Michelle Griep (see my February 15 post) is known for writing historical romantic suspense, but my first introduction to her was this hilarious “cozy romance with murder on the side”: Out of the Frying Pan, co-written with Kelly Klepfer.
I don’t know how good of a collaborator I would be on a writing project. I appreciate critique groups and feedback during the revision process, but that’s when I’m still in charge of my own story. When it’s my baby. It’s a whole different ballgame when you’re working side by side, sharing the load.
When I first came across Out of the Frying Pan, I was in the mood for something humorous. I was also intrigued knowing Michelle and Kelly had written it together. How does that even work?
Be sure to read the Q & A below to find out!
When the chef of Sunset Paradise Retirement Village ends up dead, life for sisters Fern and Zula Hopkins is whipped into a froth. Their zany attempts to track down the killer land them in hot water with Detective Jared Flynn. Should he be concerned about their safety or the criminal’s?
But there are deadly ingredients none of them expect. Drugs. Extortion. International cartels. And worst of all…broken hearts—especially when the Hopkins sisters’ niece KC arrives on the scene.
Before the snooping pair gain any headway with the case, it becomes crystal clear that the sisters share a mysterious secret that takes life from the frying pan and into the line of fire.
Written for the general market.
Fern and Zula Hopkins are sisters-in-law who live together. They’re complete opposites, Think The Odd Couple. The female version of Felix and Oscar.
Zula’s style is dramatic and bodacious, lending itself to gaudy tastes in dress and interior design. She dresses like someone half her age while constantly redecorating Fern’s house. Unappreciated, of course.
“If you were more pleasant to be around, maybe I wouldn’t need to beautify my surroundings.”
—Zula to Fern after Fern complains about plastic flower bouquets
around the living room
Much of Zula’s energy is devoted to circumventing Fern’s rigid rules, such as when she raids a dumpster to rescue plastic flowers that Fern hates. Zula also has a dog Fifi—a “decrepit rat terrier” or “rodent-on-a-leash,” according to Fern.
Fern is no-nonsense with zero tolerance for Zula’s shenanigans. Her snide remarks keep the squabbles going at a hefty pace. Their respective quirkiness drives each other crazy.
What do they have in common? A love of snooping. Which comes in handy when they find themselves in the middle of a murder investigation right there in Sunset Paradise Retirement Village.
One morning, when arriving for an early breakfast, they discover the chef’s body in the kitchen, apparently murdered. They call 911 and Detective Jared Flynn comes to the rescue. Fern and Zula are determined to help him track down the killer.
Their attempts to assist the police cause even more trouble along with plenty of laughs (for the reader only, not for the police).
Fern and Zula also join forces in matchmaking. They both agree their niece Kathryn (also known as KC) in Kansas City would be the perfect match for handsome Jared Flynn.
With ulterior motives, the aunts invite KC for a visit. KC is reeling from a bad breakup. Nevertheless, she accepts her aunts’ invitation and flies to Florida.
Things are complicated by the fact that Jared, too, is heartbroken. The woman he’d met online a year ago broke up with him, preferring someone who was local versus long distance. He still has a soft spot for her.
KC quickly finds out that keeping her aunts out of trouble is a full-time job. As the investigation continues and danger increases, she finds herself in the thick of it along with Fern and Zula.
If you like cozy mysteries with light romance and over-the-top humor, you’ll enjoy Out of the Frying Pan.
Join me for some Q & A with Michelle Griep and Kelly Klepfer.
Questions about Out of the Frying Pan
What was your inspiration for writing Out of the Frying Pan as a collaboration?
Kelly: I used to work in non-profit with a gal who ran a RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program). We had two receptionists provided by that program and she regularly had retirees coming into the office.
Fun story about those receptionists. In my first week, one of them came out of the bathroom and yelped “She passed the test!” and they both clapped and congratulated me. I was so confused. Apparently, the gal who had my job before was a bit of a princess and they were annoyed by that. They had left a toilet paper roll that was almost empty on the holder to see if I’d change it. I did, I mean, really, I’m a woman with small kids at home; that was one of my constant jobs! I won them over and had their undying loyalty after that. Life lesson, always change the toilet paper roll, you never know when it’s a test!
After I was invited to go on a bus trip to Branson with the RSVP group, I decided that I LOVED the freedom that comes with a certain age. Not only do we get wiser as we age–if we choose to learn, that is–but we get a bit bolder. My coworker and I created the characters from a compilation of characters we knew in real life.
Years later I worked in the medical field where I encountered some delightfully sassy seniors. I also developed an itch to write. So I joined an online writer’s group. I met Michelle there. And we had so much fun critiquing each other’s works.
We became good friends and I took my daughters to the big city to meet and stay with Michelle. Turns out she wasn’t an ax murderer and our kids bonded, our husbands eventually bonded, and we began visiting each other multiple times a year. We just had so much fun, one day the characters came out of storage and I mentioned the idea. And then it just grew into Out of the Frying Pan.
Michelle, Out of the Frying Pan is a deviation from your historical fiction in genre and setting. Considering that it was one of your earlier books (2016), did you originally plan to write more in that genre?
Michelle: This story came about solely because of my writing buddy Kelly Klepfer. The tale was her brainchild and I just kind of went along for the ride. She is so creative and hilarious that I thought it would be fun to challenge myself to write with a partner. It worked!
And yes, we did fully intend to write a few more Fern & Zula stories after this one (the next one would be Into the Fire) but I got tangled up in contracts and commitments to other publishers so I had to step back. She’s got the next one all plotted out, though, so if my schedule ever frees up, Fern and Zula will ride again!
Explain how your collaboration worked. Did you brainstorm all the ideas together first? Did you alternate writing chapters? Who was in charge of what?
Kelly: We brainstormed once we had the characters dusted off. Lots of brainstorming, each idea stranger than the last. Michelle had been to an area in Florida many times so we picked that setting. Since I had lots of exposure to senior citizens who lived in retirement communities and loads of stories and characters coming into the office daily, we started fleshing out characters.
Michelle had written romance at that point and I loved reading mysteries. We decided why not do a cozy romantic mystery. We plotted the who, what, when, where, how, and why. The scene placements were tucked into that basic plot.
We each picked two characters’ points of view and wrote the scenes back and forth. At least two characters had scenes in each chapter. As it was being written, it was so much fun to end the scenes with a cliffhanger that the other writer had to work with.
Michelle: Kelly wrote the general plot summary and we used that as a guideline. Then she took on two character points of view (Fern and the detective) and I did the other two (Zula and KC). She’d write a scene and send it to me, then I’d take it from there and do the next. We ping-ponged our way through the whole story.
What are the pros and cons of such a partnership? Does this process only work for plotters rather than pantsers? What advice would you give other authors who want to try a collaboration?
Kelly: Personality is everything. As is flexibility. Honesty and the ability to take criticism are a must, too. Michelle was a stronger writer. And I wasn’t so sure of myself. In the beginning, we had a little problem where she would rewrite/edit my words. I had to initiate a conversation telling her that if something needed to be changed, she needed to tell me what and why and let me change it. Otherwise, I wasn’t going to learn, and that by making changes she was erasing my voice altogether.
I was also very much passive and telling in my writing and it was frustrating. I just wasn’t comfortable with the craft of writing yet. That slowed things down for me and I felt even more unworthy of writing the story. I stalled the project and just immersed myself in reading good writing.
When I was ready, I reached out and told her it was time. Much of the book was written while my father-in-law was dying. So I would sit in his hospital room and just write small scenes and send them back to her over email. Those months of reading good writing (after all the learning, the conferences, the books, the workshops on how-to) just made sense in my brain.
I started getting things back from her with very few changes suggested and at a different level. So when I got overthinking out of the way and just did it, it worked. This is my advice: think long and hard, be honest, and talk things over, even little things that you don’t think are anything. Don’t let stuff fester, make sure you are a good match in skills and vision.
Michelle: Pros are that you get the story written MUCH faster and you’ve got a whole other brain to use when getting stuck in a plot pickle. Cons are—and this is my advice to those considering teaming up with another writer—it is very tempting to over-edit each other’s work. I got a little carried away in editing Kelly’s scenes and her voice kind of got lost. So she rewrote those scenes and I did not get out my red pen but left them as she wrote them.
Did the two of you create characters collaboratively or were you each in charge of certain ones?
Kelly: We had bare-boned characters I had sketched out years before and we really collaborated and built them up into people who felt real, entertaining, and lovable.
Michelle: Kelly already had Fern and Zula pretty much figured out. I came up creating KC, which was fun to do a contemporary heroine instead of a Victorian…so much more freedom for her!
If you planned on spending the day with Fern and Zula, where would you go and what would you do? What would they want to do and talk about?
Kelly: Oh my goodness. We would go shopping and out to eat. A full day, breakfast, lunch, dinner with shop till you drop in between. And we’d talk like we’d known them forever and were just picking up where we left off.
Michelle: Now that would be a hoot! I’d love to go to a potluck with them and people watch, hearing their commentary on every little detail of all the people there.
I suspect that Fern would love to do some gardening with me (which is one of my favorite pastimes) and Zula would adore going shopping with me because I love a new polka-dot scarf and red lipstick!
Back to Laura . . . On a different note . . .
If you like dual timeline fiction, you might enjoy my novel, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. Set in Holland, Michigan, this pre-published novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. It highlights The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author, L. Frank Baum. Read more and watch the book trailer here.
If you enjoy small town Southern fiction or stories about family secrets, you might enjoy my recently re-launched novel All That Is Hidden, Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968, the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.
In June, 2022, I was named a semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest for All That Is Hidden. Additionally, in August, All That Is Hidden became the winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award.
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Michelle Griep Bio
Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. She is the Christy Award-winning author of historical romances: A Tale of Two Hearts, The Captured Bride, The Innkeeper’s Daughter, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, The Captive Heart, Brentwood’s Ward, A Heart Deceived, and Gallimore, but also leaped the historical fence into the realm of contemporary with the zany romantic mystery Out of the Frying Pan. If you’d like to keep up with her escapades, find her at www.michellegriep.com or stalk her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Kelly Klepfer Bio
Kelly Klepfer had ambitions to graduate from the school of life quite awhile ago, but alas . . . she still attends and is tested regularly. Her co-authored cozy/quirky mystery, Out of the Frying Pan, is the culmination of several of the failed/passed tests. Kelly, though she lives with her husband, two Beagles and two hedgehogs in Iowa, can be found at Novel Rocket, Novel Reviews, Scrambled Dregs, Modern Day Mishaps, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter with flashes of brilliance (usually quotes), randomocities, and learned life lessons. Zula and Fern Hopkins and their shenanigans can be found at Zu-fer where you always get more than you bargained for.
Join me next time for another visit with author Tracy Higley.
Meanwhile, have you read Out of the Frying Pan or any other cozy mysteries? Answer in the comments below.
Thanks for inviting us on your blog. I loved writing Out of the Frying Pan with Michelle.
I’m honored to feature you both. Thank you for your participation, Kelly!
Not sure what this says about me, but I love a cozy murder with humor. The author insight intrigue me, so Out of the Frying Pan’s next on my list!
I’m not sure what it says about you, either, but you’re not alone in that boat!
Thank you, Rita. I love humor, mysteries and dare I admit, murder as a combo. So I think you will enjoy our book.
Always fun to read!! A good book for a winter day with hot raspberry tea.
Sounds like a great combination, Brooke!
Thanks, Brooke! I do think raspberry tea would be a lovely pairing with Out of the Frying Pan, though I might toss in some chocolate raspberry scones to round it out. Michelle and I were pretty hard core coffee addicts.
I like the notion of chocolate raspberry scones! A perfect touch.
Oh my! At first I couldn’t figure out how this would work without drawing blood, but as I read on in the interview it makes sense. Especially when the co-authors agree on fleshing out different characters. And ESPECIALLY the fact that they were willing to bend, flex, be honest, work through issues. Good for them!
I also appreciate a murder mystery that incorporates humor. It doesn’t mean the tone of the story makes light of evil! Just a different perspective/POV on how to tell the story and find justice.
Great interview—thanks ladies.
Much success to Kelly and Michelle!
I was curious, too, and loved hearing how the collaboration actually worked.
Thanks so much for your kind words, Anita.
You had me at “should [Detective Jared Flynn] be concerned about their safety or the criminal’s?” Love it! And yes, as other comments have said, there’s just something about adding humor to a cozy mystery. In fact, there’s just something about humor in ANY story. I find myself drawn to books that even in the midst of true angst, characters find a touch of hope through humor, or at least wryness.
And love hearing how the collaboration went. (Think we could manage writing together, Laura? 😉 I’m thinking I’d drive you nuts!)
Humor is definitely a vital ingredient no matter what the genre, in my opinion. As to collaborating? I will spare you the pain! I would be the one driving you nuts!
I think the bouncing off each other and the fun cliffhanger game where she set me up with something to work through and vice versa added to the whole mix of danger, humanity, and the reality that life is kind of funny. I think humor takes the edge off a bit, and it shows a character’s resilience. Go for it, you and Laura might discover a whole new level of friendship if y’all survive it. Ha Ha. Thanks.
Cozy Mysteries are not typically my genre, but I’m reading one now that’s plenty fun. Death Checked Out by Leah Dobrinska is part of a library mystery series.
I love that Fern and Zulu seem to have so much personality in Out of the Frying Pan. Sounds like a fun book!
I’m truly impressed that two writers can collaborate. That might be fun some day.
Cozy mysteries are not my genre either. But this one caught my eye and was so much fun I had to share it. 🙂
Thanks for the recommendation of Death Checked Out, that sounds very interesting. I hope you love Fern and Zula as much as Michelle and I did if you read the book.
It’s now on my reading list!
Great! I think you’ll enjoy it!