Tea with Shawn Reilly Simmons
Today I’m sitting down with Shawn Reilly Simmons, author of Murder on the Rocks, the latest in her Red Carpet Catering Mystery series. Who knew that providing catering services on movies sets could lead to danger? In the Red Carpet Catering Mystery series, Penelope Sutherland runs a catering company that specializes in catering movies sets, and in this latest adventure she’s looking for a little peace and quiet in tranquil mountains of Vermont. Unfortunately, that’s not what she finds. With lots of twists and turns, not to mention great characters, Murder on the Rocks makes for a good cozy read. Thanks for stopping by Shawn!
When did you first discover your love of mystery?
My mom was a big mystery fan, and she got me started on Nancy Drew pretty early, at around eight years old. Once I tore through all of those, I started reading Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen King, and Sue Grafton through middle and high school, and things just grew from there.
When did you decide to write your first book and what made you go for it?
When my son was born, I quit my job at the local newspaper to stay home with him. After many years of thinking about writing a novel, I decided that was the perfect time to actually do it. I got up early every morning and spent naptimes working on my book, and by the time my son was walking, I’d finished it. It was a very busy and exhausting time in my life, but also one of the happiest and most fulfilling. (He’s seven now, and I’m writing my sixth book. So far the growth of my series is on pace with the growth of my son!)
Are there any special rituals you have or places you go that inspire your writing?
I’m the most productive when I get up early and knock out my words for the day, on average 2K each morning before breakfast. I can write at any time of the day, but there is something magical about the total silence, both in the physical world around me and virtually (no texts, Facebook messages, Tweets, or much of anything else to distract me from the book I’m working on). One afternoon a week, I like to write at a locally-owned coffee shop near my house, which is always loud and bustling. I can tune out the individual conversations and appreciate the buzz of humanity around me, a nice break from my more isolated workspace at home.
Where do your plot ideas come from?
My ideas generally come from my own experiences, or interesting stories I’ve come across or heard about. Of course, I’m a novelist, not a reporter, so those things tend to be the germ of an idea, which then become fictionalized and changed so much that they’re nothing to do with the original experience by the time I’m finished with them.
What are you reading now?
My goal is to read a book a week, and I typically manage it by reading fiction (I do a current novel and a “classic” novel each month) mixed with nonfiction and short story anthologies. This year, I’ve added to the goal by reading books I’ve always meant to read, beginning with The Devil in White City by Erik Larson. I’m also reading Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochoda, A is for Alibi (rereading this one, my classic pick for January) by Sue Grafton, and Eat What You Watch (A Cookbook for Movie Lovers) by Andrew Rea.
What’s in your TBR pile?
I often joke I wish I could clone myself and have the other me be able to just read all day. Even then I’m not sure I’d get through all the books on my TBR shelf. A few I’m looking forward to right now are She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper, Sunburn by Laura Lippman, The Wife by Alafair Burke and The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen.
Who is your favorite detective character (book, tv, or movie) and why?
This is a tough one! Adrian Monk, who I always think of as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, has to be my favorite detective. I love how his OCD, fixations and phobias, which could be considered weaknesses, ultimately help him in solving cases, something I can personally relate to. There was a time in my life when I had to check the stove several times before my day could begin, but like Monk, I’ve managed to funnel that compulsive energy into a more positive productivity.
Who is your favorite mystery author and why?
This is another tough one, as there are so many I admire and enjoy reading. Sue Grafton had an early and ongoing impact on me as a reader and now as a writer. She was one of the first women authors to write a private eye series, joining the ranks previously populated mainly by men. I admire her for that, and for writing consistently good books for 35 years, and for being so generous to other authors and fans in the mystery writing community.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Write every day, and get past the idea that every word must be perfect the minute you put it to paper. You can’t revise what isn’t on the page, and we all revise a lot. Find a good writing routine that works for you, and stick with it.
What would we find in your mug first thing in the morning? Tea? Coffee? Something else?
Black coffee, with generally three visits to the Keurig machine. (This number may increase closer to deadline time!)
Where do you like to spend time with a good book?
I like to read in bed, and also under the blankets on the sofa in the afternoons. During the warmer months, I read on the back patio next to my vegetable garden.
If you were given an entirely free day, no responsibility or tasks, what would you spend the day doing?
I’d be at the beach, drinking margaritas and reading a good book!
Any guilty pleasures?
I do enjoy reading celebrity gossip websites. To justify this, I tell myself it’s research for the books.
Tell us about an item on your bucket list.
My dream vacation is a food and wine tour through Italy, France & Spain. It’s on the vision board, so it is bound to happen soon.
Shawn Reilly Simmons is the author of The Red Carpet Catering Mysteries featuring Penelope Sutherland, an on-set movie caterer, and of several short stories appearing in various anthologies. Her most recent, “Burnt Orange,” appears in Passport to Murder: the 2017 Bouchercon Anthology (Down & Out Books), and “The Prodigy” appears in Mystery Tour, the Crime Writers’ Association Anthology (Orenda Books).
Shawn was born in Indiana, grew up in Florida, and began her professional career in New York City as a sales executive after graduating from the University of Maryland with a BA in English. Since then Shawn has worked as a book store manager, fiction editor, convention organizer, wine rep, and movie set caterer.
Shawn serves on the Board of Malice Domestic, is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Crime Writers’ Association in the U.K.
Cooking behind the scenes on movie sets perfectly combined two of her great loves, movies and food, and provides the inspiration for the Red Carpet Catering series, published by Henery Press.