Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Judi McCoy Finds the Mystery in Dog-walking

Interviewed by Sandra Parshall

The winner of a free copy of Judi's book is Annette. Send your snail mail address to me at and I'll put it into the mail. Congratulations!

Judi McCoy has been a successful romance novelist for more than fifteen years, garnering many four-star reviews for her work. Now she’s turning her talents to mystery with a humorous series featuring New York City dog-walker Ellie Engleman, who has a telepathic connection with her canine charges. The first in the series is Hounding the Pavement, published this week. A starred review in Publishers Weekly said, “Somehow managing to avoid every talking animal mystery cliche, McCoy fills this delightful story with humor, quirky characters, and delicious hints of romance.”

Judi is also a veteran women’s gymnastics judge and enjoys gardening and raising orchids in her spare time. She lives on Virginia’s eastern shore with her husband and three dogs. Visit her web site at

Everyone who leaves a comment today will be entered in a drawing for a free copy of Hounding the Pavement. Check back tomorrow to find out if you won – the winner’s name will be posted at the top of this blog entry.

Q. You’ve written a number of romances. Why did you cross over to the dark side and start writing mysteries? What is it about mysteries that appeals to you?

A. The crossover seemed natural. I’d run out of ideas for a ‘straight’ romance and came up with a character. My agent liked the idea and so did my sister, and they both encouraged me to take the idea and run. I liked the idea of getting the reader involved in the story (who did it, why, how?). Writing the books just seemed the next step in my career.

Q. Are you writing a series?

A. Yes, it’s a series (I’d like to do 12 books). My heroine is a New York City dog walker. If you don’t know about the dog walker business in NY, you’re in for a surprise. Most of them make $100,000+ every year, not counting tips and money for pet sitting. They also have keys to all the apartments they visit. (They’re bonded and insured.) The accessability to mystery was huge.

Q. What was the inspiration for your mystery protagonist and her adventures?

A. I love dogs and always wanted to be a dog walker. Unfortunately, I never lived anywhere I could do it. The idea for a romance about the profession had simmered in the back of my mind for a long time. When I had the chance to do a story, I decided to make the series work.

Q. Have you found that you have to do more research for a mystery than for a romance?

A. I certainly did for this one. I spent several days in NY, sitting on a bench on Fifth Avenue and Central Park just soaking up the atmosphere. Then I got brave and talked to dog walkers, doormen, anyone who was walking a single dog, too. I also called the Central Park East precinct and spoke to a CRM. He allowed me to come in and spend a couple of hours with a detective, an invaluable opportunity.

Q. Was this the first time you’d tried writing mysteries? Was selling the first one easier than you expected, or harder?

A. Avon, my romance publisher, rejected the book(s) without even reading them. That made my agent determined. She knew they were great and she planned to show them how foolish they were to refuse them. It only took her a month to sell the first three books.

Q. Why did you decide to give your profit from the first mystery to a humane organization? How important are animals in your life?

A. Best Friends is an amazing animal rescue charity. I’ve admired them for years, but I never realized how much they did until I watched their series, Dogtown, on the National Geographic channel. Once I saw the show, I was hooked. I also knew I had to do some crazy promoting to get my name and the books ‘out there’ so I came up with the royalty giveaway. Once I thought up the idea, there was never a doubt in my mind that I had to see it through. Even my husband agreed. I’ve had several wonderful discussions with people at Best Friends and they’re thrilled.

Q. Do you write full-time? Do you outline and stick to a writing routine, or do you wing it?

A. I write full-time, every day. I’m up at 6:30, walk my three small dogs, have breakfast and plan my day. I usually get to my computer by 8:30
and I’m there until 1. Then I take my lunch break and it’s back to my office until 5:30. My husband also works from home, so we’re together yet separate all day. If I have errands (groceries, hair cut, etc) I plan my time to do it all in one trip on one day.

Q. What do you believe are your greatest strengths as a writer? What aspects of craft are you still trying to master?

A. My greatest strength? I had to think hard about that one, because I’m not sure I have one. How about my sense of humor? I try to impart joy and fun into every book I write. No one gets murdered [onstage] in my books. Ellie finds the body, and along with her dog Rudy, solves the mystery, much to the dismay of her love interest, Sam, a detective. The hook is: Ellie talks to her dog and those she walks and they talk back to her. She hears them clearly in her mind, and oftentimes gets caught holding a conversation with them. That adds to the fun.

Q. What writers have inspired you and taught you by example? Whose books do you rush to read as soon as they’re published?

A. I love the Stephanie Plum series and I’ve used it as the basis for 12 books and no more. People have complained lately that the series is dragging on too long. Stephanie needs to make a choice between Joe and Ranger and decide if the bounty hunting business is really for her. I never want that said about Ellie and Sam. I’ll wrap up all the loose ends and make it work in 12 books. I also love Cleo Coyle and her coffee mysteries and Joanna Carl and the chocolate mysteries.

Q. What’s in the future for you? Will you continue writing mysteries exclusively, or do you plan to divide your time between mystery and romance?

A. The books/characters have been optioned for a weekly television series already, so I’d like to try my hand at script writing, or working with a writer to transfer some of the books to shows. Unless I get a great romance idea, I doubt I’ll go back to that genre. In reality, the dog walker books are very romantic. Ellie and Sam go to bed in book one, and there’s a regular romantic sex scene, just like I’ve written in my earlier books.

Q. Where can readers can meet you?

A. I plan to travel to quite a few states. I’ll be in the East Brunswick area for a signing, and probably the DC area later. In the beginning of April, I’ll be in Charlotte, NC, for a conference and signing, middle of the month in the Dallas area, and at the end I’ll be at Romantic Times in Orlando signing.
The first weekend in May is Malice Domestic, and I hope to travel to Pittsburgh to do the big mystery signing there [the Oakmont Mystery Festival on the Monday following Malice]. I’m out of breath just thinking about it, but that’s as far as I’ve planned.

Q. In parting, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

A. I teach a two-day aspiring author course every year at RT (this year in Orlando) and the first thing I tell the newbies is, “Writers write. They don’t talk about writing or tell everyone they want to write. They put their butt in a chair EVERY day and they write.” That’s probably the most important thing a new author will ever hear.


Sandy Cody said...

Your book sounds delightful. I especially like your comment about involving the reader in solving the puzzle. I think that's the key to the really great mysteries. I love the title.

Good luck with this book and all its successors.

Carol said...

I really enjoyed reading your interview. Congrats on your new series! I read mysteries because I love solving the puzzle. I love animals and this book sounds really good.
Carol M

Anonymous said...

I think it's so cool that you "reinvented" yourself and already have a plan for the entire series. I'm shocked that Avon, who obviously knows you well, wouldn't even consider your new series. Do you think it's because they couldn't think of you as anything besides a romance writer?

Theresa de Valence said...


I don't usually like Romance, but you have intrigued me with this interview! I'll have to check out this series.

Theresa de Valence
Authors need Better Software To Write

Sandra Parshall said...

Remember, readers, that if you leave a comment you'll be entered in a drawing for a copy of HOUNDING THE PAVEMENT, which has had rave reviews. A *lot* of people have dropped in to read Judi's interview today -- now let's make it a real contest for that free book! If you're holding back because you've won a free book from PDD before, don't let that stop you. You're eligible all over again, each and every time. :-)

annette said...

Hi, it's good to meet you Judi.
Your new series sounds wonderful.
I will definitely order soon.
I agree ith you on the Stephanie Plum books.
It is time to move on. The same with Joanna Fluke's Hanna Swenson series. Hannah needs to decide between Mike or Norman, or ust move on.
I look forward to reading your books

Chris Roerden said...

I agree that your series sounds wonderful, and I'll look for it--especially if it takes place in my hometown of NYC. I so regret missing your April session near Charlotte, where I'd been tentatively booked to also do a workshop until I discovered a conflict with another conference I'd previously agreed to.

Hmm, I bet my son would enjoy your new series too; he's a PETA member and owns two dogs in L.A.


Helen K said...

A mystery with a dog walker certainly is a new twist. I love the cover of your book. Good luck with having this become a series. I look forward to reading it.

canada mystery author said...

Hi Judi,
It sounds interesting. I read mysteries because I love solving the puzzle. I think that's the key to the really great mysteries. I love the title.
Keep up posting.