Q & A with mystery writer Emmeline Duncan

Tracee: Delighted to host mystery writer Emmeline Duncan today. The second book in her Ground Rules Mystery series launched two weeks ago and she’s here to share some insights into her writing life.

What led you to create the Ground Rules Mysteries? Did you start with your protagonist Sage Caplin or was the lure of coffee too much for a writer based in Portland to miss? 

Emmeline: I did want to write a book that felt like the Portland I know and love. Coffee is a big deal in Pacific Northwest, and food cart pods are a culinary delight in Portland. So it felt natural to write a mystery surrounding a coffee cart while incorporating some of the hipster and Portland’s unique quirks into the story.

The story and character developed side by side. Sage’s decisions and reactions rely on her backstory, and I wanted to make sure she feels like a living, breathing person with a unique take on the world.

Tracee: You’ve enjoyed success as Kelly Garrett, writing young adult novels, including The Last to Die, which was an Oregon Book Awards Finalist. Why the new path with adult fiction? (Or perhaps it’s a parallel path . . . ) And if you’d like to comment on how you juggle two series, what are the pros and cons? And do you work on the writing at separate times and overlap on editing?

Emmeline: I’ve always been a fan of cozies mysteries, and writing my first cozy felt natural. It also fits my voice. 

YA and adult fiction are definitely a parallel journey for me. Although at the moment, I only have work for adults under contract. But that could change! 

When I sit down and work on a new project, I immediately know if the market is teen or adult. Every category has specific expectations and standards, and it’s fun to work within those parameters while playing with the genre’s usual tropes.

Tracee: I think that both writers and readers are curious about process. Are you a plotter or do you create in a more organic way? And the mystery writer question – do you know ‘who did it’ when you start? 

Emmeline: I see myself as a hybrid between a pantser and a plotter. For example, when writing a mystery, I know both who did it and why they did it before I start writing. So I know where the story begins and ends, although I don’t know every detail in the middle. 

Although writing under contract has turned me a bit more into a plotter, as I need to send in a synopsis ahead of time for the book under contract as part of a series. This means I spend more time working on intermediate plot points before writing the book than if I were sitting down to write the first draft of a completely new project. 

Tracee: Is there something about your writing, or the books in particular, that you wish people knew?

Emmeline: One interesting element about the Ground Rules series is its cross-over appeal to younger readers, meaning people in their 20s or 30s who might not have picked up a cozy before. But I was careful to not alienate long-time readers of cozies! 

One minor plot point I introduced in Fresh Brewed Murder is the Ground Rules coffee cart having a suspended coffee board. It’s based on an international program and non-profit inspired by Naples, Italy’s long-standing “caffè sospeso” tradition. Basically, cafes worldwide have started offering suspended coffees, which means customers will pre-pay for a cup of coffee, sandwich, etc. The cafe can give away later to someone in need. I appreciate this program since it puts coffee and food into the hands of someone who needs it, and hopefully, it brightens up their day. 

I became aware of this program when a coffee cart in Portland, Oregon–Ole Latte–started offering suspended coffees. 

Tracee: What a wonderful concept. I’ll have to ask around my local coffee shops if they have this program. Along those lines – thinking of specific drinks – Thanks for including recipes! I’m making Ginger Simple Syrup right now (why did I never think of this before?) and can’t wait to try Strawberry-Sage drinking vinegar. Was the lure of making fun drinks one of the draws with the series? I could easily write a series about tea drinking if I could travel to the tea fields as part of the research!

Emmeline: When you think about it, making hot drinks is basically one thing that makes us human. Want to settle in for a cozy chat? Start with hot tea or coffee. Someone is upset? Why not make them a nice cup of tea? Plus, I live in an area full of micro-roasters passionate about coffee.

Basing a series around hot drinks—and iced drinks, like fun iced teas, coffees, and lemonades—felt natural. And if I’m going to include recipes, I want to make sure they’re fun but easy to make at home. 

The drinks are also inspired by things I’ve seen. For example, Kopi Jahe, an Indonesian style of coffee, is traditionally brewed with ginger. So, creating a ginger simple syrup for coffee or tea makes sense to me, and it really can jazz up a homemade tea latte or iced coffee! A local-to-me coffee shop used to offer coffee sodas but quit making them years ago, so I spent time recreating them at home. It was easy to adapt the recipe to make tea sodas. 

Tracee: Thanks for joining us today, Emmeline. I encourage everyone to dive into the latest Ground Rules Mystery. Available where ever you buy your books, but here’s one link. To learn more about Emmeline visit her website or follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


  1. What a charming premise! The stories that are told in line at the coffee shop! The day after the 7.2 earthquake up here in Alaska, I was in line talking to a lady whose house had broken in two and slipped off the foundation whereas back at my house there was glass all over my bathroom from the used-to-be-showerdoor but we were getting our coffee, for sure! I’m sure it’s going to be an amazing series!

  2. Thank you for visiting! I love the idea of suspended coffees. Never heard of it, but it’s wonderful.

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