Unraveling Mysteries: An Interview with Carolyn Summer Quinn

PHOTO: Carolyn’s Unconventional Approach to Crafting Cozy Mysteries

Interviewing Carolyn Summer Quinn promises to be a journey through a world of mysteries, laughter, and the roaring energy of the 1920s. Growing up in New Jersey, surrounded by an exuberant family, Carolyn found her passion for storytelling early, diving into the world of children’s mysteries. With a B.A. in English and Media from Kean University, she set her sights on New York City, where she’s lived happily for over three decades. 

Carolyn’s love for literature sparked at nine years old with a book that ignited her lifelong affair with reading. Her dedication to mysteries is evident not just in her preferences but in her own writing—eight books and counting, spanning from cozy mysteries to a middle-grade series set against the backdrop of World War II.

In this exclusive interview with The Reader’s House, Carolyn shares her literary inspirations, the authors she’d invite to her dream party, and her unique approach to crafting mysteries. Her vibrant personality and deep-rooted connection to the 1920s infuse every aspect of her writing, promising a conversation as lively and engaging as her stories.

Carolyn grew up singing show tunes and the songs of the 1920s in Roselle and Scotch Plains, New Jersey, a member of a rollicking and exuberant extended family.  After obtaining a B.A. in English and Media from Kean University she escaped  the suburbs to New York City and has happily lived there for 36 years. 

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

I’d have say the one that turned me into a lifelong reader when I was nine years old.  It was a children’s mystery written by “Jerry West,” a writer for the Stratmeyer Syndicate that wrote Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and others, called The Happy Hollisters at Pony Hill Farm.  The Hollisters were a family of five children who solved mysteries.  I remember reading it in my good old bedroom in Roselle, New Jersey, unable to put it down because the Hollister kids had bought a rocking horse that started moving by itself!  I had never before been more intrigued by a story.  Even today, I’m 62 years young and I made sure to get that wonderful book as an eBook and put it on my Kindle.  I wish I knew who the actual writer of that one was.

You’re organizing a party. Which two authors, dead or alive, do you invite?

Oh, that’s an easy one!  Agatha Christie and Patrick Dennis would be my two choices, hands down!  Agatha Christie’s books were masterpieces of mystery and misdirection, and Patrick Dennis, who wrote Auntie Mame, among others, was just hilarious.  He saw through so many of the fads and cultural illusions of his time and he wrote them up in such an entertaining way.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine?

I would have to say Dr. Alex Delaware and his sidekick, Milo Sturgis, in Jonathan Kellerman’s mysteries.  One’s a psychologist, close to a criminal profiler, and the other is a cop.  I get those books as soon as they become available.

What kind of reader were you as a child?

Then as now, I’d read whatever peaked my interest.  Mysteries, first and foremost, but biographies and memoirs, too.  I particularly like finding books about civilians who managed to survive World War II , because in both Europe and Asia, wrong had become right and right became wrong during the time when the Germans and the Japanese took over.  It’s always inspiring to see how people survived those atrocious regimes.

What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?

Auntie Mame, of course.  I first read it at the age of twelve and had to look a lot of the terms in it up in the dictionary to figure out what was going on.  The older I get, the more I get out of it, and it’s laugh-out-loud funny.  Another one is Gypsy Rose Lee’s autobiography, GYPSY.  She grew up performing in vaudeville during the 1920s, and I wish I did!

How many books have you written and in what genres?

So far I’ve written eight books and I’m working on even more.  One is the biography of Rose Hovick, Gypsy Rose Lee’s notorious mother who inspired the Broadway musical GYPSY.  I utilized Gypsy’s family archives at the New York Library for the Performing Arts and interviews of people who actually knew the woman.  What I found out about Rose Hovick was a whole lot different from the way she was depicted in the musical.  I’ve also written two middle-grade children’s books.  Keep Your Songs in Your Heart is about friends separated during World War II when one little girl is sent to a Japanese internment camp.  Now and Forevermore Arabella concerns a foster child, a foundling, who finds out – surprise, surprise! – she’s actually the kidnapped missing daughter of a wonderful family.  I wanted to show children who may find themselves in dire straits that you just never know, as my grandmother used to say, what might be around the next corner.  Then there’s the five cozy mysteries I’ve written for adults, though teens would probably like them too.

What inspired you to write mystery books? 

Ha, what didn’t?  It’s been my favorite genre since I was nine.  You don’t just read a mystery, you try to solve it as you go along, which to me makes it enjoyable.  The first one I wrote for adults was The Final Comeuppance, and it’s about a series of murders plaguing to the former teachers at a horrifically run private day school – exactly like one of the schools I attended myself.  They finally meet the boomerang of their own corruption – and do they ever deserve it!   Cloudy with a Chance of Answers concerns a crazy family and a cold case.  My mother and her mother, my grandmother, used to fight like crazy when I was growing up, and always over ridiculous matters like one didn’t like the color of the blouse worn by the other, and I used to play referee.  I used that as a background to the story and to provide some comic relief to the rest of the plot.  And just this morning I found out another of my mysteries, Vanished on the Vaudeville Circuit, won a Chrysalis BREW Fiction Excellence Award: Best Historical Mystery of 2023!  I woke up to that news waiting for me in my email.  What a nice day this has been!  That story was inspired by Gypsy Rose Lee’s book again.  It was her autobiography that first enchanted me about the idea of a family of vaudeville performers traveling the country. 

Why do you feel such an affinity for the 1920s?

It’s the funniest thing.  Vanished on the Vaudeville Circuit is set in the 20s and it practically wrote itself.  I was very close to all four of my grandparents and that was their era, which must have had something to do with it, and we were always playing 1920s records in the house where I grew up.  Yet it’s far more than that.  When I see a movie about the 1920s, like Chicago, I’ll sit there saying to myself, “Thank God, thank God, the clothing’s right again, the hairstyles are back to normal, and so are the cars and the music!”  Then I’ll catch myself and think, what on earth am I saying?  I wasn’t there!  Yet on some visceral level it always feels like I was.

What is your routine when you’re writing? 

Me, with a routine?  I always say I write “whenever the spirit moves” and I wing it.  I’ll start a book the minute I get the idea for it and put a little proposed synopsis into a Word doc.  Either I’ll plow away at writing it immediately or I’ll put it aside and get back to it once I’m done with another project.  With my mysteries, in particular, I usually don’t plan them out too strenuously ahead of time.  I never decide on “whodunit” until I’m in the middle of writing the book, and that’s been working out pretty well because I’ve won several cozy book awards.  I have a whole lot of fun with the whole process!

PHOTO: Step into Carolyn Summer Quinn’s world of cozy mysteries,
where each turn of the page unravels secrets, laughter, and a touch of the roaring 1920s.

Follow Carolyn Summer Quinn

  • web: https://www.carolynsummerquinn.com
  • Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/s?i=digital-text&rh=p_27%3ACarolyn+Summer+Quinn&s=relevancerank&text=Carolyn+Summer+Quinn&ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1
  • Goodreads Author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7042392.Carolyn_Quinn
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/carolynquinnauthor
  • Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/carolynsummerq1
  • Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sequinrosette
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/carolynquinn-nyc


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