Coastal Rhode Island forms the setting for a series of cosy mysteries by author Amy Saunders. Amy’s readers describe her characters as ‘a joy to meet’ and her books as fun and exciting.
Sit back, relax and let’s get to know the Belinda and Bennett stories a little better.
You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
Transcript of Interview with Amy Saunders
Alexandra: Hello everyone I’m Alexandra Amor, and I’m here today with Amy Saunders. Hi Amy.
Alexandra: So just by way of quick introduction, Amy Saunders is the author of the Belinda and Bennett mysteries, which is a cozy mystery series set in the fictional coastal town of Portside, Rhode Island. Since 2010 she’s also published three stand-alone mystery novels, and recently launched the first book in a new young adult series. Her love of mysteries started as a teen and finally led her to pursue novel writing.
Amy the first thing I wanted to ask you was, I think it was on your website you mentioned that you wrote your first mystery novel as a challenge in 2009. Can you tell us about that, and what was the challenge?
Amy: Well, I had always done short stories. So I don’t know, I thought I didn’t have the patience or the longevity to go through with the book. I get bored with things, and I had trouble following through with even short stories. I just kind of thought, “Well, I don’t think I can do that.”
But then actually because of NaNoWriMon, the novel writing in a month in November, that gave me the idea to try. I couldn’t actually do it in November, but I thought, “Well, let me just do it by myself in January and see what happens.” Because I had time. And my sister really encouraged me to do it. She was like, “I think you’ll like it. I think it’ll be good for you.” Because I talk a lot. So she was like, “I think novel writing will be perfect, because you talk incessantly”. I thought, “All right, let’s give this a roll.”
I just went for it on January 1st in 2009, and I wrote actually what became “The Jesters Apprentice” a couple of years later. And that was basically… Yeah, I was in love. I just decided, this is perfect. This is what I want to do, and I kind of set off on writing “Deadlocked”, which was my first stand-alone.
Alexandra: Oh okay. Okay, great. And so the Belinda and Bennett series, which has quite a few books in it.
Tell us a bit about the characters, Belinda and Bennett first of all.
Amy: Belinda is actually kind of a little bit like me. Not totally, she’s a little more tenacious, and a little less timid than I am. Bennett is kind of… He’s a little more serious, and a little more straight laced than I am.
I’ve always loved “Pride and Prejudice”, and I like how Elizabeth and Mr Darcy are kind of similar but different, and it makes for a really good story. So I wanted to do something a little bit like that, but in a mystery context, but have the relationship be a central part of it. So I just had this idea for these two characters, and I thought about it. And I kind of thought of it in my head, and worked it out, and then eventually put it on paper.
So they’re, you mentioned similar in some ways, but opposite in others? Would that be a fair way to say it?
Amy: Yeah, definitely. They connect in certain departments, which is how a lot of relationships work. Where you have certain things where you’re really close, and other ways where you balance each other out because you are different. So that’s kind of what I was going for. Plus that kind of dynamic works really well in fiction, when people are cute somewhere sometimes it can be a little drab. By having those opposite personality types just clicks really well in a box. So that’s where I started with that.
Alexandra: Okay, great. And Belinda would be classified as an amateur sleuth, correct?
Amy: Oh yeah.
Alexandra: And then Bennett is a security expert, is that right?
Amy: Yes. Yeah, with that policing background. But I wanted to do something a little different, because a lot of cozy mysteries have private investigators, police officers that are kind of like the leading man, and that does work out really well, it’s convenient. But I was like, “I would like to do something a little bit different.” So I gave it a lot of thought, because I’m like, I don’t really know what I could do that would maybe tie into the policing aspect a little bit. After some thought it just hit me, and I’m like, “Well, what about security?” Because that’s related, and that can tie into certain stories. It would also kind of lean towards him maybe having a police background. So you’ve got that connection, but not actually being in police force currently.
Alexandra: Right, yeah. All important stuff to think about when you’re thinking about the longevity of a pair of characters, right?
Alexandra: And then the books are set in Portside, Rhode island. And that’s a fictional town.
Amy: It is. It’s based on Newport, the Newport/Middletown area of Rhode Island which I spend a lot of time in every year. So it’s very alive, it’s very electric. There’s a lot of people coming in now, because of the tourism. And it has that small town feel, but a bigger town kind of attitude, which is what I like about it. So it kind of feels more like a city, but it’s actually quite a small area.
A lot of cozies take place in really small kind of remote villages or towns, depending on where it is in the world. I wanted to do something like that, because that’s the traditional cozy atmosphere. But Newport allowed for that small town business, but then there’s a lot of activity there. It allows for a lot of different scenarios. Basically, I could have people come into it that don’t actually live there, which was really convenient, actually.
Alexandra: Yes, exactly.
I think that it’s important for mystery authors to say way from what I call ‘Cabot Cove Syndrome’, where a tiny little town that has the murder rate like three times that of New York City or whatever.
Amy: Where everyone should have been dead like a really long time ago. And I’m convinced that’s why they eventually have her travel.
Alexandra: Oh, I’m sure.
Amy: You know, have her go to New York, and London, and wherever else she went. Because you can only kill off so many people in this tiny main town before it becomes kind of ludicrous. That’s what I was trying to avoid.
Newport has thousands of people coming in every year. Even in the winter, they’re very tourism-centric. They always have festivals and events going on. It’s kind of… I was there one summer, I was trying to figure out where to place this. And we were driving around, and I’m like, “This is my setting.” It’s beautiful, I love the water so it feels like home to me down there. So it was a very comfortable atmosphere for me to write about.
I notice on Amazon actually you have several Belinda and Bennett novels, and then you have a couple of short stories for sale as well, which I thought was kind of an interesting thing. I don’t see that very often. Can you tell us a bit about your short stories?
Amy: They’ve been up to this point kind of like scenes basically in a book. It’s very character-centric, they’re not as plot-centric. Even though I am actually currently working on one that’s more plot-based, but still on the shorter side. But one of the things that I think anyways keeps a lot of my readers interested is all the interaction between my characters. They’re fun, they’re kind of dynamic and funny. It’s not meant to be a serious series. So I felt like, as a reader, I would be interested in seeing more of them kind of outside of a story context. It’s also given me an outlet for ideas that don’t really work in any of my books.
So it’s like, I have these ideas for funny little scenes, but they don’t necessarily work in the context of any of the novels. It’s been actually really helpful, because it’s helped me to use some of these extra ideas. But also I feel like, as a reader, I like to see more of the characters that I like. So I feel like if readers really love Belinda and Bennett, and the other side characters like Jonas, and Kyle, and Victoria, that they might want to see more of them too. So that’s why I’ve released some, and then I also have more on my blog as well.
Alexandra: Oh, okay. They’re just available to anyone?
Amy: They’re available free. That’s how I blog actually, is writing little shorts based around my books.
Alexandra: Oh interesting. Wow, that’s a fantastic idea.
Amy: Yeah, I basically got the idea from young adult books, because a lot of them, the series or the trilogy’s release little short stories about the other characters. The Divergent series, for instance, has done that.
Alexandra: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Amy: Yeah, and the selection series and I was like, “Hey, that’s kind of interesting.” A lot of them have done things where they’ll take a scene from the book and flip the perspective. So if it’s written in first person from the girl’s perspective, the boy will talk about the same scene. It’ll be the same scene, but flipped to his perspective.
I was like, “That’s interesting.” But you know, I’m doing more just original scenes I haven’t been in any of the books.
Alexandra: Yes, oh fantastic idea.
When you say that it comes to mind there are several things that I’ve written in the past that got chopped out of books, because they didn’t serve the plot, or they were just a bit of a side road and they didn’t really go anywhere. And that would be really fun to share, that’s a great idea. I’m sure your readers really appreciate that.
Amy: Yeah, I hope so. I enjoy writing them. It’s fun for me, it’s not stressful the way a book can be, where you’re really concerned about every detail being just right. And with these I can just let loose, and have just some nice moments between the characters, and not have to worry, “Does this serve a purpose in the overall story?” Which is kind of fun sometimes.
Alexandra: I love that. I think that’s brilliant, great idea. And so, your books are cozies, which we’ve talked about.
What do you feel like the definition of a cozy is? Loose definition I mean.
Amy: Loose definition. I’d say a lighter mystery, really. Because you don’t usually get that detailed into the technical aspect of things, like the really technical… You know, like procedurals are all about the police work. And you have to really, really dead-on with your details and your forensic information. And with the cozy, it’s a lot of amateur sleuths and people that are not in that industry. So you’re approaching it from a different angle, and I feel like a lot of it really has to do with, you kind of let go of being micro-focused on technical details, like forensics and the really nitty gritty of how police work is done.
And the other thing too is they don’t tend to really have a lot of work. Like you don’t usually show the murder happening. I guess sometimes, but most cozies that I’ve read the murder happens off-stage, so to speak. It’s also… You don’t usually get into quite so much of that, like how the murder actually happens. It’s more about solving the crime. As you know, CSI and things like that. It’s very centered on the murders themselves and all of that. Cozies seem to me are a little lighter, and a little happier, have a little more character development and character moments, I think, than a lot of procedurals do.
Alexandra: Yeah, exactly. I would totally agree. I think you’re bang on.
What sort of mysteries do you like to read?
Amy: Well, cozies obviously. I’m actually a huge historical mystery fan. That’s how I got into them. My mom read Agatha Christie books all the time, and we’d watch “Murder She Wrote” and “Magnum P.I.” and stuff in the afternoons when I was a teenager. So that’s was my introduction. So the cozy element was always there, but I love historical fiction. I love history, period.
I moved into historical mysteries as I got older, and I’m actually reading one as we speak. I love reading those, but it’s just it didn’t really pan out. I don’t have the patience to do the amount of research you have to do. Weirdly enough, as much as I love history, I decided after doing “The Jester’s Apprentice”, I thought that was not for me, because it does require a lot of research. But I love reading them. That would be one of my favorites, and then young adult books, especially young adult sci-fi and fantasy. It’s my other genre.
Alexandra: Oh, interesting. Okay, that’s a fun mix.
Amy: Totally different but…
Alexandra: Yeah, exactly which is what makes it fun, for sure.
Do you think your characters have taught you anything?
Amy: I’d say Belinda, weirdly enough, has actually helped me see myself a little more clearly sometimes. Because, like I said, she’s a little bit like me, and there have been moments where I’ve written something, and I’ve had to sit back and go, “Wait a second, I think that was actually a statement about myself.”
For instance, in “Auf’d” at some point, Bennett remarks that he realized that Belinda needed to have fun. I wrote that out, and it was supposed to be about her, but then I paused for a second. And I’m like, “Wait a second, that was actually kind of describing me.” I like to have fun with things, and I need variety in my life. I think from that perspective it’s actually been enlightening about my own personality sometimes, like things have come out subconsciously I think that actually describe myself.
It’s been interesting in other ways too, because I’ve delved in a little bit more to the male perspective on things, which can be hard to write. I have to really be observant of my brother-in-law especially. I pay attention to his behavior, how he approaches things. Because I don’t want to write it and have it sound like it’s a girl, because men think very differently. So I’ve learned a lot, I think, from that perspective too, just in sometimes how we process information.
Alexandra: Do you ever have men read early drafts of your book to give their opinion about the male characters?
Amy: I never actually have. I think primarily I don’t really know anyone who reads the kind of books that I write, and my audience is kind of female-based, so I usually look to other women for that. That would be an interesting idea. I have never thought about it.
Alexandra: I was corresponding with another author this morning, and he said he’s just started to write a series of books where the main character is female. And so he was saying that’s a bit of a challenge. And then it reminds me of that Robert B. Parker who wrote the Spencer novels, and Jesse Stone, had a series where the protagonist was a female. I just remembered in an interview once, years ago because of course he’s passed away now, but he said he would get his wife to read the early drafts of the books just to make sure that he had the female stuff done properly.
Amy: Yeah, which is definitely smart. In my books I go light on the male perspective, it’s mostly from Belinda’s view. When I started writing “Cliffhanger”, which is is the first book, I felt like it needed sometimes to go to Bennett who is her love interest, and then Jonas who is the official detective of the series. Going to Jonas was convenient, because he had the insider perspective and could give you the interviews with suspects and things that Belinda couldn’t do. So I ended up… I don’t even know that I really planned it out that way, but as I was working I realized there were certain points where I was like “The reader needs to know this.” And going to Jonas’s perspective was really the only way to accomplish that effectively. So that’s why. Yeah.
Alexandra: Does your brother-in-law know he’s been under a bit of a microscope?
Amy: I don’t know if he does or not. My sister knows, because I have told her there are things that have happened with Victoria and her husband that are based on my brother-in-law and sister. She’s like, “Yeah, I picked up on that and certain places.” But I don’t know if he’s aware that I watch him a little bit.
Alexandra: Maybe it’s better if he’s not aware.
Amy: Maybe not, because then he might be on guard too much.
Alexandra: Yeah, exactly. You’ve mentioned that most of your readers are female.
What do you think your readers are looking for in your books? Little bit of romance, I guess.
Amy: I think people who are going to be drawn to my series definitely want fun, entertaining light reading. I’m not writing things to make any kind of real statements about social issues or anything like that. It’s not meant to be serious reading. Even though I like that too sometimes. But for myself it’s been more… It’s fun for me to write and escape when working I’m them, honestly. I feel like that’s what most readers are looking for when they come to my series. They’re looking just to kind of escape, and have a story, and have exciting things happen, but know that, in the end, everything is going to be okay.
My main characters are going to be protected, they’re going to be safe. None of the main people are going to die, or be so damaged that they’re never the same again. And that’s what I look for sometimes. Sometimes I want something a little heavier, sometimes I am in the mood for something like the Hunger Games, but then sometimes not.
There’s a security in knowing that at the end of the day it’s all going to be happy, and no one’s going to be damaged beyond repair. So I tend to feel like that’s what my readers expect from this books at this point. To have a little bit of romance, a little bit of excitement, and some fun character things. Belinda has a lot of misadventures. She has a lot of things that she does are a little bit silly, and probably wouldn’t do in real life, but for the story it needs to happen.
So I don’t know necessarily for sure what everyone wants specifically. But I feel definitely like this is the kind of thing… I started writing them because it is the kind of thing I like to read. I figured if I like to read this then, there’s probably other people like you too, and that turn out to be true.
Alexandra: That’s very well said. I think you’re right. You seem very aware of what your audience is looking for, which is great because then you can provide that for them.
Alexandra: Yeah, exactly.
One of my favorite questions to ask mystery authors is always, why do you think the mystery genre has lasted so long? It’s such a specific type of story. What about it appeals to readers?
Amy: It’s a good question. I think the mystery element, because you find that in other genres too, where there’s some sort of mystery going on. I think it’s human nature on some level, that you have to know what it is, even if it turns out sometimes to be disappointing when you do find out what it is. There is this human need to get to the end and find out, in this case with murder mysteries, who committed the murder, and maybe other things too in between, but old, I mean. You even have the same formula even now that existed 100 years ago.
It’s interesting how much appeal that has, it is a really popular genre, even today. I think there’s some satisfaction in knowing that you’re going to read this book, there’s going to be a lot of twists and turns, and all this stuff is going to happen, and then at the end it’s all just going to go kind of come together in a neat little package. Maybe on some level in life, that doesn’t always happen. Things don’t always come together nice and neatly, and tied with a ribbon in real life. So maybe there is some sort of satisfaction knowing it’s always going to happen in the books that I read, or in the show that I watch. Within an hour, however many hours it takes to read, you’ll have a nice satisfying conclusion to that.
For me mysteries are just… I can’t really get away from them. Even with my young adult series, which is Sci-fi technically, there’s still a strong mystery element in there that I can’t seem to tear myself away from. I think there’s something about just our need for intrigue.
Alexandra: And having those loose ends tied up, like you said.
Alexandra: Yeah. no, I would agree, and in life… Life isn’t like that.
Amy: No, not always, so.
Alexandra: It’s nice to have that at least in our entertainment and fictional pursuits.
Alexandra: Well, this has been great, Amy thank you so much. And so tell our listeners where they can find you.
Amy: You can find me through my web site at amysaundersauthor.com, and my blog is also located there with short stories and news about upcoming books.
Alexandra: Right, okay great. You’ve mentioned too you’ve got some Sci-fi YA, are they? Young adults Sci-fi books available as well.
Amy: Yeah, it’s a brand new series that just started. The first book was released in July. The second one is actually coming out pretty soon. That’s my other… That’s my dichotomy, it’s the cozy mysteries and then the YA Sci-fi, which really are not related at all. But it kind of satiates my need for both of those genres.
Alexandra: Exactly, yes. All right, well cool. Thank you so much for being here today.
Amy: Thank you.
Alexandra: And all the best to you.
Amy: All right, you too. Thank you.
Alexandra: Thank you.