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Interview with a Cozy Author

Tess Baytree on writing Penelope Standing cozy mysteries

· amreading,Cozy Mystery,author interview

Tess Baytree (also writes as T.M. Baumgartner) is an author, sofware engineer, veterinarian, and a friend in my writing group. I caught up with her on what it's like to write the Penelope Standing cozy mysteries, especially her Christmas cozy.

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Q: What inspired you to write about a dog walker as a sleuth?

Penelope is a person who rarely sits still, and she also doesn't take direction very well. Working a desk job would be a disaster for everyone involved. Dog walking is the perfect job for her. And it's great for me, as the author, because it puts her in a position to learn so much about everyone in her community. 

Q: What makes Penelope Standing tick?

She is both incredibly kind and incredibly stubborn. She'll do anything for her friends. But if someone wrongs her and she wants revenge, she'll cut off her nose to spite her face if that's what it takes. The best part? She's in her fifties, she's comfortable with her flaws, and she has no intention of correcting any of them. 

Q: Who is your favorite side character—and what makes them your favorite?

I love all my side characters, but I'll go with Brutus. He's Penelope's mastiff (a very large breed of dog). He's equal parts destructive and lovable, just like a real mastiff.  Brutus might protect Penelope from an attacker, but he also might take out her knees when they go running together if he decides to sniff something on the other side of the path. He's a big goof.

Q: Your latest release, Death Trims the Tree, is a Christmas novella. What were the biggest challenges in writing a Christmas mystery?

I think the biggest challenge was timing. Who thinks about Christmas in July? (Answer: not me!) I scrambled a bit to get it released by Thanksgiving.

Then, of course, there's the issue of not seeming like a complete sociopath by having a holly, jolly murder complete with sleigh bells. But there's no rule that a cozy mystery has to include a murder (and even if there was such a rule, I don't follow directions any better than Penelope does). I did fess up to the lack of murder in an author's note at the beginning of the novella so people aren't waiting for a body to drop. 

Q: How did your cover art come about?

I wrote the first novella in the series, Death Walks a Dog, as a project just for fun. Then I was browsing on Etsy and found a pre-made cover by DLR Cover Designs that was perfect for it. Except it came as a set of three. So then I had to write two more. In the meantime, I had been working on learning about cover design so I didn't have to figure out how to schedule another thing. I did the cover for Death Trims the Tree, but I tried to keep the same feel as the rest of the series with a Christmas twist. 

Q: What is your next writing project?

Next up for me is another science fiction/fantasy novel under my other pen name (T.M. Baumgartner), but I'll be working on the next Penelope Standing novel in the new year!