Some writers focus on short stories, some on novels. Shawn Reilly Simmons does both. Her cozy series, about the Red Carpet movie caterers, moves about as well – taking readers from one film location to the next. We’re lucky Shawn had time to sit down with us today and talk about writing a long-running series, short stories, and more.

How does a book start for you?

I tend to think about the setting first. My series, unlike many other traditional mystery series, moves from location to location for each book, because my main character is a movie set caterer, and she goes wherever her next job is. So far Penelope has catered movies on a Florida beach, near a dense forest in Indiana, in a small town in New Jersey, in Midtown and Lower Manhattan, and in the mountains of Vermont. Once I get the setting nailed down, I think of the first murder, and my supporting cast of characters, and how the crime might have taken place in that particular setting. Then things flow from there.   

Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?

Like in many of my books, I’m often surprised by characters who I first write as a supporting or minor character that gradually turn into someone who is more important to the story. Many times I’ll introduce a character, just to have someone for a main character to talk to, and they begin speaking to me, taking the book in a whole new direction. It’s always fun to see where we go from there.   

When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting?

Murder on the Chopping Block, which is due out next month [Sept. 15], is set on California’s central coast, in a fictional town near Monterey called Salacia Beach. I’d read an article about nearby Monastery Beach, which has been nicknamed Mortuary Beach by the locals because a large number of people have drowned there, some who were just walking along the sand near the water. I became fascinated by this place where rugged cliffs meet the ocean and thought it was a perfect location for a story, beautiful and deadly.

What are you working on now?

I’m beginning work on the eighth book in my series, as well as writing a few short stories. I’m one of the editors for the upcoming Writers Police Academy, Best New England Crime Stories, and Malice Domestic anthologies, so I’ll be working with the contributing authors on those, as well as a number of other projects in the pipeline. 

Which question didn’t I ask you that I should have?
I think your questions were great! I’m always available to answer specific questions from readers via email, FB messenger or Twitter if anyone would like to reach out to me. And my monthly newsletter (sign up via my website) has recipes and book giveaways too…so I encourage everyone to keep in touch! 

Shawn Reilly Simmons is the author of The Red Carpet Catering Mysteries featuring Penelope Sutherland, an on-set movie caterer, and of several short stories appearing in a variety of anthologies including the Malice Domestic, Best New England Crime Stories, Bouchercon, and Crime Writers’ Association series. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and the Crime Writers’ Association in the U.K.