Author James J. Cudney joins me today to discuss his newest release, Frozen Stiff Drink. A prolific author (and reader), James has 8 published works and over 1000 book reviews on his blog.
With so many books out there and so little time, I can say that I have enjoyed reading one of James’ books, and I certainly intend to read more.
SJJ: What genre does your newest release, Frozen Stiff Drink, fall under?
JJC: Mystery (somewhere between a cozy and an investigation)
SJJ: Is this a genre one you usually write in or are you trying something new?
JJC: I write in both the mystery and contemporary family drama genres. This is the 6th book in the Braxton Campus Mysteries.
SJJ: And Who is your target audience for this latest book in your series?
JJC: Readers who enjoy amateur sleuth novels. I’ve turned the sub-genre a bit upside down by creating a male protagonist who is a single father and by writing in the first-person perspective. Usually the cozy world is focused on women and written in third person.
SJJ: When was the release date of your latest novel?
JJC: It was released on March 18th, 2020.
SJJ: Please tell us a little about your new book.
JJC: A winter blizzard barrels toward Wharton County with a vengeance. Madam Zenya predicted the raging storm would change the course of Kellan’s life, but the famed seer never could’ve prepared him for all the collateral damage. Nana D disappears after visiting a patient at Willow Trees, leaving behind a trail of confusion. When the patient turns up dead and a second body is discovered beneath the snowbanks, Kellan must face his worst fears. What tragedy has befallen his beloved grandmother?
Kellan’s brother Hampton learns essential life lessons the hard way after his father-in-law accuses him of embezzlement. While trying to prove his innocence, Hampton digs himself a deeper hole that might lead to prison. Sheriff Montague wants to save him, but she receives the shock of her life as the past hurtles forward and complicates her future.
Between locating Nana D and solving the scandalous murder of another prominent Braxton citizen, Kellan and April’s worlds explode with more turmoil than they can handle. Too bad neither one of them knows what to do about the psychic’s latest premonition. The suspicious deaths happening around town aren’t ending anytime soon.
SJJ: I have to say this sounds intriguing.
Where does the story take place?
JJC: On a college campus in a fictional town in northcentral Pennsylvania.
SJJ: James, what inspired you to write this story?
JJC: I grew up watching daytime dramas, dreaming about college life, and reading Agatha Christie. I had to write a series that took this all into account. So… there are always cliffhangers, the plots are quite convoluted, and it’s focused on academia-related murders.
SJJ: Did you have to do any research for this story?
JJC: I had to do a little medical research to understand the effects of the weapon used to kill the victims. It was quite fun!
SJJ: I agree, it can be fun to research these sorts of things.
Was any part of this book particularly difficult to write?
JJC: Not at all. Once I had my outline, I ran with it… the only concern I had was managing 3 murders when there are normally only one or two.
SJJ: How did you come up with the title? Did you have any other working titles?
JJC: All my titles are plays on words, where Word 1 and 2 mean something and Word 2 and 3 mean something: Frozen Stiff and Stiff Drink. It’s perfect for the story.
SJJ: I like that idea!
Who designed the cover? Did you have much input in the design?
JJC: When I send the summary and the book to the publisher, I provide suggestions on which building to use on the cover (always changes in the series depending on where the murder happens), what colors to consider, and which key objects to highlight. They create a draft, I provide input, then we close on it.
SJJ: What is one of your favourite lines or quotes from the book?
JJC: “It had been a day. If I could’ve returned it for a refund or shoplifted a new one from a discount rack, I’d have been better off.”
SJJ: Is there one scene you enjoyed writing? Please tell us a little about it if you can.
JJC: Writing the murder scenes is always fun because you get to pretend a lot. I envision the anger or passion coming from the killer. I think about how the victim would react, if they are aware they’re being killed. I decide who will find the victim and how it plays into determining the murderer’s identity. It’s a lot of imagination.
SJJ: I too enjoy writing death scenes. You really do have to use a lot of imagination.
Does your book have any message or is it purely entertainment?
JJC: I think it’s purely entertainment, but ultimately, the lead character, Kellan Ayrwick, is a model citizen and thinks the way I wish others would think – kindness, tolerance, dedication, determination.
SJJ: How long did it take you to write and edit this story?
JJC: I wrote the first draft in 4 weeks. It took 4 weeks to edit in and review with a few beta readers. And it took 2 more weeks to finalize with an editor. Just under 3 months.
SJJ: Holy Cow! I need to take a lesson from you.
During editing, did you have to delete a scene you liked but because it didn’t move the book forward, it had to be removed?
JJC: Not in this one. Everything stayed, but I did have to add 3 more scenes. I had to add a few red herrings to throw some potential guilt in various places.
SJJ: Who is your favourite character? Your least favourite character?
JJC: Favorite: Kellan, of course. He’s who I wish I could be if I had no limits. And Nana D… she gets all the best lines. She says what she wants, doesn’t care what others think, and almost always, she earns the most respect from anyone.
Least Favorite: I love them all… everyone plays a part.
SJJ: Just for fun! If this book became a movie, who would you like to see play the main character and if there’s a villain, who would play that role?
JJC: Kellan is a 33-year-old athletic guy, so… it’d have to be someone sexy but smart… perhaps one of the Hemsworth brothers.
The villain… well… I can’t give that away, but the judge who dies is a recurring character. I think he’s best played by John Lithgow.
SJJ: Where can readers purchase your new book?
James is my given name, but most folks call me Jay. I live in New York City, grew up on Long Island, and graduated from Moravian College. I’ve spent twenty years building a technology career in the retail, sports, media, and entertainment industries. I enjoyed my job, but a passion for books and stories had been missing for far too long. I’m a voracious reader in my favorite genres (thriller, suspense, contemporary, mystery, and historical fiction), as books transport me to a different world where I can immerse myself in so many fantastic cultures and places. I’m an avid genealogist who hopes to visit all the German, Scottish, Irish, and British villages my ancestors emigrated from in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Writing has been a part of my life as much as my heart, my mind, and my body. I decided to pursue my passion by dusting off the creativity inside my head and drafting outlines for several novels. I quickly realized I was back in my element growing happier and more excited with life each day. My goal in writing is to connect with readers who want to be part of great stories and who enjoy interacting with authors. To get a strong picture of who I am, check out my author website or my blog. It’s full of humor and eccentricity, sharing connections with everyone I follow—all in the hope of building a network of friends across the world.
When I completed the first book, Watching Glass Shatter, I knew I’d stumbled upon my passion again, suddenly dreaming up characters, plots, and settings all day long. I chose my second novel, Father Figure, through a poll on my blog where I let everyone vote for their favorite plot and character summaries. It is with my third book, Academic Curveball, the first in the Braxton Campus Mysteries, where I immersed myself in a college campus full of so much activity, I could hardly stop thinking about new murder scenes or character relationships to finish writing the current story. I can’t believe I’ve finished writing the sixth book in this series. Come join in the fun…
Websites & Blog
Next Chapter Pub: https://www.nextchapter.pub/authors/james-j-cudney
Social Media Links
List of Published Books
Watching Glass Shatter (October 2017)Father Figure (April 2018)Braxton Campus MysteriesAcademic Curveball – #1 (October 2018)Broken Heart Attack – #2 (November 2018)Flower Power Trip – #3 (March 2019)Mistaken Identity Crisis – #4 (June 2019)Haunted House Ghost – #5 (October 2019)Frozen Stiff Drink – #6 (March 2020)
Author’s Other Books
Watching Glass Shatter (Contemporary Fiction / Family Drama)
The wealthy Glass family lost its patriarch, Benjamin Glass, sooner than expected. Benjamin’s widow, Olivia, and her 5 sons each react to his death in their own way while preparing for the reading of his will. Olivia receives a very unexpected confession from her late husband about one of their sons that could shatter the whole family. Prior to revealing the secret to her children, Olivia must figure out which boy Ben refers to in the confession he left her in his will. While the family attorney searches for the mysterious Rowena Hector whom Ben says holds the answers, Olivia asks her sons to each spend a week with her as she isn’t ready to let go of the past. When Olivia visits her sons, she quickly learns that each one has been keeping his own secret from her. Olivia never expected her remaining years would be so complex and life-altering, but she will not rest until her family is reunited after Ben’s untimely death. We all need family. We all want to fit in. We’re all a mix of quirky personalities. Will Olivia be able to fix them, or will the whole family implode? What will she do when she discovers the son behind Ben’s secret? Check out this ensemble cast where each family member’s perspective is center stage, discovering along the way who might feel the biggest impact from all the secrets. Through various scenes and memories across a six-month period, you’ll get to know everyone, learning how and why they made certain decisions. Welcome to being an honorary member of the Glass family where the flair for over-the-top drama pushes everyone to their limits.
Father Figure (Contemporary Fiction / Family Drama)
Between the fast-paced New York City, a rural Mississippi town and a charming Pennsylvania college campus filled with secrets, two young girls learn the consequences of growing up too quickly. Amalia Graeme, abused by her mother for most of her life, longs to escape her desolate hometown and fall in love. Contemplating her loss of innocence and conflicting feelings between her boyfriend and the dangerous attraction she’s developed for an older man, Amalia faces life-altering tragedies. Brianna Porter, a sassy, angst-ridden teenager raised in New York City, yearns to find her life’s true purpose, conquer her fear of abandonment, and interpret an intimidating desire for her best friend, Shanelle. Desperate to find the father whom her mother refuses to reveal, Brianna accidentally finds out a shocking truth about her missing parent. Set in alternating chapters two decades apart, the parallels between their lives and the unavoidable collision that is bound to happen are revealed. FATHER FIGURE is an emotional story filled with mystery, romance, and suspense.
BRAXTON CAMPUS MYSTERY SERIES
Academic Curveball: Death at the Sports Complex (#1)
When Kellan Ayrwick, a thirty-two-year-old single father, is forced to return home for his father’s retirement from Braxton College, he finds the dead body of a professor in Diamond Hall’s stairwell. Unfortunately, Kellan has a connection to the victim, and so do several members of his family. Could one of them be guilty of murder? Then he finds a second body after discovering mysterious donations to the college’s athletic program, a nasty blog denouncing his father, and a criminal attempting to change student grades so the star baseball pitcher isn’t expelled. Someone is playing games on campus, but none of the facts add up. With the help of his eccentric and trouble-making nana weeding through the clues, Kellan tries to stay out of the sheriff’s way. Fate has other plans. Kellan is close to discovering the killer’s identity just as someone he loves is put in grave danger of becoming victim number three. And if that’s not enough to wreak havoc on his family, everything comes crashing to a halt when his own past comes spiraling back to change his life forever. In this debut novel in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series, readers discover a cozy, secluded Pennsylvania village full of quirky, sarcastic, and nosy residents. Among the daily workings of Braxton College and the charming Ayrwick family, Kellan weighs his investigative talents against an opportunity to achieve a much sought-after dream. When this first book ends, the drama is set for the next adventure in Kellan’s future… and it’s one you won’t want to miss.
Broken Heart Attack: Death at the Theater (#2)
When an extra ticket becomes available to attend the dress rehearsal of Braxton’s King Lear production, Kellan tags along with Nana D and her buddies, sisters-in-law Eustacia and Gwendolyn Paddington, to show support for the rest of the Paddington family. When one of them appears to have a heart attack in the middle of the second act, Nana D raises her suspicions and asks Kellan to investigate who killed her friend. Amidst family members suddenly in debt and a secret rendezvous between an unlikely pair, Kellan learns the Paddingtons might not be as clean-cut as everyone thinks. But did one of them commit murder for an inheritance? Kellan is back in his second adventure since returning home to Pennsylvania. With his personal life in upheaval and his new boss, Myriam, making life difficult, will he be able to find a killer, or will he get caught up in his own version of stage fright?
Flower Power Trip: Death at the Masquerade Ball (#3)
Braxton College is throwing the Heroes & Villains Costume Extravaganza to raise money for renovations to the antiquated Memorial Library. While attending, Kellan stumbles upon a close family friend standing over a dead body that’s dressed as Dr. Evil. Did one of Maggie’s sisters kill an annoying guest at the Roarke and Daughters Inn or does the victim have a more intimate connection to someone else on campus? As Kellan helps the school’s president, Ursula, bury a scandalous secret from her past and unearth the identity of her stalker, he unexpectedly encounters a missing member of his own family who’s reappeared after a lengthy absence. When all the peculiar events around town trace back to the Stoddards, a new family who recently moved to Wharton County, the explosive discovery only offers more confusion. Between the special flower exhibit that’s made an unplanned stop on campus and strange postcards arriving each week from all around the world, Kellan can’t decide which mystery in his life should take priority. Unfortunately, the biggest one of all has yet to arrive at his doorstep. When it does, Kellan won’t know what hit him.
Mistaken Identity Crisis: Death on the Cable Car (#4)
A clever thief with a sinister calling card has invaded Braxton campus. A string of jewelry thefts continues to puzzle the sheriff given they’re remarkably similar to an unsolved eight-year-old case from shortly before Gabriel vanished one stormy night. When a missing ruby is discovered near an electrified dead body during the campus cable car redesign project, Kellan must investigate the real killer to protect his brother. Amidst sorority hazing practices and the victim’s connections to several prominent Wharton County citizens, a malicious motive becomes more obvious and trickier to prove. As if the latest murder isn’t enough to keep him busy, Kellan partners with April to end the Castigliano and Vargas crime family feud. What really happened to Francesca while all those postcards showed up in Braxton? The mafia world is more calculating than Kellan realized, and if he wants to move forward, he must make a few ruthless sacrifices. Election Day is over, and the new mayor takes office. Nana D celebrates her 75th birthday with an adventure. A double wedding occurs at Crilly Lake on Independence Day. And Kellan receives a few more surprises as the summer heat settles in Wharton County.
Haunted House Ghost: Death at the Fall Festival (#5)
It’s Halloween, and excitement is brewing in Braxton to carve jack-o’-lanterns, go on haunted hayrides, and race through the spooky corn maze at the Fall Festival. Despite the former occupant’s warnings, Kellan renovates and moves into a mysterious old house. When a ruthless ghost promises retribution, our fearless professor turns to the eccentric town historian and an eerie psychic to communicate with the apparition. Meanwhile, construction workers discover a fifty-year-old skeleton after breaking ground on the new Memorial Library wing. While Kellan and April dance around the chemistry sparking between them, a suspicious accident occurs at the Fall Festival. Soon, Kellan discovers the true history and dastardly connections of the Grey family. But can he capture the elusive killer – and placate the revenge-seeking ghost.