Today the Femmes are happy to welcome Jenny Hanahan, founder of the Mystery Most Cozy groups. Jenny was the owner of Overbooked, an online bookstore specializing in out-of-print books when she founded Mystery Most Cozy in 2002. She has since changed professions and has been a Real Estate Professional for Russell and Jeffcoat Real Estate for nine years. She specializes in Lake Murray properties as well as representing sellers and buyers in the metro Columbia, SC area. She and her husband, Ralph, have a son, daughter-in-law, and two young grandchildren. They share their home with their three Maine Coons and are currently writing a cozy mystery together. Jenny's husband Ralph Hanahan interviewed her for this blog.
Q. When did you start MMC, and what were your most important motivations for doing so?
A. September 21, 2002 and I don’t know. It’s a mystery! Actually, thinking back, I just enjoyed cozies and had been on forums with only readers, and I thought it would be good to have authors on a forum to discuss their books. I've always been a fan of the cozy mystery, particularly the traditional British style. They are more character based than action based, but there’s still a mystery to be solved.
Q. Were you surprised at how quickly MMC took off? Why do you think this happened?
A. Actually, I was, because when I first started MMC, I wondered if anyone would come – is there anyone else who might be interested in this idea besides me? At that time, it was a unique premise to have an interactive group read discussion forum that wasn’t just readers. Very early on, there were some months where we had over 1000 posts per month. At the beginning, I had MMC in the general Yahoo directory, but soon I switched over to "word of mouth," but it still grew even after that.
Q. How have authors received MMC?
A. Very well. In the early days, I approached authors whose books I enjoyed and asked them if they would be interested in participating in an author Q&A with members of the forum. I asked if they would contribute an autographed book as a prize for the book discussion. It was always well received, since I think it was unique for them too. I often went to bookstores purposely looking through the mysteries for new authors, and then I’d contact them to see if they’d like to participate. Even then, I knew new authors needed their books promoted to stand a chance.
Many of the authors early on were fairly newly published, and they were very receptive. Most of them are still writing better than ten years later.
Carolyn Hart's Death on Demand series was one of the first, if not the first, interactive author Q/A reads we had. I was already a fan of her Henrie O and Death on Demand series and contacted her to see if she would be interested in participating with the forum as we read her Death on Demand series. She, of course was already a well established author, but she was very enthusiastic to answer the questions and send them back by email for me to share with the forum.
I met Carolyn several years later at a local book festival, and she’s been a friend to me and to MMC ever since.
Joanne Fluke was also one of our first interactive reads with an author with her Hannah Swensen series. I think she had maybe three of them out at that time and, of course as we know, she's gone on to write a long lasting series.
Q. How about readers? What sorts of comments and reactions have you gotten from them?
A. One of the things that most of the readers have enjoyed is the sharing of recommendations about new authors and series that they have gotten from others on the forum. Many readers have commented on how enjoyable it has been to converse with authors and get their personal questions answered.
Q. You moved from the original Yahoo group several years ago and opened MMC as a Facebook discussion group. How has that changed things?
A. We didn’t actually “move,” we added Facebook. The Yahoo group is still open and some members still post there regularly, though it's not active like the Facebook one is these days. Some people don’t use Facebook, which is why I’ve left the Yahoo group up, plus the archives of ten years of forum discussion is still on Yahoo.
The Facebook group is much larger. We’re over 1100 members on Facebook now.
Q. I think it’s quite remarkable that you’ve been able to keep MMC active as an invitation only group all these years. Do you think having that restriction has hampered your intentions for MMC?
A. Well, that’s changed on Facebook, since Facebook now offers “forum suggestions,” which has helped the membership there to grow. Originally, I did want to keep the group fairly “small and cozy,” and that’s harder with a larger group. Some of the things we used to do more often, like mailing a “book box” among members, doesn’t happen as much as before.
One of the reasons I chose to do this as a Facebook group instead of a Facebook page is to allow better “quality control,” so we can keep down spam and help make sure that people who aren’t in the spirit of MMC can’t ruin the fun for the rest of us. People are required to request membership. Alicia Farage (helps moderate) and I still go through each request personally.
Q. I’m sure there have been some surprises and somewhat remarkable events during the time you’ve been running MMC. Care to share some of them?
A. One of the most touching things that has shown the warmth of a cozy reader community happened years back during a sad occasion. We lost a MMC author member, Katherine Shepherd, who was a member from almost the beginning of the forum. She was extremely supportive and active on the forum. When she was ill with cancer, the forum poured out affection and support to her. They sent a huge amount of cards for me to send along to her in one big package from us. Also, the forum did a handmade love quilt for her. There were MMC members who quilted and members wrote messages on squares that the quilters put together. She is very much missed.
On a much happier note, I’ve met several authors who have had connection with MMC through the years, Carolyn Hart, Kathleen Delaney Koppang and, Mary Anna Evans who have come through my town on book signing tours, and it’s been very nice to have met them personally and spend a little time with them.
Q. Do you have any plans for the future of MMC? Any changes on the horizon?
A. We recently made changes of getting back to our founding roots of the forum...going back more to actual interactive discussions about cozies. I also recently opened up Mysterious DEADlineS on Facebook. I started this writing forum on Yahoo Groups years ago, but it has not been active in years. The membership is open to writers and readers of the Mystery Most Cozy forum. We've had some very good discussions on it and I am glad to see it active again.
We have found that we have much more in common than just cozies, so once a month we have Mystery Most Cozy Presents Off Topic Weekend and we can post about things other than cozies we enjoy discussing. That has proven to be popular. We've also added another section to the forum for folks to post free ebook offers for mysteries that aren't cozy.
I have plans to add a blog one of these days. Also, there has been talk about putting together a MMC convention and maybe one day it will happen. I have a few more things I'm mulling over for its future.
Q. Any other comments or well wishes that you’d like to pass along?
When I knew I was going to be doing this, I asked the forum for some feedback, what they’d like for me to comment about.
Longtime member Liz Straw mentioned the group reads and discussions as being something she’d really enjoyed. As I've already mentioned, we recently incorporated a “MMC Presents: Off Topic Weekend” where authors are welcome to promote their books other than cozies, and all members can have discussions (within reason), as a “get to know you better” event, and one of our newer members, Terrie Moran thought I should mention this as one of the special things about MMC.
Author/member George Jackson wanted me to emphasize that the forum is unique. He commented, “It is a mixture of friendship between authors, readers, bloggers, and reviewers. It is so unique and we have such good discussions –- I haven’t seen it anywhere else. It’s a special place for all of us, and you have kept it that way.”
I personally would like to give my appreciation to all the forum members, long time members and new, who make the forum a very enjoyable place to visit every day. I'd also like to give special thanks to Alicia Farage who helps me with all the membership requests and daily moderation of the forum, as well as MMC forum member, blogger and author Karen E. Rigley, who did a wonderful job with MMC member author interviews for our ten year celebration a while ago.
Thanks to Kris Neri and Femmes Fatales Blog for letting me share Mystery Most Cozy with their readers. https://www.facebook.com/groups/MysteryMostCozy/
Thanks for being with us today, Jenny, and thanks to Ralph for his insightful questions. And especially, thanks for all you and Mystery Most Cozy do for readers and writers of cozy mysteries.