CARLENE O'CONNOR
Mystery Scene|Fall #169, 2021
“Anyone can play Snow White. It takes real talent to play the Wicked Witch.”
John B. Valeri

USA Today bestselling author Carlene O’Connor—a former actress, born Mary Carter—fondly recalls that motherly encouragement, given to her in the third grade after she auditioned to play the beloved princess and got cast as the antagonist instead. It has served her well in both careers.

“That’s the attitude I take to writing cozies. The more I’ve been in the genre, the more I’ve molded the Irish Village and Home to Ireland series into books I would want to read,” says O’Connor, whose Murder in Connemara was released to all platforms in July after yearlong exclusivity with Barnes & Noble.

Such fortitude has proven invaluable, given the unique confines of the cozy genre in which she writes: typically, featuring a nonprofessional investigator and little to no on-the-page violence, sex, or other gratuitous content.

“I wish cozy authors were given equal respect in the industry, for we have several challenges—such as finding a believable way for an amateur sleuth to solve a mystery before a detective does,” the author notes. “Now, I’m of the mindset that I like the challenges, and will rise to them rather than fear or fight them.”

This perspective has not only liberated O’Connor creatively, but also fostered a deep appreciation for her contemporaries.

“It’s also about the respect and admiration I’ve developed for cozy writers. It’s not easier what they do—it’s harder!” she says. “Yet they are often disparaged or dismissed as silly, or easy, or fluffy, or too cute. On top of all the challenges of writing, there’s all that criticism.”

But O’Connor has found the perfect counterbalance for any such critiques: love.

“I write about Ireland simply because I love it and it’s a way for me to vicariously get closer to that love,” she says. “It’s wonderful icing on the cake that readers love it. I think that’s the key to any good story, the writer must love it for the reader to love it, too.”

The descendant of a long line of Irish storytellers—including her great-grandmother, who emigrated to America in 1897—O’Connor finds herself enamored with the culture.

“I spent 15 years in New York City where my group of friends increasingly became Irish people—not of Irish background, but from Ireland, accent and all. And it was an immediate feeling of belonging,” she recalls. “I clicked with the humor, the jokes, the wit and intelligence, the music, the sarcasm— and truth be told, I fell in love with way too many Irish men. Darn that accent and charm!”

One of those men invited her on what would be a fortuitous journey.

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