Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Hi Fiona, thanks for having me on the blog!
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
I’m Shawn Reilly Simmons, and I’m 47.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I’m originally from Indiana, where my family has been from for generations. But we moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, when I was three to escape the cold winters. When I was sixteen, my family moved to Maryland, which is where I live now in a town called Frederick. I spent eight years in New York City after college, too. So I’m from a lot of places!
Fiona: A little about yourself (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I’m married and have an almost eight year old son. Most of my husband’s large, tight-knit family live nearby, as well as my mother and sister, so we end up spending a lot of time with family. I studied English Lit and writing at the University of Maryland, and I’m now a full time writer.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
My series, the Red Carpet Catering mysteries, has been renewed by my publisher, and I’ve signed the contract for a total of ten books! I’ve just completed the sixth, which is now in the edits/revision stage. It’s nice to know I have books to write for years to come.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I was encouraged to write starting from when I was quite young, by various teachers throughout my life who read my stories and saw potential in me. I always envisioned I’d be writing for a living in some capacity, it just took a while to figure out how exactly it would play out.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote my first short story at the age of eight. So secretly I’ve thought of myself as a writer most of my life. When I sold my first short story and around the same time signed a three-book contract with my publisher, Henery Press, I started calling myself a writer out loud, and listing ‘writer’ as my profession when prompted on official forms.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
When my son was born, I left my job at the local newspaper to stay home with him. It was an exhausting time, but one that I really loved, and I began writing my first book in between feedings and playtime, both early in the morning and during his naps. I felt lucky to have both the time with him and the time to write. I told my husband if nothing happened with the books (I immediately began writing the second one too) by the time our son went to school, I’d go back to work outside the home. I got my contract right before Pre-Kindergarten started.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
My publisher actually comes up with the titles. I’d originally called my first book Murder on the Red Carpet, but my publisher felt the culinary angle was the market we should be targeting, and they wanted to really highlight that aspect of the books. So the title was changed to Murder on a Silver Platter, and I totally love it.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I write contemporary traditional mysteries, so there are challenges there specifically with a long-running series. Mainly why does your protagonist stumble across a dead body basically everywhere they go? And why does your amateur sleuth feel the need to help out with the investigation? My goal for each book is to bring a believable reason to each situation for Penelope, my main character, to care enough to get involved. Usually there is a personal connection to the victim, or it somehow impacts her loved ones or business. I don’t want her to ever come across as not thinking the police can do their jobs; her motivation remains in my eyes to be helpful because she really cares about what is happening.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The parts about the catering and being on movie sets is realistic, because it’s work I’ve actually done. I’ve laughed a few times when I’ve come across comments from readers about how the premise is far-fetched, that a catering company based in New Jersey would not travel to jobs elsewhere in the country. But that’s actually how it works much of the time! I worked on a movie in the DC area where the head chef and rest of the catering crew were from Los Angeles, and had driven across country to do a few jobs on the east coast.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
So far I’ve located each book in a place I’ve lived or visited frequently at some point in my life. I did travel to New York City while writing my third, and again for my most recent book to visit with friends and soak up some of the atmosphere of the city. It’s been a while since I lived there and I wanted to have a more contemporary impression of it before I sat down to write.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My publisher designs the covers, keeping a certain theme going throughout. I’m always excited when it’s time for a new cover, and I’ve never been disappointed in what they’ve come up with. I’m very lucky, in many ways.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
A theme that runs through all of the books is that your family is yours, whether it’s the one you were born into or the one you’ve assembled throughout your life. Penelope, my main character, is a bit of a loner, but she’s assembled a group of friends that she holds dear and is fiercely loyal too. Her best friend and roommate, Arlena Madison, is the daughter of a famous actor who over the years has had many children with many different partners, and she grew up without him around. But as an adult she’s grown close and come to love her half-brother and her father. Their non-traditional family works for them, and that’s something I feel is important. Just because a family doesn’t look like yours doesn’t make it any less of a family.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I’m a constant reader, I have been all my life, and I’m always excited to discover new authors! Right now I’m reading a debut novel called Cottonmouths by Kelly J Ford, who I had the pleasure of meeting recently at an event where we were both reading. It’s really good! My favorite writer of all time is Stephen King. I started reading his books really early (maybe too early…but my mom was never one to discourage my reading choices). He’s a master storyteller and it’s always a treat to settle into a new book. I just picked up his newest this week!
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
I’ve had the great pleasure of serving on the Board of Malice Domestic for the past 15 years, way before I was a published author. Through Malice I’ve met hundreds of mystery authors, editors, agents, publishers, you name it. My association with Malice has definitely opened many doors for me.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes. I’m a full time writer, for which I am very grateful. I have my dream job, and I know I’m very lucky to be able to say that.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No, I’m happy with the result. I do go through four editorial stages for each book, so I have lots of time to rethink and change things, all with the support and guidance from my editors. Again, I’m very lucky to have a supportive and enthusiastic group of people championing my work.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I did a lot of research on professional dancers for this most recent book, specifically the New York City Rockettes. I’ve always been fascinated with performers who audition and dance for a living, so it was fun to immerse myself in that world and try to imagine what that might be like. They appear so glamorous up on stage, but in reality they are more comparable to athletes. The physical stamina required for that job is so intense, and the days so long, it’s truly remarkable what these men and women put their bodies through all for the entertainment of others.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Ooh, that’s interesting to think about! In my mind Penelope looks somewhat like Emma Roberts, and Arlena resembles Mandy Moore.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
I think a valuable suggestion would be to go ahead and write, and not worry about it being perfect as you put it down the first time. I think many people would like to write but they think it’s not going to be good enough, so they hold themselves back. You can’t fix what isn’t already on the page. So go for it!
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Thank you. Thank you, thank you for all of the love and support from the first book to today. There would be no writers without readers, and I appreciate every person who has taken a chance on Penelope and the gang (and hopefully enjoyed it!).
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’ve just begun Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier, which I’ve been looking forward to for a while. My TBR pile is always toppling and I try to read a book a week to keep up (some weeks are better than others!). A few I’m looking forward to on the pile are Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway, Tara Isabella Burton’s Social Creature, Anthony Horowitz’s The Word is Murder, and Aimee Malloy’s The Perfect Mother.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
The first grownup book I read was Jane Eyre. My mother was an English teacher and she gave it to me when I was still pretty young. I still have it on my shelf of “special books.”
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Much of what is on the news makes me want to cry basically daily, so I try to avoid it as much as possible while remaining aware of the world around me. I donate to causes that are designed to help those who are suffering, so I don’t feel completely helpless in these situations. To laugh, I love a good dark comedy. The ones I’m enjoying at the moment are Barry (on HBO) and Santa Clarita Diet (on Netflix).
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
I would have loved to have met Anthony Bourdain before he passed away. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and I really admired his writing, his love of food, and his adventurous spirit.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
I like to run. It keeps me fit, and it keeps my mind focused—it’s amazing how many plot ideas I’ve come up with while out for a jog. I do yoga and lift weights too. Not so much a hobby, but exercising, reading, and cooking are my main activities when I’m not writing or editing.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I watch a lot of cooking shows, and I’ve become obsessed with baking competition shows. I’m not a regular TV watcher, more of a binger—I’ll find a show and watch all of it over a week or so. If it’s not a cooking show, it’s most likely a mystery or a dark comedy. I’m currently hooked on Killing Eve, and I just finished Safe on Netflix. I always watch Elementary and Law & Order SVU (I have a family member who works on that one). Favorite shows of all time are The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Street, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
My family’s joke is to not ask me what to order for dinner because I like everything and have a hard time deciding. If pressed, I’d go with Italian, which is the first cuisine I really learned to cook. I’m a huge music fan, and very much a rock-n-roll kind of gal. I don’t have a favorite color, but I do wear a lot of black, come to think of it.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Well, I hope it doesn’t come about but if I had to switch careers, I’d probably cook professionally in some capacity. Maybe I’d open a cupcake shop. I’d probably make a good wedding planner, too. If I was still unmarried and childless, I’d join Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen and work with his team of chefs who are providing meals to victims of disasters in places like Puerto Rico and Guatemala.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
I’d hug my son the entire time while trying to think of a way to last a little longer.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
Joie de Vivre
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Yes, I have a listing of upcoming events at my website: http://www.shawnreillysimmons.com/