Sunday, August 25, 2013

Interview with Mystery Author Caroline Taylor


Caroline Taylor's two traditional mysteries from Five Star.


When did you begin writing? Why?

I launched my career as a writer and editor in the mid 1970s at the National Association for the Education of Young Children where I was assistant publications director. Later on, as editor of Humanities magazine, I did a lot of writing about scholarly work in that field. I wrote some fiction, none of which was published, but I kept the stories just in case. Three decades later, I used the experience I’d gained editing annual reports for various employers in government and the nonprofit sector to write Publishing the Nonprofit Annual Report: Tips, Traps, and Tricks of the Trade (Jossey-Bass, 2001). 

I have always loved the creative, colorful side of writing. I kept toiling away at short stories and finally got one of them published in May 2002. It was titled “Beginner’s Lessons,” and featured my mystery lead character, P.J. Smythe, as a private investigator just learning the ropes.

When and why did you begin writing mysteries?

I’m good at spoofs. I used to write them for holiday skits and farewell parties—send-ups of management and departing staff. When I was director of publications for World Wildlife Fund, one of my staff, a very meticulous but somewhat precious editor, decided to leave. As a farewell gift for him, I wrote “The Case of the Murdered Manuscript,” which featured the trials and tribulations he’d faced aiming for perfection under trying circumstances. It got a lot of laughs and was so much fun that I decided I had a real flair for mysteries, so why not turn “Beginner’s Lessons” into a full-fledged novel?

Are you writing a series or a stand-alone? Explain your basic idea for your series.

It’s a series that features Annapolis-based skip tracer P.J. Smythe. In the short story, she was a private detective, but after researching the novel, I learned that one needs at least ten years of “relevant” experience to become a licensed PI in the State of Maryland. P.J. was way too young, so I decided that, in What Are Friends For? (Five Star-Cengage, 2011), she would get roped into playing the lead role in a documentary featuring a private eye learning on the job and filmed by her socialite friend Alicia Todd Ritchie. They actually attract a real client, who winds up murdered—with P.J. as the most likely suspect.

Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.

It was painfully long and frustrating. I started the novel, originally titled “Beginner’s Luck,” in 2002. When I finished it a year or so later, I sent it out to a book doctor in New York, who gave me some useful advice about how to pitch the novel to an agent. I tried. Did I ever try. But I failed so many times that I finally decided to go straight over the transom. That didn’t seem to be working too well either, until—via Duotrope’s Digest on the Web (—I found a packager called Tekno Books, which negotiated a contract with Five Star in 2009. What Are Friends For? came out in 2011. Yes, it took that long! 

Why did you choose to set the book in Annapolis?

I began writing fiction while living in Washington, D.C., and I knew that readers tend to expect the Washington novel to be about “corruption and conspiracy at the highest levels.” P.J. Smythe doesn’t have a political bone in her body. She might eventually stumble onto a conspiracy, but it won’t be at the apex of power. She needed a smaller, more intimate setting than the nation’s capital, and Annapolis seemed just right—especially because not too many books are set in that lovely town.

How have you found it to be published? Share that experience.

When I was still trying to get the first novel published, I was sure that signing a book contract would be the highlight of my life—a moment of unalloyed happiness that would dwarf all other previous accomplishments. This was mostly because getting a publisher turned out to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do. Of course, I was thrilled. But the thrill lasted only as long as it took me to understand that Five Star would only pick up a second in the series if the first book “did well.” So I spent a lot of money getting a Web site and lining up reviews and signings and hoping that these efforts would pay off. Being an introvert by nature, I find all of the marketing aspects painfully uncomfortable. These activities also kept me away from my computer where I was trying to finish what I hoped would be the second in the P.J. Smythe series. Don’t get me wrong. I love being a published author; I just wish it didn’t involve so much “shameless self-promotion.”

Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?

Of course. Publisher’s Weekly: “Readers will want to see more of ditzy P.J.” 

Kirkus Reviews: “Taylor’s bright debut throws in enough laughs to please a wide audience.” 

Foreign Service Journal: “This novel will delight mystery lovers looking for…masterful character development, compelling drama, and intelligent humor.” five-star reviewer: “I truly did not want to put the book down once I started reading it. It kept me interested and intrigued from the start. I very much look forward to other books about P.J. Smythe.”

What other books have you published and where and when?

Jewelry from a Grave, the second in the P.J. Smythe series, was published by Five Star in March 2013. (I guess that means the first one “did well.”) As I mentioned earlier, I am also the author of a nonfiction book about nonprofit annual reports.

Do you have a work in progress now? Is it part of a series?

I am on tenterhooks, awaiting word on possible publication of what I hope will be the third in the P.J. Smythe series. This one’s called Dead Ringer and has P.J. searching for somebody who could be her twin sister—except for the lip ring and a serious heroin habit. 

I am also trying to find an agent or a publisher—whichever comes first—for two stand-alone novels. They’re mainstream novels featuring women who are facing crises in their lives. The Typist is set in a small Midwest town in the mid-1960s. Climbing Toward the Light is set in Washington, D.C., in the early 2000s. In trying to find a publisher for these two novels, I have come to realize that mysteries seem to be much more attractive to editors and publishers.

What else would you like to say about your books?

The P.J. Smythe series appeals to people who like Janet Evanovich’s books. These are light-hearted spoofs of the hard-boiled detective genre that offer a genuine mystery, but one that is cloaked in humor. Like her creator, P.J. Smythe may eventually wind up in North Carolina, but she’ll never stray too far from her mentor, Guy Noir. She’ll always be a wannabe hard boiled private eye, a not-so-classy dame with a bit too much curiosity for her own good.

I recently joined Sisters in Crime, and I haven’t yet attended any mystery conferences like Malice Domestic.


Caroline Taylor’s short stories have appeared in The Chick Lit Review, The Corner Club Press, The Dan River Anthology 2009, Della Donna Magazine, Fiction365, The First Line, A Fly in Amber, Fresh Magazine, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, The Greensilk Journal, IdeaGems Magazine, Long Story Short, Notes Magazine, The Oddville Press, Orchard Press Mysteries, The Storyteller, Strange Mysteries 2, Work Literary Magazine, and Workers Write! Tales from the Capitol. She is the author of two mystery novels: What Are Friends For?(Five Star-Cengage, 2011) and Jewelry from a Grave (Five Star-Cengage, 2013), and one nonfiction book, Publishing the Nonprofit Annual Report: Tips, Traps, and Tricks of the Trade (Jossey-Bass, 2001). Visit her at

1 comment:

  1. Carolyn, I think I'd like your book series. They sounded quite interesting while I was reading your interview, but what really hooked me was the mention of Guy Noir. I'm a big fan of Garrison Keillor and if your humor is anything like his, your books will be a hit with me. I'll have to check them out on Amazon.