We first met Northwest Arkansas author Jane Elzey in 2021, when she pitched the idea for a story about the pair of "cozy" murder mysteries she had published. Two things, she promised, made her books unique: Each had a game in the title -- "Dying for Dominoes" was followed by "Dice on a Deadly Sea" -- and in each book, a husband dies.
Elzey is back with book 3, "Poison, Parcheesi and Wine."
"In the cozy mystery genre, readers can expect an off-camera murder without gore or depravity, little or no cursing, no sex, an amateur sleuth -- probably female -- and some sidekicks or friends who make solving the crime more fun," Elzey says. "The stories are usually character-driven and centered around a particular hobby or occupation. The Cardboard Cottage (series) refers to the main protagonist and amateur sleuth, Amy Sparks, who owns a vintage game shop. That's a very 'cozy' vibe. My characters, however, are anything but cookie-cutter sweet."
This is how Elzey describes them:
Amy Sparks, the narrator, is the owner of Tiddlywinks Players Club, a vintage game shop in a tourist town in Arkansas that just might resemble Eureka Springs. She's a bright almost 50-something who hasn't always made the right decisions in her life (including husbands), but she is dedicated to her little clutch of best friends. Except... husbands keep dying and the four of them keep looking guilty, all of which compel Amy to sleuth her way to the truth.
Rian O'Deis (say Ryan O-Day) is the tomboy of the group and owner of The Pot Shed at the Cardboard Cottage. A deep thinker, a dedicated friend, and pious about pot, Rian grows cannabis for the Arkansas elite. She's rethinking her occupation now that she's smitten with a police officer.
Genna Gregory is the eldest of the foursome, but she works hard to look like the youngest. Tall, svelte, rich and commanding, Genna comes from old money and knows everyone who needs to be known in the Natural State. Her bark is louder than her bite, and deep down she wants love and acceptance just like everyone else.
Zelda Carlisle owns Zsa Zsa Galore Decor at the Cardboard Cottage. A bit self-absorbed with her looks, her hair and her designer shoes, Zelda just wants to have a good time. And men keep getting in the way.
Here's what Elzey has to say about her new book, her inspiration and more.
Q. What's new in the lives of your characters?
A. "Poison, Parcheesi and Wine" is a complicated plot where our four friends are steeped in the secrets of the wine country ... and another husband dies. When they embark on a political stump tour, they're looking for a good time in the Arkansas wine country. But when a husband is found dead, Amy wonders if she's been railroaded into a black widow society. Who killed the husband? The wife and her friends with their iron-clad alibi? Genna's political candidate? A group of wine enthusiasts called the Cork Docs? A high school jock with unrequited love, or a sommelier-in-training with a caseload of secrets? Everyone seems to have something to gain.
Q. This novel continues the tradition of a game in the title. Does it also continue the tradition that a husband dies?
A. It's a murder mystery -- someone's got to go. Might as well kill off a bad (albeit imaginary) husband. At book signings, women giggle knowingly, and the husbands get a little tense. In the end, we're all laughing about it, and the men leave promising to be upstanding husbands. It's just fun fiction and an eye-catching brand. #thehusbandalwaysdies.
Q. What inspires the plot lines of your novels?
A. The titles come to me first and are the first stirrings of my plot line. Every other book is set in Arkansas and the others on a bucket list trip. (The girls like to travel!) I do a lot of research, study human nature, eavesdrop in restaurants, and watch way more Crime Time TV than I should admit. It all goes into the brain void and then, really, from the title to "THE END" is pure imagination and manipulation -- think red herrings and resolution. It takes a year and a lot of pacing to plod from zero to 80,000 words of story intended to entertain.
Q. Do your characters have real lives in your head? What's it like living with them?
A. The Cardboard Cottage friends are very active in my head when I'm writing. Thank goodness they take a hiatus when I'm not. They are never very far from home, though, and it's a joy to reconnect with them and take down their dialogue. When I'm writing their dialogue, I hear their distinct voices and see their mannerisms. Genna is the loudest and most insistent. She made a big turn-about in Book Three. Has she really changed? As one reader put it, "We'll see about that!"
I've come to realize they are all parts of me. Not in a weird way, just an opportunity to step out of my own skin and reflect.
Q. Are you still self-publishing? Is that still working as well as it did during the pandemic?
A. Scorpius Carta Press is my publishing imprint, and it's doing well by me. The name, incidentally, came to me as I was walking an alley in Spain. Self-publishing was the right choice for me because I had a few decades of experience in the publishing industry and because I like having the final say. There are, however, many talented professionals involved in the process. I think a lot of people read during the pandemic and since reading is a solo sport, it worked out well for many.
Q. How do you then get your books into bookstores?
A. I publish through Ingram Spark, the largest book distributor in the world. Through them, my titles are available to any book store or library on the globe. The trick is getting noticed in a cluttered industry and getting the books on the shelf. That takes marketing, and word of mouth requests from readers who enjoyed the read. Recognition is a slow and deliberate climb. Every sale, review and media mention is important to that goal.
Q. What's next for you -- and your characters?
A. We are headed to Ireland for Book Four: "Killer Croquet on the Emerald Isle." (#anotherhusbanddies) I'm also working toward an audio version of the series for a 2024 release.
Autographed copies of all three books are available on Jane Elzey's website (JaneElzey.com), any bookstore (including Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc) and locally, Iris at the Basin Park in Eureka Springs carries them, as well Pearl's Books in Fayetteville. "If your bookstore doesn't carry it, just ask," she says.
Elzey is now booking signing events and book club chats for 2023. Interested venues, libraries, and book clubs can reach her through the website or by emailing JaneElzey@cox.net.