Chapman: How does it feel to complete and publish your first novel?
Perry: Relieved! I’m a starter of projects and have a hard time completing them. So to see a story through and not leave it at a cliff-hanger of an ending (which I’m oft times wont to do!) is satisfying. It tells me I can do it again – and this time with a longer work.
It’s funny, I started out writing micro-fiction a few years ago, then flash fiction. I graduated to short stories and then novellas. But with this short novel (which is actually four short novellas tied together forming a complete story arc) I think I’ve learned how to structure a complete, full-length novel. I’m excited to get started on the next book. Oops, that spoils my answer to your last question, so I’ll talk more about that later.
Why a donut hut?
Last summer I took an online writing workshop hosted by Dean Wesley Smith. The topic was “Ideas to Story.” The big take-away for me was that ideas for stories are everywhere. All you need is a character in a setting with a problem. It sounds simple, but practically all stories reveal within the first chapter (or even within the first 500 words) some tension that needs resolution by the main character. An idea, then, is not a full blown plot and it’s not how everything comes together in the end. An idea is simply “what happens next” once you have the character in a setting with a problem.
One of the writing assignments, then, for this workshop was to just look around at the ordinary places and things in your life and connect them into a 500 word opening. We had a few other ingredients to include, but basically this forms the beginning idea for a story. So I took my notebook, headed for the local Krispy Kreme for a little sugar-induced inspiration, and as I was eating my doughnut, I looked around and thought why not? It’s a setting. And then there was a retirement age woman who was behind the counter, and I wondered if she wanted to be working or had to be. Well, that was the character in a setting with a problem (forced to work at 65, yikes!).
Now according to Kate Wilhelm (or so I learned via Dean Smith), you dismiss the first two iterations on that idea and go with the third. My third take on this idea was a semi-retired mother figure in a donut shop in a small mountain community with a magical cat that got her into trouble as much as he helped her out. Voila. Ma Tutt’s Donut Hut. Not sure that’s the best idea I could have come up with, but I liked it so I ran with it.
Have you tried any of Ma Tutt's recipes? Without the magical, unmarked spices, I assume.
Correct, the mystery spices I used in the book don’t exist. Which is good news! I wouldn’t want to be responsible for the potentially drastic effects of Iseult or Lethe (read the book to find out what they can do…or google them!).
But I have to admit, I’ve not tried the specific recipes I’ve included in the appendix of the ebook. Now my mother-in-law sent me her family spice cake recipe, so I assume it’s good to go. And I found the puff ball donut recipe in an old Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook – old enough that there probably aren’t any copyright issues. But I tweaked it and the generic apple pie recipe just in case!
Now my wife and I have made spice cake and apple pie before, however. We like to bake and do well in the kitchen together. So the culinary setting isn’t out of our realm of experience. Neither is the feline connection as we have two cats. Though we make no claims about being magical, I did follow the rule ‘write what you know’ – at least to a certain extent!
Cozy mysteries featuring cats are a dime a baker's dozen. What separates your book from the crowd?
That’s a good one. Heck, what separates any of these series from each other? I was in B&N the other day and counted no less than 10 Cat Cozy Mystery Series. There were cats in a bookstore, cats in a bakery, cats in a library, detective cats, magical cats… I was both discouraged and encouraged at the same time.
First, a bit discouraged because I realized that I was in a crowded category so knew I wasn’t cornering the market. Shoot, I probably hadn’t even come up with a unique subgenre - a magical cat in a coffee shop! (Maybe I should add a bookstore to the café!)
But then I thought, hey, this is a wildly popular genre. People love gentle mysteries featuring lovable cats and a quirky cast of characters in a small town setting that reminds them of the place they’d love to retire to. And yet… most of these stories feature a dead body in every episode. I mean, really, Angela Lansbury must have cleaned out the whole village of Cabot Cove!
So I got to thinking, is there room for a gentle gentle cozy? One that features a bit of mystery and suspense, but no dead bodies? One where the characters and their interactions move the story forward as much as Mack the Magical Cat and the mystery spice ingredient he introduces in each episode does? I think so. I’m not saying there will never be a dead body, but I’m sort of tired of that cliché and think there are other mysteries out there to solve. Plus, I readily admit to weaving into my stories gentle spiritual themes of love and friendship and forgiveness and the power of life over death. This may be what distinguishes my stories the most from what’s out there currently.
Ma Tutt's local business is in direct competition with the Creamy Pie, a national franchise across the road. What's going on with the David versus Goliath theme?
Here’s a paragraph from my novel that explains Ma’s attitude (and mine, to a certain degree, though I know one can’t stop ‘progress’).
Creamy Pie! Dolly fumed. The homogenization of America was what it was. Small towns losing their quaint little charm; architecturally unique, if sometimes odd and curious, buildings giving way to big box stores and generic storefronts. Pretty soon, every city across the country would blur into one bland mess of retail malls, boring restaurants, and office buildings.Now I have nothing against Walmart or McDonalds, per se. Companies like these have their place in our society and provide millions of jobs and infuse billions of dollars into our economy. But they aren’t the be-all and end-all of America either. And thus the reason for the small town, one-of-a-kind restaurant, retail store, or service business. A place like Ma Tutt’s is part of the fabric of our country. People who run places like this work incredibly long and hard hours and since I don’t want to do the actual work of owning a doughnut shop, I’ll simply live vicariously through Ma who will do all the grunt work for me.
One of the strengths of your novel is the endearing characters who gather at Ma's Donut Hut. My favorites are Father Emilio Aguilera and the wacky villain Donovan Huckly. Which characters did you enjoy the most?
I like Donovan as well. He’s not a bad sort. He’s nosy, a know-it-all, and has aspirations. So he’ll continue to play the role of annoying interrupter. Has that bit of a “huckster” vibe going on as well, thus his last name. I think of him as a kind of young Mr. Haney from Green Acres who always has an angle to play.
Of course, I love Ma Tutt, who has many of the loving attributes (and fantastic baking skills!) of my mother-in-law. And yes, Father Aguilera is a kind and endearing spiritual leader, the type of person I’d like to be.
Speaking of which…
I think Mack has a few more lives. Are there more Ma Tutt/Mack stories in the oven?
Yes. I’ve started work on the next novel already. The magical spices that Martía left at the Hut and the intuitive nature of Mack simply begs for more tales. And if you haven’t surmised by now, this premise serves as the conceit for most of my stories in this series. Some kind of ingredient mix up results in some kind of trial and is resolved by some kind of feline intervention. Not sophisticated, I admit, but I think engaging and winsome. The reader will have to let me know!
Plus, I think for this next book at least, I’ll stick with a similar structure as the first book. I like the episodic nature of these stories – they’re stand alones but tied together with an overarching plotline. One can read a chapter as a complete story at bedtime and be satisfied, but also want to keep reading to see where the larger story goes next. At least, that’s my hope. Thanks for reading!
To learn more about Lyndon Perry and his work, check out his blog at www.lyndonperrywriter.com.