Welcome to author Kathy Manos Penn, writing friend of cats & dogs who talk to humans! Ever wanted to live in the English countryside? Check out her books.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
About three months, though that doesn’t count the time I spend “pondering” the plot and researching background material. I start counting from the day I write the opening scene, and for all three of my books, it has taken three months from that date. My word count is recorded every day in a favorite pink notepad with white cat faces on the cover. Who knows what will run out first—the notepad or days of writing books?
My goal is to write 1,000 words a day, but there are some days I have to sit back and let my ideas simmer before I can proceed. Still, even with the simmering and the “muddle in the middle,” as I’ve seen it called, three months is what it takes.
What comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
Now, that’s a good question. For book one in my series—Bells, Tails & Murder—the main character and the circumstances that propelled her to retire to the Cotswolds came to mind right off the bat—along with the cat and dog who are her sidekicks. I knew I wanted the animals to have literary names and played around with author and character names until I landed on Dickens and Christie. For that book, my notes from a vacation in the area drove my research, and the kernel of a mystery began to form.
Now that I’ve established Leta’s network of friends and family, what comes next is the surround, as I call it—the season, the selection for the book club, maybe a town Leta, Wendy and Belle will visit, or an event that will be central to the plot. Only after those ingredients start to simmer in my brain do I get to the murder—the mystery. And, yes, I like to cook as does Leta, so maybe that’s why the verb simmer keeps cropping up.
The idea for the next book comes to me while I’m working on the current one. It’s not fully formed, and of course, it evolves as it floats around in the back of my brain. For example, while I was writing book three which takes place in December, I kept thinking the week between Christmas and New Year’s would be the timeframe for book four, and London would be the setting.
How much time do you spend on research before starting a book? While writing?
For book three, I spent untold hours researching the concept of entail because I have an earl in the book. I saw the elderly earl as an RAF pilot in WWII, so I researched British planes. For book four, I spent hours googling authors and various literary societies, thinking a Charing Cross bookshop could be the scene of the crime.
I’ve since shifted book four back to the Cotswolds, but the research won’t go to waste. I’d say off and on, I spend about a month on preliminary research, and then as I’m writing, I google things like names of towns, what time the sun rises and sets, the weather, maybe what kinds of trees grow in an area, possibly different ideas for how someone is killed, and more. During the muddle in the middle, I may spend an entire day on research, until I get my head straight!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Reading has always been my passion, and it’s unheard of for me to go a day without reading before turning out my bedside light. No matter how tired I may be or how late it is, I have to read. Pre-virus, I enjoyed visiting the gym several times a week, coffee or lunch with girlfriends, and the occasional bike ride. I’ve been retired for a few years, and after fifty-hour workweeks, all this leisure time is a delight. My husband and I used to bicycle, but that has gone by the wayside as health issues have knocked on his door. Could I cycle on my own? Yes. Do I? No.
My favorite pastime, though, is writing—with the dog beneath the desk and the cat somewhere nearby, either in the file drawer or sitting on the desk demanding treats. When you read my books, now you’ll know where Dickens and Christie get their personalities.
What are your favorite childhood books?
This is always an easy question for me, but it’s especially so today because I just wrote a newspaper column on the topic. I’ve been an avid reader all my life, so much so that my mother worried I wouldn’t develop social skills. No worries. Her fears didn’t come to fruition. In no particular order, here are a few of my favorites: Beautiful Joe, Black Beauty, The Five Little Peppers, Heidi, The Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew. These along with a few Cat in the Hat books are still on my bookshelf.
As a child, Kathy Manos Penn was a shy, introverted bookworm. She shed the shy, introverted traits but is a bookworm to this day, one who especially enjoys British mysteries. Fast forward through a corporate career and a side job as a newspaper columnist, and today you’ll find her happily retired and writing cozy animal mysteries set in—where else—England. Find books one and two in her Dickens & Christie cozy mystery series on Amazon–Bells, Tails & Murder and Pumpkins, Paws & Murder—and look for book three in late summer.