My name is Elizabeth Bass, and I write historical mysteries under the pen name Liz Freeland, cozy mysteries as Liz Ireland, and women’s fiction under my own name. I grew up in a small town in East Texas. In the past three decades, I’ve lived all over—from New York City to Portland, Oregon, to Montreal. Right now I reside on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, a real gem of a place. Writing is my main occupation, although I also am a freelance editor.
How long have you been writing?
I caught the theater bug as a teenager and in college I started writing plays. After college, I experimented with writing stories at night after work. I published my first book in my twenties and haven’t stopped writing since.
What does your typical writing day look like?
The great thing about being self-employed is that no day has to be typical. The downside of working at home is that without discipline it’s easy to become a profession internet surfer. So I try to make a schedule. When I’m working on the first draft of a book, I get up, make coffee, and while my brain is still relatively fresh, I write a set number of pages that I’ve set as a goal—typically five to eight. I try to set aside an hour in the afternoon for tending to the other side of writing: social media, planning future projects, fiddling with websites, etc. I’ve become a night owl, so at night I do a second shift—usually revising and editing what I’ve written during the day. Occasionally I’ll work on two things at once, and that gets really tricky. I’ll work on one in the morning/afternoon, and the other at night.
Tell us about your latest release MRS. CLAUS AND THE SANTALAND SLAYINGS? Where the idea came from? Perhaps some fun moments, or not so fun moments?
My latest release is the first in a new cozy series: Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings. My editor and I were talking about holiday series and he suggested a Mrs. Claus character, but said it could be set anywhere. At the time, Harry and Meghan were in the headlines, so I thought it would be fun to invent a kind of royal family in the North Pole. April, a innkeeper in Oregon, meets Nick Claus on vacation, and after a whirlwind courtship, she marries into the Claus clan and moves into Castle Kringle.
Could you share one detail from your current release with readers that they might not find in the book? Perhaps a juicy bit of back-story, or something only you know about a character.
After divorcing her first husband, April went through a rough patch and didn’t have the Christmas spirit. There were years when she didn’t even bother with a tree. Also, she thinks eggnog tastes like sweetened glue.
Who has been the most difficult character for you to write? Why?
Sometimes I have a little difficulty getting into the elf point of view. The elves in Santaland are basically living under a monarchy of Clauses, and my American instinct is to tell them to rebel and storm the castle. I have “Think Jolly” written on a Post-it above my computer, but even so quite a few cranky and subversive elves slip into the books.
If you could be one of your characters for a day which character would it be? Why?
The steward of Castle Kringle is an elfman (half elf/half human) named Jingles. He has strong opinions, straddles the world of elves and Clauses, and is an important part of April’s crime-solving cohort. He also is the character who threatens to take over the book at times—there’s one in every series. I just feel buoyed when he’s on the page. I wouldn’t mind being Jingles for a day.
Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
So, so many. I’d say that the first author I loved and who made me want to write novels was Anne Tyler. She writes about such a specific, quirky world. It’s Baltimore, usually, but it’s really Anne Tyler land. Her novels feel big because the tensions between the characters are intense and often seem unresolvable, and yet you rarely feel unsympathetic to any of the characters.
In terms of mystery, a big influence on me was Sparkle Hayter, who wrote a series of books about a reporter-sleuth named Robin Hudson. The first was What’s a Girl Gotta Do? They were so fun and witty. I have well-thumbed copies of them on my keeper shelf.
Do you have a secret talent readers would be surprised by?
I wouldn’t call myself talented, but I love playing music. I play flute, clarinet, and saxophone in various groups, mostly with people who started learning to play instruments as adults. Music, books, and movies take up most of my brain.
Your favorite go to drink or food when the world goes crazy!
My firmest belief is that pie is the answer to most of life’s problems. I’ve never met a pie I couldn’t put a large dent in.
What is the one question you never get ask at interviews, but wish you did?
What was your luckiest moment?
I’ve had a lot of luck in my life, but the moment I felt luckiest was when I was nine years old and won ten dollars on television show called Bowling for Dollars. I’d sent in a postcard and was selected at random to be the home audience member the contestant bowler would split his winnings with. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as lucky (or as rich) since then.
Thank you so much for joining us today! Here’s look at Liz’ latest release MRS. CLAUS AND THE SANTALAND SLAYINGS, PLUS an excerpt for our readers!!
It’s the first Christmas in Santaland for April Claus—but it may also be her last unless she can uncover a villain with a killer Christmas wish. . . .
Love is full of surprises—though few compare to realizing that you’re marrying the real-life Santa. April Claus dearly loves her new husband, Nick, but adjusting to life in the North Pole is not all sugarplums and candy canes. Especially when a cantankerous elf named Giblet Hollyberry is killed—felled by a black widow spider in his stocking—shortly after publicly arguing with Nick.
Christmastown is hardly a hotbed of crime, aside from mishaps caused by too much eggnog, but April disagrees with Constable Crinkle’s verdict of accidental death. As April sets out to find the culprit, it’ll mean putting the future of Christmas on the line—and hoping her own name isn’t on a lethal naughty list . . .
The strange occurrences that threatened to upend my marriage, my adopted city, and the potential happiness of tens of millions of children started on a December morning just nine days before Christmas with a frantic pounding on our bedchamber door. The racket sounded loud enough to wake half of Christmastown.
It was ten past six, though, so most of the town’s residents were probably up already. Elves tend to be early birds.
Our steward, Jingles, shouted through four inches of ancient timber, “Nick!” In the excitement of the moment, he’d reverted to the name my husband went by before he’d assumed his title, but he quickly remembered himself. “Er— Santa! Awaken, sir! We have a very important messenger!”
Nick and I trundled out of bed, he shrugging on his red coat and buttoning it quickly and I pulling on a ridiculously heavy flannel-lined boiled wool robe. The Order of Elven Seamstresses had presented the robe as a welcoming gift upon my arrival in Santaland. Though the cynic in me had silently chortled (ho ho ho) at the fire-engine-red garment trimmed with fluffy white wool and a black sash, one night in frigid Castle Kringle was all it took for me to appreciate their thoughtfulness, not to mention skill and artistry. I arrived at the North Pole as prepared for the arctic cold as someone from Kansas is prepared for a volcanic eruption. I’d moved here from Oregon, which, from the perspective of Santalanders, is so far south it might as well be equatorial jungle.
Nick was halfway across the room as I was still adjusting my nightcap. A few months ago I’d never dreamed people still wore nightcaps. Then again, I’d never dreamed Santa Claus existed, at least not since I was five. Now I was married to the guy. Whoever coined the phrase life comes at you fast didn’t know the half of it.
“Come in!” Nick called out, flipping the switch on an elaborate network of twinkling lights across the vaulted ceiling.
The eight-foot-high arched door was pushed open with effort, even though Jingles and his assistant, Waldo, kept the hinges well oiled. Jingles was puffing and out of breath when he appeared, and scrambled aside just in time to avoid being trampled by the messenger.
You might wonder, as I once did, why doors in the castle should be so tall when most of Santaland’s inhabitants were elves—definitely on the short side—and the Clauses, who, whatever their varying girths, were humans of average height. You’d stop wondering the first time you saw a reindeer saunter through one, its bulk and antlers making all those oversized doorframes seem modest.
At the sight of Nick, the reindeer stopped, dipped her heavy head, and pawed the stone floor with her right hoof in greeting. “Excuse the intrusion, sir. I have an important message from the village.”
Though she was as stocky, furry, and snub-nosed as any reindeer, just a glance told me this was obviously a female. Most of the bucks had already shed their antlers for the winter, but females kept theirs until spring. It was one of those things that shocked me when I first came here—I’d grown up assuming most of the antlered reindeer fabled in story and song, the heroes of Christmas night, were males: all those illustrations of fantastic racks of antlers limned against the moonlit sky, pulling the sleigh. But didn’t it just figure that it was the females with the stamina and patience to haul Santa around on the world’s biggest errand run?
“What’s wrong, Blitzen?”
Although just months ago I’d barely known zip about reindeer, the names of reindeer who drove Santa’s sleigh were worn into that same brain groove that could call up the names of dwarves in Snow White, old soft drink jingles, and the words to pop songs I never even liked. Not just anyone had been sent galloping through the Christmas tree forest to deliver this news. All reindeer had their own reindeer names, but to people they were usually identified by their herd. Carrying the name Blitzen meant this messenger was representing one of the original chosen nine’s herds. Reindeer royalty. Something significant had happened.
Blitzen’s deep, rasping voice was solemn when she spoke. “Giblet Hollyberry was found dead this morning.”
Giblet. As tense silence settled over the bedchamber, a horrible scene played through my mind. Yesterday had been the Christmastown parade and ice sculpture competition, and Nick, as the acting Santa and head of the Claus family, was the judge. Giblet Hollyberry’s sculpture, The North Pole’s King, a larger-than-life rendering of Nick’s late older brother, Chris, the former Santa, had come in second. The elf, to put it mildly, had not taken defeat in stride.
The tension in the room made it clear that everyone was thinking of Giblet’s curse that had echoed through Christmastown yesterday: You’re an abomination, Nick Claus—a man with no right to wear the robes of Santa, and a shame to your house. The day will come soon when Santaland will know you’re also a murderer!
With those words, Giblet had tossed his second-place ice trophy in the snow at Nick’s boots and stomped down the hill toward the Christmas tree forest. Murmurs had broken out among the crowd. I’d stood stunned. Nick, a murderer? Had someone spiked the nog at the festival with crazy juice? Nick agonized over hurting anyone. He’d probably lost sleep over disappointing Giblet. He certainly hadn’t been in bed most of the night.
And now Giblet was dead.
Despite my suffocatingly warm robe, a cold foreboding snaked through me.
“Giblet probably died in a fit of rage,” Jingles piped up now, breaking the silence. “I’ve never seen a grown elf throw such a tantrum. Disgraceful!” He put his hands on his hips. “In olden days, an elf who spoke that way to Santa would have been exiled to the Farthest Frozen Reaches. And good riddance!”
Nick shook his head. “He was disappointed.”
“Pardon me, Santa, but Giblet Hollyberry was a hotheaded nincompoop. He couldn’t even live peacefully among his own people in Tinkertown.”
Nick turned back to Blitzen. “How did poor Giblet die?”
“At the moment, there is only speculation, and wild talk of something in a stocking. Constable Crinkles has been alerted and is on his way to Giblet’s cottage.”
“I’ll go there, too.”
“I’ll take you, sir,” Blitzen said, again slightly bowing her heavily antlered head.
I moved forward, but Nick motioned for me to stop. “No need for you to go, April. I have to hurry, and you’ll need to lead the castle’s condolence calls to the Hollyberrys this morning. Along with Mother, of course.”
That was me dismissed. Heat climbed into my cheeks, though I tried to appear calm on the outside. “Did Giblet have a wife, or children?” I asked.
“No, but the Hollyberry clan is large, and tight-knit.”
Jingles crossed his arms. “Not so tight that any of them wanted to live near Giblet. Who can blame them? He—”
“We won’t speak ill of the dead,” Nick said, cutting him off. “We need to go.”
Jingles, remembering himself, scrambled to reach the door first and hold it open. “I’ll prepare a lantern for your journey.” He flicked a disapproving glance over my husband’s figure, which, by Christmastown standards, lacked poundage. “And a snack.”
Nick turned back to me with an awkward glance and a brief, apologetic smile that went a little way to soothing my irritation over being left behind. “I’ll be back soon, I hope.”
After they were all gone, I moved closer to the fire and let the warmth from the hearth penetrate my layers of flannel and wool. I’d never heard of Giblet Hollyberry till yesterday, yet his death disturbed me. Nick had been in an odd mood since the ice sculpture competition. I hadn’t seen him brood so much since we’d first met. And when I’d woken up in the night, he hadn’t been in bed. I’d gotten up and padded around the castle in search of him, and had even thrown on his coat and braved the blistering cold outside to see if he was pacing around the grounds. But I never found him until I returned to bed—and there he’d been, sleeping. Or pretending to.
Now this had happened, and my husband of three months seemed to want to get away from me. Almost as if he didn’t want me asking too many questions.
A few minutes later, Jingles returned and I snapped to attention, ashamed to be caught wool-gathering when there were probably things to do. Precisely what, I wasn’t sure. Castle Kringle protocol was still new to me. “I’m sorry, I’ve been lost in thought. Let me know how I can be of use.”
“I have a castle full of elves to do my bidding.”
Jingles didn’t seem to know what to make of me. He wasn’t used to Clauses offering to help him, maybe, but I wasn’t used to being waited on. Quite the opposite.
“You might want to make your way to the morning room,” he suggested. “There’s a fire lit, and Mrs. Claus—excuse me, the dowager Mrs. Claus—is there, as is Christopher. More of the family will probably be congregating as the news spreads.”
“Is it so odd for an elf to die?” I asked.
“To die at a ripe old age, no. To die suspiciously in the prime of life . . . ?” He let the question dangle.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Liz Ireland, author of the Mrs. Claus mystery series, grew up in Texas, where she enjoyed a childhood of green Christmases. She also writes historical mysteries under the pen name Liz Freeland and women’s fiction as Elizabeth Bass. She’s a member of Crime Writers of Canada, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. Liz currently lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
Liz Ireland Social Media Links:
Barnes and Noble:
Mrs. Claus’s first Christmas in Santaland might be her last—unless she unmasks a villain with a killer Christmas wish. . . .
April Claus dearly loves her new husband, Nick, but adjusting to life in the North Pole is not all sugarplums and candy canes. Especially when a cantankerous elf named Giblet Hollyberry is murdered—felled by a black widow spider in his stocking—and Nick, Santa Claus himself, is the prime suspect.