Having just returned from New York City, a place I love dearly, it’s a special treat to welcome mystery author Cathi Stoler to my blog, who has set her On the Rocks Mystery Series mainly in a restaurant on New York’s Lower East Side. Below, Cathi talks about her series and writing journey and offers some great advice to aspiring mystery authors:
First off, congratulations on With a Twist, your newly released fourth novel in your On the Rocks Mystery Series. Can you tell our readers a bit about the book and the series?
Thank you so much, Lynn for having me on the blog. I’m delighted to be here and share my thoughts with your readers.
The series features Jude Dillane, owner of The Corner Lounge on Tenth Street and Avenue B on New York’s Lower East Side. The Lounge is Jude’s comfort zone and she rarely leaves it. For me, Tenth Street and Avenue B was a perfect setting for the story I wanted to tell. It’s a diverse and exciting neighborhood with interesting people and great places to visit.
Jude grew up in the Bronx and faced a lot of adversity in her early years. Her memories of that time and place are not great, but in BAR NONE she finds herself back in the borough when she agrees to help out her good friend and landlord, Thomas ‘Sully’ Sullivan, by going undercover at the Big City Food Bank, where Sully volunteers, After his co-worker is murdered and Jude finds the body, she begins to investigate and soon another murder occurs that puts her life is in danger.
In book two, LAST CALL, it’s New Year’s Day when Jude discovers the body of a man with a knife through his heart in the dumpster behind The Lounge. His death propels her into a cat-and-mouse game with a serial killer who she discovers has been hunting in her East Village neighborhood for years, and who she realizes might be someone very close to home.
In book three, STRAIGHT UP, the New Year’s Serial Killer is still on the loose and continues to taunt her. Stalking her at every turn, he blames her for his troubles and is determined to make her pay. With the F.B.I. investigation stalled Jude knows it’s up to her to bring him to justice. With all this swirling around her, Sully, her friend and landlord, becomes enamored of his new tenant. Someone Jude doesn’t trust. As the story plays out we find out if Jude’s suspicions are founded.
In WITH A TWIST, book four, Jude’s boyfriend, Eric Ramirez, convinces her to leave her beloved Corner Lounge for ten days and embark on a luxurious, Mediterranean cruise. On board, she reconnects with her college friend, Monica Delmar. Pleasure quickly turns to murder when Jude is embroiled in a horrific death that entangles her in a baffling investigation. Are the theft of a valuable diamond ring and the discovery of a cryptic notebook related? Jude finds herself in deep water as she tries to discover who’s responsible for the crimes.
What led you to decide to make your amateur sleuth, Jude Dillane, a NYC restauranteur? Do you have a background working in restaurant settings?
I was never involved in the restaurant business, but my husband worked in the business for many years, which eventually gave me the idea for this series. He worked close to home on the Upper East Side where we live, so I was able to visit him often and become friends with the bartenders, servers, and cooks. When I decided to write this series, I had a lot of insider information to draw on and decided my main character should be a woman who owned the business. I wanted The Corner Lounge to exist in a vibrant and exciting location. And, placing it in the East Village gave me a chance to indulge my passion for setting, which I believe helps give the reader a true sense of place.
How is Jude Dillane’s personality similar or different from your own?
We both grew up in the Bronx and went to parochial school where the nuns ruled and we rebelled. But while Jude has faced the death of her whole family, tragedies that negatively affected her outlook on the world, I, fortunately, did not have to cope with anything like that. We do have the same kind of humor, enjoying the chance to toss out a snarky remark. We also share a certain stubbornness and determination when it comes to finishing a task. And, we are both incredibly loyal to our family and friends. Then there’s kind and generous, too.
It’s one thing to love reading mystery and suspense, and quite another to write mystery and suspense novels! Have you always written, and what steps did you take to develop your craft as a writer?
I like to joke that I was born knowing how to read. I always had my nose in a book, usually a mystery, and I think that certainly influenced my becoming a writer. I was a copywriter/creative director for many years but I knew that since I enjoyed reading mysteries so much, I should use my skills to write one, or at least try. I took a course titled “How To Overcome Your Fear Of Writing Your Novel,” and I was on my way. I received a lot of positive feedback and decided to keep going. I have also participated in online and in-person writing seminars, and attend writing conferences with other professionals who share their ideas. Interacting with other writers is a great way to hone your craft.
A related question: What advice would you give aspiring mystery and suspense authors?
Just sit down and do it. What you write might seem awful at first, but it will be a start you can build on. You should also join professional associations such as Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America whose members are very supportive. These groups offer meetings and panels with industry professionals, published authors, and experts who have valuable ideas to share and they’re great networking opportunities.
What is your writing process like?
My process varies. I don’t write every day, but I think about what I’m working on most of the time. I’m a pantser as opposed to a plotter. I don’t outline, but I do add notes to the bottom of my manuscript as I write when something that could
help the story occurs to me. By the time I’m halfway through, there are several pages of these reminders. I also often think about what I’m working on while I’m walking in the city—and I often talk to myself—which helps me figure out where the story’s going. Of course, living in New York City, talking to yourself doesn’t seem odd to passersby.
What did you find most surprising about becoming a professional author?
Writing a book, while hard, is so much easier than selling it or promoting it.
Do you write full-time, or do you have a day job?
I don’t have a day job and I write full-time, which as I mentioned is not usually every day.
What’s next for you writing-wise?
I have a new series launching next week with the novella, NICK OF TIME A Nick Donahue Adventure. My protagonist is a professional Blackjack gambler who travels the world playing the game. In Venice, he meets and agrees to help, a beautiful woman in need and becomes involved with jewel thieves, a Swiss bank, and the New York Mob, Nick has to use all his gambling skills if he wants to stay alive. Book two, OUT OF TIME, will be released in April of 2024. It this story Nick faces off against terrorists and a weapon of mass destruction. I have a third Nick Donahue story, still untitled, planned for 2025
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d just like to reiterate how important it is to become involved with a professional organization such as Sisters In Crime, or the others I mentioned. As a writer, you’ll have the benefit of the members’ collective knowledge and the ability to learn from their experiences.
Cathi Stoler is an Amazon Best Selling author. She has written four novels in her Murder On the Rocks Series: Bar None, Last Call, The Silver Falchion finalist Best Suspense Novel 2020, Straight Up, Chanticleer Clue Book Awards Short List Finalist 2022, and With A Twist, as well as the Nick Donahue Adventures, and the Laurel and Helen NY Mysteries, plus multiple short stories including the “Kaluki Kings of Queens”, which won the Derringer for Best Short Story. She is a member of MWA, SinC, and ITW. You can find her at www.cathistoler.com, facebook.com/CathiStolerAuthor, Instagram @cathistolerauthor, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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