Debbi Mack interviews crime writer Cathi Stoler on the Crime Cafe podcast.
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Debbi (00:02): Hi everybody. My guest today writes mystery and suspense novels. Her latest novel and her giveaway book is BAR NONE from the Murder on the Rocks mystery series. A board member of Sisters in Crime, New York/Tri-State, MWA and the International Thriller Writers, she’s also a founding member of Sirens of Suspense, a group that offers expertise and knowledge for aspiring crime writers. I’m pleased to have with me again, Cathi Stoler. Hi Cathi. It’s great to have you on.
Cathi (02:27): Hi, Debbi. It’s great to be here.
Debbi (02:32): Oh, well it’s my pleasure. Believe me. And I’m just glad you’re here and doing well I hope in New York?
Cathi (02:40): Yeah. You know, I mean like everyone else, it’s just been a little …
Debbi (02:45): Been a little off-putting?
Cathi (02:48): Yeah. Even just going outside, there’s not the usual energy, you know, you feel it after a while. I’m sure you know what I mean.
Debbi (02:57): Mmm-Hmm. Yeah, it’s strange times overall. Tell us a little about Jude Dillane. Am I saying that correctly? Jude Dillane? And the Murder on the Rocks series?
Cathi (03:14): Well Jude owns The Corner Lounge on 10th street and Avenue B on the Lower East Side. She seems to have a penchant for getting in trouble and involved in murders and mysteries. There’s three books in the series. The one that was, both BAR NONE and LAST CALL came out pretty close together. The end of last year, one in July and one in November. So I’m working on the third one, it’s called STRAIGHT UP and it will continue that character. And will also continue part of the story from LAST CALL, but she has a good pal Sully Thomas, Thomas “Sully” Sullivan. He’s her landlord and her friend. She has good friends from before and they both sort of work together and help each other.
Debbi (04:12): So there are three books in the series so far, but you’re working on the next one?
Cathi (04:17): I’m working on the third one. I’m almost finished with that. And then there will probably be a fourth.
Debbi (04:24): Got ya. Okay. So what’s the third one called again?
Cathi (04:28): The third one is called STRAIGHT UP a Murder on the Rocks mystery. They will all have that tagline, same tagline.
Debbi (04:40): Yeah. What inspired you to write a mystery series set in a bar?
Cathi (04:45): Well, my husband was in the restaurant business for many, many years before he left that business, and I used to go visit him. He always worked close to where we lived and I would visit him at the bar, and I got to know all the people, the waiters, the waitresses, the cooks, and you know, the other staff. And it was just fun. You know, it was a fun kind of environment. He always said, Oh, he thought maybe he’d write a book someday, but I knew he was not going to really do that. So I just stole his idea. No murders ever took place at the bars where he worked or anyone involved in any, so.
[M]y husband was in the restaurant business for many, many years before he left that business, and I used to go visit him. He always worked close to where we lived and I would visit him at the bar, and I got to know all the people, the waiters, the waitresses, the cooks, and you know, the other staff. And it was just fun.
Debbi (05:29): But your husband’s work basically inspired it?
Cathi (05:34): Yes. Yes. Well, from going there.
Debbi (05:40): I understand. Just kind of like the vibe of the bar scene, so to speak.
Cathi (05:47): Yeah. Everybody got to be like family, which is what I was trying to convey in these books that, you know, Jude and her bartenders and her friends and her customers, the close ones, they all get to know each other and be like family.
Debbi (06:04): That’s really cool. Would you say your mysteries tend to lean more toward cozy or more snarky or more edgy? How would you describe them?
Cathi (06:18): Well, she’s a very snarky character. That’s part of her character. But I don’t see them as cozy, although I think people, some people think they are like go halfway toward cozy. I see them more as just, you know mystery-suspense stories, really. You’re not, these are not thrillers, but yes. And there’s a lot of snark.
Well, she’s a very snarky character. That’s part of her character. But I don’t see them as cozy, although I think people, some people think they are like go halfway toward cozy. I see them more as just, you know mystery-suspense stories, really.
Debbi (06:48): I like the idea of the bar scene as a family. That seems to be a kind of a good theme for settings in which a lot of people play a part.
Cathi (07:02): Yes. Because I mean, honestly, I don’t know how they are now because well, besides everything being closed this last year, but it was like that wherever Paul worked we had, you know, close ties with some of the people that worked there. So it was nice. It was a nice environment. I used to, we used to bring our daughter there from when she was a baby to one of the places and she had a couple of play dates there and I would think, Oh my God, we’re going to let my daughter play with her kid again, you know, [inaudible] Shirley Temples or something. And so it was a good environment. It wasn’t a bad environment.
Debbi (07:47): Exactly. How would they compare to say, tone-wise, with the Laurel and Helen New York mysteries? I saw those listed and all I could think of was Laurel and Hardy. [laughs]
Cathi (08:03): These mysteries, the new ones are written in the first person. So everything we see is through Jude’s point of view and through her attitude Helen and Laurel Helen is a PI and Laurel is a magazine editor, and they kind of, that’s all in third person. So they’re giving you an overview of the whole story from both of their perspectives, but I have them kind of in alternating chapters. So first it’s one, then it’s the other one. And that’s how they solve the puzzle of the crimes that they are investigating. But those are out of print, unfortunately, right now. I have to figure out what I want to do with them. So.
Debbi (08:46): Well, you can always self-publish them.
Cathi (08:48): I can, I’m thinking of that. I may use one of those services to format them and then self-publish them.
Debbi (08:57): Hmm. Let’s see. How do you choose which one to work on in terms of you—have like OUT OF SIGHT and that other one with Nick and …
Cathi (09:09): Oh, yeah. And his pal, Marina. I couldn’t do any more of those. I wrote a novella and then I wrote a novel and that was really fun, because he’s a different kind of character, as well. He’s a professional gambler, you know, sort of suave and cool, but he’s like gets confused sometimes about like, what’s really going on, although he’s very smart and he helps to solve the crime. But I think I’m going to leave those alone for a while. I’m trying to figure out what to do with those two books, too. One is, one has gone out of print. The other one is still in print, but I don’t know what I want to do about that, at the moment. I’m going to continue with this series to finish the third book. And then the fourth one, I was going to have I had a plot in mind, but I’m not sure that’s going to be the plot. I might call that WHISKEY SOURED as the title. It depends on what I decide to write for it. It will have a bar theme, you know, title going across them.
He’s a professional gambler, you know, sort of suave and cool, but he’s like gets confused sometimes about like, what’s really going on, although he’s very smart and he helps to solve the crime.
Debbi (10:18): Just so you know, Joe Konrath did one called WHISKEY SOUR.
Cathi (10:23): Oh, really? I didn’t know that.
Debbi (10:24): It’s an, it’s an older title, but yes, Joe Konrath, WHISKEY SOUR. His protagonist is, I believe, it’s Jack Daniels is the name. Jacqueline Daniels. Anyway, a shout out to Joe Konrath there. Yeah. He writes really exciting stuff, too. Let’s see. How did you decide which perspective to tell your stories from in each case?
Cathi (11:04): Well, because I wanted to in the, in the Laurel and Helen mysteries, I wanted to use two people. I thought that would be an interesting way. I had this idea about a female detective, I had seen an article a very long time ago about this woman who liked to go undercover and wear all these crazy disguises, and I thought, Oh, that would be like a fun detective to write. And then I thought, well, what if she gets involved with this other person who she knows, but she’s a magazine editor and they work together. So that, that kind of came about that way. But For these books, I just thought the first person a more intimate kind of new would be better. You know, I’m not going to change the fourth one to be third person. It’s, it’s going to stay in the first person all the way through. And they’re very different kinds of characters.
Debbi (12:03): Sounds like it. Yeah. Do you plan out the number of books you want to write for a series or are you just taking a book by book
Cathi (12:14): Right now, I’m taking it book-to-book. The other series was three and I thought that was good for that. I was exploring some ideas that, I like to write about things that are current or sort of the “rip from the headlines” stories. So, in those three books, I looked into the mob and hidden identity and repatriated Nazi art, stolen Nazi art and diamond smuggling. So those are three kinds of things that are, I mean, the art thing is still going on now. It’s out there, but these books were fantasy kind of matter. They’re not fantasy, but in my head they were more of a fantasy kind of thing. I was, there’s still, you know, the story in LAST CALL is about a New Year’s Eve a killer who strikes on New Year’s morning and that’s Jude finds its body in her dumpster, as she recognizes it and it’s the younger brother of her customer and neighbor and she’s devastated and she starts to investigate. And then she finds out that the killer might be someone who’s actually close to home. But that actually happened in New York long time ago, at Times Square. A big, you know, strapping, blond, blue eyed, young man from Norway or someplace like that—I don’t remember where he was from—disappeared. He just disappeared out of that throng of, how many people are there on New Year’s Eve. So I always thought that would be a good, a good story.
I like to write about things that are current or sort of the “rip from the headlines” stories. So, in those three books, I looked into the mob and hidden identity and repatriated Nazi art, stolen Nazi art and diamond smuggling.
Debbi (14:04): Yeah, definitely. Wow. And I can’t help, but notice it took place on New Year’s Eve 1999. And I thought, wow. Remember when Y2K was our biggest concern?
Cathi (14:18): Yeah. That’s the first, that’s like sort of the prologue chapter and then the rest starts on New Year’s Eve in 2018. I decided not to do it on 2019, because there’s no restaurants now. So I kept it the same year as the first book. I thought, I just don’t want to have to be explaining about a pandemic. It just wasn’t gonna work. The restaurant needed to be up and running and open. So, yeah. Yeah. Well actually, yes, Y2K. I mentioned that in the prologue too, everybody was so nervous that everything was going to just fail. I remember when, I was working then, and so people had to go into the office to be there in case there was a problem.
Debbi (15:15): Yeah. Wow. I’ll never forget that. I mean, I think we went out that night even, and it’s like, okay, nothing happened. Okay. We’re cool. Very unusual times. Getting us prepared for more unusual times, I guess.
Cathi (15:38): That’s how rumors gets started, right? That something was going to happen.
Debbi (15:43): It was a harbinger of what’s to come. Oh, Lord. Would you call yourself a plotter or pantser?
Cathi (15:53): Oh, I’m definitely a pantser. I was just writing something for Sirens of Suspense. We’re going to be doing a well, hopefully a bunch of them, but we’re doing like a program soon for one of the libraries in Westchester and there’s three of us and we’re each taking a section. So I was talking about the elements that go into a crime novel and that I am a pantser because I like to add things as I go that, “Ooh, you know, this could make it more interesting.” I did that in the book I’m working on now There’s a character who Jude encounters, which I hadn’t really thought about until I thought, now let’s see, she’s gonna go do this. Oh. And then it sort of came to me. And also I think just for me, it makes it a little more interesting. I can add, I can have subplots, you know, I don’t, I suppose if you’re a plotter, you can still, you know, change things as you go. But I’ve never really written that way. I don’t know, I always know the beginning and I always have kind of an idea where to go, how it’s going to end.
Debbi (17:13): Yeah, that’s kind of … I’m more of a plotter, but I always feel like it’s more like a guideline. It’s not like, okay, everything is set in stone now and I’m just going to write it. You know, it’s definitely the way it works for me.
Cathi (17:25): I mean, I change things as I go as well. I mean, I think a lot of people do that. So.
Debbi (17:31): I think you kind of have to, cause I think after a while the characters just kind of start talking back at you and saying, no, this is what you got to do. Something like that.
Cathi (17:37): They should, too, like they talk to you, they tell you, I don’t really want to go to that place. I want to do this instead.
Debbi (17:47): This is totally inconsistent with my character. I have to do this. Let’s see. I’m interested in Sirens of Suspense. You’re doing this event for a local library.
Cathi (18:05): Yeah. We have there are three of us. There’s Dawn Barkley. She writes as D.M. Barr, Lori Robbins, and myself. We’re all members of Sisters in Crime and that’s how we know each other. We know each other through a while and we thought because of the pandemic and everything that’s going on, people aren’t getting out, you know, so we contacted a bunch of libraries and we have some bookings. We have a booking at a bookstore to actually sell our books, which would be nice, an interview with the New York Post. And we had an article in the Post on January 2nd. So we got some replies from that for people who are interested. And we’re basically going to talk about, you know, what you need to do. And Dawn is going to talk about more of the resources that are available or that people should look into. Lori was going to talk about genres and a few other things. And I was talking about the elements that go into a novel. So we hope, you know, it will be, I mean, when we’re not charging for this or anything. We’re just doing it because we think it would be a good thing to do. Really.
We know each other through a while and we thought because of the pandemic and everything that’s going on, people aren’t getting out, you know, so we contacted a bunch of libraries and we have some bookings. We have a booking at a bookstore to actually sell our books, which would be nice … I mean, when we’re not charging for this or anything. We’re just doing it because we think it would be a good thing to do. Really.
Debbi (19:19): That’s wonderful. That’s absolutely wonderful. When was the group founded? The Sirens of Suspense?
Cathi (19:28): Like two months ago, we just decided to do a couple months ago. I mean, it’s brand new.
Debbi (19:33): That’s great.
Cathi (19:35): We started writing to people, you know, to see if we could get articles about us or, or bookings explaining what we wanted to do. And I think we have five or six already, so.
Debbi (19:48): Oh, my gosh. Well, I’m inspired by what you’ve done. That’s fantastic. And anybody from around the world can tune into what you’re doing.
Cathi (20:02): Right.
Debbi (20:03): That’s wonderful. Let’s see. Where can people access your Sirens of Suspense material?
Cathi (20:15): Well, right now? Right now? We have a page on D.M. Barr’s website, cause we don’t have our own website yet, but if they go there, there’s a separate page with Sirens of Suspense. That explains what, who we are, what we’re doing. And if they’re interested in us having a presentation or giving a presentation to their group. Then we were thinking of like libraries, women’s groups, reading groups, nursing homes or care homes. Things like that where people really have been stuck for all this time and people who like to read. So we have a variety of programs we can offer. We’re going to do another one about using your memories, not writing a memoir, but writing fiction with, how to fictionalize that, and anyone that, you know, if they have something special they want us to talk about, they can ask us and we would do that, so.
We have a page on D.M. Barr’s website, cause we don’t have our own website yet, but if they go there, there’s a separate page with Sirens of Suspense. That explains what, who we are, what we’re doing. And if they’re interested in us having a presentation or giving a presentation to their group.
Debbi (21:22): Well, it sounds like a wonderful program.
Cathi (21:25): I’ll send you the link, so you can just take a look at it if you’re interested in looking at it.
Debbi (21:31): That would be fantastic. Thank you. And I will share it on the blog also that goes with this podcast. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we finish up?
Cathi (21:49): No, unless you have any other specific questions,
Debbi (21:54): Let’s see. How are things in New York generally right now?
Cathi (21:57): Well, you know, it’s just like, we were just talking about it a little while ago. Besides all the horrible things that happened this week, which are not happening, they’re happening closer to you really, but it’s just like our restaurants we like are not going to be, I mean, not that we would be going now, honestly, you know, we did have like a few drinks outside over the summer, but we haven’t been in any place, but several of them have closed, the dry cleaners closed, you know, all these little stores are closing and it’s, it’s sad. Really. It’s very sad and people just don’t seem to have any energy left, it’s been such a long time. And I’m hoping that we’re getting the vaccine soon because it’s kind of been slow here in distributing it. So the governor is getting annoyed at the hospitals, mayor’s getting annoyed at the governor, and that doesn’t help. We need to just get the vaccine to people.
Debbi (22:59): Yeah. That’s the big issue right now. Yeah. Well I just want to thank you for your time, Cathy. I appreciate it so much.
Cathi (23:09): Thank you for having me. It’s fun to do this. So thank you.
Debbi (23:13): Thank you. And do check out, people, check out Sirens of Suspense and Cathi’s website. Your website is what then?
Cathi (23:24): My website is cathistoler.com, www.Cathistoler.com. The website for Sirens of Suspense is dmbarr.com, (just click the link 😉 ), but I’ll send it to you because I’m not, it’s on a separate page of her website. And so we get out.
Debbi (23:46): Well, very good. That’s excellent. I think that’s a great thing you’re doing.
Cathi (23:52): I hope so. I mean, it’s fun, but I hope it’s, you know, hope people find it interesting.
Debbi (23:59): Yeah. Well you have to try to get out there any way you can. It’s, it’s tough right now. Don’t forget that Cathi is also doing a giveaway of BAR NONE and you can find the details in last Friday’s blog post. Also, by the time this goes up on YouTube, the special offer on Patreon will be up and running. Don’t miss the chance to suggest a question for my guests on this show. We want to know what you want to know about crime writing and the authors Go to my website, debbimack.com and look for the Crime Cafe link, so you can access the Patreon page there. And with that, I’ll just say, I’ll see you in two weeks when our next guest will be James H. Roby. In the meantime, happy reading.