Tam May - Historical Cozy Mystery Featuring an Independent, Feisty Woman
As soon as Tam May started writing when she was fourteen, writing became her voice. She writes engaging, fun-to-solve historical cozy mysteries. Her mysteries empower readers with detailed plots and a sense of “justice is done” at the end. Her fiction is set in and around the San Francisco Bay Area because she adores sourdough bread, Ghirardelli chocolate, and the area’s rich history. Tam has also written historical women’s fiction. Her post-World War II short story collection, Lessons From My Mother’s Life, debuted at #1 in its category on Amazon, and the first book of her Gilded Age family saga, the Waxwood Series, The Specter, also reached #1 and remains in the top 10 in its category. Tam lives in Texas but calls San Francisco and the Bay Area “home”. When she’s not writing, she’s reading classic literature, watching classic films, reading self-help books, or cooking yummy vegetarian dishes. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, The Carnation Murder.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Carnation Murder is about.
The Carnation Murder is a historical cozy mystery set at the turn of the 20th century. It features an independent, feisty woman named Adele Gossling who just moved to the small town of Arrojo, California from San Francisco in the hopes of finding peace and small pleasures after mourning the death of her beloved father. She finds a dead body in her gazebo which pulls her into helping the local police solve a murder.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there something that made you want to tackle this?
The story (and Adele Gossling Mysteries) was inspired by my research in 2013 on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era in American history (roughly, the last quarter of the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th). At that time, I knew I wanted to write historical fiction, but I was stuck. November came around with NaNoWriMo, and I decided I wanted to try something completely new for me as a writer, as my genre at that time was contemporary literary fiction. I decided on a historical mystery and came up with the protagonist Adele Gossling and the town of Arrojo and went from there. I had no plan for the book at that time, so it stalled, but I was able to go back and plan and finish the book a year or so later. I put it aside to focus on the Waxwood Series (a Gilded Age famly saga) and didn’t pick it up again until last year.
Why did you pick Early 20th Century San Francisco as the backdrop for your story?
The more research I did on the Gilded Age/Progressive Era (for the Waxwood Series), the more fascinated I became with these first years of the new century. America was such a dynamic place then with so many people fighting for change, including suffragism, political reforms, workplace reforms, and environmental reforms. I was eager to write a series set in this era.
As for San Francisco, it’s been one of my favorite places since I first lived there in 1995. I love its history, its neighborhoods, and its diversity. San Francisco and the Bay Area were also important locations in the early 20th century because they were the jewel of the West Coast in the post-frontier era where so many towns and cities were still underdeveloped. The town of Arrojo was inspired by a Bay Area coastal town named Benicia, which I was able to finally visit firsthand in 2018.
Tell us more about Adele Gosling. What makes her tick?
She’s a “New Woman” of the era: gutsy, progressive, and independent. She rolls into Arrojo in her custom-made car (when not many cars were available, let alone women driving them) with complete confidence in regards to who she is and what she stands for. She’s a suffragist, so she fights for women’s rights, both the living and the dead. At the same time, she isn’t above using her feminine wiles to get the information she needs to help solve crimes that baffle the local police, as she sees it as a means to a good end.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Not sure if this is really a “secret skill”, but I’m good at organization and building processes and tweaking them when needed. I have a process for everything!
What did you have the most fun with when writing this story?
It was seeing the characters come alive in their interactions with one another and in the verbal exchanges between them. There are 4 main characters in the series: Adele, her best friend and clairvoyant Nin, her brother Jackson, and the Arrojo sheriff, Hatfield. They interact constantly with one another and there are undertones in their relationships that I think go far beyond the kind of fun dialogue you expect from a cozy mystery. It’s just fun to watch them!
Why mystery? What drew you to the genre?
I think it’s the puzzle-solving aspect of mysteries that really intrigue me. I’ve been a huge fan of classic mysteries (Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Anna Katharine Green) since my teens and they’re my “go-to” reading when I’m feeling stressed because getting caught up in solving the mysteries takes my mind off my troubles. I’ve always particularly loved cozies because they offer the kind of comfort I didn’t get as a child, and there is always the sense that “justice is done,” which, sadly, doesn’t always happen in real life.
Please tell us more about the cover and how it came about.
I was very picky about the figure on the cover because the way women dressed and did their hair in the 19th/early 20th centuries changed dramatically even between decades, much more dramatically than they do in the 21st century. It’s very easy to get it wrong. I described as best as I could the hair styles and clothing and included photos of women from that era and the cover designer found the image. The background image represents the small town of Arrojo, so you hae this New Woman standing on the street of a rather Victorian-looking small town, which is really the underlying conflict that permeates the series. The designer originally provided a pink background for the cover color, which was lovely, but in the book, a purple carnation plays a big role, so I asked him to change the pink to purple. He’s a fabulous designer so of course the color is spot on!
Do you plot out your story before you start writing, or does some of it just "happen" along the way?
I’m a big plotter for sure. I confess I’m probably the worst mystery fiction reader in the world because I hate reading a mystery where there are clues or red herrings or witnesses left hanging. I realized that for me, the only way I could make sure all the loose ends were tied up was to plan. I have what I call a mystery sheet which basically has everything about the book I need: the murderer, motive, crime scene, witnesses, clues, etc. I don’t always know every scene, but I have enough planned where I can fill in the blanks as I write.
This book forms part of a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
This book can definitely be read as a stand-alone because the book has its own story with a beginning, middle, and end. There aren’t any cliffhangers or anything left to be solved for the next book. The series itself focuses on Adele Gossling, the amateur sleuth, and they all happen in and around the same town (Arrojo). They also include townspeople, places, and other elements that tie them in as a series.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I’m not the kind of writer that can binge write. That is, I can’t sit down for 4, 8, 10, etc., hours in a row and write. My brain just gets too tired. Sitting for more than an hour at a time is a struggle for me. I try to write two hours every day, and I break those hours up during the day, usually one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. I find that works well for me.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I’m wrapping up the final research for Book 3 of the Adele Gossling Mysteries, which will be out in the fall. Then comes the exciting part of starting to plan Book 4!
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Thanks for asking! Here are some links where readers can find out more about me and my books:
Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16111197.Tam_May
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Tam-May/e/B01N7BQZ9Y/
BookBub Author Page: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/tam-may