Interview with Cathy Spencer

What mystery authors influenced your writing?
I write a cozy mystery series about a female amateur sleuth living in a fictional small town in the Alberta Foothills; the 3 grand dames of cozy mystery writing influenced me to write in this sub-genre: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Margery Allingham. Agatha Christie taught me the importance of crafting a good plot, Sayers taught me to use humour and to make my hero likable, and Allingham taught me to make my characters complex and have them change and grow over time. The work of all 3 ladies follows the cozy rules: no gore, no sex, no profanity. Cozy mysteries are escapism; readers feel comfortable with these stories while enjoying a good plot, and sometimes a little romance.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
My goal for 2014 is to publish 3 novels, something I have never done before and am not sure I can accomplish. Of course, I want to maintain the quality of my stories, not just dash off something of which I'm not proud. So, with all the writing, I don't have a lot of down time. When I do, I spend some of it "taking care of business": exercising, shopping, cleaning, and laundry. When I want to relax, I enjoy a good book, go out to dinner with friends and family, go for a walk, and occasionally take in a movie. I'm afraid my life isn't terribly exciting this year, except there's a move afoot this summer. I wonder which city we'll be moving to?
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Sure, because I just started writing in 2008. The first story I wrote was a regency romance entitled, "Good Intentions." I later changed the title to, "The Marriage Market." It's a rather complex story that focuses on 3 different characters, a young woman looking for a husband in the city of Bath, a roguish solicitor, and a bored widow who wants to go into business for herself. All 3 characters are friends. I've pulled the book off the market because I'm not satisfied with it and want to do some rewriting. I plan to republish it through Comely Press in 2015.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first story I ever read was probably a Nancy Drew Mystery, but I don't think it made a great impact because I don't remember which one it was. Of course, it probably helped develop my love of mysteries, still my go-to reading genre. However, one of the early novels I read which did make a big impact was "Jane Eyre." What a great story - a Gothic mystery and a moving romance. I sympathized that Jane's feelings were at variance with her moral code, all the while rooting for Mr. Rochester to win her over. Of course, it didn't hurt that I saw the movie around the same time with George C. Scott starring as Mr. Rochester; he's still my favourite. Years later, when my husband acted in the 1996 TV movie, "Titanic," he was on the set with Mr. Scott, who played the ship's captain. My husband told the great actor how much I enjoyed his portrayal of Mr. Rochester, and Mr. Scott sent his regards. That was pretty terrific.
How do you approach cover design?
Cover design is about branding, about identifying your novel as a particular genre while saying something about your story. For example, I decided to go with a cemetery theme for my Anna Nolan mystery series. My husband, who once earned a living as a photographer, took the picture for the cover of "Framed for Murder." It shows the statue of a mourning woman whom we found in the Mount Hope Cemetery in Waterloo, Ontario. I just love her face, and her elbow leans on a tombstone, the perfect place to put the book's title. The second novel, "Town Haunts," takes place around Halloween; I wanted to write an old-time ghost story with a witch in it. I carved the 2 pumpkins that appear on the cover, and my husband and I looked for a mausoleum in the Hamilton municipal cemetery that could be used as a back-drop. By then I had learned the importance of the book's spine, since the spine is all that readers usually see on a shelf. The type on this spine is larger, and one of the pumpkins appears on it. I took the photograph for the 3rd mystery which is coming out this Christmas, "Tidings of Murder and Woe." I shot it in the Hamilton cemetery this past winter with lots of snow and a Christmas wreath on a tombstone. If you're shooting your own covers, you have to plan ahead.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
As an author with her own publishing company, Comely Press, the marketing is all on my shoulders, and I'm still experimenting with a variety of techniques. I take advantage of things such as the author's interview on Smashwords, and ensure that I have a bio page on every venue at which I sell books. I also have my own website,, and an author's Facebook page, I participate in book giveaways and discussion forums. I do author's interviews on literary websites and request book reviews. I haven't spend too much money on ads because I don't want to spend money before I've earned it, but I have done a few. However, I won the 2014 Bony Blithe Mystery Award for my first novel in the Anna Nolan series, "Framed for Murder," and will be able to spend some of the prize money on advertising. I'm participating with the Romance Writers of America's new app, "Novel Engagement," to help romance writers find books on their cell phones. I am also a member of RWA and Crime Writers of Canada, and appear in their list of authors and catalogues. However, one of the best marketing tools is to write more books so that readers have the opportunity to read other books in a series they have enjoyed, or stand-alones by the same author.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Boy, that's a big one. I had written 3 novels before I tried self-publishing. I wanted to publish traditionally at first because I wanted the validation of an agent or an editor saying my books were good enough to publish. The problem was, I couldn't find an agent. Why would someone take me on when I had no publishing credits and no one had ever heard of me? I wrote some short stories that were published on literary websites and journals to get some writing credits, and while I was doing that, I attended a writing conference in Calgary where the local Romance Writers of America chapter did a session on self-publishing. That panel convinced me that I didn't have to wait any longer; that I could take my career into my own hands. I still had some notions afterward that traditional publishers could do some things better than I could: they could advertise my novels better, and they could get me into brick and mortar bookstores. However, after doing research over the past couple of years, I have discovered that only the most popular authors get publicity campaigns, and being a traditionally-published author is no guarantee that your book will appear in bookstores. I have published my stories as e-books and with a print-on-demand company with extended distribution with the big North American distributors, so bookstores and libraries can order my books for readers. I enjoy being able to set my own prices, produce or purchase the talents of designers to create my covers, see book statistics as they are available from the retailers, decide who those retailers will be, etc. . . Plus, I don't have to share royalties with an agent or a publisher. Who knows, one day I might become a hybrid author who has some of her work traditionally published and some self-published, but the terms would have to be right.
Published 2014-06-12.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Tidings of Murder and Woe
Series: An Anna Nolan Mystery. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 66,380. Language: English. Published: December 4, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Women Sleuths, Fiction » Holiday » Christmas
(4.50 from 2 reviews)
Julia Moreland, CEO of a big oil company, has a secret to announce to the press, but someone's sending her threatening notes to keep her mouth shut. Anna Nolan’s boss, Magdalena, is dating Julia’s stepson. Soon she’s turning to Anna for help, but a third criminal investigation in one year is more than Anna’s nerves can handle. A real page-turner with plenty of plot twists, humour, and romance.
The Dating Do-Over
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 82,490. Language: English. Published: September 18, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Women's fiction » General, Fiction » Romance » Contemporary
(4.67 from 3 reviews)
Elementary school teacher Viv Nowak has a sympathetic heart and abominable taste in men. She expects an engagement ring when her live-in lover of six years lands a terrific job in a new city. Instead, she gets dumped . . . on Valentine’s Day! Her friends insist on a dating do-over to fix her life, but no one expects the choice she makes when Viv finally knows what her heart wants.
Town Haunts
Series: An Anna Nolan Mystery, Book 2. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 70,710. Language: English. Published: February 28, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Women Sleuths, Fiction » Holiday » Halloween
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
Cemetery caretaker Sherman Mason is horrified to hear his dead wife calling to him. He asks Tiernay Rae, a gorgeous witch, to hold a séance to find out what’s troubling his wife’s ghost. Tiernay needs a coven, however, so Anna Nolan and her friends volunteer to help. But with Halloween fast approaching and the séance unleashing a malicious evil in the small town, can Tiernay stop it in time?
Tall Tales Twin-Pack, Science Fiction and Fantasy
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 6,410. Language: Commonwealth English. Published: August 27, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories, Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories
Two short stories in one book, one science fiction and one fantasy. "Your Daughter is Marrying an Alien" is set in the year 2080. Simple farmer Lloyd Hodgkin suddenly learns that his only child is engaged, and not to the boy-next-door. "Willimede's Quest" is the story of a young female guard who needs help to gather a life-saving potion for her queen, but first she must establish her credibility.
Tall Tales Twin-Pack, Mysteries
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 7,740. Language: English. Published: May 25, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Short Stories, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Courtroom
(4.00 from 2 reviews)
2 mysterious short stories in 1 book. In "The House on Cliffside," Colonel Booth fears that his wife is spending too much time with their doctor. When her body is found at the foot of a cliff, Booth knows it isn't an accident. "In the Playground," 2nd place winner in Suspense Magazine's 2011 writing contest, is a thriller about a suspicious stranger who watches over a playground - but why?
The Affairs of Harriet Walters, Spinster
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 84,780. Language: English. Published: November 29, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Romance » Regency, Fiction » Romance » Historical
(3.17 from 6 reviews)
Harriet Walters, a twenty-six year old spinster, is evicted from her home and sent to live with a persnickety aunt. Resigned to the life of an unpaid companion, fate intervenes and Harriet becomes an heiress. Leaving her small town life for the glittering attractions of London, Harriet meets several interesting new people, including a devilish young cad who wants to awaken her sensual side.
Framed for Murder
Series: An Anna Nolan Mystery, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 76,060. Language: English. Published: October 21, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » Women Sleuths, Fiction » Romance » Suspense
(4.33 from 6 reviews)
Winner of the 2014 Bony Blithe Mystery Award. Anna discovers her ex-husband, Jack, on a country road one night ... dead. To divert the suspicion of the tall, cool Brit investigating the crime, Anna delves into Jack's personal life, only to discover that the actor had been romancing three very different women on a nearby film set. But had Anna better be careful. One of them could be a killer!