Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter write the Pampered Pets mystery series together under the names of their two rescue pets–Sparkle (ML’s cat) and Abbey (Anita’s dog).
Mary Lee Salsbury Woods is the “Sparkle” half of Sparkle Abbey. She is the founding president of Sisters in Crime–Iowa and a member of Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, Kiss of Death, the RWA Mystery Suspense chapter, Sisters in Crime, and the SinC internet group Guppies.
Anita Carter is the “Abbey” half of Sparkle Abbey. She is President of Sister’s In Crime–Iowa and is also a member of Mystery Writers of America and Kiss of Death the RWA Mystery Suspense chapter.
Hi Mary Lee! Hi Anita! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.
Hi, Diane! Thanks so much for inviting us.
Please share with everyone how you came up with the name Sparkle Abbey?
Because we co-write the Pampered Pets mystery series, our publisher asked us to use a pen name. After considering several combinations of our names, none of which really worked; we came up with the idea of using our pets’ names. Sparkle is Mary Lee’s cat and Abbey is Anita’s dog. We have other pets so our pen name could have potentially been Chewbacca Matisse.
Sparkle, please share how you came up with the name Pampered Pets for your series?
Our series is set in Laguna Beach, California. A beautiful community and truly one of the most pet-friendly places on the planet. The main characters in our
series, Caro Lamont and Melinda Langston are cousins and are former Texas beauty queens who have relocated to Laguna where they work with some very pampered pets. Caro is a pet therapist and Mel owns Bow Wow, a pet boutique.
When you’re deeply connected and immersed in a book, Sparkle, have you ever had a dream that you felt was not your dream?
While we’ve had some strange dreams (involving penguins no less–and Eagles, the rock band not the bird, and Matthew McConaughey), we’ve not had dreams we felt didn’t belong to us. Those bizarre dreams may be a result of our very
active imaginations, or perhaps sleep deprivation while on deadline. Or too much Starbucks.
Do your characters dream within you?
Writing is very much like dreaming while awake. Don’t you think? While it’s something we’ve found non-writing friends and family don’t necessarily understand, when you’re writing these fictional people, they’re very real to you. And in your head, you’re in their world. Does that sound crazy? LOL
Have you had a dream that was one of your characters?
ML: I haven’t. Have you, Anita? I’ve dreamed I was in Laguna Beach but not involving any of the series characters.
Anita: No, but that would be really interesting. Like ML, I dream about us being in Laguna Beach. And the seagulls. The seagulls in Laguna like to dive bomb the tourists. ML, I think I dreamed about that at the end of a yoga class. Remember? I fell asleep when we were supposed to be meditating or something. I was really relaxed.
What do you love most about the cozy genre?
The wonderful thing about the cozy genre is that it’s an escape. We are both fans of classic Hollywood movies such as To Catch a Thief, His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, and It Happened One Night. They entertain with a level of sophistication. They make you think and try to figure things out, but they’re
not dark and depressing. Cozies are like that–no on-the-page graphic violence–not heavy and dark but by no means simple. The perfect escape after a stressful day!
Sparkle, please share the titles of three cozies on your nightstand? Go ahead Mary Lee, you first. Anita, you’re next…Sparkle and Abbey are welcome to join in, too. *giggling*
Mary Lee: Currently on my nightstand are: Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains (Catriona McPherson), Murder for the Halibut (Liz Lipperman) and Death Comes Silently (Carolyn Hart).
Anita: Death of a Neighborhood Witch (Laura Levine) Death, Taxes, and Extra Hold Hairspray (Diane Kelly) and Beef Stolen-Off (Liz Lipperman)
Sparkle: I’m currently reading, The Cat Who Wouldn’t Come Inside
Abby: I sleep most of the day. What can I say, I’m an old gal. I’ve been reading Dog On It, by Spencer Quinn. I’ll finish it eventually.
Who are some of your favorite mystery writers?
Mary Lee: Wow, this is hard… I read a lot! LOL I love traditional British mysteries but also love funny, very American contemporary mysteries. I grew up on Agatha Christie and went on to read M.C. Beaton and others. One of my all time favorite authors is Laura Levine who writes the Jaine Austen mystery series. I look forward to each book! Also, Carolyn Hart is an automatic buy for me, specifically her Death on Demand series. What’s not to love about a series with a mystery bookstore setting? <g> The bottom line is this is a great time to be a mystery reader as there’s a plethora of great books written by very talented authors. There’s nothing more fun than discovering a new series!
Anita: What ML said. We have very similar reading tastes, which is one reason why our collaboration was so natural. I also love the Jaine Austen mystery series. Laura Levine is an automatic buy for me. I read Carolyn Hart, Laura Childs, Harlan Coben, Miranda Bliss (I wish she was still writing the cooking class mystery series) and so many others. Like ML said, too many wonderful authors to name them all.
How do you find balance?
We’re still learning. Balance is sometimes difficult when you work full time and write full time as we do. :-/ We’re incredibly lucky we both have wonderful families and beautiful, brilliant grandchildren who keep us grounded.
To keep things balanced, sometimes you have to take a deep breath and remind yourself of what’s really important.
What is the guilty pleasure you find the naughtiest?
We are cozy writers. All the truly naughty stuff happens off the page.
What did you learn about yourself while penning Desperate Housedogs?
Mary Lee: I learned I could still write when life goes crazy. During the writing of Desperate Housedogs things went a little crazy. Okay, more than a little. There
were weddings and births. Operations and job changes. We lost a very dear writing friend and we also had the joy of fulfilling a long-time dream–our first published book. It was definitely a roller coaster!
What challenges did you endure while penning Get Fluffy?
Anita: Great question. Our series is different in that you have two protagonists, and they aren’t speaking to each other. The readers “meet” Caro first and get “her side” of why the cousins aren’t talking. I had to find a way to make Mel
likable and at the same time not belittle Caro in the reader’s eyes. Presenting “Mel’s side” of the story was tricky at times because the readers have already
bonded with Caro. We knew we’d accomplished our goal when one reader said she loved Caro and hated Mel in book one, but by the end of book two she loved both cousins equally. In the end, she wasn’t sure which cousin was right, but she wanted to read more. I think I let out a huge sigh of relief after I read that.
What did you learn about yourself while inking Kitty Kitty Bang Bang?
Mary Lee: I learned how much I love the immersion in a story. I already knew that I love the revision process more than the first draft. The first draft is painful. The tinkering with a scene or a sentence to get it just right is the best part of writing. What was new about this third book was getting that opportunity to come back to a place and people I loved and immerse myself in that world.
What fears are you facing with the release of Kitty Kitty Bang Bang?
Our readers have been so wonderful and we hope they love Kitty Kitty Bang Bang. When you start a new series “the readers” are kind of vague. You hope you have readers <g> but you don’t know them. Now, we have some fabulous loyal followers of the series who are invested on Caro and Mel’s lives, and we definitely don’t want to disappoint them. We hope they love it!
What are you most ambivalent about when you sit down to write the Pampered Pets series?
The only thing we’re always conflicted about is a family heirloom in the stories. The two cousins both believe the brooch, left by their grandmother to her “favorite granddaughter” is theirs and they constantly steal it from each other. It keeps them feuding, it keeps them apart, which is great for the series but it keeps them (and us) conflicted.
What do you want your readers to walk away with after reading your books?
A smile on their face. We’d love for them to feel like they’ve had a brief mental vacation. We’d wish for them to enjoy Caro and Mel and the wacky fictional world we’ve created and we’d also hope, just a little, that they’d give their own pets an extra snuggle.
If you were able to go caroling with whomever you want (past or present), who do you pick and what are you singing about and munching on?
Mary Lee: What a great question. I’d have to pick Harry Connick, Jr. and Amy Grant. An odd combination, I know, but I think they’re both not only fabulous voices but also really down to earth people. We’d be singing all the traditional Christmas carols (my favorites are “Oh Holy Night” and “Winter Wonderland”), drinking peppermint mochas, and munching homemade fudge. (Sidenote: My from-the-past choice would be Bing Crosby and Doris Day <g>)
Anita: I’m sooo old school. I’d love to hang with the Rat Pack as they sang Christmas carols during a Vegas show. I love that era. Can’t you just imagine Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop crooning in your ear “Silent Night” or “White Christmas”? Dean Martin singing “Baby it’s Cold Outside”…that would be fun. As for munchies, probably some hot chocolate and sugar cookies. Oh, and for the present, I just love me some Blake Shelton. He has a great sense of humor and he adores his wife.
Thank you so very much, Sparkle, for this fun interview.
Thank YOU so much, Diane, for having us! Wishing you and yours all things merry and bright!