Carrie Doyle - Writing Delicious Cozy Mysteries
Carrie Doyle's mysteries are extra cozy. She loves keeping her readers guessing, but also appealing to their senses with charming scenes straight from East Hampton, quirky characters and mouthwatering food descriptions. When she is not writing her latest novel, Doyle is sure to be part of one of a myriad of projects, which may include co-writing with another author, doing magazine articles, interviewing celebrities, arranging events or cooking up a storm in the kitchen. As our Author of the Day, Doyle talks about why her books are so yummy, gives us some insights in the character of Antonia Bingham and reveals why East Hampton is her favorite place in the world.
Please give us an introduction to Death on Windmill Way
Death on Windmill Way is the first book in “The Hamptons Murder Mystery” series. Our heroine, Antonia Bingham, has recently moved to the gorgeous seaside community of East Hampton, NY from California, escaping a brutal ex-husband to start a new life. Using her life savings, Antonia purchased the historic Windmill Inn, and with blood, sweat and tears, renovated it from top to bottom and revamped the restaurant. Things finally seem to be looking up for Antonia, until she learns that all of the previous owners of the Windmill Inn have died under mysterious circumstances. At first this seems to be a mere fable, but upon further investigation, Antonia discovers the dark truth. And now dead bodies are turning up and she realizes that she might be next!
Tell us a bit more about Antonia Bingham. What inspired her character? What makes her so special?
Antonia Bingham is that person who, within ten minutes of meeting you, has allowed you to download your entire life story. She is a warm and compassionate listener and a loyal and sensitive friend. Her best assets can be her worst flaws: she is inquisitive which may be construed as nosy; she is deeply invested in her friends' lives, when perhaps she should worry about her own a bit more; and she is a genius with butter and cream (with obvious downsides). I like to describe her as a ‘modern day Miss Marple’ because she cannot resist the scent of danger.
Antonia has many talents: she is a great chef, she works really hard and even though she has had bad knocks in life she is an infinite optimist. But she is definitely flawed—she overeats, she butts into other people’s business and she has bad taste in men, clothing, and cars.
As far as my inspiration for Antonia: in college I worked for Ina Garten at the Barefoot Contessa, which was a legendary gourmet food store in East Hampton. I worked in the bakery section and had a chance to sample all of Ina’s amazing sweets. It was impossible not to! (Although I did learn a trick: if I didn’t eat anything within the first hour of work I would not be tempted all day. It was as if inhaling the fumes was enough to sate me. But if I sampled something within the first hour I was a goner—snacking all day long.) Ina Garten was an incredible boss—warm, generous, a real champion for her staff. I think some of Antonia is inspired by her.
Your book contains a couple of mouth-watering descriptions of food. Why did you find it important to describe the dishes in so much detail?
I love food and I love reading about food! I am a huge fan of “Top Chef” and I read “Food and Wine” and “Bon Appetit” magazines every month. I think we have turned into a foodie nation and people enjoy reading about dishes and recipes. I love writing about food because it is as if I am eating it! I also think that the whole concept of feeding people and baking conjures up happy and yummy thoughts, and I wanted Antonia to bring that out in readers.
Why did you use the Hamptons as the backdrop for your book?
East Hampton, New York is my favorite place in the world. I have always had a house there and I spend all summer and every weekend and holiday there. I think it is the most beautiful village I have ever seen. So much is written about “The Hamptons” that has no relation to the “Hamptons” that I know (PS: people who have been going there forever hate when it is referred to as “The Hamptons.” We prefer it if you identify one Hampton---East, Bridge, South. However, I realize it is convenient and at times necessary, which is why my murder series is titled “Hamptons Murder Mystery” and not “East Hampton Murder Mystery”!) I know outsiders think of East Hampton as a playground for the rich and famous, where there are endless parties and celebrities, but these are quaint historic villages founded by farmers, fishermen, and families who have lived there for generations. When I’m there, I’m not out clubbing or rushing to a new ‘hot spot’. Instead, I spend time with my family at the beach or playing tennis, golf and paddle tennis. I love to walk along Main Street or drive the back roads to Montauk for seafood. I visit the farm stands and cook seasonal dishes.
East Hampton has changed a lot in the 44 years that I have lived there. It’s easy to be nostalgic about the past because it was a more quiet and peaceful time there. Most of the farmland has now been cannibalized by McMansions and I won’t even let my boys ride their bikes to town because there are too many speeding cars racing down the quiet country lanes. My childhood there was idyllic—bonfires on the beach (I loved going to bed with the scent of bonfire and s’mores in my hair); swim meets (I was a big competitor and loved the Breast Stroke); local carnivals; the Ladies Village Improvement Society Fair—where I loved purchasing something at the ‘mystery box’: you paid for a wrapped gift but had no idea what you were getting. I remember visiting The Cheese Cupboard, a store on Main Street that had a sawdust floor and samples of foreign cheeses. At the time, that was quite exotic. I have truly happy memories.
But now is a wonderful time in East Hampton also. The beaches are just as beautiful, there are many special stores and restaurants, and there are even more friends to spend time with. Also, it used to be quite desolate in the winter, but now more people spend time there, so when we come every weekend we have friends to socialize and play sports with. And now I have two dogs, Scruff and Boo, who I like to walk with on the beach!
Aside from writing fiction novels, you have written articles for magazines, scripts for films and did co-writing projects with other authors. What do you enjoy doing most?
I find writing very cathartic and I love when I have a chance to write, which sadly doesn’t happen every day. If I can work out and write in one day it is a golden day, full of mental and physical endorphins! I love collaborating on books—it was so fun to write with Jill Kargman especially since she is so brilliant and funny. It never felt like work and it was always a blast. It is harder to write alone but I do enjoy it. You never really know where your book will take you, but it is amazing sometimes when you think you have no idea, but then you read through the pages you have written and the answer was there all along.
I do a lot of interviews for magazines. I like doing interviews because I like asking questions and I enjoy piecing together the quotes in different spots throughout the article, like a jigsaw puzzle. (I love jigsaw puzzles; I do a 1000 piece puzzle every week.) But it can be scary because you have to make sure you are not quoting someone out of context. It’s called responsible journalism for a reason, and when I profile someone I have a duty to represent him or her the way they spoke. My most nerve-wracking interview was 14 years ago when I interviewed Michelle Pfeiffer for a Harper’s Bazaar cover story and the second half of my recorder tape didn’t record! Luckily I had taken some notes, but one of her quotes about never having done any plastic surgery was picked up by David Letterman and I was sweating it out that she would deny it (she really said it, I just didn’t have the recording!)
Your book covers have a very distinct art style. How did that come about?
Our cover artist is a genius. Her name is Jill DeHaan and my publisher followed her work for a year, trying to get in touch with her before finally breaking through. We all love her and our book designer, Jenny Kelly, is super-talented at putting together the whole book design package to really let Jill’s work shine. Wait until you see the cover for book 3 in the series, Death on West End Road. It’s my favorite. Here’s a hint: it takes place during Hydrangea season in East Hampton.
Besides writing, what other cool skills do you have?
I don’t know if this is a cool skill, but I speak Russian fluently. I majored in Russian in college, and I spent a semester and summer there in college. I had to read “Anna Karenina” and “Crime and Punishment” in Russian, which was pretty intense. After I graduated, I went back to Russia and worked there for three years. I met my (Russian) husband in a restaurant in Moscow.
Other skills/hobbies: I play paddle tennis, tennis and golf. A tennis victory is still eluding me but I have recently won a women’s paddle tournament and a women’s golf tournament, which I was pretty psyched about.
I like to cook, and I make a lot of recipes from “The Barefoot Contessa” cookbooks. According to my family I make an excellent chili, which I’ve never actually tried! I’ve been a vegetarian since second grade in 1981 (shhh, don’t tell Antonia!).
Not a skill, but I am very involved with the East Hampton Library and am an Event Committee Co-Chair for their Author’s Night, which is the premier literary event in the Hamptons during the summer. The East Hampton Library receives almost no federal money and relies on charity events such as Author’s Night to raise money for all the amazing programs they have. The library really acts as a community center and serves all economic demographics in East Hampton. For Author’s Night, we invite renowned authors to sign their books and all of the proceeds of sales are donated to the library and benefit programs such as English as a second language; computer skills; book clubs and writing classes to name a few. My role is to help procure leading authors to participate in the event, as well as enlist donors to host dinners for authors and ticket holders. This year I was able to book actresses turned cookbook authors Gwyneth Paltrow and Bridget Moynahan, as well as illustrious writers Erica Jong, Ashley Prentice Norton, Amanda Benchley and Stacey Goergen. 95 other esteemed authors participated.
How do you make your characters so relatable? Are any of them based on real people?
I like to write characters that I would want to be friends with. I wanted to make Antonia approachable, warm, cozy and smart. The fact that she is a chef and likes to feed people is not a coincidence since we all want someone in our lives who likes to take care of us. And Antonia definitely likes to take care of people. She has some Ina Garten in her (see above) and also Nigella Lawson. She is accessible, but sexy—even though she doesn’t realize it. Her sexiness comes from her sense of self, her talents, her compassion and her brains, as well as her beauty.
Among the wealth of characters in Death on Windmill Way, who was the most difficult to create?
Actually none of the characters in Windmill Way were difficult for me. Usually in my books it is the protagonist that is the most difficult, especially since I don’t write in first person, but Antonia came to me so clearly that I never had a problem with her. Larry is the most fun. I am currently working on the third installment of the Hamptons Murder Mystery series and there is one main character that stumped me so much I had to put it down for three months to figure her out. Luckily I didn’t have that problem with the first two books or I might have stopped!
Why cozy mysteries? What is it about the genre that you enjoy?
I love a good murder and crime story, but I’m not a fan of slashers and gore. I don’t need the blood—I prefer the mystery and the process of figuring things out. I like the idea of an average person solving a crime, maybe because I will never be a detective but I like to think if a crime happened in my neighborhood I might be able to solve it! I love food descriptions, small towns, and quirky characters, which makes me a cozy lover. In other areas of the mystery genre, I’ve always been an Agatha Christie fan and I have been reading Sue Grafton’s alphabet murders for the past few years. I have just gotten into Louise Penny and am looking forward to getting to know Inspector Gamache.
What's an aspect of being an author that you didn't know about going in?
I suppose I didn’t realize how solitary it is to be a writer. After I stopped writing with Jill Kargman, it was just me in a room and that can be a little lonely. Also, when it is just you, it’s hard to prioritize writing. Children and dogs and clerical deskwork often come first, which can backfire and make you grumpy! For me, I have a much happier and more successful day in every part of my life if I can start with a workout and then work (with a good carb-laden breakfast and lunch along the way). For the past several years I have left the dogs at home and gone to write in the quiet room at the New York Society Library.
How do you keep your readers guessing until the end?
I really like twists and turns and red herrings. (Occupational hazard.) Sometimes I think I like them too much, but I want people to be thrown off course as much as possible.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on the third book of the Hamptons Murder Mystery Series called “Death on West End Road.” It takes place in the summer time and Antonia is asked to solve the murder of a cold case—the murder of a girl who was killed 23 years prior. It brings me back to my college years in East Hampton so I feel like I am going down memory lane.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
My website is a great place to start for a full list of my books: https://carriekarasyov.com It can be confusing, because my first six books were written under my married name, Carrie Karasyov. I’m still happily married, but I decided to go back to my maiden name professionally. I also have an Amazon Author page, https://www.amazon.com/Carrie-Doyle/e/B01LY53GD7/ , and a Goodreads Author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15526087.Carrie_Doyle
The Dunemere Books website is also a great place for what we call a “deep dive” for readers who want to go beyond the page and learn more about some of the real-life inspirations behind the books. I’ve got some articles on the site that talk about the real restaurants and other spots in East Hampton that show up in the books. I always love finding out more about what inspires a writer, so this was a fun little extra to work on that I hope readers enjoy. www.dunemerebooks.com