Olivia Blacke (she/her), author of Vinyl Resting Place and A Fatal Groove finally found a way to put her Criminology degree to good use by writing quirky, unconventional, character-driven cozy mysteries. Olivia, who wants to be a unicorn when she grows up, is a little nerdy, a lot awkward, and just the right amount of weird.
Could you tell us briefly what your latest book is about?
Olivia Blacke: Murder is topping the charts in A Fatal Groove. It’s springtime in Cedar River, Texas. The annual Bluebonnet Festival is brewing and the whole town is in harmony. But when the mayor drops dead, the Frappuccino hits the fan. With their delicious coffee suspected as a murder weapon, Juni Jessup and her sisters find themselves in hot water. Between the town festivities, a good old-fashioned treasure hunt, and an accidental cow in the mix, Juni will have to pull out all the stops to find the killer in A Fatal Groove, available in bookstores July 25, 2023.
Does one of your characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?
OB: Have you ever met someone that you instantly knew was capital-T Trouble but also, you wanted to be their bestie? That character shows up in A Fatal Groove as Kitty Harris, who’s loosely related to Juni and becomes a new friend. She hasn’t gotten a lot of play on page (yet), but when she shows up, you never know if she’s going to provide a vital piece of evidence, or if she’s going to talk Juni into getting bangs. I love her energy and the spark she brings to the family dynamics.
If you could have lunch with one of your characters, which one would it be and why? And where would you choose to meet for lunch?
OB: I would love to have a meal with main character Juni Jessup. Juni has a very un-complicated relationship with food. She loves it unconditionally and enthusiastically. The way to Juni’s heart is through her stomach, something that everyone that cares about her knows well (and takes advantage of frequently). I’d particularly want to get invited to one of the chaotic family dinners that is a staple for her friends and family, where there is always drama, clues, and most importantly, great food.
What kind of research did you do while writing this novel?
In A Fatal Groove, Juni Jessup and her older sisters Maggie and Tansy run a vinyl records shop/coffee café called Sip & Spin Records. In order to make this as realistic as possible, I got to listen to a wide variety of wonderful music and drink as much coffee as possible. The sacrifices I’m willing to make for my books, I’ll tell you what.
I just finished reading A Fatal Groove, and can testify that the music references are a blast and the coffee descriptions permeate the pages like a whiff of a perfectly brewed local blend. All that hard research paid off!
While writing your book, what was the most surprising thing you discovered or learned?
OB: Like Juni, I grew up in Texas. I was taught that it was illegal to pick bluebonnets (the state flower). I never questioned it. It was The Law. A Fatal Groove takes place at the annual Bluebonnet Festival, so I went to reference that law and to my surprise, it doesn’t exist! Once upon a time, there was a law protecting bluebonnets and other wildflowers, but that law expired before I (or Juni) was born. I was so surprised when I found this out, I brought it up to some of my Texan friends who all told me that I was very much mistaken and it was a serious criminal offense to pick a bluebonnet, and there was no convincing them otherwise. A few kind strangers have even messaged me to let me know that the lovely bluebonnet on the cover was illegally picked, and I’ve assured them that it is a plastic bluebonnet because legal or illegal, Juni would never pick a bluebonnet.
How did you come up with the title to your book?
OB: In the first book in the series, Vinyl Resting Place, Juni had just moved back to town and her and her sisters were just about to open Sip & Spin Records. Now that it’s been a while, I wanted to convey that the sisters had really—puns always intended—found their groove, and A Fatal Groove was born.
When writing a series how do you keep things fresh, for both your readers and yourself?
OB: One of the things that I love about the Record Shop Mysteries specifically and cozy mysteries in general is that they are a familiar escape. Revisiting Cedar River is, for me, an opportunity to have fun and hang out with some of my best friends, and I hope that comes across for the readers. Also, the main murder mystery is never the only plotline in the story. Whether it is a side quest, a touch of romance, or family drama, there is always something else going on that may (or may not!) help Juni and her sisters find the killer.
What strategies do you use to create suspense?
OB: Everybody’s got a secret. Maybe they’re planning a surprise party or maybe they’re trying to cover up a murder, but everyone is hiding something. For me, that’s the heart of every good mystery because the reader will see red flags all over the place that sometimes Juni and her sisters don’t register as motives. Whether you’re the person who figures it out on page two or during the big reveal, my goal is to keep the reader guessing.
When it comes to plotting your novels, do you have the whole book outlined before you write? Do you use any specific strategies or techniques?
OB: I’m a plotter. I’ve got this whole system of notecards and a detailed outline that helps me shape where I want the story to go, but sometimes, a sharp left turn comes out of nowhere. Even with all that plotting and preparation, there have been times when I realize I had the wrong killer but after they reveal themselves, I realize it was obvious all along.
As a fan of both 3x5 index cards and plotting, a “whole system of notecards” made me curious. I was delighted to discover that you describe all the details in your blog post, “My Writing Process”. For anyone else keen to find out more about the six step plotting process behind the Record Shop Mysteries, do check out the article!
On a smiliar note, what was the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
OB: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Publishing is hard enough without constantly comparing your accomplishments with someone else’s. Celebrate every single victory—both yours and theirs—because there is no such thing as a “small” win.
That’s great advice. I’m a firm believer in celebrating the victories along the way. Maybe with a cappuccino or a latté… I’m sure you’ll have many milestones to celebrate for your Record Shop Mysteries! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Olivia.
Visit Olivia Blacke on social media!
About Vanessa Westermann
Vanessa is a Canadian crime writer. She is the author of Cover Art and other books. At the heart of all of her stories are strong female protagonists.