Good news for cozy mystery fans! Prolific author Paige Shelton still has lots of stories up her sleeves.
Today we chat about all of these books, as well as her book research trip to Scotland (only slightly postponed after a passport mishap. Also, no Jamie Fraser sightings, which is too bad. 🙂 ), how she writes multiple series at one time, and the special day a ghost came into Paige’s writing space and helped her out with a book idea.
Links and resources mentioned in this episode
- Click on any of the book covers to go to Paige’s books on Amazon
- Wikipedia page about Doune Castle, as featured in Outlander
You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
Transcription of Interview with Paige Shelton
Alexandra: Hi, mystery readers! I’m Alexandra Amor. This is “It’s A Mystery” podcast and I’m here today with Paige Shelton. Hi, Paige.
Paige: Hi Alexandra. How are you?
Alexandra: Very well. How are you?
Paige: I’m doing great. Thanks so much for having me today.
Alexandra: Oh, I’m so thrilled to have you here. So let me give a little introduction to our listeners, I should say. And readers, I guess.
Since the age of seven when she penned a three line poem about a wayward kite, Paige Shelton has wanted to be a writer. In 1997, she decided to take that dream seriously and was determined she would be published by Y2K. Fortunately, the world didn’t end as the calendar turned because she wasn’t even close to being published in 2000 or 2001, for that matter.
It took 13 years of writing hundreds of thousands of words and receiving many rejections, some cruel, some helpful before she landed an agent and a contract for the first three books in her “Farmer’s Market” mystery series which we’re gonna talk about today.
“Farm Fresh Murder”, published in 2010, hit the New York Times Mass-Market Bestseller list. Three more series and 15 books later, she’s grateful to be living her dream and I’m so thrilled that you’re here today page to talk about all these different series.
Let’s start with the “Farmer’s Market” series. The main character is Becca Robins and I was reading a description today that said, ” Becca makes jam and she goes from making jam to being in one”, which actually made me laugh out loud. I was sitting here at my computer. I thought that was hilarious.
Tell us a bit about Becca and the “Farmer’s Market” mysteries.
Paige: Well, the “Farmer’s Market” mysteries were a product of a conversation I had with my agent. I had landed my agent based upon another series that I was trying to sell. It was a paranormal series. It had ghosts and my agent really liked it and she signed me up but apparently, nobody else did.
None of the publishers enjoyed the paranormal series. We had a meeting on the phone about what other things I could write. And she listed off a few ideas and she said, “farmer’s market” and it pinged in my head. Becca became clear…the “Farmer’s Market” became clear and so I wrote three chapters of the “Farmer’s Market”…the first book in the “Farmer’s Market” and she sold it quickly.
Alexandra: Oh, wow. And then, did you follow up with another one from that series right away?
“Fruit of All Evil” came right after “Farm Fresh Murder“. And I had a chance to see Becca grow and expand right before my very eyes. It was a wonderful experience. Your first series…I had no idea what that was going to be like but it was a true joy to watch the characters grow and become who they became.
Alexandra: Oh, nice. And I meant to ask you, Becca is twice divorced I noticed in one the descriptions. What’s up with her? Is she trying to get her life together?
Why is she in this place in her life?
Paige: Basically she was a relationship disaster. I thought that would be a fun place to start and to hopefully, in the arch of the story make her not a relationship disaster. And hopefully, that did get accomplished in the six books of the series. But it was a fun challenge.
I think every time I come up or start with a new series I try to think of the characters first and how I want them to change the most. And I think they all need to have some sort of issues, some sort of quirks. And that was the first thing that came to my mind. I’m not sure why but that was the first thing that came and I wanted to take her personal story over the arch of the mysteries, as well.
Alexandra: I always love reading series that are like that, where the character is going through something and changes, too.
Paige: Again that was something when I was first starting I thought, “You know, I wanna be different. I want to do something different and unique”. Well, come to find out that’s something that’s done a lot, changing the characters over time.
Alexandra: Yes, exactly. Okay. And then the second series is the “Country Cooking School”, is that correct?
Paige: Yeah, it is.
Alexandra: How did that come into being? What prompted you to switch?
Paige: Well, I wanted two series and so again, I had a phone meeting with my agent and we decided that a “Country Cooking School” would be appropriate for a cozy mystery series. I sit down and I wrote the first three chapters of the “Country Cooking School” and she sold three books of that series, as well.
And then when I sat down to write “If Fried Chicken Could Fly“…finish it because it was just three chapters. When I sat down to write that one the ghost appeared. That series was sold without a ghost. In fact, the ghost appeared inside my office but that might be another story for another time.
I put the ghost on the page and then I wrote a letter to my editor and my agent and I said, “Well, guess what? I’ve got a surprise. A ghost has shown up in these books. How do you feel about it?” Fortunately, they were very open to it and it turned into a paranormal series.
Alexandra: You must be drawn to paranormal series then because you had tried that initially.
Paige: That’s a great point! I didn’t even realize I was drawn to paranormal but I think I like a little bit of something otherworldly or something unexplainable in everything I write. I really enjoyed that.
Alexandra: And now I have to know, can you tell us the ghost story?
Paige: Oh, I could. I was just writing and all of a sudden I felt like there was someone in my office behind me. Weird, I know. But I turned around and I looked and there was nobody there. But I turned back around to face the computer screen and the next words I wrote were, “Jerome, the ghost, had come to the town of Broken Rope, Missouri.”
And I thought, “Now, is that just all coincidental or was I being visited by some sort of idea?” And, you know, ghosts sometimes are manifestations of our imagination anyway but I think the ghost came into the room and haunted me and insisted upon being part of the stories.
Alexandra: Oh, that’s fascinating. Wow, that’s so great! Very cool.
Paige: It’s a little weird. It’s a little weird but I’m okay with that.
Alexandra: The funny thing now is that my experience is that paranormal mysteries are very popular at this moment in time.
Paige: And then when I did write the series my agent said, “You know there are going to be some people who just don’t like paranormal.” And I said, “Yeah but there are some people that do.” And I think that since that time…oh boy, I think that was 2012…I think since that time paranormal series have actually found a larger audience. I do.
Alexandra: I do, too. Yeah. I see them more and more, sort of, in the tops of the lists and that kind of thing.
Paige: Right, right. Me, too. Me, too.
Alexandra: And then the third series, is that “The Scottish Bookshop” or the “Dangerous Type”?
Paige: “The Scottish Bookshop” and “A Dangerous Type” kind of came together at the same time. It was an odd thing. Probably more history than your listeners want but the publisher, Berkley Publishing combined with Penguin, and their priorities kind of over time have changed. And some of their cozy mystery series aren’t being published any longer.
Things are moving around within the publishing house so I was frankly worried about where my career was gonna go from there. I thought, “Well, I need to put some stuff together.” And my agent and I, again, discussed where to go with things and what ideas we had. And so, I wrote “The Scottish Bookshop” first. I wrote that proposal first which, again, is a synopsis and three chapters.
I wrote that first and at the time because of everything going on at Penguin and Berkley, they said, “Well, we’re going to pass on that for now.” So, my agent, kind of put that into her files and I started working on “A Dangerous Type” and hopefully to interest Berkley or Penguin because of their reprioritization of things.
I wrote that and they liked that. And they took that book but at the same time, my agent had sent “Scottish Bookshop” to another publisher. It was crazy. All at once, those two came together. I know.
Alexandra: You must have had some really tight deadlines if you then if you were kind of working on two series at the same time.
Paige: The first year they were very tight. Very tight. Things have loosened up and we’ve managed to work things around better but at the…the first year, they were. But that’s okay. I like working on two different series at the same time. It helps my creative well fill when I can step away from one and go to the other. So, that was okay.
Alexandra: Oh, that’s good. Okay. And that was actually one of my questions was how you balanced that. So, we’ll get to that in a few minutes.
Tell us a bit about “The Scottish Bookshop”. They’re set in Edinburgh and there’s a woman who’s moved over there from Kansas, is that right?
Paige: It is. She’s from Kansas. She actually had worked in a museum in Wichita, Kansas. Which is one of the number of places that I lived as a kid. And I don’t remember much of Wichita except we had a rock garden in our house. I remember that odd thing. But nevertheless.
She moved to Edinburgh and I just chose one of the towns I used to live in and Wichita happened to be the one.
I wrote the book frankly because I’m fascinated by Scotland and I really wanted to go. I wanted to have a good excuse, a really good reason to go and I got lucky and was able to do that.
Alexandra: Did you go before writing the first book or while it was in progress?
Paige: While I was working on it. Once the proposal sold…oh, in fact, I’d been to Europe when I was younger but my family, my husband, and son and I, had not gone to Europe at all. I mean, we’d been very, very locked in our lives in Salt Lake City, raising our son and everything.
And our son was in college in Missouri and we got our passports and we were ready and we were good to go and everything like that. And we decided we were going to leave out of St. Louis because that’s where my son was. We were going to go over spring break. We get to the St. Louis airport, we’re together, we’re in line. I’m first, fine. Charlie’s first. And our son, Tyler, gets up to the gate and they look and they said, “His passport has expired.”
I know! Can you even imagine? I mean, we’re so unsavvy. We felt so stupid. But anyway. They said, “He got it before he was…” I guess 16 or 18. And so, therefore, it only lasted a short amount of time. We were supposed to get it renewed before. Anyway, we had to cancel our whole trip in St. Louis. We had to say, “We can’t go”.
Alexandra: Oh my god.
Paige: Fortunately the airlines worked with us. We got his passport. Everybody in Scotland who we had booked things with was so helpful and friendly. We were able to reschedule everything.
But can you imagine that feeling? It was…your whole entire being just falls apart. It does . We went to a movie and drove back to Utah for spring break.
Alexandra: Oh, that’s terrible. Wow.
Paige: It was terrible. But we ultimately ended up going and then we went a few months later. We had seven days and I gave my husband and my son a four-page list of things we had to find and do and it was non-stop for seven days. And had the greatest time. I mean, it was more than I ever imagined it could be. Beautiful and the people were amazing. It turned out okay but yeah. That was our adventure.
Alexandra: Was there anything that you discovered in Scotland that surprised you? That you didn’t expect?
Paige: Well, we went up to Loch Ness and that was fun. In my head, I had Loch Ness as a round…just a round lake that wasn’t very big. Well, it’s huge. And it’s a long, wide lake. It’s enormous. And that was probably my biggest surprise. We didn’t get to see Nessie which was disappointing but maybe next time.
And there are fewer kilts than I expected. I thought there would be a lot more men in kilts. And that was slightly disappointing. But I got over it.
Alexandra: Yeah. I was gonna say, any sightings of Jamie from “Outlander”?
Paige: No, no. But, boy, wouldn’t that be nice?
Alexandra: Wouldn’t that be nice? Yeah.Paige: The actor playing him on the TV series is awesome. He’s great. Maybe next time. Oh, and we did go to Castle Doune. I’m afraid I’m mispronouncing it, I apologize. And that is the castle that’s in the second book of my Scottish series that just published. It’s “Of Books and Bagpipes”. But in that castle is where they did a lot of filming of the “Outlander” series so that was fun.
Alexandra: Could you recognize a little bit of what you saw?
Paige: I could. We could recognize it. We’d play the show, we’d back up and we’re like, “Remember? We were right there!”
Alexandra: Right, yeah.
Paige: So typical.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah, exactly. Oh, lovely.
So then “A Dangerous Type” you were writing at the same time. And it’s set in Utah where you lived for ages in a ski resort town.
Tell us a little bit about that one, as well.
Paige: Well, when I lived in Utah I lived in Salt Lake City. But Park City is only a half an hour away and Park City is a renowned ski resort. And it is a beautiful mountain city and I love visiting Park City. It is one of my favorite places to go.
We would frequently go to Park City so I set the “A Dangerous Type” series in Star City, Utah. It’s a lot like Park City. And I made up the store, though. The Rescued Word is not a real store in Park City. Although, I think it should be. I think that would be very appropriate.
But I wanted to set something in a place that where I would love to research and visit and I wrote it before I knew we were moving to Arizona. Totally, completely before. So, that would probably be a good reason to go back to Utah and research if I need to.
Alexandra: The thing I thought is really interesting about those books is that they restore old typewriters and old books, is that right?
Paige: That’s correct. And they sell stationery as well.
Paige: They sell stationery from all over the world and pens and pencils. I mean, #2 pencils. Everybody’s got to have some of those.
Alexandra: That just sounds like a dream come true for a writer to write about a store that does those sorts of things.
Paige: Absolutely a dream come true. It has been so much fun. I researched a lot of things for the first book. Printing presses. The grandfather who originated, who started the store built a replica Gutenberg press. A replica of the Gutenberg press.
So I got to research that. Printing, book restoration, typewriter restoration. I mean, the types and different amount of typewriters that have been invented over time is astounding.
I had no idea how many typewriters and things like typewriters there are in the world. That was fun. And it has been a dream come true. It has been really fun to learn about typewriters and their inner workings which for somebody who can barely figure out how to turn off a clock alarm that’s…I’m surprised. But yeah.
Alexandra: Yeah. Oh, it sounds amazing. As a writer, and we’re both writers, thinking about writers in those days who would just have to bang away at those keys that were so stiff and then produce a page at a time with no ability to edit as you go or anything of that kind of stuff. It always makes me shake my head and wonder how they did it.
Paige: It makes me want to cry. It’s just the thought of not being able to copy paste makes me wanna… Oh! I don’t know how they did it. I have no idea. But they did and some of them amazingly well.
Alexandra: Yes, right? I know. Crazy. Yes, exactly. We’ve covered the four series’ then and my first question about all of them would be…for example, I’m a big Lawrence Block fan. He has several different mystery series and some of them I read and some of them I don’t.
Do you find that readers pick and choose between the series or do they tend to like them all?
Paige: No, they don’t like them all, interestingly. No, actually, I’ve heard many comments, read a few things about “this is just not the same as that other series” or “I much prefer ghosts in my series” or “Can you believe there are ghosts in this series? I had to close the book when goes showed up because no, I’m not gonna read”.
It is amazing the different tastes that readers have. It is more about what you like to read than the author. At least, that has been my experience. Completely.
Alexandra: Yeah, I can totally imagine that.
We’ve touched a little bit on the reasons you’ve written several series and it’s especially interesting that “The Scottish Bookshop” ones sold while the typewriter store one was also selling kind of about the same time.
Is there something else within you that prompts you to want to start a new series at all? Do you feeling like exploring a different part of the world or a different type of character or anything like that?
Paige: I think that it’s that part of me that needs to always have two different things going, at least two different things going. We talked about “Outlander” a few minutes earlier and I heard Diana Galbadon, the writer, talk once about her creative well only fills…she only has so much then she has to step away and work on something else. And I think my creative well is about a quarter the size of hers, first of all. There’s no question.
But I think it’s the same sort of thing. I only have so much and then I have to put it away for a minute and let my subconscious work on it and let things bubble to the surface a little bit.
I think it’s always a product of I don’t want to just sit there and wait. While that one’s filling I want to think of something else or work on something else. As you know, writers write. It’s what we do. Our minds and our subconscious, everything has to find to work on.
Alexandra: Right, exactly.
And speaking of “writers write”, do you have a bit of a writing routine? Do you have a regular writing practice?
Paige: I wish.
Every time I start a new project I think, “Okay, this is the time I’m going to set a routine. I’m going to do it right. I’m going to make an outline that I’m gonna stick to and I’m gonna get up at a certain time and I’m gonna get my exercise in before.” And it never fails that it never is the same.
I wish I could. I think that would be wonderful to have a routine but it just doesn’t work out that way for me.
The only thing I have really found is, I think, I really prefer writing at my computer at my desk. I don’t like moving around very much. I try to work in coffee shops or restaurants or even on the couch or something like that. But I think the computer at my desk is my place. I think that’s about the only routine I’ve established.
Alexandra: And since you’ve wanted to write for so long like from when you wrote that little three line poem…
Is the writing life different than you thought it would be?
I don’t think it is for everybody. But for me it is particularly hard. I think it’s because my first draft is so drafty. You know. there’s things that need to be filled in and stuff. I think there are other writers who can punch out a first draft much better.
But I think other than that, I never expected glamour, there’s no glamour. I like the fact that I don’t have to be dressed up. And I can wear kind of what I want. I do enjoy that. The lifestyle I think is what I expected. but as far as the editing I’m surprised at how hard it really is for me.
Alexandra: Yeah, exactly.
Since we’ve talked about how your brain likes to be entertained and kept busy, do you have another series in mind or are the two that you’re working on now enough?
Paige: I always have series’ in mind. I have a whole file on my computer of first pages and first chapters and character ideas and things I saw somewhere that I’d like to put into a book somewhere. Constantly. Constantly. But nothing my agent is working on selling right now.
Alexandra: Oh, okay. Right. And so…I should clarify maybe.
Are you working on all four? Are all four series active now?
Paige: The only two I’m working on right now are “The Scottish” and “A Dangerous Type”. “Farmer’s Market” and “Cooking School”, Berkley did not renew along with many of the other series, the cozy series. They are turning a different direction. So they did not renew those.
However, I keep promising “The Cooking School” readers that I have one more book I’m working on to finish things up and I thought I would just self-publish it when I got it done. It’s not done yet. And I need to work on it. I need to get it done. But I have the whole finish of the story in my head so that’s good.
Alexandra: So they can look forward to at least one more?
Paige: At least one more at some point. Hopefully, this year.
Alexandra: Okay, but you’re not making any promises. I can tell.
Paige: No. Nope.
Alexandra: Right. Okay. Well, I think that’s all the questions that I had for you today.
Was there anything else you wanted to tell us about your books or any of your series?
Paige: Well, just thank you to everybody who reads and gives them a try and looks at them. I really do appreciate it quite a bit. I’m just on Facebook if anybody wants to talk to me about it. But thanks to all my readers and thanks to you. I really appreciate this. This has been very fun.
Alexandra: Oh, you’re so welcome. It’s my pleasure. And we can mention that your website is paigeshelton.com.
Paige: It is, yep. Just www.paigeshelton.com. Right there.
Alexandra: And Paige is with an “I”, obviously.
Alexandra: And as you mentioned, you’re on Facebook as well so people can find you there, too. And your books are available on all the online retailers?
Paige: Yep. Everywhere. Yeah, anywhere you can get that.
Alexandra: Very cool. Well, thanks again so much, Paige. It’s been great chatting with you.
Paige: Thank you very much, Alexandra.
Alexandra: You’re welcome. Bye-bye.