Tag Archive for: Downton Tabby

Readers Under the Magnifying Glass

by Sparkle Abbey

A topic that’s endlessly fascinating to those of us who write is you – our readers.

That’s right, we’re curious about what makes you tick. Why do you choose a particular book. Was it the cover? The back cover blurb? That catchy title? Did someone recommend it?

Did that first line we worked so hard to get just right, pull you in? How did you feel about the main character? Did you love them right away? Did we tell you enough to make you care? Or was that too much information? 

What keeps you reading? And those special books…
You know, the ones you keep to read again and again. The ones you always recommend to friends. What is it that makes them keepers?

So many questions, right?

We recently read an article about how fiction readers choose their next read. A poll had been conducted and below is what was found to be the top five criteria.
1. The book was written by a favorite author.
2. The book was classified in a favorite genre.
3. The book sported an attractive cover.
4. The back-cover copy was appealing.
5. The book was recommended by reviewers and bloggers.

So, what do you think? Would you agree or disagree? How do you choose your next read?
We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets mysteries which are set in beautiful Laguna Beach, California.

Downton Tabby, the 7th book in the series, is currently available for only 99 cents in all ebook formats for a limited time.

The authors are friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit murder. (But don’t tell the neighbors.) They love to hear from readers and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, their favorite social media sites.

Also, if you want to make sure you get updates, sign up for their newsletter via the SparkleAbbey.com website.

The Best Job: Telling Stories

By Sparkle Abbey

We have the best job! We’re storytellers.

Not only that, we’ve been blessed recently with readers who have taken the time to email or tell us in person about their experiences in reading our books.

One lovely reader shared that she got through an illness abroad ship with our first three books that she had on her Kindle. Another read to her mom who was hospitalized and they laughed together at Caro, Mel, and the indomitable Betty and her shenanigans.  Several others have shared that the books have been an escape at a time when they needed one. A lift, a laugh, a little bit of fun along with a whodunit that kept them guessing. Can you see our big smiles?

We absolutely love it when readers tell us they laughed out loud while reading a Sparkle Abbey book and got funny looks from others on the train or in the break room at work. Sigh. That’s just the best.

The truth is that, as readers ourselves, there has been some time in our life when reading and books got us through a bad time, an endless wait, or just provided a get-away when we couldn’t actually get away. And whether an author writes humorous mysteries like us, or straight serious storylines, or romances, or dark thrillers, we all want to transport readers. We want to envelope you in our fictional world. We want to share our story people with you.

We believe writers write because they have to. We can’t stop. There are stories in our heads and we’re compelled to capture them. Ask a room of writers why they write and you’ll hear words like passion, joy, and need. They’ll often say things like, “The story nagged at me until I finally had to write it.” Or something along the lines of ,“That character just kept talking to me, insisting I tell her story.” You can see why we have to hang out with other writers, can’t you? Other people might question our sanity. We’re sure our friends and families have at times.

Ultimately, writers write not only because we have to, but because we want readers to be pulled into our worlds. We were entertained, enlightened, shaped, and sometimes even saved by books. And we want to do the same for others with our own stories.

So, readers, don’t ever hesitate to tell an author (in person or via email) what their book meant to you. We need to hear that. It’s what keeps us going when the characters won’t behave or the plot won’t untwist.

It’s what keeps us telling stories.

Sparkle Abbey’s first book in the Pampered Pets series is currently part of a drawing for a giveaway of 55+ cozy mysteries and the grand prize of a Kindle Fire. Details are here: Book Sweeps

Also, our publisher is running a special on our 7th book Downton Tabby and it is $1.99 in all ebook formats until April 15th.


Stay up-to-date on new releases and other Sparkle Abbey news by signing up for updates at: SparkleAbbey.com

Behind the Scenes

by Sparkle Abbey

Every author works differently and so we thought it might be fun to take you behind the scenes in our work space.

Most of the authors we know write on a computer. Some desktop, some laptop, some tablet. Others write long-hand on a note pad and then transcribe to the computer. That’s not for us. Though we don’t think of ourselves as fast writers, that two-step process would make us very, very s…l…o…w… and drive us crazy. So, we mostly write on a desktop or laptop. Lately we’re trying out standing while writing because we’ve heard too much sitting is not healthy.

We’ll bet you think we look better when we’re writing than we actually do. Perhaps you think we actually put on real clothes and make-up. Some days we do. And then there are other days when comfort is key. Let’s just say, in some cases we really have to think about whether it’s wise to answer the door.

Because when we’re writing we are creating an alternate world, where we work can be really important. We both have busy families and not very quiet homes so an office with a door is essential. And noise-canceling headphones are our friend.

Music can be good, but it depends on what type of scene you’re writing. Dark intense music isn’t helpful when you’re writing a light-hearted scene. Some authors create playlists for each book which sounds like fun, but for us that could easily be a distraction as we hunt to find just the right songs.

Reference books on shelves or in stacks are a part of any writer’s décor and we’re no exception. Although we have the Internet at our fingertips, there are simply times when you have to have that book in your hands. Usually it’s a well-worn favorite with highlighting and sticky notes.

We are planners which is especially important since we write the Pampered Pets series together. We get together and plot the books, but then we write them individually. So, we’ll start with a fairly detailed story grid and then we work from plot points. So our offices have white boards and post-it notes. And also pictures of places, people and pets that help to keep us grounded in the story.

We hope you enjoyed the tour. It’s what we’ve found works for us and it’s how we’ve written our most recent books, DOWNTON TABBY and RAIDERS OF THE LOST BARK. Just like the characters in our books change, the process and the environment changes a bit depending on what other craziness is going on in our lives. But for now, we like the process we’ve landed on and we hope you enjoy the stories we create.

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of two mystery authors (Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter). They are friends and neighbors as well as co-writers of the Pampered Pets Mystery Series. The pen name was created by combining the names of their rescue pets–Sparkle (Mary Lee’s cat) and Abbey (Anita’s dog). If you want to make sure you’re up on all the Sparkle Abbey news, stop by their website and sign up for updates at sparkleabbey.com.

People Watching – A Writer’s Hobby

by Sparkle Abbey

If you haven’t heard, Iowa was quite a big deal this
week. According to the NBC evening news Monday night, the whole world watched
as we were the first state to caucus for the next president of the United
States. We’re not sure the whole world
was watching our state, but we were certainly watching the folks around us.

As writers we love people watch, looking for something
that might spark an idea for a character or storyline. The clothes someone is
wearing, a subtle hand gesture or facial expression, a speech pattern, any and
all of that can inspire our characters.
Photo: Laura Arenson

There’s no doubt about it, we hit the jackpot of people-watching
this week. At their core, people are fascinating. And we have to tell you, folks
are enthralling when they’re crammed in a hot, stuffy auditorium, passionately
trying to convince the room-at-large to vote for their candidate of choice.

There are a few people who literally thumped their
chest in emphasis, others who shared heartfelt stories of how a candidate had
personally helped them, moving listeners to tears. There were some who were so relieved
to be surrounded by like-minded people for the first time in months they
radiated relief.

There were a couple of young twenty-something girls who
caught our eye. Or more accurately, our ears. They chatted excitedly, heads
together, giggling about how there were so many good-looking single men in the
room. Men with jobs. They plotted how to snag a picture of a good-looking guy
on stage who was about to make a speech. Within seconds, the tall blonde pulled
out her cell phone to capture a quick photo of the “hot guy” under in the guise
of recording a woman’s impassioned speech. Somehow, those twenty-somethings
will make it into a story.

All thanks to the Iowa Caucus, we’ve collected details this past week and have refilled our pool of creative ideas. What about you? Where do you people watch?

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter. They write a national bestselling pet-themed mystery series set in Laguna Beach. The first book in the series Desperate Housedogs, an Amazon Mystery Series bestseller and Barnes & Noble Nook #1 bestseller, was followed by several other “sassy and fun” books in the series. The most recent installment is Downton Tabby and up next is Raiders of the Lost Bark. www.SparkleAbbey.com

Sparkle Abbey on Downton Abbey

by Sparkle Abbey

Downton Abbey’s final season launched this past week and so we couldn’t let this major event pass without a nod to this highly acclaimed British drama.

You might remember we did a contest a while back with all the differences between Downton Abbey and Sparkle Abbey. And now, our latest book Downton Tabby offers even more entertaining comparisons. Check out our “The Pawleys: A brief episode in the British family hiss-tory of Lady Toria Cash, the feline fatale of Downton Tabby.”

No spoilers here if you haven’t watched the first installment in this final season of Downton, but you can bet there will be butlers and maids, elegant frocks, fancy dinner parties, secrets revealed and problems in love, some below stairs and some in the drawing room.

Why do we (and millions of viewers) love this show so much? The twisted plots? The intrigues? The beautiful costuming? The “no-they-did-not-just-do-that” writing?

We believe the bottom line is whether it’s a book or a movie, and whether the setting is a cozy, quirky small town, a galaxy far, far away or a castle in Yorkshire; we all continue to watch or continue to read because of the characters.

The characters in Downton Abbey have become our friends and we want to know what will happen to them next. The stoic Carson, the sometimes clueless Lord Grantham, the forward-thinking Isobel Crawley, and the just-can’t-get-a-break Lady Edith. And then poor Anna and Mr. Bates who give new meaning to “when bad things happen to good people” adage. Plus the evil Thomas who can always be counted on to shake things up. And the best, the very best, Lady Violet, the Dowager, who routinely delivers the zingers we love.

Here are a few:

“At my age, one must ration one’s excitement.”

Mrs. Crawley: “I take that as a compliment.”
Countess Violet: “I must’ve said it wrong.”

Dr. Clarkson: You want me to lie?
Countess Violet: Lie is so unmusical a word.

Cora: “I hate to go behind Robert’s back.”
Countess Violet: “That is a scruple no successful wife can afford.”

“There’s nothing simpler than avoiding people you don’t like. Avoiding one’s friends, that’s the real test.”

“I don’t dislike him. I just don’t like him. Which is quite different.”

“All this unbridled joy has given me quite an appetite.”

“Of course it would happen to a foreigner. No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house.”

“Principles are like prayers; noble, of course, but awkward at a party.”

“Don’t be defeatist, dear, it’s very middle class.”

And our favorite:

“Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.”

What do you think? Do you watch the show? And, if so, do you agree with us that it’s the characters that have made the show such a success?

We’d like to hear your thoughts?

Comment below to be in the drawing for a signed copy of Downton Tabby.

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter. They write a national bestselling pet-themed mystery series set in Laguna Beach. The first book in the series Desperate Housedogs, an Amazon Mystery Series bestseller and Barnes & Noble Nook #1 bestseller, was followed by several other “sassy and fun” books in the series. The most recent installment is Downton Tabby and up next is Raiders of the Lost Bark. www.SparkleAbbey.com


by Sparkle Abbey

Change. This past
Sunday we had a book signing for our latest release. It was during the question
and answer session we realized it was four years ago to the exact day we had
our very first book signing, November 1, 2011. From book one, Desperate Housedogs to book eight, Downton Tabby.

have things changed in four years.

in a bad way – things are just different. Publishing has changed in a big way,
our families have changed, our day jobs have morphed. Our lives are richer but
certainly busier. Things we stressed about four years ago aren’t even a blip on
our radar now. Of course, there are other things to worry about that we were
too new then to even see on the horizon.

thing that hasn’t changed is the joy we feel when we reflect on our publishing
journey so far. A bookstore talk like we were able to do this week, reminds us.
We’ve crammed a lot of fun into the past four years. Traveling, conferences,
workshops, panels, making new friends, meeting readers, plotting stories and
brainstorming new titles.

season has its own beauty. Change is good. It helps you to grow.

changes have you been through in the past year? 

To stay up on the latest news, new releases or upcoming appearances, sign up for the Sparkle Abbey newsletter at www.sparkleabbey.com 

When Fictional People Seem Real

by Sparkle Abbey

We had a conversation recently with a reader who asked about some of the fashions mentioned in our books. She wondered where we got the ideas for what Caro and Mel wear. Though this reader confessed she didn’t know many of the designers, she still loved reading the descriptions of the fashions. She wanted to know, did we shop for Caro and Mel.

The answer is that in a way, we do. We often look through magazines such as Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar in search of looks appropriate for these two former Texas beauty queens turned pet therapist and pet boutique owner. They each have their favorite designers so we may also haunt the online sites of the likes of Neiman Marcus or Bloomingdales. (And not just the sale racks.) Sometimes we’ll look at a particular outfit and say, “Caro would never wear that.” Or “That’s just not Mel.” They each have their own style and we know it well. Caro loves classic and vintage. Mel’s look is a little edgier and more daring. And, of course, then there’s Betty Foxx and her own unique and very individual look.

That got us thinking about how real these characters seem to us – and we hope to you.

It may sound crazy, but the truth is we know not only clothes they’d buy, but we could order for them in a restaurant, tell you their favorite music, and choose the movie each would pick for a night out. It’s kind of like we have these best friends…only they’re fictional.

What about you? Are there fictional characters who are so real to you that you feel like you could shop for them? (Or are we crazy?)

In our most recent book, we revisit lovely Laguna Beach with Caro and Mel as well as some of the other colorful characters we have come to know and love.

One Amazon reviewer has this to say about Downton Tabby:

How would you like to find a dead body in a swimming pool, have two friends disappear, be followed by a black SUV and have your ex try to take away your clients?

That’s what Laguna Beach’s animal therapist and sometime sleuth, Caro Lamont, faces in another page turning, suspense filled, and occasional humorous adventure as she tries to find a killer, solve the disappearances of two friends, and deal with a scurvy ex.

Need a treat today? Of course you do! Grab some snacks, your fav drink, turn off your phone and settle down in a comfy place and relish this latest mystery that’s pet friendly too!

Next up? Book 8: Raiders of the Lost Bark

As always, if you’d like to stay up on the latest news, new releases or upcoming appearances, sign up for the Sparkle Abbey newsletter at www.SparkleAbbey.com

Independence Day Celebrations

by Sparkle Abbey

Laguna Beach Fireworks

Around the U.S. plans are being made for the upcoming Independence Day weekend. In Laguna Beach where the Pampered Pets Mysteries are set, residents and visitors will be celebrating the 4th of July holiday with free admission to the Art-a-Fair Fine Arts Festival and a patriotic band concert at 10:30 AM by the Laguna Concert Band. Then in the evening there will be fireworks originating from Monument Point at Heisler Park. With the Pacific Ocean as the backdrop, we bet they’ll be awesome!

Concert at Iowa State Capitol
Yankee Doodle Pops Iowa Capitol

Here in the Midwest, there will be parades with floats, high school marching bands, kids on bikes festooned with red, white and blue streamers. Later on there will be picnics, swimming, and community fireworks.  Some of the festivities begin today with the symphony’s Yankee Doodle Pops at the State Capitol. This year’s theme is America’s Musical Heartland which includes a commissioned movement, Symphony On A Stick, which depicts in music the sights and sounds of the Iowa State Fair. (At the Iowa State Fair, which isn’t until August, you can find almost any type of food on a stick.)

Dogs in sunglassesWe love the tradition of family get-togethers on the 4th.  Our celebrations will most likely include friends and family and fireworks. Parades, food on the grill and sparklers for the kids. What about you? What are your plans for the weekend? A cook-out or picnic? A lawn chair and a book? Check out our Pinterest board Celebrations for some other ideas for special Independence Day snacks. Leave a comment below to be entered in the #giveaway for a free Sparkle Abbey book and summer celebration reading tote!

Downton Tabby Cover

In our latest book, Downton Tabby, pet therapist, Caro Lamont, agrees to keep an office mate’s cat while he runs home. Little does she know that charming Brit, Graham Cash, will not be coming back for his feline anytime soon. Soon there’s a dead body, a missing person, a snoopy reporter, and a mysterious SUV. In short order Caro and the rest of her crew are involved in a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of mystery authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter. They’ve chosen to use Sparkle Abbey as their pen name because they liked the idea of combining the names of their two rescue pets – Sparkle (ML’s cat) and Abbey (Anita’s dog). The authors co-write the bestselling Pampered Pets Mystery Series which focuses on the wacky world of precious pedigrees, pampered pooches, and secrets in posh Laguna Beach, California.

They love to hear from readers so stop by their website: www.sparkleabbey.com 
Or visit them on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/SparkleAbbey

Next up? Book 8: Raiders of the Lost Bark

The Best Job in the World

by Sparkle Abbey

We are about to see the release of our 7th book, Downton Tabby, and we’d just like to say it’s been an incredible journey.

We sold the series in 2010 and the first book, Desperate Housedogs, came out in 2011.

From our very first Malice Domestic and Bouchercon conferences, where we had tons of excitement and enthusiasm, but little to no publishing experience (and come to think of it no books yet), the mystery community has been crazy welcoming and supportive.

We’ve met so many wonderful writers and readers of the genre via various conferences and events. These are brilliant, savvy, fun people, many of whom we are privileged to now call friends.

It’s an amazing experience to walk into a bookstore, whether a Barnes and Noble, BAM or a small indie bookstore, and see our books on the shelf. It’s a thrill that we hope never gets old.

And then there are readers. Wow. It’s impossible to explain how much it means get an email or a letter from a reader who has read one of our books and was moved to write to us. To know that something we wrote provided an escape for someone who was going through a tough time, made someone laugh out loud, or was simply an opportunity relax after a long day at work. So. Cool.

In addition to all that there’s the writing itself. We get to think up twisted plots, give birth to quirky characters, and put them in impossible situations. Of course, then we have to figure out a way to help them solve all the problems we’ve created for them. That’s when the fun begins!

Being a writer is just plain the best job in the world and we feel so lucky to get to do it.

Our newest book, Downton Tabby, comes out in a few days and is currently available for pre-order. To celebrate we’re giving away an adorable Paul Cardew teapot and a canister of Downton Abbey tea. All you have to do to enter the contest is pre-order the book and then send us an email letting us know you have.

We love to connect with readers and other writers!
You can find us online in the following places:

Website: www.sparkleabbey.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/sparkleabbey
Twitter: @sparkleabbey
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/sparkleabbey/

Anyone for tea and crumpets…and murder?

by Sparkle Abbey

We’re so excited about our new book, Downton Tabby, which is due out in June. Our fab publisher, Bell Bridge Books, is doing some fun promo with a cover reveal at Goodreads on May 15th, a blog tour, special pricing on our backlist, and the placement of a short, featuring Toria, the feline star of Downton Tabby.

We thought you might enjoy reading the short so here goes…

Cats dressed in period clothing

The Pawleys 
A brief episode in the British family history of Lady Toria Cash, the feline fatale of Downton Tabby

“Can you believe that alley cat?” Lady Meow Grandcatham lifted her whiskers in disdain. “Thinking I’d simply fall under the spell of his gorgeous green eyes.”

I shook my head. “He does seem rather cheeky.” I’m Annakatrina, Lady’s Meow’s lady’s maid, and the alley cat she was referring to was Alexander Kittingham who’d apparently made a play for Lady Meow in a big way.

I carefully folded the lace frill she’d worn to dinner and reached for the brush I used every night on her silky black fur. Though I would never bring it up to Lady Meow, talk below stairs was that Alexander Kittingham was not actually a purebred British shorthair. He was often referred to as “Alley” in a disparaging tone, by Thomas Cat, Lord Grandcatham’s valet. Alexander was quite a handsome fellow and a favorite of the ladies around the dinner bowl.

He was nice looking with dark brown fur and deep green eyes, but I was not impressed. You see I’m madly in love with Mr. Bait. Poor Mr. Bait is currently locked up in the pound, but I had no doubt he would soon be freed.

“Beyond cheeky, I’d say.” Lady Meow lifted her paw to her neck. “Would you help me get out of this collar?”

I pulled on the diamond collar with my teeth and it snapped off easily. Carefully placing it in the ornate trinket box, I picked up the brush again.

Suddenly, there was a scratch at the door and I moved quickly to open it.  Lady Vi, Meow’s grandmother, stepped into the room. She was a formidable feline and referred to as the Dogwagger Countess because even the dogs at the neighboring estates were afraid of her. I don’t believe she’d ever actually bitten anyone, canine or otherwise, but all it took was a hiss and the very slight unsheathing of her claws and it was clear she meant business.

“Grandmother.” Lady Meow purred. “What a surprise.”

cat in straw hat“Not an unpleasant one, I hope.” The older feline stepped closer so Lady Meow could bump noses with her.

“I’ll leave you.” I moved quietly on soft paws toward the door.

“No, please stay.” The Dogwagger waved her tail in my direction. “I know Meow trusts you.”

“What is it, Grandmama?” Lady Meow dropped on her haunches. “Is something wrong?”

“What is wrong is my sources tell me someone is publishing a catty tell all tome about the Britain’s aristocats. I am told there’s a whole chapter devoted to the Grandcatham Family.” She leaned on the edge of Lady’s Meow’s bed and smoothed her fur.

Lady Meow began to pace. “Have you told Pappa’?

The Dogwagger shook her head. “No, nor your mother. It will be up to us to sort this out.” She gave a deep sigh and tipped her head to look at me. “We must find out who this low-life is and stop him or her before our good name is dragged through the litter box.” Sharp blue eyes pinned me in place.

“What can I do to help, M ‘lady?”

“My dear, you must be our eyes and ears.” The Dogwagger put her paws together as if it were all settled. “You can go places we must not and you will never be noticed.”

I had the thought that not being noticed was hardly complimentary, but knew she was right.

“You will help us, won’t you, Anna?” Lady Meow crossed the room in a single smooth leap to stand in front of me. Her golden eyes searched my face.

“Of course, I will.” I bowed my head.

And thus began my new career as Annakatrina, Cat Sleuth.

What would Mr. Bait think?

Downton Tabby, book seven in The Pampered Pets Mysteries by Sparkle Abbey, is now available for pre-order at Amazon. Pre-order now and send us an email with “Downton Tabby Pre-Order” in the subject line and you’ll be entered in the drawing for this adorable Andrew Cardew teapot and a canister of special blend, Downton Abbey tea.

Also, if you’re missing any of our backlist this is a great time to grab them. Details here.

And if you want to make sure you’re up on all the Sparkle Abbey news, stop by our website and sign up for updates at sparkleabbey.com.

Art credits: 
Siamese Cat in a straw hat © Nizhava1956 | Dreamstime.com 
Loving cats in 1900 © Lestoquoy Véronique | Dreamstime.com