Today, I have the privilege of interviewing one of the suspense sisters. Ellen, thanks for getting on the other side of the desk, so to speak. First of all, I note that you use the author name of “E. E. Kennedy.” Tell us why you chose to hide your gender.
EEK: Well, I hadn’t intended to hide my gender, though I suppose my pen name does that. When I published my first mystery, I rather childishly wanted all my old high school and college friends to know it was my book, so I went by Ellen Edwards Kennedy. (Edwards is my maiden name.) Imagine my surprise when my agent informed me that there was an Ellen Edwards who was a prominent editor in New York! So, as to not piggyback on the name of a more prominent Ellen, I changed my pen name to E.E. Kennedy. I’ll bet I’m older than she is, though, and had the name longer!
Another weird thing happened many years ago when I was writing and producing commercials for a TV station. One day, the noon talk show guest was a dietician named Ellen Edwards. I hastened to ask her about her name. It was fake, her professional name. She was a kind of frankfurter Betty Crocker, demonstrating recipes using Oscar Myer hot dogs. Before she left, she kindly gave me some sheets of stationery with my name on it—unfortunately, it also sported little hot dogs!
RM: Early in my career, I was urged to try writing cozy mysteries, but it didn’t work. I enjoy your books, and they’re a pleasure to read. What makes them cozies?
EEK: I’m so glad you like them. I enjoy your medical thrillers, mainly because they’re so different from what I write and so gripping. I think cozies are primarily set in small towns. The characters live ordinary lives, not usually filled with drama. There’s a sense of familiarity; we feel comfortable with them. When a murder or crime does occur, it’s that much more shocking to the townspeople. It’s very important that the reader identify with the characters, which is why some people prefer other mystery genres. Cozies tend to be my favorites, though.
RM: How did you get into writing fiction, anyway?
EEK: Well, my usual answer to that is that I ran out of Agatha Christies and decided to write something I wanted to read! Seriously, though, I always loved fiction. I haunted the public library from the age of ten, getting acquainted with such authors as Patricia Wentworth, Robert Costain, Margaret Mitchell, Mary Stewart. I got into writing commercials right out of college and loved it. I liked to joke that I only had a 30 second or 60 second attention span!
After our children were grown, I decided to try to write something longer. I remembered being thrilled with Mary Stewart’s Madame, Will You Talk?, and started writing in first person, just as she did. Of course, there were lots of false starts. One story was about a college boy who stole his dead roommate’s manuscript and published it as his own, becoming the next J.D. Salinger. He couldn’t write anything else nearly as good, you see? Unfortunately, as I was halfway through the book, I saw a TV movie with almost the very same plot and gave up immediately.
I then decided to start a story set in my home town. The first sentence was dreadful, but I thought it was riveting: “Never have I felt such menace…” Now, where do you go from there? I toyed with all kinds of ideas for a crime, but couldn’t get off the ground. Eventually, after I took an online mystery-writing course with AOL (to show you how old I am!) I began my Miss Prentice story. I originally opened the story with Amelia walking through her neighborhood, reminiscing, but when an editor read it, he nearly gagged at the pathos. So I started the book with the second chapter, where Amelia has fallen over a body. In medias res, they call it: “in the middle of the action.” It was much better that way.
RM: And if you tell me you sold the first one you shopped, I’ll probably hate you…but how long did it take you to get a novel in print?
EEK: Quite a while. I did sell my first mystery, but took about a year and it was to a very, very tiny publisher. My husband joked that the publisher was “two ladies with a mimeo machine.” They didn’t do any promotion. My current publisher is quite small, too, but expert in editing, cover design and all the minutiae that goes with publishing. Essentially, I do the writing and they do the other stuff. Except for promotion. I still do the lion’s share of that.
RM: Tell us a bit about your newest release.
EEK: Incomplete Sentence is the fourth in the Miss Prentice series. In it, Amelia is still on maternity hiatus from her job teaching high school English. Her old family home is now a B&B and she’s part owner. In the midst of helping plan a wedding at the inn, Amelia learns that a man has been murdered in a local retirement home. She accompanies her husband as he researches the story for his newspaper and ends up befriending the victim’s very elderly father. Everybody soon learns that the victim was an attorney for the infamous Rasputin killer. The whole town is on edge. Is the killer still around? Who is he? There are quite a number of possible suspects: a flute player or a drummer with the symphony orchestra? The weird local florist? The busboy at the retirement home? Or the orderly? There’s another murder, much closer to home this time and Amelia’s faith turns out to be the only thing that gets her through the coming ordeal. Incomplete Sentence is my favorite Miss Prentice. I put lots of funny moments and surprises in it!
Ellen (or E. E., if you prefer) Kennedy is giving away a copy of Incomplete Sentence to a random commenter. Please include your email address so your comment can be entered into the contest, though.
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