Friday, May 31, 2013

Interview with Hart Johnson

Roanoke, Virginia, is home to some of the country’s most exquisite gardens, and it’s Camellia Harris’s job to promote them. But when a pint-sized beauty contest comes to town, someone decides to deliver a final judgment …

A beauty pageant for little girls—the Little Miss Begonia Pageant—has decided to hold their event in a Roanoke park. Camellia is called in to help deal with the botanical details, the cute contestants, and their catty mothers. She soon realizes that the drama onstage is nothing compared to the judges row. There’s jealousy, betrayal, and a love triangle involving local newsman—and known lothario—Telly Stevens. And a mysterious saboteur is trying to stop the pageant from happening at all.

But the drama turns deadly when Stevens is found dead, poisoned by some sort of plant. With a full flowerbed of potential suspects, Cam needs to dig through the evidence to uproot a killer with a deadly green thumb.


First I’d like to welcome Hart Johnson, also known as Alyse Carlson, who has kindly consented to stop by and answer a few questions about her new book and other things…

Hart, I’m so happy you could stop by. I understand that The Begonia Bribe is what is known as a cozy mystery. Can you explain what that means for folks who might not know?

Cozy mysteries still have a murder (or two) to solve, but there are a couple features that make them different.  Violence tends to happen off the page--they are low on the blood and gore (and the victim is usually fairly dislikeable). They tend to stick to a PG line, so no swearing or sex (you can allude a little, but always shut the door). The sleuth is an amateur who somehow ends up compelled to solve the mystery (maybe a loved one is accused or in my case, Cam is the Public Relations gal, and murders keep happening at events she is working on)  And cozy mystery readers really want to be able to solve the crime along with the sleuth, so all the clues need to actually be in there and trickled through the book (along with several red herrings so it isn't too easy). And then the piece of Cozy Mysteries that I like best: they tend to have some humor to them.

I like the idea of humor in a mystery. Can you give an example of that in The Begonia Bribe?

Most of it is character quirks, but the example that comes to mind that I can get across quickly is the case of Rob, Cam's Sports Reporter boyfriend. His boss, knowing the pageant needs coverage, has decided Rob, the sports reporter needs to cover it because there is competition involved (that makes it a sport, eh?). Cam's best friend Annie is acting as photographer for the pageant and asks why he is there. When Cam answers for him, Annie says, "Oh, Rob! You get to use all your pretty words!"
I like both the set up of the macho sports reporter having to cover the kiddie beauty pageant, and the dynamic. Annie, Cam's best friend has funny interactions better than half the time. It's just how she is. She likes to tease and goof off. In fact she might channel a certain online Tart you know.

LOL. Sounds like Annie and I would get along just fine. But tell me about the main character, Cam. You’ve written about her before, I believe, and I’m curious about how you first discovered her. Did she come with a story or was she a mystery?

This series was one the publishers recruited for--an editor had a town, a 'theme' (gardening) and a list of about ten characters. Some had jobs and others had relationships to the main character. So Cam was 'defined' though that is loose. All I got was that she handled the public relations for the Roanoke Garden Society.  It was my job to infuse some personality.
My first real life job was in advertising and my first degree was journalism, so a number of my college and early working peers worked in PR. I know the field well. So I decided to make Cam a bit of a control freak (easiest to make events go smoothly if you are totally in control) and then balance her with Annie to bring out her fun side.  The pair of them actually have a lot drawn from my lifetime best friend and I, but I re-mixed the traits--all the serious, professional ones went to Cam and all the zany, outrageous ones went to Annie. I figured since the total mix was the same, the friendship dynamic could have the same balance, which has made it really fun to work with.

Can you explain what you mean by ‘recruited for?’

It is a Write for Hire, though it wasn't a full call for submission--they asked a couple agents they worked with 'do you know a writer well suited for this' so I was actually referred to 'audition'--wrote the first 50 pages to have them see if I was a good fit.

Well isn’t that the coolest thing! And isn’t The Begonia Bribe #2 in the series? Which must mean you’re doing something right! Tell us how you found out about this opportunity. Or did it come as a complete surprise?

It was a three book contract--the first was The Azalea Assault, so that is the one I 'auditioned' with. The Begonia Bribe, other than the continuing characters, was much more 'all mine'.  The opportunity came as a fluke. One of my writer friends, Elizabeth Spann Craig, had been encouraging me to give cozy mystery a chance because my blog voice fit it so well--sort of zany, but still able to carry a point. Her editor and agent actually asked her if she had time to write it, but she was in the midst of two series at the time. She suggested me to her agent who talked to the editor and they agreed to let me give it a shot.

You must’ve been thrilled! And three books! Holy Cow? Any idea what the third one will be about?

TOTALLY thrilled. It was a little surreal, really--to be one of the rare people who got a book deal (or at least the opportunity) because of my blog voice. I definitely snuck in there sideways.

As for the 3rd book, I've actually already turned it in. The premise is a political fundraiser--Annie's dad is a former state senator, so Cam and Annie get roped in from different directions. Neither is thrilled, but they decide the perfect fundraiser is a murder mystery dinner... no way THAT can go wrong, eh?

Lol. That sounds fantastic. You’ve totally got me interested in this series! Now, by any chance do you write anything else besides cozy mysteries? If so can you tell us about it?

I do!  In fact MOST of my stuff is different. I'd classify it as suspense, but am trying to master thriller. I write both YA and adult suspense that I haven't managed to sell. I had a near miss (acquiring an agent and submitting to publishers) with one called Kahlotus Disposal Site, YA, narrated by a ghost who finds her former mental hospital opening as a reform school.  I haven't given up on it, but I think it's missing a spark and nobody has told me how to find that. My latest books though, seem to be apocalyptic in nature.  My education is psychology and I love exploring the dark places people go and the surprise of which ones can tap resilience in awful situations. I'm toying with releasing those apocalypse stories serially.  I've been very inspired by Susan Kaye Quinn who is releasing her Debt Collector series like that right now. The one I'm currently polishing though, is a mystery--my beta reader called it cozy meets noir; I call it sassy. It is a microbrewery based mystery in Portland, Oregon and is just a little darker than cozies called What Ales Me. I hope I can sell that one traditionally.

I love that title – What Ales Me – and I hear you on trying to get an agent and get published traditionally. It’s a long road. Now, for my last question: What’s the last book you read you wish you wrote? And why?

Fantasy aside, because who WOULDN'T love to have written the Song of Ice and Fire series but I don't have the imagination for fantasy... probably The Compass Master. Helena Soister is a friend of mine and so it caught me a little off guard that someone I knew could write something so fantastic... it is a little like The DiVinci Code, only a female heroine (an ancient documents 'hunter') and the history is more accurate (in fact completely accurate) and the writing more solid than DiVinci Code.

Now that sounds interesting; I love historical thrillers involving ancient documents! Thank you, Hart, for stopping over. I love hearing about the different ways we all write and get published. You’ll have to keep me posted on book #3 – cover? Title? Publication date? Let me know! And thanks again for coming by – this was fun! 

click on the book to buy, and click on Hart to find out more about her at The Watery Tart :) 


  1. Oh wow! So lovely to see the one and only most NAKEDest Tart here!! I am so so so so happy for her and her successes!! Love reading about her writerly journey here too - I just know it's only a matter of a very short time before the trad agent and publisher will come begging at her door! Yay!! Take care

  2. This is a fantastic interview. Hart is so down-to-earth and sincere. Hooray for the blog voice setting up the sell...and further congrats on the successful writing that closed the deal. There's inspiration here!

  3. An interesting lady and interview especially the cozy mystery explanation.

  4. Wonderful photo of Hart, or Alyse Carlson...And congrats on the new book. I look forward to reading it. Wonderful cover!

  5. Hart, that is so awesome Elizabeth suggested you! I agree you have just the right amount of snark.

  6. Kitty-thank you so much! Fingers crosseed you are right!

    Liza-great to meet you, and THANK YOU!!!

    Francis-they ARE sort of a different animal. They have a very loyal following, though, so that's been a lot of fun.

    Karen-Thank you! It's the first pic I've liked of myself in ages.

    Alex-yeah, I think most of her Cozy friends were fully up and it's sort of an odd mix--the dark and funny mixing like that.

  7. Hart, you're an awesome and pretty girl. love that photo.

    I love the questions and the answers. Great job.

  8. Loved the interview—great questions, great answers.

    What Ales Me sounds like a lot of fun.

  9. Love the cover. Great interview.

  10. Congrats to Hart! And how lovely to see her beaming face among her beautiful books.

  11. Aw, Hart! Here I stop by to say hi and tell people how much I'm enjoying The Begonia Bribe, and you go and say the kindest words about my book. Love ya ta death....

    (Get it? Death as in your cozy murder mystery... LOL)

  12. Teresa-THANK YOU!!!

    MJ-It IS fun! But that genre straddling might be challenging... hope not... hope it appeals as unique...

    Shelly-thank you! I LOVE my art people!!!

    Mary-Thank you!!!

    Helena-HA! You caught me!!! Glad you're enjoying it!!!

  13. Congrats on having turned in the third book. And much good luck for your future. I agree about Helena's book. I'm still reading it.

  14. Great interview. I have a brother-in-law in Roanoke, VA, it's a beautiful area. I always like reading books in places I enjoy visiting. I've heard of some write for hire stories. It seems ideal to write a story you already know an editor whats:) I enjoy reading cozy mysteries. I didn't realize that was what they are called.
    Best of luck in your writing endeavors!

  15. congrats to Hart! The cover is so delightfully filled with details and colours

  16. Congrats Hart. Your books sound really interesting. Good luck with the other books you're writing.

  17. How cool is that?! I guess it just goes to show you how important our blog voice is! Congratulations on the book deal. Adding the first book to my list because I've been hankering for a good cozy mystery lately!


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