I’ve lived in Japan four times over the last twenty years. This summer’s return has garnered me a lot of room for reflection. In the five years since my last move, I’ve had five books and a novella published. I actually began writing on our last stint in Japan: one manuscript that will never see the light of day and my first Cherry Tucker mystery. Both stories were set in Georgia. Now I’m back in Japan and still writing about Georgia.
Why Georgia while in Japan? Setting aside the obvious—write what you know—I’ve often mused over the similarities between the South and the Land of the Rising Sun. And so I don’t reflect for days, I’ve whittled down a much longer list to three topics.
Lipstick. In the South, ladies still wear hats to church and lipstick to the market. I’m talking capital L ladies, now. The no white after Labor Day rules are still taught in polite society and children still do cotillion. In fact, where I lived, getting your child an invitation to cotillion classes can get competitive.
In Japan, ladies wear lipstick to the market, dress up for shopping and lunch, and still do kimono or yukata (a cotton, less formal kimono) for ceremonies and special occasions. As do men (except for the whole lipstick thing). There are specific suits and dresses for funerals, weddings, graduations, and any number of events. Lipstick and blush. Heels and pearls. Hats and parasols. If hoop skirts caught on here, we might have an East/West Gone With the Wind mashup. And I’d never rule out anything in the Japanese fashion scene.
I think all writers are interesting in different ways, but Larissa Reinhart amazes me. She may be a southern Georgia girl but she lives in and loves Japan. Go figure—and go figure on getting her next book if you want sassy characters and humor. I was glad to e-meet her.
What is THE BODY IN THE LANDSCAPE about?
The novel is the fifth Cherry Tucker mystery. Cherry’s a struggling portrait painter from small town Halo, Georgia. Her sassy spitfire reputation has her in trouble back home, so when invited to paint the winning portrait for Big Rack Lodge’s Hogzilla hunt contest, it seems like a paid vacation. While landscape painting she discovers the body of local ne’er-do-well and, of course, embroils herself in hunting for the killer. Which is not the brightest of ideas when surrounded by hunters. Just sayin’.
Where does your Cherry Tucker series, of which this is a part, fit in the category of “cozy mysteries”?Is there a range of cozies or sub-genres within?
I think it depends on where you’re looking. For example on the big sites—like Amazon—the Cherry Tucker Mysteries are listed under Amateur Sleuth, Humor, and Cozies, with a subgenera of Crafts and Hobbies (as opposed to Culinary or Animals).
In some conferences I’ve attended, we’ve discussed a new genre for cozies, the “modern cozy” which calls for more action, stronger language, and more sexual situations than traditional cozies. The Cherry Tuckers definitely have a strong romantic component, but I’m aware of my audience in terms of language and sex (I always say the books get a PG-13 rating). However, I try to drive scenes with action and dialogue rather than the slower pacing of traditional cozies.
I also like a new component to cozies that I’d like to call Chick Lit Cozies. They’re written in first person, from the female protagonist point-of-view, and there’s a strong subplot focus on character development arcing over the series like in Chick Lit. In Cherry Tucker, Cherry’s got romantic issues with the local deputy Luke Harper, an ex-husband as a best friend, and a missing mother whose disappearance is connected to Harper’s stepfamily. In relation to issues stemming from her abandonment by her mother, Cherry chooses to play amateur sleuth rather than confront her own problems. Each book leads to another piece of that puzzle, although they can be read out of order.
Your fabulous sense of humor comes through in your books, your reviews and even on your fun website.Do you have to work at this great aspect of your series and your main character?
Thanks so much! It’s hard to know if other people will find humor in what you think is funny. THE BODY IN THE LANDSCAPE is a little darker than the others, probably because we were going through some family difficulties at the time. It’s hard to keep things light when everything around you is so heavy. However, I’m a cheerful person. I love to laugh and act silly, and I love playing with words, so maybe that’s what comes through in the writing. (I hope so, anyway.) I have a lot of fun imagining Cherry in scenes that make me giggle.
I giggle pretty easily, though. I also snort laugh a lot. If you’ve ever met me at a conference, you might have witnessed this. Unfortunately. I’m also constantly sticking my foot in my mouth, which helps in writing characters like Cherry. That whole “write what you know” axiom.
I also love (and write) small town setting and eccentric characters.Can you give us some background to your choice of “South of the sweet tea line”?And tell us a bit about Cherry?
You do know there’s a sweet tea line, right? North of it, when at a restaurant, you’d say, “I’d like iced tea.” That comes without sugar. South of that line, you’d say, “I’d like tea.” That sweet tea. Or for weirdos like me, “unsweetened tea.” And if you order unsweetened tea, they’ll hand you Sweet’N Low.
It’s like the Mason-Dixon, except friendlier and less controversial.
As for a small town setting, I grew up in a village of six hundred. Andover. And had to be school-bussed to another town of three thousand. Orion. Orion had sidewalks. And a Pizza Hut (eventually). My mother still lives in Andover. Whenever I talk to her, our conversation usually takes a turn toward, “Do you remember SoAndSo?” “No.” “They went to high school with you.” “Still don’t remember.” “Maybe they went to high school with your sister.” “Maybe.” “Anyway…” So I know small towns.
Cherry Tucker is full-on sweet tea and small town, but smaller because she was raised on a farm. And she’s a classically trained artist (she graduated from SCAD in Savannah). So she gets a bit uppity about art, but very redneck about everything else.
Author Sophie Littlefield remarked that your writing is like lemonade, “a balance of tart and sweet.”Do you work at this, or does it seem to come naturally?
That’s hard to answer! I’m tart and sweet, too, so I guess it comes naturally. However, I have to control the tart, because it’s too easy for me to let Cherry get snarky. Because of her childhood issues, she’s got a dark side and a sharp tongue. I get a lot of editorial comments on reigning in her uglier side!
For a Georgia writer who seems to have “Georgia on her mind,” can you explain your love for Asia, especially Japan?Why will you be returning there soon, even though you will still write your Cherry Tucker/Georgia series?
I’m in Japan now, actually! I’ve been living here off and on for the past twenty years. I’ve a husband who’s fluent and works for Japanese companies, but I love it. Love the culture, the food, the people. Love the everyday adventures.
There are a lot of similarities between Japan and the South. A love of tea and fried foods. An emphasis on politeness and propriety. Strong focus on family and tradition. Things move a bit slower here, too. And you wear lipstick to the Piggly Wiggly here, too. Which is not called the Piggly Wiggly.
Can you give authors (and busy professionals in general) any advice about balancing real life with the demands of writing and promotion?
I wish I did better. It’s really hard. I’ve two young girls. I’m living in a country where (for me) grocery shopping is a challenge. And we only see my husband on weekends and holidays, so the time we’re together is reserved for family. Summer is especially difficult for me.
Promotion definitely eats into my writing time, too. I can take hours making logos on Canva or playing on social media (probably because I enjoy both). So I really have to budget time. After the girls go to school, I have a block reserved only for writing. The internet is a wicked siren, so sometimes I must shut her off. My progress feels slow, but I can see the word accumulation and that’s what keeps me sane.
It’s all about scheduling. And turning off the interwebs. And rewarding yourself with chocolate.
Can you tell us what you are working on next for Cherry and company?Do you have other future author plans beyond this delightful series?
You’re so sweet! I’m writing Cherry Tucker number six now (untitled so far), but it’s set in Halo in an upscale independent living home. Through Cherry, I’ve come to realize these places are not unlike a college dorm, so that’s been fun. Lots of keggers and mosh pits…I’m kidding. But for an amateur sleuth, you can’t do better for gossip than in an independent living home.
I have another humorous mystery series in the works, also set in Georgia, but with a detective and wannabe detective set in a mountain resort town. The first manuscript is in “someone’s” hands now and I’m waiting for the determined fate of that series.
Like most writers, I have a slew of other projects I’d like to be working on (any progress on cloning?). Out of the ten million ideas, I’d really like to bring some Georgia girls to Japan, particularly in a Chick Lit/Women’s Fiction story I’m developing and a paranormal detective series I work on between other projects. I’d love to have something for my Japanese friends to read and relate since redneck humor gets a bit lost in translation.
A 2015 Georgia Author of the Year Best Mystery finalist, Larissa writes the Cherry Tucker Mystery series. The first in the series, PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY (2012), is a 2012 Daphne du Maurier finalist, 2012 The Emily finalist, and 2011 Dixie Kane Memorial winner. The fifth mystery, THE BODY IN THE LANDSCAPE, releases December 2015. Her family and Cairn Terrier, Biscuit, now live in Nagoya, Japan, but still call Georgia home.
Visit her website, find her chatting on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, or join her Facebook street team, The Mystery Minions.
Karen Harper is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of contemporary suspense and historical novels. Her books have been published in many foreign countries including Russia, where she recently made the bestseller list for her Tudor-era thriller Mistress of Mourning. Her next suspense novels are The Cold Creek Trilogy: Shattered Secrets(Sept. '14); Forbidden Ground (Nov. '14) and Broken Bonds (Jan. '15). Visit Karen at:www.karenharperauthor.com and follow her on Facebook.