Christmas Cocoa Murder!

Edith/Maddie here, on retreat on Cape Cod!

My first novella comes out next week in a collection with two other fabulous Kensington cozy mystery authors, Carlene O’Connor and Alex Erickson – and you still have time to predorder it! Read down for more than one giveaways, too.

Check out these three novella descriptions:

CHRISTMAS COCOA MURDER by CARLENE O’CONNOR
Siobhán O’Sullivan’s hopes for a quiet Irish Christmas are dashed when the local Santa turns up dead in a carnival dunk tank of hot cocoa. Now instead of hunting down holiday gifts, she’s pursuing a heartless killer. Seems the dead Santa was no angel either, stealing neighborhood dogs to guide his sleigh. But was it his holiday antics—or worse—that led to his death by chocolate?  

CHRISTMAS COCOA AND A CORPSE by MADDIE DAY
When local businessman Jed Greenberg is found dead with a Chocolate lab whimpering over his body, the police start sniffing around Robbie Jordan’s country restaurant for answers. Was it something in Robbie’s hot cocoa that killed Jed, or was it Cocoa the dog? As the suspects pile as high as her holiday tree, Robbie attempts to get to the bottom of the sickly-sweet murder . . .

DEATH BY HOT COCOA by Alex Erickson
A Christmas-themed escape game seems like the perfect pre-holiday treat for bookstore café owner Krissy Hancock and her best friend. But when the host is found dead in a pool of hot cocoa, it’s up to Krissy and her team to catch the killer—or escape before getting killed.

We each posed a question for the others so that you, dear readers, could learn a little more about our stories.

Carlene asked, “Christmas is supposed to be about joy. Was it challenging to work a murder into the mix, and how did you go about balancing the two?”

Alex:  Since I enjoy inflicting pain onto my characters, no, it wasn’t a challenge at all!

Actually, while it’s not a challenge to mix the two—murder and joyous festivities—there are differences in how I approached this story versus a normal mystery. I feel that in a Christmas themed story, you need to end on a high note and bring in more of what makes life for your characters great. You want to celebrate the holidays with these characters, and since their lives usually involve murder anyway, it just becomes another part of their word. It would feel hollow without it!

Maddie: It was a challenge, but it added tension to the story, and that’s always good. Of course Robbie Jordan wants to get the murder solved and squared away before Christmas, so that makes for heightened suspense, too, especially since her boyfriend Abe’s father is one of the suspects. The balance in my novella came with the lovely trappings of Christmas, the music, the colors, and Robbie trying to acquire meaningful gifts for her loved ones – while still managing both a busy restaurant and amateur sleuthing. It’s not easy, but she pulls it off. And we write cozies – our readers know all will be well in the end.

Carlene: First I’d like to thank Maddie Day for inviting us to participate in this discussion with the Wickeds! Cheers! But let’s face it. Burdened with all that holiday stress, who hasn’t wanted to murder someone at Christmas time? Jokes aside, the challenge for me starts with the fact that (luckily) murders are pretty rare in Ireland. Especially in small villages. So I’m an old hat at suspending disbelief when necessary. I leave the balancing to my characters. When times are stressful, it’s especially important to connect to the joyful moments. That’s when they matter the most. Tragedy forces my characters to yearn to connect to the spirit of Christmas. Wala, balance– no Yoga and meditation necessary! (Guinness is optional). And the last tidbit I’d like to offer is that stories thrive on contradictions. What’s more compelling than the idyllic little village with a dark secret? Yes, even at Christmas. And if none of that convinced you, when it comes to the victim, I went to the mat with this one. (I won’t spoil it, Ho ho ho…wait.. YOU KILLED OFF WHO?)

Alex inquired, “Many people have traditions for the holidays. Do you have any special Christmas traditions, and do you try to work them into your characters’ lives as well?”

Carlene: I love setting up and decorating a tree, and I like Lionel trains, as did my grandfather. And it just so happens the O’Sullivans set up a train in Naomi’s Bistro every year. And of course they get a real tree and decorate it, as do I. (Although the better the artificial ones get, the more tempted I am). The O’Sullivans cook a lot more than I do though. A lot more. Like they cook. And I really don’t. (But there are six of them after all– that’s my excuse)…And my Irish friends say “Happy Christmas” more than they say “Merry Christmas” and I’ve continued that. And Christmas pantos! Who knew?

Maddie: Carlene, what’s a panto? I have lots of traditions: baking my grandmothers’ cookies, setting up the nutcracker collection, putting the electric candles in all the windows facing the street, adding irreverent figures to the creche scene (Bert, Garfield, a plastic chicken, and Gumby’s horse Pokey were joined this year by my action figures of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Barack Obama), and more. I used the cookies in this story – you can find one of the recipes at the end – and Robbie Jordan decorate the real tree in her country store with her eclectic collection of ornaments acquired throughout the years, just as I do. I saved the irreverence for Country Store Mystery #8: Candy Slain Murder (out in 2020).

Alex: Other than the yearly keep-the-cats-from-destroying-everything tradition, we don’t have a lot of traditions we follow at home. We go through the wake up, give gifts, eat breakfast, and then travel to the parents/grandparents for a few hours each, and then pass out at home routine. We barely decorate. We have a tree, but thanks to the cats, we are very careful about decorations. This year will be the first Christmas for our two newest kitties, and considering how they are still full of kitten energy, I fully expect to find the tree to be horizontal more this year than vertical.

This does mean I tend to struggle a little more with coming up with traditions for my characters. Mostly, it ends up being something simple, like travel to visit family, or dealing with cats who enjoy ripping down trees and opening presents the moment they are wrapped. Anything more, and I feel out of my depth.

Maddie wondered, “These novellas are basically a super short book, about a third the length of one of our usual mysteries. What challenges did you find writing yours? Was it easier or harder than a full-length novel? Discuss!”

Alex:  I found it easier in some regards, harder in others. In the novella, I could focus almost solely on the mystery and the characters directly involved in the investigation. In the novels, there’s a whole town of people who come into contact with our heroine daily, and they need their time in each book to shine. As I was writing, I kept wondering if I should find a way to add these characters, throw in little tidbits, but quickly realized that if I did that, my 25,000 word novella would quickly turn into a 50,000 word mini-novel. There could be no downtime, no random events cropping up to distract us from the mystery. It was freeing in many ways. I could zero in on every detail pertaining to that moment, but I did sometimes miss having a beloved character pop in and mess everything up with a disaster of their own that just has to be dealt with right now!

Carlene: It was a bit challenging to develop a complete mystery in a shorter period of time. But it was also a lot of fun. I used less suspects than I do in the regular Irish Village Mysteries and there were less subplots. But even then I have Easter Eggs (sorry, mixing holidays here!) Ahem. The Easter Egg is at the very end and pertains to the ongoing personal relationship between our sleuth and a certain-someone. It was fun when that popped up, so even novellas can surprise us on multiple levels! What was more challenging was going back to a full length mystery after the novella. I remember thinking– geez, I wrapped the last one up much quicker!

Maddie: What they said! My (our) editor asked for 25,000 words.  “Christmas Cocoa and a Corpse” ended up about at 27,000 words, which was fine with him. I’d never written that length before, and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. But Wicked Authors blogmate Barb Ross has written three for similar collections, so I consulted with her a little, and I pulled it off. Since my first drafts are always way too short, it was kind of nice to be able to go even shorter. I was already a teensy bit busy writing three books a year, but hey, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. And I’m glad I didn’t.

Readers: Share your favorite winter holiday tradition (Christmas or otherwise) to enter a giveaway for a copy of the book (US only)! And check out our Twelve Days of Christmas giveaways going on now! It’s not too late to join in.

Carlene O’Connor is a USA Today Bestselling author of The Irish Village Mysteries. To date she has written Murder in an Irish Village, Murder at an Irish Wedding, Murder in an Irish Churchyard, Murder at an Irish Pub, Christmas Cocoa Murder, and Murder in an Irish Cottage (February 2019). In the Home to Ireland series she has written Murder in Galway, and April of 2020 will see the release of Murder in Connemara. Carlene is busy writing the next books in each series. Readers can visit her at CarleneOConnor.net , Carlene O’Connor on Facebook, and please follow her on Book Bub. Carlene also writes under Mary Carter.

Alex Erickson is the author of the Bookstore Café and the Furever Pets mysteries. When he’s not writing, he enjoys spending his time gaming or playing music. He lives in Ohio with his wife, son, and their three crazy cats. Website: https://alexericksonbooks.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alexericksonbooks/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/author138

Maddie Day writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. As Edith Maxwell she writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and award-winning short crime fiction. Day/Maxwell, with nineteen novels in print and four more completed, has been nominated for an Agatha Award six times. She lives north of Boston with her beau and an elderly cat, and gardens and cooks when she isn’t killing people on the page or wasting time on Facebook. Please also find her at edithmaxwell.com, on Instagram, on Twitter, and at the Wicked Authors blog.

97 Thoughts

  1. My favorite traditions are decorating inside and out, and playing holiday music pretty much non-stop.
    browninggloria(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  2. We had a few traditions for the first 40 plus years I lived. But as our parents and grandparents have aged or passed, we really don’t do much of anything anymore. The big extended family gathering on Christmas Eve ended four years ago.

    To be honest, I don’t really do anything for the holiday anymore save buy gifts for the few people I have to. Last year, I went to a movie on Christmas Day.

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    1. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I’ve read Christmas Cocoa Murder thanks to an advance copy I was sent. And I can say that it was a phenomenal read.

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  3. Think my favorite Christmas tradition is that we eat non-traditional food on Christmas Day. It all stems from when I was a kid and Mom was missing out on Christmas because she was busy in the kitchen preparing the Christmas feast. Well, one year she said enough is enough. My Dad’s birthday is a week later on New Year’s Eve and Mom decided that we would have our typical Christmas Day feast on Dad’s birthday where we could celebrate his big day and the coming of a new year. That way Mom could enjoy Christmas with the rest of us. Christmas dinner became a wide array of ingredients for any kind of sandwich you could possible want to make along with all sort of chips and dip and then the spread of holiday desserts like the candy and cookies Mom had made for her yearly delivery of goodie boxes to family and friends. She got to see the parades and enjoy the day like we did plus we all got to have the second “big” day just a week later. Plus it made Dad feel special having such a big feast on his special day.

    Now everyone is gone on to their heavenly home but hubby and I, but we still hold to the non-traditional meal on Christmas. Like hubby says – if we want turkey in June, then it’s turkey in June – why wait. 🙂 Now our Christmas dinner is what sounds good to us. It may be the sandwiches like we use to have when I was a kid or it might be grilled steaks or tacos. Either way, it’s all good and we still celebrate Christmas – just on a lot smaller scale now. Of course, there still have to be some sort of holiday dessert in the house to finish off the meal. I still love to pull out Mom’s goodie recipes and bake up to share the bounty of my kitchen with those that for some reason or other look forward to receiving the little boxes.

    Thank you for the fabulous opportunity to win a copy of “Christmas Cocoa Murder”!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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  4. Although I do the usual Christmas “stuff”, baking, decorating, shopping, my favorite “me” time is reading all the special Christmas themed books that start coming out around the first of November. Even Christmas murders put me in a holiday mood!

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  5. We have dear friends who host a party and a reading of the story A Christmas Carol every holiday season. I look forward to it every year/ Thanks for the wonderful giveaway!

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  6. Holidays are times for family to share with each other the many aspects of the season. We enjoy riding to view the various light displays in our neighborhood and special displays. Preparing special foods, especially cookies, is always fun too. Thanks for the giveaway.

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  7. Over the years we have accumulated many little holiday traditions. Along with hanging the pink pig on the Christmas tree (described earlier), we always read A Christmas Carol to our adult daughter on Christmas Eve wherever in the world she happens to be, and have pumpkin pancakes for Christmas breakfast.

    Looking forward to reading these holiday gems.

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  8. I really enjoyed this blog and look forward to reading Christmas Cocoa Murder — who would have ever thought that cocoa could be deadly! My favorite holiday traditions are decorating our Christmas tree and driving around and looking at the Christmas lights and decorations.

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  9. I decorate modestly at home, but then leave the red and green as winter decor (Valentine’s – St. Patrick’s) until spring. For the bigger seasonal scene, we have St. Charles Christmas Traditions on Main Street. I still have some of my faux-Victorian costume from my time as storyteller (and substitute Mrs. Claus).
    As for murders at the holidays, I’ve noticed how pointy the end of candy cane can get if it’s licked for a while . . .
    https://www.discoverstcharles.com/events/christmas-traditions/

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  10. I love to read Christmas books and listen to Christmas music. Seeing houses decorated is fun to. Evening Mass Christmas Eve is also a tradition. Thank you for the chance

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    1. I just did a word search in my document and don’t see what you’re referring to… is it another one of my books? Do you have an early non-edited copy? I’m assuming it’s a play on “viola” (I don’t know how to bring up the accent marks on here)…

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  11. I love listening to The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square concert every year. They have famous guests (like Angela Lansbury, the Kingston Trio, and Kristin Chenoweth), dancing, humor, and inspiring spiritual messages. My son says he loves eating cookies and other treats.

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  12. Once the great-nephews were intrigued by a big, very unsafe, hill that was part of a construction height. I convinced them that it would be better to sled on the safer hill by my condo because “it’s closer for when you want hot chocolate.” 😉

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  13. Welcome to the Wickeds Carlene and Alex and congrats to you and Maddie on the novella collection. I’ve been in three and have loved writing these stories that are longer than short stories and shorter than novels. Much success to you with this one!

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  14. Every year we go and cut down our tree and decorate it as a family. This year after moving to Lake Tahoe in the forest, we cut our tree on our property. I buy the girls a special ornament and pajamas every year as now that they are out of college, their college friends come to Christmas as well. I love having their friends here for the holidays.

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  15. My favorite was that when I was a child, my mom’s mom lived on the east coast and we didn’t, so on Christmas Eve we would get in our jammies and have egg nog and we each would open our gift from her. That way, when she called on Christmas morning, we could thank her – I kept that tradition until she passed away.

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  16. My favorite holiday tradition has always been putting up the tree on the day after Thanksgiving and then decorating it all weekend. But since my husband passed away this summer, I don’t know if I will be able to continue it or if I will even want to do so on my own.

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  17. Each year two of my neighbors (brothers) love to decorate for the holidays with elaborate displays – the neighbors get to vote for their favorite.

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  18. My brother’s birthday is on Christmas eve and we always have lasagna since it is his favorite. We decorate the inside and outside of the house. I cook up tons of food for family and friends. We also watch as many holiday movies as we can.

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  19. My favorite is spending Christmas day with all the extended family. We cook the meal together and have a great visit that carries on into the night until we start getting goofy with all the “remember when” stories. My next favorite is helping my mom decorate her house (that’s where we all gather) for Christmas and remembering where all the ornaments came from and the stories behind them.

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  20. Sending Christmas cards, decorating the tree, putting out a nativity of some kind, putting out an advent of some kind and giving gifts! As a child we always had a ham dinner also….up until my early 30’s

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