved husband-and-wife amateur sleuths, I’m delighted to welcome debut author Cheryl Rodgers to my blog today! Today marks the release of Cheryl’s MYSTERY AT CLARKE MANSION, the first in her Kate & Nick Mystery series. Below are her responses to my interview questions, her bio, exciting news about a one-week only giveaway, and her buy/contact links.
First off, congratulations on the release of your debut novel, MYSTERY AT CLARKE MANSION, the first in your Kate & Nick Mysteries amateur sleuths’ series. Can you tell our readers about the novel and what inspired it?
Thanks. It’s been so exciting releasing my novel out into the world when for such a long time, it was such a private process. I’ve been getting such a warm reception. It’s amazing connecting to people I’ve never met and hearing that they’re enjoying the story.
MYSTERY AT CLARKE MANSION is a lighthearted tale of Kate, a renowned, retired museum exhibit evaluator, and her adoring, younger husband Nick. In this first mystery, Kate & Nick unwittingly become amateur detectives as they step into action to clear a friend’s name who’s been accused of vandalism at a luxurious wedding venue.
The inspiration behind the novel comes from my desire to read cozy mysteries featuring a spirited, happily married couple with an older woman and a younger man, and a main cast of characters aged fifty and above, living life to the fullest. And as an author, I wanted to write stories about characters that I wanted to spend time with. The mystery isn’t as important to me as the world my characters inhabit.
I grew up loving reruns of the Thin Man movies, where Nick and Nora Charles embodied the quintessential married detective team. I wanted to create a similar pair with their own unique personalities, who are as enjoyable to be around.
The novel also challenges age-related stereotypes. It features an older woman with a younger man, where their age difference is a simple fact rather than the main storyline. Kate is in her sixties and eleven years older than Nick. Most of the main characters are over fifty with Nick’s grandmother, Pepper, rounding out the cast at 90 something. I wanted to depict older adults as passionate and adventurous, rather than focusing on age-related struggles. This combination, I hope, offers a delightful read with a playful married couple, along with their family and friends, that readers will relish getting to know, just as much as I have.
What kind of a reader were you as a child? Did you always know you wanted to write?
You know, a lot of writers say they spent their childhoods with their noses buried in books like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, devouring every page they could get their hands on. The perfect backstory for any author-in-the-making.
That wasn’t me.
I was a terrible reader as a child. Learning to read was a messy, frustrating experience that usually ended with me hurling books across the room. Decoding a single sentence took an eternity, and wading through an entire book? Forget it. I wrote book reports throughout grammar school on books I had never read.
But then high school came around, and the cavalry arrived in the form of four top-notch English teachers. These wizards of education swooped in and whisked me away to the enchanting land of stories. They armed me with techniques and sparked a passion for reading I had never experienced.
Modern technology has made a tremendous difference in my life. Nowadays, my favorite way to read is to listen to the audio version, while keeping the text nearby for reference. I’m able to read books in days instead of weeks.
My difficulties reading, however, didn’t stop me from writing.
Even as a kid, I enjoyed writing stories. I don’t know if many readers will remember Honey West, the TV show about a lady detective and her partner Sam. In my imagination, I joined their ranks, scribbling notes with clues I’d unearthed, hoping to aid them in cracking the case wide open.
What steps did you take to develop your skills as a fiction writer?
Developing as a writer has been quite the patchwork-quilt project. Over the years, I’ve taken my fair share of creative writing classes, delved into books about the craft, and embraced the philosophy that “practice makes perfect.”
I try to learn from authors whose writing style I admire and from my editors. When they share their wisdom, I try to listen and resist the urge to justify my every word choice or plot point.
Letting my inner author’s voice shine through has been crucial. On long walks, characters reveal themselves to me, and plot conundrums or dead-end dilemmas miraculously resolve. Characters take charge and demand their place on the page. Two sisters in an upcoming novel who were supposed to arrive on the scene, deliver their lines, and leave became an integral part of the story. They dazzled me with their charming personalities and demanded more consideration.
Hands down, my favorite part of writing is revision. There’s just something about taking a passage and giving it a makeover, adding a dash of wit or a breezier tone.
Lillian Hellman introduced me to the concept of “Pentimento” in her 1973 memoir. As a painting ages, its hidden layers start to peek through, revealing where the artist changed her mind, or repented. Although Hellman used the term metaphorically to represent the way our perspectives on life evolve, I couldn’t help connecting it to writing, where characters can transform, acquire cunning or guilt, or simply vanish as if they never existed—all at the will of the author. There’s something thrilling in wielding such creative power.
What better motivation for developing writing skills?
Are there particular authors whose work inspires you?
I’m a sucker for breezy dialog and fast-paced stories—lengthy narratives just aren’t my cup of tea. That’s why I’m drawn to authors who share my taste. When it comes to mysteries, how can I not tip my hat to Agatha Christie? As an author new to the scene, Christie’s knack for whipping up countless stories and characters is equal parts inspiring and intimidating.
Dorothy Sayers also has a special place in my heart. She once apologized for the inconvenience of a mystery interrupting Busman’s Honeymoon. All she wanted was to grant her beloved characters, Lord Peter Whimsy and Harriet Vane, the honeymoon they deserved. I applauded her decision. After the emotional turbulence those two had weathered in previous books, they deserved a break. It sits well with my belief that characters should sometimes take center stage over the story itself.
I adore the playful repartee between Nick and Nora in Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. Their delightful relationship inspired me to conjure up my own married detective duo. Anne George opened my eyes to the world of the modern cozy mystery and, for many vacations, was my favorite author to bring along for poolside reading.
Among contemporary authors, I’ve been inspired by Sara Rosett and Lee Strauss, who both write about 1920s society sleuths. My senior sleuths, Kate & Nick, take a page straight from the Roaring Twenties. The twist? They’re cruising through the 2020s, not the 1920s, but with all the carefree spirit of the previous century.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? Are you a planner, pantser, or somewhere in-between? And do you tend to start with plot or character development?
I start with the characters first because, frankly, I just want to hang out with folks I like. I knew all about my protagonists, Kate and Nick, for a couple of years before I even had an inkling of a plot. As for the supporting cast, I’m always on the lookout for what makes each of them endearing—even if they’re pushy, self-absorbed, or greedy. Most characters have a saving grace or two, although a handful are simply rotten to the core.
Early on, I discovered rather quickly that I’m a planner with a strong need for visual cues. I started with index cards but have switched to cardboard coasters to create my first rough outline. I jot down an idea on each one and spread them out on the floor like a jigsaw puzzle. As I shuffle the coasters around, I begin to see how all the pieces fit together.
Next, I transfer my notes to Plottr and Scrivener and finish outlining there in greater detail. There’s some overlap between the two programs, but each has its own special something that helps me piece together the story.
I feel more relaxed writing when I know where I’m going, but I do leave room for improvisation. Sometimes characters or plot lines can get written out or sidelined. Other times characters take on a meatier role than I initially envisioned. That’s the fun of writing.
What’s a typical writing day like for you?
I don’t have a typical writing day. I don’t stress about churning out fresh prose each day, because for me, editing is where the magic happens—shaping a rough draft into a polished piece.
I do have regular routines. I listen to my writing. It helps me to refine my work. To do that, I use AI voices to read my drafts out loud. I think back to my childhood struggles with reading; I couldn’t hear the tone of the story in my head. Thankfully, even though AI voices may not yet capture the full range of human intonation, they’re enough for me to grasp the mood and tone, filling in the blanks with my own imagination.
That’s why I named my website rodgersvoice.com. It’s not about my actual speaking voice, but rather the distinctive voice I’ve developed as an author. The words may be read aloud by a digital voice, but they’re undoubtedly mine, and that’s what matters.
I spend most days writing something, whether it’s a first draft, a revision, an article, an email or a communication on a message board. I also spend some time almost every day reading. I try to read both in my genre as well as other genres. Besides writing, the next best way to develop as a writer is to read, so I consider it part of my writing day.
What’s next for you writing-wise?
I’m brimming with ideas I’m just itching to get to. My ultimate goal is to embrace AI voice as the technology develops, enabling me to craft stories that will spring to life with a full ensemble of voices—just like a musician composes, scores, and records an entire album. Plus, I can’t help but be intrigued by the AI writing tools that are emerging. The future holds mind-boggling possibilities, and I can’t wait to explore them.
Content-wise, I’ve got big plans: I intend to release at least four Kate & Nick mysteries. My next cozy, MYSTERY AT THE MUSEUM, should be coming out sometime this summer. I also want to dabble in sweet romance serials. I’m captivated by the concept of short fiction—after all, there’s something alluring about the challenge of weaving a story together in bite-sized pieces.
The beauty of our times is that it’s all achievable.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
When I’m not writing, I love to spend time talking with people. I adore chatting with folks. Give me a one-on-one conversation or a cozy little group, and I’m in my element. Hearing about the lives and adventures of others simply thrills me.
Museums hold a special place in my heart, too. My character, Kate, is based on my days as a museum consultant, one of the best jobs I ever had. What’s not to love about spending hours immersed in the ambiance of a museum? Likewise, I can lose myself for hours strolling through the Botanic Garden—no matter the season, there’s always something fit for a photo.
The beach is my haven whenever the weather cooperates. Strolling and swimming along a two-mile stretch of shoreline, just 20 feet wide where the water meets the sand, is one of my greatest joys and the place of much of my inspiration for writing.
Traveling is delightful, but I must confess, I’m a nester at heart. I find my greatest comfort cozying up with my loving husband and enjoying the simple pleasures of life.
Anything else you’d like to add, or wish I’d asked you that I didn’t?
This writing adventure has been an extraordinary experience. I started off without a soul knowing about my ambition. Eventually, I opened up to friends, and then I found an amazing author community that I’ve come to adore.
My heart is now bursting with joy as I proudly announce that on April 20, 2023, I officially became a published author of cozy mysteries! My book has been launched into the great unknown, waiting to be discovered by readers. What a thrill!
Thank you, Lynn, for giving me the chance to share the start of this incredible journey with your wonderful readers.
Cheryl Rodgers spins breezy, lighthearted cozy mysteries centered around older adults living life to the fullest. Her own career journey includes a short yet influential chapter as a museum exhibit evaluator. An early adopter of technology, she is enthused about exploring developments in AI voice that will allow her to bring her cozy tales to audiobook fans.
Nestled in Chicago’s northern suburbs with her ever-amusing husband Greg, Cheryl finds inspiration along the shores of Lake Michigan. During the warmer months, beachside strolls spark fresh ideas for her delightful Kate & Nick Mystery Series.
To uncover more about Cheryl Rodgers and her captivating books, visit rodgersvoice.com and subscribe to her newsletter.
Want to win a free copy of MYSTERY AT CLARKE MANSION? From now until April 28, Cheryl, along with nine other authors, is participating in a BookFunnel promotion. Here’s the link to the full promotion: https://books.bookfunnel.com/cozymysteryloverbooks/wvhepomi2t
And here’s the link to Cheryl’s give-away: https://BookHip.com/ZLHTPTR
You can also get a free short story and more by signing up for Cheryl’s newsletter at www.rodgersvoice.com. While you’re on the website, check out some of the free short stories and find news about upcoming stories.
Mystery at Clark Mansion by Cheryl Rodgers is available for sale on Amazon at: