Guest Post with Giveaway ~ Plot Boiler by Ali Brandon


 WikiWho?…or, Research and the Cozy Mystery

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. ~Wernher von Braun

Back when I wrote the Leonardo da Vinci mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime—and, prior to that, when I wrote historical romances—my work desk was surrounded by stacks of research books. While great storytelling was my primary goal, I strove to be as accurate as I could be with my history. From choosing the proper weapon (broadsword or rapier?) to incorporating the right kind of bathroom facilities (privy or chamber pot?) to specifying what kind of paint was used on Renaissance-era frescos (buon or secco?), I would check and double-check facts, cross-reference my sources.

I truly enjoyed the research, although it could be exhausting. But since my readers were astute folks with uncanny abilities to spot errors, I could never let up on that part of the writing. And so, when I left historical mysteries behind and moved on to writing contemporary cozies, I heaved a sigh of relief. Ding, dong, the research witch was dead!

Uh, no.

By Page Two of my first Black Cat Bookshop mystery, it was obvious that contemporary settings and plots still required research. A surprising amount of research. I’m talking more than brushing up on police procedure. It’s all the things you think you already know but realize you don’t. Trivial things, sometimes, but they add needed verisimilitude to a plot. And so, for fun, I thought I’d run past you some of the topics—from the trifling to the plot-critical—that I very specifically researched during the writing of PLOT BOILER.

Ballet…some key action in PLOT BOILER took place at the fictional Brooklyn Institute of Modern Dance, including a scene where the senior dance troupe was working on a bit of Swan Lake choreography. I hit YouTube and watched several different excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s ballet just to be able to describe a few sentence’s worth of dance steps. I also researched ballet shoes and practice costumes, and how a typical ballet class is conducted. Oh, and I read a short bio of the Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn relationship just so I could make a couple of throwaway references to it.

Vaping…I know quite a few people in real life who use electronic cigarettes, but I needed to do some online research to become familiar with the various e-cig configurations and how they work. I also needed to make sure upfront that e-cigs are legal in Brooklyn. And, for some real hands-on research, I buttonholed the UPS guy at my day job who’s a big vaper and picked his brain about the process in between signing for packages from him.

Oleander…this famously poisonous shrub played a role in my plot. But even though I once had an oleander in my garden (I finally pulled it out because I worried about my pets around it), I had to learn a bit more about it. Which parts of it actually are deadly, how far north it can be grown, and a bit more detail about its appearance.

Coffee roasting, grinding, and brewing…the entire coffee-making process is critical to the storyline that is PLOT BOILER, so as part of my research I watched numerous coffee-related videos on YouTube. My viewing history includes many variations on the roasting process, with secondary emphasis on learning how to pull the perfect espresso. And let’s not forget how to get that barista training in the first place. I researched that, as well as how to do coffee art. And, to get really hands-on experience, I made more than a few stops at Starbucks for coffee drinks.

Song Lyrics…during the novel’s Fourth of July block party, a flash mob of teenage dancers performs to the rock group Aerosmith’s 1980s hit, Rag Doll. My protagonist, Darla, sings a single line from the song. Often as I’ve heard Rag Doll over the years, I still needed to go back and check the lyrics to make sure I got those dozen or so words correct. And, oops, looking up the lyrics led to watching various Aerosmith videos!

These examples are but a small fraction of the subjects that I researched in one way or another for PLOT BOILER.  When you pick up your copy of the book, see if you can spot them. I hope you’ll decide that I got them right!

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plotSeries: A Black Cat Bookshop Mystery (Book 5)
Publisher: Berkley (November 3, 2015)
Genre: Cozy Mystery
ISBN-10: 0425261557
ISBN-13: 978-0425261552
ASIN: B00SI0277S
Buy: Amazon, Kindle, IndieBound, The Book Depository


The New York Times bestselling author of Literally Murder returns to Pettistone’s Fine Books, where the silence of Hamlet the cat speaks volumes about two mysterious deaths…

It’s almost Fourth of July, and to boost customer traffic in their Brooklyn neighborhood, bookseller Darla Pettistone decides to throw a block party. All the local shop owners are thrilled—except the proprietor of Perky’s Coffee Shop, who thinks Darla is trying to poach his customers by selling her own caffeinated brew in her new bookshop café.

But when Hamlet comes upon the owner’s not-so-perky wife, it’s clear a killer has crashed the party. And when a second local business owner shuffles off this mortal coil—as Hamlet’s namesake would say—Darla and her curious cat must perform some fancy footwork to shine a spotlight on a secret worth killing for…

post-divider leftThanks to the publisher, I have one (1) copy of Plot Boiler to give away.

Giveaway open to residents of the US only.
Giveaway ends on November 15th

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Winner will have 48 hours, from the time of notification to confirm their win or another winner will be chosen.

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aliAli Brandon is the New York Times bestselling author of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. Writing under her real name, Diane A.S. Stuckart, she penned the popular Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, as well as a Florida Book Award. Additionally, she is the author of five critically-reviewed historical romances which will soon be re-released as ebooks. A native Texan with a degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma, Diane a/k/a Ali now lives in South Florida. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and the Cat Writers Association.


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  1. Barbara Hawk says:

    Very interesting! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Della Williamson says:

    Love a good read that is accurate rather than fanciful.  Your care is so deeply appreciated.  But must admit.  I am a recent devotee.  A gal at the center where I vollunteer praised your books to high heaven.  And lent me two to read last month.  The first was A Bolt From the Blue.  It was great!  I was hooked.  So I need to get my own now.  I am so hoping I get this as I am especially fond of cats.  Really reading the info on Lori's page.  Her site has been a godsend.  My family's not to sure but Jan (the book store owner) agree's.  My TBR list is quite long.  But readings a passion.  Especially when I am waiting.  Which I do a lot taking various ones to their appointments.  Thank you for two enjoyable reads and I am looking forward to more.  Thank your publisher for me for this giveaway


    • Thanks, Della. Glad you enjoy Hamlet and Leonardo, both. You might notice that an Italian greyhound appears in both series. Coincidence? Nope. 🙂  Keep that TBR list going!

  3. Love the series and I'm looking forward to reading this one!

  4. wow

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