Over a writing career spanning more than 30 mysteries and thrillers, Michele Scott has seen both the highs and lows of publishing.
She enjoyed “instant success” with her first thriller, Daddy’s Home, after weathering years of rejection letters, and she’s now riding high again with her Wine Lover’s Mystery series, book nine, A Killer Margarita, recently published, set for a future on Netflix.
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler, and in today’s Binge Reading episode Michele talks about staying true to your life purpose when ‘stuff’ gets in the way, and how she balances her creative process between writing serial killers one minute and cozy mysteries with lots of food, wine and humor, the next.
Six things you’ll learn from this Joys of Binge Reading episode:
- Her unexpected “best seller”
- Why she uses two different pen names
- Optioned for TV – Wine Lovers
- Battered by life and dealing with ‘stuff’
- Alice Hoffman a writer she admires
- The Holly Jennings San Diego DI series
Where to find Michele (and her pen name AK Alexander) :
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to important mentions.
Jenny: But now, here’s Michele. . Hello there Michele and welcome to the show, it’s great to have you with us.
Michele Scott: Hi. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here with you.
Introducing Michele Scott, author
Jenny Wheeler: You are a multi-published New York Times bestselling author, your books have made the lists numerous times, and listeners and readers always want to know the answer to the very obvious question: how did you get started, and did you enjoy “instant success”?
Michele Scott: I’ll answer the latter part first. No, I did not enjoy instant success although I’ve been introduced that way, as an overnight success, which I always find funny. I’ll backtrack a little bit, but I always wanted to be a writer, I knew when I was a little girl. I wanted to be a writer from the time I was probably eight, nine years old.
I used to write short stories on my dad’s legal pad, the little yellow note pads, and one day he read one of them and he looked at me and said, you’re a writer, and it stuck with me. I always had his support. He’s since passed.
Life took an unexpected turn
So I always knew. Then I went to university and my mom was far more pragmatic and said, it’s very difficult to make a living as a fiction author. I don’t know how that’s going to go, I think maybe you should look at something else. So I majored in journalism and I thought I would go into broadcast journalism.
Then life would take an interesting turn. I became pregnant in my senior year of college and I had a baby, my son who is now almost 30 but he was very premmie and I stayed home at the time and started taking care of my baby. I did an online correspondence course through Writer’s Digest and I wrote my first novel. I knew after writing that first novel that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I was 22 years old and I think I probably wrote eight to ten manuscripts – or half-written manuscripts, a lot of them. It took me 12 years before a literary agent picked me up and when she did pick me up, it went very quickly thereafter. I had a publishing deal within six weeks, and they bought three books, and six months later they bought another three books, and it went from there. So definitely not an overnight success.
A long writing apprenticeship
Jenny Wheeler: No. During that 12 years, did you keep on writing?
Michele Scott: Oh, yes, I didn’t stop writing. In fact, I would get these rejection letters and some days I would get very discouraged, but like I said, from the beginning my dad was a huge fan and he would say, you just stay focused, you’re going to do it, stay positive.
(I’m so sorry. The background noise is my dog rolling around on her bed.)
My dad really encouraged me, and I kept writing. I kept writing and submitting consistently. I had what I called Marketing Mondays. On Mondays I would pull up the list of agents I wanted to submit to, and I would send to them. I did that every Monday, and by Friday I’d have a list of rejections until I finally didn’t have a rejection.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s amazing. I talked to an Australian writer last year, Fiona Palmer, and she said something that struck me so strongly that I wrote it down on a little post-it note which is in front of me at the moment. It says, “There’s no such thing as failure, just practice”.
Michele Scott: Yes.
Jenny Wheeler: It sounds like you epitomize that attitude.
The importance of mentors
Michele Scott: Yes. Also, I’m sure you remember Bryce Courtney. Bryce was a huge mentor of mine, and I went to a Writers Conference before I was published out in Maui. There was a small group of us, we had to apply, and I remember him saying – when somebody said, what does it take, or something to that effect – he said, it takes bum glue. You glue your bum to the chair, and you start writing. I have never forgotten those words of wisdom.
Jenny Wheeler: You’ve written more than thirty books now but your most successful series, the one that’s still very much alive, is the Wine Lover’s Mysteries. That’s described as adult Nancy Drew, or Sex in the City meets Nancy Drew. You have just published book nine in that series, set in Mexico and called A Killer Margarita. Tell us how that particular series got birthed.
Michele Scott: That was the very first series that was published. I had been writing thrillers, serial killer type stuff, and I had not gotten an agent. I was in Napa Valley on a vacation and I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to set a murder mystery here in this setting in the wine country.
I’d grown up reading all the Nancy Drews and I really liked them. I didn’t know there was a term for these types of mysteries at the time, which is the cozy mystery. I love wine and I love food and I thought, how do I incorporate all of this? I came up with this idea – what if a murder mystery happened in a vineyard and this amateur sleuth came across this victim.
Nancy Drew meets Sex in the City
When I did write the query letter to the agent and we did get a deal, I didn’t know it was going to be a series. I was thinking, it was going to be a stand alone murder and the query agent called me and said, we have a deal, but they want to know what the next two books in the series are about. I said, oh, I didn’t know we were doing a series. She said, well, yes, and I said, when do they want to know?
She said, by the end of the day would be ideal. I said, what do you need, and she said, I need a page, a synopsis, so I came up with two more ideas and then after that it just kept rolling out. I enjoy these characters a lot, so it was really easy. It was an easy series for me to write because it was fun and quirky.
Jenny Wheeler: I find it remarkably impressive that you could write a couple of book blurbs in one day. That really does take some creative energy. It’s amazing.
Michele Scott: Yes, it does. I had a young family at that time. They’re all grown up now, but yes, it does.
A Napa Valley mystery series
Jenny Wheeler: Your heroine of that series, Nikki Sands, starts out as a would-be actress who’s waiting on tables. First of all, she gets captivated by the wine she is serving up to people and then she ends up working in Napa Valley for a golden boy wine boss. I guess that was all birthed when you were in Napa Valley and saw how things work there.
Michele Scott: Yes, it was. I knew I had to put some romance in it and Nikki has a couple of love interests throughout the series. I won’t give any spoilers as to who she winds up with, but it is a fun piece of the subplots – the romance aspect.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s absolutely right. We won’t give that one away, but you have had the chance to develop her as a character in that aspect, haven’t you? She’s had changing fortunes with her romantic life.
Michele Scott: She has. She has developed quite a bit as a character, from being somebody who didn’t always speak her mind to by the time the series winds up she’s pretty snappy with people.
Nikki goes to Australia
Jenny Wheeler: Book four, A Vintage Murder, is set in Australia. You mentioned meeting Bryce Courtney and as you probably know, we have quite a few listeners in Australia. We are naturally interested in what made you decide to take Nikki to Australia, and did you go there yourself to research it?
Michele Scott: No. The interest was I’ve always wanted to go. My parents have been several times and loved it and I love the Australian wine, so I thought it would be fun to set something there. I did a lot of research and I made a contact down there, an inspector who I would email back and forth on how investigations would be conducted in Australia and in this area.
Then I did a lot of research on the wine in the area and hopefully, without being able to go, I am as accurate as I could possibly be. Fortunately, we have the internet and are able to research that way now. I wanted to take Nikki out of Napa Valley and show the world or any of the readers that there are other places in the world that make great wine and have good mystery and romance too.
Combining in food and wine
Jenny Wheeler: Was that set in Victoria or New South Wales?
Michele Scott: Gosh, it’s been so long since I wrote it. I want to say New South Wales, but I’d have to go back and look.
Jenny Wheeler: The Hunter Valley or somewhere like that? I haven’t had a chance to read it.
Michele Scott: It’s a fun book. My favorite scene in there has to do with a kangaroo.
Jenny Wheeler: You mentioned taking Nikki out of Napa Valley and in the most recent book you take her down into Mexico on holiday, at Christmas time. That gives you a chance to pair it with lots of wonderful wine and food suggestions.
As I was going through the book, I was thinking, I must print out this recipe and try it – things like Braised Short Rib Enchiladas with Adobo Shrimp Tacos. I thought, I’ve got to make that sometime. You’ve mentioned that you’re a keen cook, so that’s an aspect of it as well that I imagine readers really love.
Taking the series to Mexico
Michele Scott: Yes, it’s a passion of mine, cooking, and I raised a pretty good-sized family and I loved cooking and I love cooking from different regions. Mexican food is some of my favorite.
I’ve been to Mexico quite a bit and love the culture and I thought, this could be fun to take her quirky crew down to Puerto Vallarta for a book and pair with some of those recipes and do some margaritas – do something a little bit different again, like I did when I took them to Australia.
Jenny Wheeler: You obviously do make all the recipes you put in the book.
Michele Scott: Yes. What I do with cooking is, I’ve done a lot of reading of cookbooks so then I start to think about, what ingredients work with what? The hardest part for me with those recipes in the books is the measurements, because I don’t measure. I’m the type of cook that goes, a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
Gritty thrillers as AK Alexander
That has been the hard part, going back and figuring out what exactly is the amount, because I always think you can play with your ingredients. For me, like writing, cooking is a very creative aspect to my life. I like to create all sorts of different recipes. I don’t think I ever cook the same thing twice.
Jenny Wheeler: The Wine Lover’s series, as we’ve outlined, is a wine country whodunnit. But you also write these gritty thrillers under another author name, AK Alexander, and these are much more in the territory of serial killers. I wondered if you have to make a change in your head when you sit down to write one of the thrillers as compared with one of the more cozy mysteries. Do you feel different as you’re writing them?
Michele Scott: Absolutely. I think it’s why I go back and forth, because when you write a darker thriller in that vein and you do the research – and I do a lot of research – it’s pretty daunting and it can be horrifying how things occur and the mental state of some very disturbed people.
So I go back and forth and I do get in a different frame of mind. When I write a lighter mystery, there’s far more humor and it’s a little bit more of a, I don’t want to say recipe – no pun intended – but it is a little bit of a recipe when you write a whodunnit. You have red herrings and clues and there’s more of a map. The thriller is a little bit different, so I definitely feel different writing in various genres.
Holly, the San Diego DSI detective
Jenny Wheeler: Your character there, the main hero, is Holly Jennings and she’s a San Diego CSI detective. You’re on book four of that series, aren’t you? Tell us a bit about that series and how it developed.
Michele Scott: I was born and raised in San Diego and I’ve always loved the Law and Order shows and the CSI’s and Datelines and things like that. I’ve read a ton of Patterson and Baldacci and authors that write these types of books. It was what I always originally wanted to write. I didn’t intend to necessarily go down the cozy path, but then I enjoyed it so much that it stuck.
The series really came to me a few years ago. This character came into my head and I started with her, and then again started with a what if X, Y, and Z happened? Then she starts to solve it, and all the people around her, and then also her life and the subplots that go with it – I’m not going to give any spoilers, but there is a very interesting sub-plot in that series that I’m still working through going into book five.
Jenny Wheeler: Daddy’s Home, the first book in the series, I wanted to mention that it is available on your website if readers are interested. They can download it for free if they join your newsletter. It enjoyed remarkable success that first book – well, I’m sure they all did – but Daddy’s Home has got its own story, hasn’t it? Tell us about that amazing ride.
Daddy’s Home best selling book
Michele Scott: Daddy’s Home is definitely my biggest best-selling book. The series in general is outside of what I do with thrillers, and what’s interesting about that series is when I wrote the book and I was submitting it, I originally wrote it and was submitting it before I was ever published. I had to go back and revise it because then the Wine Lover’s got picked up and I was taken down a whole other road.
And I’ll never forget my son, my middle one, I think he was probably about 11, and I had received yet another rejection letter, because I’d been straight submitting it to publishers and the book had gone through a round where actually there was a lot of interest in it at Harpers. They came back and said, this isn’t quite right for us but thank you so much, we’re going to pass.
I remember being in my kitchen and I was in tears and Anthony said, what’s the matter Mom? I said, honey, I don’t think I could do this anymore. I just get these rejections and I don’t know if mommy is meant to be a writer.
And still to this day, every time I think about this, it makes me emotional. He says, don’t you know, Mom, that God wouldn’t have made you a writer if he didn’t believe in you. And I was like, okay, I cannot stop now.
So that book got set aside, because it was shortly after The Wine Lover’s Mysteries did get picked up. Then in 2009, when the economy took a hit, I had been writing for Penguin, their imprint was Berkeley Prime Crime and they dropped The Wine Lover’s and they dropped another series I had with them, which is around the horse mystery series.
An ‘instant’ best seller takes time
When they dropped it, I thought, what am I going to do now? It was about that time that Kindle and eBook started to become a big thing, just on the cusp of it, and so I uploaded Daddy’s Home and a few of my other thrillers I’d written previously that had never been picked up. I came up with the pen named A K Alexander, which stands for my children, Anthony, Kaitlin, and Alexander.
Nothing really happened with these books but then about a year later – I still cannot tell you, there’s no rhyme or reason other than faith maybe – I opened up and I start looking at my reports in real time on Kindle self-publishing platform. Daddy’s Home, I could see it in real time, the numbers selling in the UK.
The book, within a couple of weeks, went to number one on the Amazon UK list and then another thriller I had went to number two, which was outside of that series, Mommy, May I? It did very well in the UK for a few months and then it followed suit here in the United States in 2012. A few months thereafter Daddy’s Home went to number four on the list.
Picked up by Amazon publishing
I couldn’t break the three books ahead of me, they were The Hunger Games books. Then Thomas and Mercer, which is now a publishing imprint of Amazon – outside of self-publishing, they have their own imprints – they came in and wanted to buy the rights for Daddy’s Home. Then I wrote another book for them, Blood and Roses, and I’ve since written, independently, the third book in the series, and now the fourth book in the series.
Jenny Wheeler: That fourth book I think you co-wrote with a good friend, didn’t you? That was the first time you’ve tried co-writing. Tell us about that.
Michele Scott: It’s not the first time, I’ve done quite a few co-author projects. But with this series, it was not my intention to do that. And I typically try to be pretty honest and vulnerable with people, so what really happened was I stopped writing a few years ago.
The ‘stuff’ life throws at us
I went through a divorce and it wasn’t a good time, and I lost a lot of motivation and stopped writing. Fast forward three and a half years later and I knew I needed to get back in the game because I really missed the process. I’d written half of the book already, but I was having a hard time getting back into it.
Christine and I had met through a mutual friend and she’s also an author. I said, this is what I’m doing but I need some motivation, I need some feedback. I loved her feedback, and I liked her writing and I like her and we just meshed and her ideas were so good that I said, do you think you want to help me finish this book? Let’s do this together. She said, I’d love to, and it worked really well. It got me back into it.
Jenny Wheeler: That brings us to this point where we like to pivot a little from looking at the individual books to taking into consideration your wider life. You’ve mentioned a couple of these pivotal events that have influenced your writing. The life experience that you bring to your books at this stage – do you think it’s been helpful in developing stories as you go along?
How life experience impacts writing
Michele Scott: Absolutely, there’s no doubt. I’ve had quite a few traumatic experiences or events that have occurred and also life things that we all go through. I’m now an empty nester and I’m using that in what I’m writing currently.
I do use the life experiences and what I find is that it’s very cathartic in a big way. I’ve done this throughout my entire writing career. My first book, Covert Reich, which is a standalone thriller, started because my son had been born prematurely and was in the neonatal intensive care unit for a bit of time.
The book revolves around an intensive care unit doctor and what she deals with with these babies. There’s a whole thriller tied into it and I won’t go into that if anybody wants to take a look, but it was very cathartic and that was what it was meant to be at first.
Then it turned into something more. So, yes, I definitely use life experience, but I tend to make it larger than life. I’m not on the run from a government agency who wants to murder me.
Jenny Wheeler: I’m relieved to hear that.
Michele Scott: Yes, me too.
Perseverance and faith important
Jenny Wheeler: There’s one question I always like to ask and that is, is there one thing you would set aside and say more than any other has helped you get where you are today?
Michele Scott: Yes. Perseverance and faith. Knowing in my heart that this is my purpose. My purpose is to write something that hopefully entertains the reader and takes them out of their day-to-day stress or their day-to-day stuff and brings them some semblance of joy, maybe.
Jenny Wheeler: At this time of pandemic, there’s nothing more important than helping people escape some of their realities, is there?
Michele Scott: That’s true.
Jenny Wheeler: One of the things I love about genre fiction is that it helps people get through life.
Michele Scott: It does. I’ve always delved into good books and it does take you to another place. The imagination and creation of good stories – I don’t think there’s anything much better than that.
Jenny Wheeler: That segues beautifully into talking about your reading tastes. This is The Joys of Binge Reading and we do like to talk about the books you like and things you might recommend for other readers that they might not have discovered yet. Who do you like to read either in the past or today? Is there anyone you would recommend to readers?
What Michele is reading now
Michele Scott: I always go back to the tried and true. I love the Stephen Kings of the world and Dean Koontz and James Patterson and so forth. I read a lot of nonfiction. I read a lot of law of manifestation type books and stuff like that.
I’m currently bingeing on Alice Hoffman. You remember Practical Magic, the movie that was out years ago, and then she’s got The Rules of Magic which is the prequel and then The History of Witches. That’s what’s on my nightstand right now, and I’m going to read that whole series.
There are so many good authors out there and so many good stories now. It’s really hard to narrow that list down. I have so many books. That’s my thing – collecting books.
Jenny Wheeler: You still read paper rather than digital, do you?
Michele Scott: I do both. When digital came out, I dug my heels in and I was like, I’m not going to do that, I’m going to stick to paper books. But when I started making a lot of money through the digital route I thought, I can’t poopoo eBooks, because that would be very hypocritical of me, so I started reading a lot on the Kindle. But I like the feel of a book in my hands, so I tend to gravitate back to the paperbacks and hardbacks.
What, if anything would she change?
Jenny Wheeler: Sure. We are starting to come to the end of our time together, so circling around, looking back down the tunnel of time, at this stage in your career, if you were doing it all over again, what would you change, if anything?
Michele Scott: I would change a couple of things. I would not stop writing as life made changes. For instance, when my father passed, I stopped writing and I stepped into our family business because it was needed. But it wasn’t true to myself, so I guess that’s the key – I would be true to myself.
When I went through this divorce, like I said, I stopped writing. I wouldn’t let life hardships per se take me out of what I’m supposed to be here to do, because at the end, that was all I had control over. Not sales, not anything else, but I had control over the writing and I just stopped, and I wouldn’t do that. That is what I would change.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s great. You mentioned a new series you were working on. Tell us what your next 12 months holds in terms of your writing. Have you got some new projects under development and current ones that are still going on, like Holly Jennings? Tell us about your next 12 months.
Wine Lovers optioned for TV
Michele Scott: It’s kind of exciting. A couple of things. First, the Wine Lover’s Mysteries have been optioned for TV, so we’re hoping something happens there with maybe Netflix or one of those outlets. As for my personal writing, I’m going to write the fifth book in the Holly Jennings series in the next 12 months.
And I’m starting a new cozy series, along the vein of the Wine Lover’s, a little bit different. It’s going to be set in Santa Barbara, California, and my character is on the cusp of being 50. She’s an empty-nester and a divorcee and all her life she’s been wife and mother and now she feels, what’s her purpose?
She is also this fantastic cook, and so she decides to open up a catering business. She’s catering her oldest daughter’s engagement party when there’s a murder out in the garden.
A new series in the works
Ella is the heroine’s name and Ella’s daughter is arrested for the murder, and so she’s obviously got incentive to get her daughter out of jail, knowing that she could never do this. That’s what I’m working on now.
Jenny Wheeler: That sounds fantastic. Congratulations on the Netflix thing. It’s wonderful how they are looking to not necessarily the James Pattersons of this world for content these days. They are going to a lot of genre fiction authors now, aren’t they, and it’s really great. There’s Robyn Carr with Virgin River and I’ve just watched Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, the first series of Bridgerton came out on Christmas Day here.
Michele Scott: I haven’t seen it yet. That’s so funny – you’re now the third person because my daughter watched it and my very dear friend who is also an author, Jessica Park, texted me last night and said, have you watched this? I’m like, no, so I’m thinking I had better get on and watch it.
Jenny Wheeler: It’s fun. As a writer, I found it very interesting because there were certain things that Netflix did with it that I thought, honestly, these books were published in the early 2000’s, I don’t honestly think she would have done that in the book.
What might change for TV
So I’ve got out the first couple of books to read them and see if the context is quite the same as Netflix and it isn’t quite the same. I won’t go into how it’s different, but Netflix does put a bit of a spin on it to make it more exciting and controversial and interesting, I guess. It does do that, but it wasn’t in the original books.
Michele Scott: Yeah. It’s been presented to me to make Nikki a little younger and maybe do some things differently with the character. I’m open to the ideas, but I don’t think it will necessarily stay true or completely a hundred percent accurate to what the books are.
Jenny Wheeler: I guess they understand what they have to do for their audience, don’t they?
Where to find Michele online
Michele Scott: I think so. I guess I just have to trust that.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Do you enjoy hearing from your readers and where can they find you online?
Michele Scott: I do. I love hearing from my readers and I always answer them. I might take a little time, just so everybody knows, but I do respond.
You can find me on my website michelescott.com and write to me there. There’s a link to directly email me. On Instagram it’s Michele Scott Author, and I think my Twitter is michelescott1. My Facebook, you can find me at Michele Scott Author as well.
Jenny Wheeler: For anybody listening, we’ll put links to all those addresses on the show notes that are published with this episode, so people can easily find you if they want to go to the show notes.
Readers welcome to make contact
Michele Scott: That would be great, and I will answer if people have questions, if they want to write, if they have questions about writing or I mean, really anything. I have helped quite a few people who have written me about book writing and what’s my advice and that kind of thing. I would love to have readers reach out.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s wonderful, Michele. Thank you so much for talking today. It’s been tremendous fun and we’ll look forward to this Netflix series, whenever it happens.
Michele Scott: Thank you. I enjoyed it too. I appreciate you having me on.
Jenny Wheeler: Bye now.
Michele Scott: Bye bye. Take care.
If you enjoyed Michele Scott talking about her wine mystery series you may enjoy another wine series – Ellen Crosby’s Wine Country Murders, set in affluent ‘horse’ country in North Virginia. On the Joys of Binge Reading now.
Thanks To Our Technical Support:
The Joys of Binge Reading podcast is put together with wonderful technical help from Dan Cotton at DC Audio Services. Dan is an experienced sound and video engineer who’s ready and available to help you with your next project… Seek him out at firstname.lastname@example.org or Phone + 64 – 21979539. He’s fast, takes pride in getting it right, and lovely to work with.
Our voice overs are done by Abe Raffills, and Abe’s another gem. He got 20 years of experience on both sides of the camera/microphone as a cameraman/director and also voice artist and television presenter. Abe’s vocal delivery is both light hearted and warm and he is super easy to work with no matter the job. You’ll find him at email@example.com