Cozy murders Queen Peg Cochran’s bright and funny murder mysteries are set in a small town America peopled with colourful characters, resourceful amateur women sleuths, lots of red herring clues and food – always food – in spicy settings. They’re for anyone who enjoys titillating stories topped off with a dash of romance
You can listen to this chat on the podcast player at the top of this page, or by linking to iTunes or Stitcher
Keep Reading for full show notes of the entire conversation . .
Show Notes Summary
In this interview you’ll discover:
The lucky chance that helped Peg “get discovered” by her publisher.
Why she writes her Sweet Nothings antique lingerie series under another name.
The mystery in her own life that could be a plot line for a book.
Why she’d never want to be a chef, although food features in all her books
Why a West Highland terrier often turns up on her covers – and why he’s getting plumper every book!
And the new mystery series she’s excited about.
Peg can be found at at www.pegcochran.com
On Facebook at www.facebook.com/PegCochran/
And on Twitter @PegCochran
For more details, a full transcript follows: Note – this is a “close as” rendering of our full conversation with links to key points.
Jenny: Hello there Peg, Welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
You’ve written lots of different series, but whether it’s Gigi with her healthy low cal catering in the Gournet de-Lite series, or Shelby with her Love Blossom Farm jellies in the Farmer’s Daughter, they seem to have one thing in common – and that’s food…
Tell me, was there ONCE UPON A TIME moment when you had to decide which came first for you – working with food in some capacity or writing fiction?
Peg: Not really. I have always wanted to write fiction. A career in food? I love to cook in my spare time and feed my family and entertain and so forth but to be a chef is a fairly demanding job physically and I am quite a small person – in height anyway.
It really wasn’t ever on my radar as something I would want to do professionally. I did think about catering at one point – that it might be interesting – but after giving one or two parties at home I changed my mind pretty quickly. I discovered it’s an intense amount of work.
I did sublimate my love of writing into the cooking for a while and then I realised I needed to get more serious about the writing and maybe eat a little less!
Jenny: Yes it’s a career that is fairly hard on the health – where it’s sometimes hard to maintain healthy disciplines – so you probably chose the healthier option, even if it is sitting in front of a computer.
Peg: Yes, although sitting at my computer – they now tell us that’s as bad for you as smoking.
Jenny: So you haven’t tried a stand up desk yet?
Peg: Sometimes I take my computer into the kitchen and I type at the counter. I had a very bad bout of sciatica for nine months where it was extremely painful to sit so I did do a little more work standing up and I learned how to lie on the couch and type as well.
Jenny: That sense of nurturing permeates even the books that aren’t specifically food themed – like the Sweet Nothings lingerie series where you give us the recipe for Tennessee Tea. Are your ever tempted to do bonus recipe books to go with your series?
Peg: I know some Cozy authors who have done that and I have looked at the idea but frankly it would be too much work and would take me too much away from my writing. I could imagine myself contributing to a recipe book with other people – that would be a lot of fun. And I also have a day job so my time is very limited. When I retire I wouldn’t rule it out.
Jenny: Charming settings are part what we expect from Peg or as your alter ego Meg London, who writes the Sweet Nothing Lingerie series which has some wonderful detail about antique lingerie.
Things like the fact – and I’m assuming it is a fact – that the bra that kept the famous sweater girls – Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner – in shape was dubbed a bullet bra.
I don’t really know why these kinds of details delight me – and I think other readers – but they do. Do you spend a lot of time researching your settings?
Peg: Not the settings so much as the details of my protagonist’s jobs and hobbies. The only real setting I’ve used so far is Paris Tennessee in the Sweet Nothings series, The others were made up. But I loved researching that kind of detail and I could fall down a rabbit hole on Google if I let myself.
You find those little nuggets and I think they add to the story and cozy readers like that. They are very smart people and they like to discover new things, so I get to discover new things with them.
Jenny: Your decision to write the Sweet Lingerie series under the name of Meg London – that was an interesting choice. Why did you feel the need to write under two different names?
Peg: Well that was an interesting story. That was written as what is known as a “work for hire.” One of the Penguin editors had the idea for the Sweet Nothings lingerie series, sketched out the protagonist and a few other people who appear in the book and then they went out and hired a writer to write it.
Under the contract they own everything; they own the characters’ names, the settings, the titles, everything including the name that goes on the book. So I wasn’t willing to sell my own name.
Jenny: Oh that’s so interesting. Was that a good experience to write under that arrangement?
Peg: It was fantastic. It was actually my entre into getting my toe in the door in publishing. A writer friend alerted me to the opportunity and I had to “audition” for it as you might describe it.
I wrote three sample chapters and they liked my style and hired me and then soon after that I sold my own series which was the Gourmet series – so it was a great opportunity.
It also tests your imagination to work around a concept someone else has come up with. But that was just for the first book, the subsequent books I was totally on my own for the plot and I came up some new characters for those two books.
Jenny: The other common theme is a love for West Highland terriers which seem to pop up pretty frequently? Can we assume you have dogs yourself?
Peg: Yes there is a little Westie named Reg who is sleeping right at my feet this moment. He has asked to be in several of them and I have accommodated him.
Jenny: I love the way he has got onto the covers of a lot of the Gourmet series books.
Peg: Yes and you’ll notice that he’s got fatter and fatter as the series went along. He clearly wasn’t eating the diet food.
Jenny: Turning away from specific books to take a wider look at your career . . .
Your heroines are mostly divorced or widowed single women who’ve faced disappointment or loss and are working hard to pick up the pieces and make a success of their lives alone. Why do these women appeal to you?
Peg: It is little bit of – I hate to use the word formula, but it is a little bit of a cozy formula. Taking a heroine from a previous life, and plopping her into a new one and seeing how she adapts.
I do have a little experience of this myself, I was widowed. My husband was 44 when he died and I had two children six and twelve, so in a sense I did have that experience of starting over. I bought a new house, changed jobs. I did have some intimacy with that experience.
Jenny: Is there a mystery in your own life could be the plot for a book?
Peg: I don’t know how I would plot this out, but I was 12 years old when my girlfriend told me I was a twin. I said “No there’s absolutely no way,” but I was curious enough to go home and ask my mother. And she said that yes, I was – or am – a twin.
My twin died at birth. She never told me, she told her friend who was my girlfriend’s mother and my girlfriend told me. I don’t know if my mother ever was going to tell me or not.
Jenny: A lot of your books are set in very much small town settings. I guess that’s another cozy mystery theme – restricted settings where you have a community who know each other well and gossip about one another.
Peg: We had about 20,000 people in our town in New Jersey, but you have smaller communities within the town. You had smaller circles – like the parents of the children at school – so you do get that kind of intimacy. In those circles people know secrets about one another, or are trying to find them out. . .
Some mystery authors – like Cleo Coyle in the Coffee House mysteries for instance – which are set in New York City but she has drilled down to one specific neighbourhood and then to one coffee shop so you get that small community feeling that you need for one of these cozy mysteries.
Jenny: I get the feeling you have quite a network of writer friends and are very much part of the mystery author community.
Peg: Definitely it is a wonderful community, Very much so. Everyone is so helpful, they will to do anything for you and are always happy to help the new person. There is huge online community. There are conferences too, of course, though so far I have only been to one but I met some of the people who have become my best online friends.
They have definitely contributed to my career because they alerted me to the opportunity to do the work for hire which I would never have known about otherwise.
Jenny: At that point when you got the write for hire job, how many books did you have finished?
Peg: Ooh about six I suppose at that point.
Jenny: And you had just kept on writing had you, while you looked for a publisher?
Peg: Yes actually the first step was to get an agent. I did get an agent for the first book I wrote but it never went anywhere. I just did keep going, that’s what you have to do.
Jenny: Did that book ever see the light of day
Peg: No actually, I think its on a floppy disk, so its pretty well gone from the world!
Jenny: I think one of the things people like about mystery series – and you mentioned the location of Paris Tennessee in the Sweet Nothing series – is the thought that you could actually go there. If you were going to organise a magical mystery literary tour for your books, where would you Tripadvise people to go? I’m wondering if you’ve got favorite foodie places, or cooking schools, or an amazing lingerie museum we have never heard of . . . .!!!
Peg: Well there are definitely places on line where you can see beautiful pictures of antique lingerie.
In terms of cooking – a big city like New York is a fantastic place to go. You can eat from Tibetan to Korean to Chinese to Indian you could set up a wonderful tour of all kinds of tastes. Chicago would be the same. And we just went to Italy – tasting the food there – and I can definitely recommend that too
Peg as reader . . .
Jenny: Tell me. Do you now or have you ever binge read yourself?
Peg: I can’t really do it very much now, but I certainly did in the past. When I was young my mother would always be urging me to “Go outside and play” while I was holed up in my room with a book.
I just loved to read and read. But that was before I had family responsibilities and so forth. Definitely I could spend an entire weekend with books. I do remember pretending to be sick so I could stay home from school and finish Gone With The Wind which I had discovered on my mother’s book shelf.
Now I try to give myself an hour at the end of the day to read. I try to do this because I think it is important as a writer and also because I would much rather read than watch TV.
Jenny: Do you have a current series you’d like to recommend?
Peg: Not really. I’ve read a couple of the latest psychological suspense – domestic suspense is what they are calling it, I think, but the trouble is I usually read it on my Kindle and it’s hard to remember the author’s name when you’re reading an E book because you’re not seeing the cover with the name on it all the time.
Certainly Gone Girl was a huge favorite. I would love to be able to write something like that and there have been a couple like that. I have been skipping around between mysteries, women’s fiction and some non fiction as well. I will read just about anything.
Jenny: Just circling around back to the beginning., We talked about how you got your start. If there was anything you’d change about your career at this stage what would it be?
Peg: I would have started sooner. I started writing in my early 20’s and I allowed myself to get discouraged. We didn’t have the computer or the internet – I wrote on a type writer, – and there wasn’t the opportunity to learn from other writers.
But I wish I had continued, because I think I would have succeeded so much sooner and I would have been able to do it longer – because I never want to stop doing this, I just want to keep going!
Jenny: Would you like to write full time or is your preference to have a life outside of your writing?
Peg: I would really love to “write full time” – although there actually is really no such thing as writing full time any more, because a lot of it is marketing. Unless you are a very big name and get full page ads in the New York Times publishers expect you to do a lot of marketing yourself and it is just keeping at it.
It’s being on Facebook and Twitter I enjoy it and it would balance out the solitariness of writing. I definitely would want to do some volunteer work or take a class to get out and fill the well and be stimulated by outside things or else you don’t have anything to write about.
Jenny: You have so many series don’t you – we haven’t mentioned all of them. Book Two in the Farmer’s Daughter series – Sowed To Death – series is just out and I think I saw somewhere that you have a new mystery series that’s been accepted. Can you tell us about that?
Peg: Yes it’s called the Reluctant Debutante and it’s set in New York in 1938, – it starts in 38, the first book. Right now I have a contract for three books with Alibi Publishing which is a Random House imprint. Right now it’s a new direction for me. I love that time period, so it gives me an excuse to watch old movies and read about life in those times, so I am very very excited about it. Its covering the glitz and the glam of the 30’s, just after the crash and just before the war started.
Jenny: What about Gourmet de Lite and Cranberry Cove series? Are you still writing new instalments for them?
Peg: A new Cranberry Cove is due out Spring 2018, and I have another E-book only series called the Lucille series set in New Jersey with a middle aged Italian house wife. Imagine Stephanie Plum, older with a family, and you’ll have an idea of where we are heading. The fifth book in that series is due out in a few months
Jenny: Well Peg its been great talking to you today. Before we go, can you tell people where they can find you online?
My websites are www.pegcochran.com and www.meglondon.com
I am on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PegCochran/
and on Twitter @pegcochran.
Sometimes I’m on Social media too much but I really enjoy connecting with readers, I love connecting on my author page and we have some fun times there.