A Conversation with Author Mildred Abbott

IR- What does it mean to you to be called an author? 

MA- Everything, absolutely everything! I had been dreaming about being a writer since I was a sophomore in high school.  It would take twenty years before that dream became a reality.   It’s now been ten years since a publisher first said yes to my work. Though the reality is a billion times harder than I ever imagined, it is just as wonderful as I had hoped. I am honored and humbled that I get to write and that people care enough to want to step inside these little worlds that tumbled from my brain onto paper. It is such a gift!

IR- Can you tell us a bit about the story and its main characters?

 MA- The Twister Sisters series (there’s a mouthful, I know!)  is a limited series of ten books.  It follows three women who deliver casseroles (think a meals-on-wheels type of situation)  and solve murders.  These three women–Cordelia, Wanda, and Pamela–all survived a tornado that went through their small town fifty years ago, hence Twister Sisters.  As this first book begins, their town of Willow Lane is getting ready to have the memorial for the fifty year anniversary of the event that changed all their lives.  During the preparation on Cordelia’s farm, her hippie wagon (each woman has their own hippie wagon to deliver casseroles)  is used to kill one of the town members. What transpires is Cordelia and the other Twister Sisters helping solve that murder and connect the dots of events that, may or may not, tie back to the original night all those years ago.

IR- What inspired the idea for your book? 

MA- I also write the Cozy Corgi series, where my main character, Winifred Page, owns a bookshop. In one of the installments, she’s talking about a mystery novel she’s reading where three little old women drive around delivering casseroles in their little bitty farm town and solve murders.  In that series, whenever Winifred talks about books she enjoys, most of them are ones that I enjoy and highly recommend.  In this case, I made up the premise of the three senior citizens delivering meals and solving crime.  One of my readers messaged and asked where they could find the series Winifred was talking about, she thought it sounded fun. So did I, and since it didn’t exist, I decided to write it.

IR- Tell us about a favorite character from the book.

MA- Cordelia Davis,  our main character. (Honestly, that’s one of my favorite parts about writing cozy mysteries. In the other genres in which I used to write, I would always fall in love with the side characters the most. But in cozy mysteries, your main characters are allowed to have side character tendencies, so it just makes such a beautiful thing.)  At sixty-six, Cordelia has experienced a lot of heartache and a lot of loss. She’s also, more importantly, experienced genuine friendship and sisterhood with Pamela and Wanda. More than anything this trio of relationships is the star of the series.  Cordelia is the unofficial leader–she’s strong, caring, decisive.  She can be a little too guarded, a little too matter-of-fact.  She’s down to earth,  homey, and so very kind. Another one of the wonderful things about cozies–I don’t know another genre where so much kindness exists. Cordelia envibes that and I love and respect her for it. 

IR- How do you interact with your readers?

MA-  In truth, I am horrible about returning messages both on social media and from newsletters, etc.  That’s also true in my personal life. I am agonizingly slow at returning text messages and phone calls.  However, there are two platforms that I interact with the most. One of them is with my patrons on the Patreon site, and the other is Mildred Abbott’s ‘Secret’ Club on  Facebook–both of these sites have multiple interactions every week, help me come up with characters, sometimes even coming up with book titles, etc. We have a TON  of fun! And they are both made up of just the nicest, most lovely people you can imagine.

IR- What is something you can do better than anyone else you know?

Leap

IR- Do you have any “side stories” about any of the characters? 

 MA- Oh my Lord,  I’m the kind of writer who has notebooks and notebooks written about every character, all the side characters have backstories and families, etc… (The quality is probably a little nauseating, LOL.)  I can tell you about Cordelia’s grandparents and great-grandparents, I have histories going back to the late 1800s. I have enough side stories about the characters to write fifty novels, seriously. Clearly, not all of that detail makes it into the books, but I do find it makes them richer, fuller, and more developed characters; not shallow or one-dimensional.

IR- Where did you come up with the names in the story? 

 MA- I am a baby name website enthusiast. I love going back to the most popular names of the years that my characters were born, at least that’s where I start. Sometimes it will be a meaning of the name that will call to me, a favorite literary character, or someone who means a lot to me in my own life. Having said that, however, Cordelia did not come from the most popular baby name list from the 1950s.  It came from one of my favorite characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer,  Cordelia Chase.  In this case, however, my Cordelia is dealing with casseroles and mysteries, no vampires or wooden stakes. 

IR- If you were friends with a character in this book, what kinds of things would you do together?

 MA- All three of the main characters,  Cordelia, Wanda, and Pamela, are part of a knitting group (and those scenes are my favorite to write… such silliness on those nights!).  I was a knitter for about three days around fifteen years ago. I bought all this yarn that was so beautiful and was determined to knit such amazing things. I came really close to stabbing myself in the forehead with the knitting needles just to end my misery.  So, if I got to hang out with Cordelia, Wanda, and Pamela, I would appreciate if they would give me knitting lessons. I’m already adept at making casseroles, so I don’t require their instructions there.  Although now to think about it, I think we’ll just skip the knitting lessons and eat more casseroles!

IR- How do you define success as an author?

MA-  That is a very author specific answer. And for me, it’s one that has changed over time. I fought so long and hard to have my first novel published, that I told myself that that’s all I needed. Just one book published, and I would be happy.  Well, between the Mildred Abbot pen name and my other two published names, I have nearly fifty books written (both traditionally published and self-published), and I’m still attempting to be successful. My definition of it now, and for the past while, has been to be able to fully sustain life (pay bills,  eat,  set something aside for retirement)  solely off my writing.  Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to say I’m successful at that. Because, as of now…  what’s a retirement? LOL!

IR- What is your all time favorite book or author? Do you think this has influenced your writing?

MA-  I know many will say it’s cliché, but it’s true, nonetheless.  My all-time favorite series is the Harry Potter series. I’ve reread it probably twelve or thirteen times, and there will be more re-reads… soon. In the sense of my tried and true theme — characters you care about  — yes, think that does influence my writing and my love the craft. 

IR- If you had a secret room that opened by pulling a book on a shelf, what book would you choose?

 MA- Prisoner of Azkaban

IR- Can you share a day in the life of an author?

 MA- Absolutely! I am definitely a creature of habit and routine.  I wake up between 6:15 – 6:30,  let the dogs out, meditate, take my blood pressure (ah, being mid-40’s is something, huh?). Then I  eat breakfast,  make a pot of coffee, and edit the writing I did the day before, and finally write my first chapter of the day. That takes me to about noon where I go to the gym, get a little snack, and then give the dogs a long walk. Around 2:30,  I start the next three hour writing session to complete chapter two for the day.  By then, it’s time to make dinner,  spend time with the husband and dogs, and hopefully work on social media, promotions and advertisements, images, and more of the ‘business’ side of writing.  Bed somewhere between 10 and 11,  and wake up and do it all again the next day. (It’s glamorous because I get to spend my life in pajamas and the dogs sleeping on either side of me nearly 24 hours a day!  Even as I’m doing this interview. Heaven!)

IR- What was the defining moment that made you say to yourself, “Today, I am going to write a book that I will publish.”?

MA-  I haven’t had that moment. It’s vague because it took so many years for me to get published the first time. Instead, I think the defining moment was what made me dream about being a writer. I was always a struggling student; didn’t learn to read until I was ten. After which you couldn’t pry a book out of my hands. School was always hard. But my sophomore year, in Ms. Hungerford’s class, she had us write short stories for a semester. I’d never done anything like it. I loved it. I probably wasn’t any good, but she bragged on me and bragged on me.  I didn’t have to study for stories, didn’t have to take tests, didn’t have to come in early for tutoring, just got to slip into another world and tell someone else about it. What could be better?

IR- How do you avoid or defeat writer’s block?

MA-  I have two answers. One, you don’t allow yourself to have writer’s block.  You have a schedule, you stick to it. And you write, inspired or not.  That’s always how I did things, I was able to write one book a month for a couple years that way.  Then, life happened.  I got diagnosed with stage IV cancer about three years ago (I’m fine, no cancer to be found for nearly three years now),  and for the first time in a long, long time I struggled to find words.  That first plan, the one that I held onto so proudly, is only possible when you’re on the top of the mountain.  Fear, anxiety, and the world shaking rattles that routine a bit. I’m only now starting to get my feet under me once more. I’m slowly returning to that mindset.  If I can get back to one book every six weeks,  I’ll pat myself on the back for that!

IR- What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?

MA-  Love your characters.  Even if you have to kill them, love them.  Even the bad guys,  even characters people hate. You should love them. Find something redeemable about every single one,  and treat them all like your babies,  because they are.  Them showing up in your mind or on your paper or computer screen is a gift, they’re entrusting their lives, their stories, to you. LOVE them. It’ll come through in the writing, it really will. 

IR- What do you look for in a story as a reader?

MA-  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a cozy mystery, fantasy, or crime (my three most read genres),  I want it to be a series, and I want to feel like every time I start a new book I’m coming back to beloved friends and family,  ones I miss in between installments. 

IR- What are you working on in the near future?

 MA- I’m about to start the main edits of book two of Twister Sisters, Casserole Casualty,  which will be published in March.  At the same time, I’m writing the 24th book of the Cozy Corgi series, which will be published in April.  I’ll be going back and forth between those two series, if life sees fit, for the next year or so, and then I plan to throw in a third cozy mystery series into the rotation–maybe, about mermaids… maybe.

IR- Do you have any quirky writing rituals?

MA-  I don’t know if any of them are quirky,  but I definitely have to have my rituals. Which was described in an earlier question. One of my weaknesses is, if that routine is hampered in the slightest, it’s all out the window. I’ve heard of writers able to write on their phone as they commute, or write as their family watches TV, or sneak in five or ten minutes here and there between helping their children or running an errand.  I’m in awe of those people. My routine allows me to slip fully into the world of my characters, but without it… well… it’s not pretty. 

IR- What comes first for you — the plot or the characters?

MA-  The overarching theme,  or point,  of the whole series comes first, then the characters.  There may be one big mystery that ties the whole series together, but after that it’s all about the characters. I map them out, figure out the family histories, their motivations, how they are all connected, some of their secrets, all those sorts of things. Then the mysteries arise from the social dynamics that the characters present to me. 

IR- As an author what do you think makes a good story?

MA-  I feel like I’m falling into a theme here; hopefully that’s okay. I think as long as you can make the reader care about your characters, that’s over half the battle.  There are so many books out there (and tv/movies)  with plots and other worlds, and twist and turns, that sound amazing, but if I can’t connect or fall in love with the characters (doesn’t mean they have to be good or nice characters,  simply have to be invested in them),  I don’t care enough to finish.  If I care about the character enough, even if the world is mundane, I still want to find out what happens to them. 

IR- Who is your audience?

MA-   Interesting… This answer has changed a little bit. With my Cozy Corgi series, I can simply say any cozy mystery reader who loves animals, culinary elements, and wants to revisit characters who are like family and friends over and over again is my reader. With the Twister Sister series, all of that is still true, but the readers of this series will also want more mature characters–both in terms of age and perspective.  They’ll enjoy sinking into a more complicated and nuanced world. I do my best to offer my readers of both series warmth, love, laughter, and (of course) a murder or two. 

IR- What has been your favorite reader feedback? 

MA-  That my books have helped them in times of loss.  This became even more important during my own cancer journey, and the only thing I was able to read was cozy mysteries– everything else was too much.  To get letters from readers who turn to my books after the loss of their spouse, during their own sickness, or just the crazy mess of the last couple of years socially and politically, I can’t imagine anything better. Sure, literary accolades and prizes would be great, but don’t think I’ll ever get those. Still, if I can make someone’s life a little easier, a little happier, help them escape into some mystery, fun, and love and kindness?  I’ll take that every time!

IR- What is the first book that you remember reading?

 MA-  Mr. Popper’s Penguins,  followed instantly by the Secret Garden.  At the age of ten, those are the two books my mother forced me to read one summer. Something clicked. I fell in love with reading. I have never looked back since.

IR- What is an underrated author that you think everyone should read at least once?

MA-  As she’s more successful than I can even imagine, I doubt she’s underrated. But I adore Kelley Armstrong. It doesn’t matter the genre or the series. I read everything she’s written. 

IR- What are you reading now?

MA-  Currently reading Abandoned In Death, by JD Robb, with A Spell for Trouble, by Esme Addison, waiting directly in the wings.

IR- What is your author’s spirit animal?

MA-  It’s between a wolf and a chicken, seriously.

IR-(editors’ note: We sense there is a story here?!?)

IR- Aside from writing or reading, what are your hobbies or interests?

MA-  While not a hobby, my life is devoted to my dogs, so… Dogs, dogs, dogs! I also love cooking, and have an unhealthy obsession with mermaids.

IR- What would the title of your autobiography be?

MA-  The Art of Constantly Tripping, Yet Rarely Falling Down 

IR- Describe yourself in as few words as possible.

MA-  Creative, kind, homebody, idealist with a helping of socially awkward, dogmatic, and hypochondria thrown in for a little extra spice, or something like that.

IR- If you could have lunch with 3 authors (past or present) what do you think you would all talk about during lunch?

MA-   Hans Christian Andersen, Peter S. Beagle, and Kelley Armstrong.  We’d talk about writing, dreams, heartbreak, and redemption. (Lord, that sounds pretentious, but it is what it is. LOL! Without a doubt, the Little Mermaid and the Last Unicorn have had the biggest impact both on my life and my writing passion.)

IR- What would your dream library look like?

 MA-  Gleaming wood housing hardback and cloth covered books, with aged brass everywhere, spiral ladders, huge arched windows with leaded glass, massive fish tanks, tons of plants, and free-flying birds. Oh, and puppies. Lots of puppies. You know, simple and understated.

IR- If your book were made into a movie, which actors would play your characters?

 MA-  Cordelia –  Diane Keaton,  although she’d need to put on probably thirty or so pounds. 

 Wanda – Alfre Woodard

Pamela – Blythe Danner 

IR- Name three fun facts about you or your work.

  1.  If you read all of my books, you’ll come across every pet I’ve ever had ( sometimes in animal,  sometimes in human form)
  1.  When I read cozy mysteries, I typically don’t care about who the killer is–I know I shouldn’t admit that! (It’s ALL the other stuff I love the most.)
  1. The amateur sleuths in my cozy mysteries, both series, are smarter than I.  If you put me in the same situation as Cordelia and her Twister Sisters, or Winnifred with her sidekick corgi, Watson, there is no way in the world I could ever solve even a single murder.  Although I would definitely be eating all the casseroles and the pastries!

IR- If you went on a road trip with any author, dead or alive, who would it be, and where would you go?

MA-   Agatha Frost.  I want her to give me the tour of the English countryside and villages that inspired her Peridale Cafe series. (Let’s pretend crossing the ocean counts as a road trip

IR- If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?

MA-  Write. Write. Write.   What a lovely feeling that would be, to be able to write know you wouldn’t fail.

What a lovely dream to end on. 
Thank you for having me, thank you for taking the time to read about me and my cozy little books. – Mildred Abbott

About The Book

Hippie Wagon Homicide (Twister Sisters Mysteries)

Cordelia Davis lives with no regrets, despite her life changing drastically a half century ago when a tornado altered the destiny of the little Ozark town of Willow Lane. The town grew back stronger and more beautiful, and Cordelia, her sister, Pamela, and her best friend, Wanda, built a life to treasure.

As Willow Lane honors the memory of those lost and celebrates all that has been achieved, tragedy refuses to remain in the past. News of murder rocks the pastoral countryside when Cordelia discovers a body on her farm, beneath her beloved willow tree. And while the police make an immediate arrest, Cordelia finds herself untangling a web of lies and long-ago secrets.

With suspects in every nook of her cozy town—and an old flame knocking on her door—it will take all Cordelia’s tenacity to face the past and to weather the mysteries of Willow Lane.

Purchase Link – Amazon 

About the Author

Preoccupied with everything found in cozy mysteries: Puppies, Books, Cozy Mountain Towns, and Baked Goods.  Although not obsessed with murder, however. At least not in real life (No contract killing here). But since childhood, starting with Nancy Drew, trying to figure out who-dun-it has played a formative role in everyday life.  Author of the Cozy Corgi series and the Twister Sister series.

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