Sunday, November 30, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Deborah Garner, Author

Deborah Garner writes “cozy” mysteries set in intriguing locations that focus on the puzzle part of a mystery. In her newest book, CRANBERRY BLUFF, her protagonist meets a group of interesting characters at her inherited bed and breakfast place in Northern California. Reviewers say, "accelerating situations are both funny and alarming" and "I finished the book wanting more." 

Originally from California, Garner and her family—including her two dogs (Corgi mix and Siberian Husky)—travel between California and Wyoming. When she can find time, she likes hiking and taking photos. She writes travel books and enjoys exploring unknown roads and hidden places.

Q: Your newest mystery, CRANBERRY BLUFF, features a protagonist different from that of your first two mysteries. What caused you to forsake Paige? How did you conceive of the story? Does Molly Elliott resemble Paige? Or is she a unique new heroine?

Deborah Garner: Paige is quite busy right now, wrapped up in trouble (of course!)  As for CRANBERRY  BLUFF, I am always motivated by location.  I set the story in a bed and breakfast and then created the back story of the bank robbery as a reason for Molly to be there.  It made sense that guests would be the connection between the inn and Molly’s past.  I don’t see Molly as resembling Paige, who is more assertive, stubborn and persistent.  Molly is more of an anchor for the story, a focal point for the guests’ activities and hidden motives.

Q: You have described CRANBERRY BLUFF as a cozy mystery. I know we’ve discussed this in a previous interview, but it seems an intriguing topic for us mystery readers. What are the attributes of a “cozy” mystery versus other types of mysteries?

Deborah Garner: I’m laughing as I type this answer, because I know you’re aware I take some flack over my cozy mystery definition from those who feel a cozy mystery must have a murder.  And mine don’t.  (At least so far…) But I see the term “cozy” as referring to the attributes of the story itself.  Mine generally involve an amateur, female sleuth, set in a small town location, with a puzzle (mystery) of some sort to solve, written without extreme language, explicit scenes or violence.  This type of story makes for a “cozy” read.  Die-hard thriller fans won’t like this type of book because there’s no heavy-duty action, blood or gore.  Avid romance fans won’t enjoy the lack of juicy details.  But the reader who loves to curl up in a chair with a soft afghan and cup of tea for a little escape?  That reader wants this type of tale.

Q: How helpful was the setting on the California coast to telling your story? Did it add to the mystery?

Deborah Garner: It will come as no surprise to readers who know the Northern California coast well that the fictional town of Cranberry Bluff is loosely based on a favorite town of mine, Mendocino.  I’ve loved the coastal town since I first visited decades ago.  I’ve spent dozens of vacations there, enjoying walks on the bluff, shopping little boutiques and dining in quaint cafes.  I do think there’s a feeling of mystery to the town.  Anyone who takes a nighttime stroll along its streets will feel it.  If that doesn’t work, just ask Jessica Fletcher ;)  One of those walks will take a mystery buff right past her “Cabot Cove” home.

Q: The description of the characters at the bed and breakfast in CRANBERRY BLUFF reminds me of an Agatha Christie mystery. Do you agree? How did you conceive of the plot?

Deborah Garner: I think a good mystery needs to have multiple characters.  The reader wants to have the challenge of figuring out which character is really behind the plot.  In writing CRANBERRY BLUFF I toyed with different motives that might bring each guest to the bed and breakfast.  The plot developed from there.  It may be of interest to readers that I had absolutely no clue how the bank robbery was pulled off until the book was almost finished.

Q: What makes us care about Molly and your characters at the bed and breakfast? How do you make your characters “engaging” and/or “mysterious?”

Deborah Garner: We care about Molly because she has fallen into trouble through no fault of her own, something we don’t like to see happen to an innocent person.  Many people can relate to the experience of being wronged in some way.  As for characters, they need to be unique in order to be engaging.  Each guest at Cranberry Cottage Bed and Breakfast has odd quirks and specific personality traits.  In this particular story, each character has both an exterior and interior layer, which adds to the mystery for the reader.  By observing and bringing those layers together, the reader is led to each guest’s hidden motive for being at the inn.

Q: What do you consider to be the most important elements of a mystery?

Deborah Garner: Take one puzzle, something intriguing for the reader to solve.  Add in clues, preferably numerous and contradictory.  Sift together some twists and turns.  Mix in characters with differing motives.  Bake over several months and serve warm or cold.  Makes one mystery.

Q: How important is a cover to communicating the “feel” of a book?

Deborah Garner: I think it’s crucial.  Contrary to the cliché, I’ve always judged books by their covers.  Right or wrong, it’s what readers do.  Colors set a mood, one that a prospective reader enjoys feeling.  Image implies place.  Is it a place the reader wants to go?  If it’s a successful cover, the answer is yes.  Even font gives clues to the elements inside the story.

Q: What’s next? Will we be reading about Paige again? Will there be another Molly Elliott book?

Deborah Garner: Paige should be out of hibernation in late May of 2015.  She’s quite busy as we speak, about half-way through unraveling strange happenings in a small southwestern town.  As for Molly Elliott, it’s likely she’ll just continue her newly-acquired quiet life in Cranberry Cove.  However, Sadie Kramer, one of the characters from Cranberry Bluff, is looking to take readers on a wild ride by next Christmas.  I dare say she has quite a “flair for mystery” and her first sip of trouble will most likely take her to California’s wine country.

Q: Tell us something about Deborah Garner. What are you currently reading? What’s next on your list? What is your favorite movie? Do you have any hobbies?

Deborah Garner: I hate to admit it, but I’m between books right now, mainly because I’m juggling long-distance driving, the Cranberry Bluff book release and two partially finished manuscripts.  But I have a TBR stack that is screaming at me for attention, which includes a delicious stack of mysteries from the recent Bouchercon event, a copy of your new book, Hilltop Sunset, and The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier, which I picked up recently in California’s wine country when I was *ahem* doing some research for Sadie.  Favorite movie?  Tough one, but I like light, romantic comedies.  I’ll say While You Were Sleeping, with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman.  Hobbies?  Yes, in my almost non-existent spare time, I love photography and hiking with our two rescues, Thunder, a corgi mix, and Powder, a Siberian husky.

About Deborah Garner

Deborah Garner is an accomplished travel writer with a passion for back roads and secret hideaways. Born and raised in California, she studied in France before returning to the U.S. to attend UCLA. After stints in graduate school and teaching, she attempted to clone herself for decades by founding and running a dance and performing arts center, designing and manufacturing clothing and accessories, and tackling both spreadsheets and display racks for corporate retail management. Her passions include photography, hiking and animal rescue. She speaks five languages, some substantially better than others. She now divides her time between California and Wyoming, dragging one human and two canines along whenever possible.

Molly Elliott's quiet life in Tallahassee, Florida, is disrupted when routine errands land her in the wrong place at the wrong time: the middle of a bank robbery. Accused and cleared of the crime, she flees both media attention and mysterious, threatening notes, to move across the country to Cranberry Cove, where she has inherited her Aunt Maggie's bed and breakfast on the Northern California coast. Her new beginning is peaceful - that is, until five guests show up at the inn for a weekend, each with a hidden agenda.

Mix together one blushing honeymoon couple, one flamboyant boutique owner, a deadpan traveling salesman, and a charmingly handsome novelist, and there’s more than scones cooking at Cranberry Cottage Bed and Breakfast. As true motives become apparent, will Molly's past come back to haunt her or will she finally be able to leave it behind?

New York reporter Paige MacKenzie has a hidden motive when she heads to the small town of Timberton, Montana. Assigned to research the area's unique Yogo sapphires for the Manhattan Post, she hopes to reconnect romantically with handsome cowboy Jake Norris. The local gem gallery offers the material needed for the article, but the discovery of an old diary, hidden inside the wall of a historic hotel, soon sends her on a detour into the underworld of art and deception. 

Each of the town's residents holds a key to untangling more than one long-buried secret, from the hippie chick owner of a new age café to the mute homeless man in the town park. As the worlds of western art and sapphire mining collide, Paige finds herself juggling research, romance and danger. With stolen sapphires and shady characters thrown into the mix, will Paige escape the consequences of her own curiosity?

When Paige MacKenzie arrives in Jackson Hole, her only goal is to complete a simple newspaper assignment about the Old West. However, it's not long before her instincts tell her there's more than a basic story to be found in the popular, northwestern Wyoming mountain area. A chance encounter with attractive cowboy Jake Norris soon has Paige chasing a legend of buried treasure, passed down through generations. 

From the torn edge of a water-damaged map to the mysterious glow of an antler arch, Paige will follow clues high into the mountainous terrain and deep into Jackson's history. Side-stepping a few shady characters who are also searching for the same hidden reward, she will have to decide who is trustworthy and who is not.


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Twitter: @paigeandjake


  1. Great interview! I have the book on my Kindle and am waiting for the time to curl up with my afghan and read it!

  2. Thank you for this lovely interview!! <3

  3. I wanted to thank you for this excellent read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked your site to check out the new stuff you post. virka överkast