High Tide

The CapeMay.com blog

Q&A with Libby Klein, author of “Mischief Nights Are Murder”

Mischief Nights Are Murder by Libby Klein is a lighthearted mystery about an innkeeper who has a B&B in Cape May. The main character, Poppy McAllister, finds herself in a few sticky situations and along the way, cooks some amazing dishes. I found myself hungry and wanting the food they were cooking in the book. I was even googling how to make a few dishes! My favorite line was “Can’t I just finish the tiramisu I already started before the guy died?” (I could imagine my husband saying this if we were somewhere.)

There are some spooky things that do happen in the book, but nothing that would make you scared to turn the page. To be honest, I wanted to know what was happening and was fooled most of the time. This book was a fun read and put me in the Halloween spirit! Make sure you eat before reading because you will be hungry. Lucky for you, at the end of the book, Libby includes recipes for you to make. 

Mischief Nights Are Murder  Book on the Washington Street Mall
Someone reading “Mischief Nights Are Murder” in front of the Cape May bell on the Washington Street Mall

How did you approach writing Mischief Nights Are Murder?

Mischief Nights Are Murder is the eighth book in my Poppy McAllister Mysteries. I’ve tried to share as many of Cape May’s beautiful landmarks as possible with my readers. With this being a Halloween story, and so much of Cape May reported to be haunted, it was the perfect time to put my heroine on a ghost tour. I owe much thanks to the wonderful people who are featured in Mischief Nights for giving me their time for tours and interviews.

Why did you choose Cape May as a setting?

I grew up here and I love how beautiful the area is. I went to high school at LCMR [Lower Cape Regional], which looked very different back in my day. It also didn’t hurt that there weren’t a lot of books set in Cape May at the time, so it was a little more unusual of a setting. And with Cape May’s huge tourism industry, [I can create visiting characters] to kill so I don’t have to decimate the town like Cabot Cove from Murder She Wrote.

How long did it take you to write the book once you came up with the idea?

It takes me two months to develop and outline an idea, then another five months to write the book, followed by a full month of editing. This one also required a special trip to conduct interviews, take ghost tours, and eat at Mack’s Pizza. Darn.

What inspired you to write a spooky book?

Halloween is the quintessential time to have a ghost tour, and Mischief Night is the perfect theme for South Jersey since it’s so iconic to our area. I don’t consider the book “spooky” so much as it’s hilariously fun. Poppy is being called the Cape May Murder Magnet by locals, and her Butterfly Wings Bed and Breakfast has been dubbed “The Murder House” which isn’t at all fair since no one has ever died there. Yet. Her Aunt Ginny ropes her into hosting a gourmet dinner tour without mentioning that it’s a haunted house tour and Poppy is expected to tell stories about their ghosts. Ghosts that they don’t have. Probably. Their first dinner guests just happen to be professors of Paranormal Study from a University. Add to that a Paranormal Ghost Hunting TV crew staying at the B&B, and Owen Rodney – Pet Psychic, and Mischief Nights is more fun than spooky.

Mischief Nights Are Murder Book on the bench infront of the Cape May Library.
“Mischief Nights Are Murder” Book on the bench in front of the Cape May Library.

Did you ever get stuck or experience writer’s block while you were writing the book? How did you overcome that?

I start every writing day by editing what I wrote the day before. That gets me right back into the story. The secret is no judgment or expectations for the first draft to be brilliant. Just get the words down today and tomorrow we’ll see what works.

I know there are a few ways to approach writing. What is your process?

It usually starts with a location, a murder weapon, or a motive. I’ll spend weeks thinking about it and form my cast of characters in my mind. Then I’ll start a murder board of characters, locations, and clues. I always have a lot going on in my books. There are side plots and character growth to weave into a complete story where no storyline feels under-represented or lopsided. Then the outlining begins. I usually outline about thirty chapters to be sure I’m hitting all my plot points. When I’m satisfied that I’ve got a strong framework, I’ll start fleshing it out into a full story. I try to write every day, but sometimes other things get in the way. I do my best writing in the evening, so when I’m getting close to that deadline I’ll write late into the night.

Do you write when you visit Cape May? Did you write any of this book while you were here?

I get some great ideas just from being there. I definitely wrote parts of Mischief Nights while I was visiting.

What type of music do you typically listen to while writing?

I have special theme music for certain characters to help me get in their head. And if there is ever a song mentioned in the book, I was listening to it when I wrote the scene. There is a scene in Mischief Nights Are Murder where Poppy is playing classic haunted house-style music during the dinner party. I still laugh every time I hear “the Dracula theme.”

Mischief Nights Are Murder Book in front on the Inn of Cape May.
“Mischief Nights Are Murder” Book in front of the Inn of Cape May.

Do you have a playlist/genre you listened to while writing this book?

“O Fortuna and Tocatta” and “Fuge in D Minor” were both big players. And Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” was in the mix. Depending on the character, there’s a lot of 80’s rock, Frank Sinatra, or Kaleo playing. One of my favorite scenes to music was in the previous book, Antique Auctions Are Murder. It’s Poppy’s first summer running a Bed and Breakfast. She’s tricked into stealing something by Aunt Ginny and her octogenarian friends and the whole time she’s running away she hears AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” playing in her head.

What do you enjoy about writing mysteries and murder?

I like the intricate plot of clues and misdirects. The layering of motive, means, opportunity, and character. And I like that the killer is caught at the end and justice is served. My books also have a lot of humor and romance. And writing a series gives me the freedom to include character growth. Not just in my main characters, but with all the relationships. The mysteries can stand alone, but the characters grow and change over time so they’re better when read in order. When the series opens, Poppy calls Cape May “Beach Hell” because of bad feelings she’s carried from childhood. With each book she gets stronger and freer to love and accept herself, and she grows in her appreciation for her childhood town.

You go into much detail about B&Bs! Have you owned or worked at a B&B? Was it haunted?

While it used to be a dream of mine to run a Bed and Breakfast, I never have. I’ve stayed in many B&Bs across the country, and even some abroad. A few claimed to be haunted although I’ve never personally seen any paranormal activity. And I’ve interviewed many owners who very generously told me their horror stories.

Mischief Nights Are Murder Book on Beach Avenue.
“Mischief Nights Are Murder” Book on Beach Avenue.

Was Poppy’s Butterfly Wings B&B modeled after a real B&B? If yes, have you stayed there?

I’m sure it’s a conglomeration of many of the B&Bs that I’ve stayed in. There is a historic Victorian in Cape May that the exterior of Aunt Ginny’s house is based on, but it isn’t a B&B. You’ll recognize it from the two towers topped with witch’s hat peaks.

Is the restaurant Mia Famiglia, which is on the Washington Street Mall in the book, modeled after one that is there today?

Sadly, no. But there used to be an Italian Restaurant at the end of the mall that was the inspiration for Mia Famiglia.

Have you been to each real location you’ve mentioned in your book? Where is your favorite place that you mentioned?

I’ve been everywhere I mentioned. I used to roller skate at Convention Hall in the seventies and eighties. I had a few school field trips to Cold Spring Village. As an adult, I’ve stayed in and eaten at many of the restaurants and bed and breakfasts. A few years ago, I had a book launch at the Inn of Cape May. I can’t pick a favorite B&B, but I make sure to eat at Mack’s Pizza on the boardwalk, and the Milky Way in the Villas every single time I’m in town. I think my favorite place is just sitting on the beach listening to the waves.

If this book were made into a movie, who would you cast in the lead roles?

If I could bend the laws of space and time, I’d cast Carol Burnett as Aunt Ginny, Betty White as Mrs. Davis, Mollie Sugden as Mrs. Dodson, and Esther Rolle as Mother Gibson. Poppy would be brilliantly played by Melissa McCarthy or Christina Hendricks. Georgina would be the lovely Kelly Bishop. Kenny Love would be Damian Lewis, and Joanne Junk would be Rosie O’Donnell.

Mischief Nights Are Murder Book in front of Cape May Presbyterian Church, where East Lynne Theater Company performs.
“Mischief Nights Are Murder” Book in front of Cape May Presbyterian Church, where East Lynne Theater Company performs.

How did you create the character Joanne?

Joanne is a fictionalized conglomeration of many people I’ve known in my life, and she has one of the best character arcs in the series. She is the perfect example of someone who’s past hurts have formed her abrasive exterior, while on the inside is someone sensitive who feels very deeply. Joanne is more than she first appears to be.

One of the funniest things that happened in the book was the candy Peeps tossed all over the front lawn. Was that based on a real experience?

Nope. It’s totally made up, but what a great gag that would be!

Is Figaro the cat based on a pet of yours?

Figaro is based on three of my cats including my real black smoke Persian—Sir Figaro Newton—and he really is that naughty.

What inspired you to have the character Owen talk to animals?

Figaro needed a foil. He’s a very expressive cat. Poppy always knows just what he’s thinking, and it’s usually sassy. Once he was caught up in a love triangle and there was no living with him. The Pet Psychic is the perfect irritation for Fig as Owen keeps trying to psychoanalyze the feline when he’s not trying to broker a peace treaty between the raccoons and squirrels.

Mischief Nights Are Murder Book on the porch of The Southern Mansion.
“Mischief Nights Are Murder” Book on the porch of The Southern Mansion.

The fictional Paranormal Pathfinders is filming a show in this book. Are you a fan of any shows like theirs?

I had honestly never seen a ghost-hunting show until I was doing research for the book. It was fascinating to see their process and the equipment they use. I especially enjoyed when they de-mystified some of the “paranormal activity” as vents or dust. Or they showed how strongly the mind can play tricks on you through the power of suggestion.

Have you ever experienced something paranormal that you couldn’t explain, or been on any ghost tours in Cape May?

I’ve been on several ghost tours around Cape May when doing research for the book. My daughter and I had a great time taking the Trolley Ghost Tour and Physick Estate together. But the most in-depth tours I received were from the locations featured in Mischief Nights Are Murder. The lovely people of The Inn of Cape May, The Hotel Macomber, The Chalfonte, and The Southern Mansion went above and beyond to show me around their beautiful properties. They shared their tales of paranormal activity and ghost sightings from numerous guest accounts and their own personal experience.

Let’s talk about food! Your characters do a lot of cooking. What is your favorite recipe that you wrote about? Have you made anything that’s in the book?

I make all the recipes that are featured in the books. There are seven gluten-free and sometimes dairy-free recipes at the end of every story. Soon after Poppy moves back to Cape May, she begins baking gluten-free goodies for the local coffee shop on the Washington Street Mall. Since she and I share an auto-immune disease where we can’t eat gluten, I wanted to create some tasty recipes for people like us. One of my favorites from Mischief Nights Are Murder is the Sicilian Lemon Earl Grey Tiramisu. I’m especially pleased with the Crunch Coat Bar Cookies and the Funnel Cake Muffins from Antique Auctions Are Murder.

What advice would you give to a new writer?

Read books that are written well to learn the craft, but don’t try to copy the way they sound. Only you have your unique voice and that’s what your readers will love. Silence your inner critic and be patient with yourself. Everyone’s first draft sucks. You keep editing until it’s right. The only way to get better at writing is with more writing.

And finally, what are you working on next?

I’ve finished the next book in the Poppy McAllister Mysteries – Silent Nights Are Murder – and I expect it to release around this time next year. Now I’m working on a different series with a whole new cast of zany characters that have me laughing at my computer every day. So far that playlist includes Joe Walsh’s “One Day at a Time” and “Life’s Been Good”, and Aerosmith’s “Dream On” just in case you were wondering.

Mischief Nights Are Murder Book on a picnic table at The Emlen Physick Estate.
“Mischief Nights Are Murder” Book on a picnic table at The Emlen Physick Estate.