MARLA COOPER: Today on Chicks on the Case, I’m excited to introduce hilarious mystery author and all-around awesome person, Cindy Brown. When I met Cindy three years ago at Left Coast Crime, we were both at the exact same spot in our writing careers: We’d both just finished our first manuscript, neither of us had an agent, and we were both trying to figure out what was next. I was thrilled when Cindy got a contract with Henery Press about ten minutes after the conference ended—and I’m super excited that yesterday marked the publication of her fourth book, Ivy Get Your Gun.
MC: So, Cindy, your mysteries are set in the theater world and you’re a self-described theater geek. What was the first play you were ever in, and who did you play?
CB: I began my career in theater as a musician (though I did play a peach tree in a ballet of The Selfish Giant). My first paid gig was as a woodwind player for A Little Night Music. After several years of playing in the orchestra pit, I decided I wanted to be on top of the stage, so I took singing lessons in college, and landed the part of Joanne in Godspell.
Speaking of parts, you know that old maxim, “There are no small parts, only small actors”? I’m curious: What’s the smallest role you ever played?
I had just moved to a new town and was dying to do some theater, so I accepted the role of a nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She had one line: “I can’t. I’m Catholic.” It was strange—I felt incredible internal pressure to deliver that one line absolutely perfectly. It’s tough when you have so few words to establish a character.
Your main character, Ivy, finds herself embroiled in all sorts of theater hijinks, and I’m betting you have a lot of rich material to draw from. What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you during a production in real life?
I was in a production of Nine, a musical based on Fellini’s 8 1/2. One of my costumes was this great Follies Bergère costume, basically a bikini with a huge feather headdress and loops of beads strung from my bikini top to my wrists. One night my beads got tangled. I had the presence of mind to keep my movements small—until the very end of the song. Muscle memory somehow took over and I thrust my arms into the air. My bikini top followed. As one friend said after the performance. “We saw a lot more of you tonight than we thought we would.”
You’re one of those writers who writes all kinds of things. Did you always want to write a mystery novel, or did that come later?
I’ve read mysteries since I was a kid. I think the idea of writing one began about the time I started reading Sue Grafton. But this series really grew out of a character: Ivy popped into my head one day. I knew she was an actor and a part-time PI, and I knew she didn’t belong in a play or a screenplay, so I decided to learn how to write a mystery. It took me a while. As a playwright and screenwriter, I had a good sense of dialogue, but sometimes would leave out setting altogether.
In Macdeath (great title by the way) you talk about the Macbeth curse. In real life, do you believe in the curse?
I kind of do. I won’t say I believe in it 100% percent, but I won’t say “Macbeth” in the theater, either. I did once, said, “Oh, Macbeth Macbeth Macbeth” in the dressing room before a show just to prove there was no curse. In the middle of that performance, the lights went out and we lost power for five minutes. Coincidence, or curse?
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever written that wasn’t a mystery novel?
Probably the most interesting (i.e. strangest) was a one-act play called Happy Jack, about a giant cow who wouldn’t stop growing (a not-so-subtle comment on unchecked development). I also once wrote and directed an interactive murder mystery play for a conference, the type of performance where the actors mingle with the crowd. One problem: the conference organizers hadn’t publicized the play very well, so when the first actor “died” during dinner, people thought it was real. Hard to come back from that.
In your newsletter, you often include the best place to hide a dead body. What are your favorite so far?
I love my dead body photos! Here are my three favs (and yes, Marla is in one, but it really is one of my favorites).
I’ve heard a lot of stories about haunted theaters. Does Ivy have any theatrical ghosts in her future?
Every theater worth its salt has a ghost. Not sure I’ve encountered one, though I did fall down the stairs at one theater. Could’ve been a push from a ghost, or show fatigue plus high heels. The Ivy book I’m working on right now (The Phantom of Oz) involves a theater ghost. I was recently doing some research at the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix, which is home to several spirits, including a cat named Tom. He meows from up in the fly space (where no cat could be), and sometimes they’ll see little cat footprints leading out of puddles of water.
Thanks for joining us today, Cindy! And readers, be sure to check out—and by check out, we mean buy, read, and love—Cindy’s newest release, Ivy Get Your Gun from Henery Press.
There’s a new sheriff in town—and she can sing! When Gold Bug Gulch’s actor-gunslinger Mongo winds up shot for real, actress and part-time PI Ivy Meadows goes undercover as the ingénue in the tourist town’s melodrama. Unfortunately, she’s distracted by a pack of marauding Chihuahuas, a problematic love life, auditions for Annie Get Your Gun, and a personal mission: to show people the real Annie Oakley.
What’s more, the no-good, yellow-bellied varmint who killed Mongo isn’t finished with the Gulch—or with Ivy. Will our heroine prove she can get a man with a gun—before the killer gets her?
Books in the Ivy Meadows Humorous Mystery Series:
THE SOUND OF MURDER (#2)
OLIVER TWISTED (#3)
IVY GET YOUR GUN (#4)
Readers, be sure to say hi in the comments below—and if you have a theater anecdote, let’s hear it!