Welcome Back to the Agatha-Nominated Lea Wait!

 by Barb who is busy rounding up her stuff to pack for Malice.

Author Lea WaitIn the past several months, Lea Wait has visited the Wicked Cozies twice, once for her Shadows Mysteries and once for her new Mainely Needlepoint series.

Now she’s back to tell us about her Agatha-nominated novel for children, UNCERTAIN GLORY. I love this book, and I also wanted to ask Lea some questions about the mysterious (for me) world of writing for children.


Here’s the blurb for UNCERTAIN GLORY.

uncertain gloryJoe Wood has dreams. Big dreams. He wants to be a newspaperman, and though he’s only fourteen, he’s already borrowed money to start his own press. But it’s April, 1861, and a young nation is teetering on the brink of a civil war. As effects of war begin to spread over Joe’s hometown of Wiscasset, Maine, he must juggle his personal ambitions with some new responsibilities. He has to help Owen, his young assistant, deal with the challenges of being black in a white world torn apart by color. He needs to talk his best friend, Charlie, out of enlisting. He wants to help a young spiritualist, Nell, whose uncle claims she can speak to the dead. And when Owen disappears, it’s up to Joe to save him. Lea Wait skillfully draws on the lives of real people in Maine’s history to tell this story of three young adults touched by war and the tension it brings, forcing them into adulthood—before they may be ready.

Barb: Lea, all your historical fiction for young people takes place in or involves the town of Wiscasset, Maine. Why did you decide on this unifying sense of place? And how do you use it in your books?

seawardboundLea: I’ve always been fascinated by places. How different they are, and, most important, what stays the same (mountains, rivers, rocks) and what changes (the way people live – their homes, occupations, how they think of their environment). When I sit on the rocky shore of Maine I know I’m sitting on the same rocks people sat on hundreds – perhaps thousands – of years ago.

Who were they? What were they thinking

So I wanted to write a group of books that reflect one place, over time. I chose the town of Wiscasset, Maine, and so far have had five books published that take place in the 19th century there – in 1806, 1804-1807, 1819-1820, 1838 and, in UNCERTAIN GLORY, 1861. Many of the characters in these books actually lived in 19th century Wiscasset, and many events in the books took place there.

Barb: In UNCERTAIN GLORY your main character, Joe Wood, faces many conflicts and responsibilities that today would be considered adult. How do your young readers react to this? What do they learn from it?

stoppingtohomeLea: Although Joe is a real person, in all of my books the main characters (ages 11-15) are faced with major changes in their lives, and must make decisions as to what they’ll do, where they’ll live, who they’ll live with, etc … decisions which many people today don’t make until their twenties. Because of that, my books are different from some contemporary stories for children which focus on school days and friends. My characters have friends, but they may also have business partners, and they definitely have major responsibilities, for themselves and their families.

Children reading my books are often amazed at what was expected by young people in the past, but are also fascinated by it. (So are adults!)

Barb: You have two mystery series for adults. How is writing for young people different from writing for adults?

winteringwellLea: It’s not as different as you might think. There are a few “rules” – say, about the ages of the main characters in books for young people. And in middle grade fiction, which I write, there’s no swearing or sex. Of course – in cozy mysteries you have rules, too – you can’t hurt an animal or a child, and most violence and sex take place off-stage. So each genre has its framework.

I don’t write down in my children’s books. I use whatever the (period-appropriate) words are, and my plots have included the middle passage from Africa, amputation, death of relatives and friends, and serious mental and physical disabilities. (Not all in one book!) In UNCERTAIN GLORY there are financial issues, a parent depressed after the death of a son, bullying, racial prejudice, and a twelve-year-old girl spiritualist who is being drugged by her uncle.

I don’t always deal with issues like that in my books for adults! I think authors (and parents) often under-estimate children. I’ve never heard of a child shocked by my books, but I know some parents and grandparents have been nervous about my subjects. I think sometimes we try to protect children too much. Think of what’s on the evening news!

Barb: A lot of people who don’t write for young people get confused by the categories. I understand picture books and chapter books, but help me through the thicket of juvenile, middle-grade, YA. Etc.

finestkindLea: Okay! There are pictures books for every age group, up to adults. (What else is a coffee table book?) They start with board books, and gradually add words and pictures. Most picture books for the pre-school set today have under one thousand words. Chapter books also can be divided by reading level, but basically are books for early readers that look more grown up – fewer pictures than picture books, and the story divided into half a dozen or more chapters.

I write middle grade fiction, which are the classic “children’s books,” aimed at ages 8-14. They’re a little shorter than books for adults (30,000-45,000 words) and the main characters are usually aged 11-14. Young Adults, or YA books, have main characters aged 15-19, and more words. If the characters are older than nineteen, the books are now categorized as “New Adult.”.

In reality – a lot of YA and NA and even middle grade fiction is bought and read by adults, and children choose books by a combination of their reading abilities and their interests – just as they always have.

Barb: How is selling a book for young people to a publisher different than selling a series for adults? How is supporting the book post-publication different?

threadsofevidenceLea: Wow. In lots of ways. First, most agents specialize; few agents place both books for adults and books for children. So you need to have an agent who knows the current marketplace in your genre. Second, in my experience books for children are edited much more closely than books for adults. Perhaps because of the time that takes, the time from selling a book until it’s published is longer than for adult books — for picture books (which are written by one person and illustrated by another) it can take five or six years until publication. For other books, two years is probably the average.

Different book reviewers look at books for children, and, just as there are mystery book stores, there are stores that specialize in children’s books. Most hard-cover books (and some soft covers) for children are purchased by town and school libraries; most parents can’t afford to buy their children stacks of new books, and depend on libraries. For that reason, having a children’s book re-published in a book club (with an inexpensive soft cover) is important for sales. Many authors make visits to classrooms to talk about their books, about being an author, and about how students can improve their research and writing skills. I’ve been doing more Skype visits in the past couple of years, too.

ThreadandgoneBarb: What are you working on now?

Lea: I just finished the third book in my Mainely Needlepoint series, THREAD AND GONE, which will be published next January. (The second in the series, THREADS OF EVIDENCE, will be out in August.) I’m working on the eighth in the Shadows series. And I’m hoping to get back to one of the two books for young people that seem to be perpetually “in progress”. Not bored!

Barb: Wow. Certainly not. Good luck at the Agathas, Lea! We’ll see you at Malice.

Readers, how about you? What do you enjoy in a children’s or young adult novel? Anyone else have ambitions to write one?



Cook Like a Mystery Writer

Update: CONGRATULATIONS TO  Robin L. Coxon for winning the cookbook! More than fifty people entered, and the random number generator picked her.

Edith here, getting ready for the Newburyport Literary Festival tomorrow (with Jessie and

MWA_CB_final_300dpi (1)Liz), and Malice soon after!

Mystery Writers of America and Quirk Books recently published a gorgeous hardcover cookbook, edited by Kate M. White. It includes scrumptious recipes from luminary Sisters in Crime like Katherine Hall Page, Louise Penny, Sue Grafton, and Sara Paretsky; authors like Lee Child, Joe Finder, and Harlan Coben; and best-selling writer pals of ours like Hallie Ephron, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Wicked Cozy Accomplice Sheila Connolly, and Leslie Budewitz. Barb and I each have a recipe in the book, too!

CharlaineHarrisDinnerI made Charlaine Harris’s Very Unsophisticated Supper Dip last Saturday and it was delicious. I modified Charlaine’s recipe, adding fresh red and green peppers, and we ate it with warmed fresh corn tortillas instead of tortilla chips. It was a fabulous cozy dinner in front of a movie. So far I’ve also made Barb Ross’s recipIMG_1640e, invented by her husband Bill Carito, a fabulous Lobster-Pesto Risotto that was perfect for our Easter brunch (somehow I failed to get a closeup of the dish, but it was a big hit with our guests).

I’m running a contest to give away a copy of the cookbook. All you have to do is leave a comment over on the contest link on my web site (http://edithmaxwell.com/mwa-cookbook-contest/) before sundown tonight, Friday April 24! Or heck, a comment here will enter you, too!

Readers: Hungry yet? What author do you hope you’ll find in the cookbook? Have you tried any of the recipes yet?

Favorite Malice Moments

Malice27We are very excited that Malice Domestic 2015 is just one week away, and it’s in its twenty-seventh year! So today we will share some of our favorite Malice moments — take it away, Wickeds.

Edith: Wow. So many favorite moments. I roomed with Sherry my first Malice, and stayed at her home the night before and the night after (watching the royal wedding on TIVO, I might add). I didn’t have a book out yet, but I loved being immersed in all those authors and all those fans! In 2013, I was a debut author with Speaking of Murder, and hosted a table at the New Authors’ Breakfast. What a treat to have Catriona McPherson at my table – Catriona wguppiesboasho had just won an Agatha award the night before. Afterwards she pulled me aside and said she also held a PhD in linguistics. Man, this debut author was SO delighted. Then last year at the Sisters in Crime breakfast, the number of Guppies present, most wearing boas, took two photographs to capture us all. But this year, being an Agatha nominee for Best Short Story? I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle the excitement! At least I’ll have my lifeboat with me – the other five core Wickeds and all three of our Accomplices, too.

Barb: My favorite Malice moment involves a core group of the Wickeds and accomplices. My first book, The Death of an Ambitious Woman, was published in hardcover by a small press. Of course, I was thrilled to be on a panel at Malice and to have a signing. HOWEVER, at the signing, I was seated next to Maggie Sefton, who had a line that trailed off the signing platform, down the stairs and out into the lobby. Some of the Wickeds–Sherry, Kim & Edith–loyally went through my signing line–even though they already had my book. Then, they took one look at me sitting all alone while Maggie Sefton signed and signed–and they went through my line again! And again!  Such loyalty. Such sisterhood.

Edith: Aw, total no brainer, Barb! And what goes around, comes around.

IMG_4737Julie: At the risk of being a sap, my favorite Malice moment was that I met Sherry Harris. I was at the banquet, and was the table host. Sherry was seated at my table. If you have had the pleasure of meeting Sherry, you know that she is one of the loveliest people around. She mentioned that she was moving to Massachusetts, I told her to join Sisters in Crime, and the rest is history. I have many wonderful Malice moments (it is a great conference), but I suspect that sitting at the banquet with Sherry this year will be another one–so happy for my friend, and her well deserved Agatha nomination for Best First.

IMG_2063Liz: Last year was my very first Malice (unless you count the prior year when I went on a stick) and all I remember is what a whirlwind it was! Kneading to Die was a best first Agatha nominee, so it was like induction by fire. All the Wickeds being there together was awesome and so much fun. Meeting some readers who are regulars on my Facebook page was very cool too. I can’t wait for this year!

IMG_4579Jessie: My favorite moment occurred last year when I was able to thank Dorothy Cannell for being so kind to me when I met her years earlier at an author event in Maine. I stepped up to the front of her book signing line to ask her to autograph her latest mystery and then managed to gather all my courage in two hands and choke out the news that I had written some books of my own. She was, of course, gracious, and  generously asked me to autograph one of my books for her. I was so touched! I think one of the very best things about the mystery community is how supportive and kind everyone is to each other.

IMG_4701Sherry: I went to my first Malice in 2003 so I have a lot of favorite moments! In 2004 I was checking in at the same time as an agent and she told me to send her my manuscript. I did and it was rejected but still… And who can forget the year Louis Farrakhan was staying at the same hotel! As Julie said our meeting was momentous and life changing for me in so many ways. I blogged about it when I talked about the importance of networking. I’ve met so many wonderful people at Malice and that is really the best part about going.  Last year I moderated my first panel — that was so much fun — thank you Barb Goffman for trusting me with the Here Comes the Corpse panel! It will seem as if my Malice life has come full circle having Julie next to me at the banquet this year. Being nominated for an Agatha Award is like the icing on the Malice cake for me.

Readers: Any favorite Malice moments of your own? How about questions on the order of, “What the heck is Malice? And what do you do there?”

Wicked Wednesday — Earth Day

IMG_3212By Sherry, enjoying all of the flowering trees in northern Virgina

As I was setting up this post I realized I didn’t know a lot about the history of Earth Day so here is a little information from the earthday.org website:

The Detective’s Daughter : Book ’em!


By Kim enjoying spring in Baltimore

I come from a family of readers. Whether it was The Sun, a case file, or a John le Carre
novel, the written word was present in our everyday life. My grandfather carried the sports page folded in the back pocket of his pants. Dad enjoyed pouring over his case notes with us at dinner, while Mom kept her nose firmly planted in the latest mystery she’d borrowed from the Enoch Pratt Library. I remember the first book I picked out on my own. It was at a tiny bookstore near Lexington Street, in the heart of the downtown shopping district. My Mom was buying a present for a friend and agreed to buy one book for me. I chose a collection of fairytales illustrated by Tasha Tudor. I still have it and read the stories to my own children. It was the beginning of imagemy love affair with Tasha Tudor and also became the first entry in what would become my book list obsession.

For more years than I care to count I have kept a notebook with lists of books that I have either read or wish to read. Several list contain many of the same titles. There was a time – before having children – I categorized my list in very specific genres. Mystery headed the column that included cozy, thriller, procedural, super natural and true crime. Even self-help was broken down to numerous categories. Obviously, I needed a lot of help or at the least, something better to occupy my time. Think of all the books I could have read instead of writing their titles on a list!image

The one list I should have worked on, and never did, was that of people who borrowed my books. There are quite a few books I’m sure I will never see again. For the last year I’ve been part of a book club that meets once a month. We’ve read some wonderful stories, many of them I would never have chosen. A few of the books have been on one of my lists and it gives me great satisfaction crossing that title out.

This year I have begun a new journal. It’s really my first official book journal in a fancy notepad and not just some loose leaf paper haphazardly stapled together. I now rate the books I read with stars and leave spaces for comments. I enjoy talking about books and especially enjoy reading blogs such as Dru’s Book Musings. This summer’s goal, at least one of them, is to read the forty books Ramona DeFelice Long recommended on her blog during her forty days of women authors. I am nearly finished reading the nominees for the Agatha Awards to be given at Malice Domestic this year. Two of our own Wickeds, Sherry and Edith, are up for best first novel and best short story.image

I leave you now gentle reader as I head out to my sunny porch to put a dent in yet another book, and I would like to know what kind of lists you keep. Do they serve as inspirations or as yet another chore?

And the winner is…

We have so much fun with our Stick with the Wicked Contests! It started two years ago when Liz couldn’t go to Malice with the rest of us. Then I got to go with the Wickeds (on a stick) to Bouchercon in Albany. When we realized we’d all be at Crime Bake the contest was born. Our first winner was Barb Goffman, followed by Reine Carter and Dru Ann Love. Who will it be this year? Drum roll please!

First we pulled out the trusty Boston Red Sox hat.


Then we fill it with the names of everyone who entered.

IMG_3190We get a third, non-interested party to pull the name.

IMG_3191And finally the suspense is over!

IMG_3193Congratulations, Jackie York! Jackie, go to the Malice Domestic website and pick the five authors (not including the Wickeds) you’d like a photo with and autograph from. We will make every attempt to track that person down. Please contact Jessie at jessie@jessiecrockett.com for further details.


Welcome Back, Kate Flora!

by Barb, who is currently serving on a jury in a criminal case

kateflora2When Kate Flora visited us back in July, she was here to talk about her short story, “Girls Night Out” published by the new venture Shebooks.

Now Kate’s back to talk about Death Dealer, her true crime book, which has been nominated for an Agatha Award for non-fiction.

Here’s the description of Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice.

Death Dealer is a gripping true crime story of committed investigators from two countries and their cooperation in the relentless pursuit of a brutal murderer. It’s intriguing from the moment David Tanasichuk reports his wife, Maria, missing. Explaining the ten-day delay in notifying authorities, David claims that he and Maria were having marital troubles and she had decided to take a break by leaving town. Suspense builds as lie after lie unravels. David’s reputation for violence and drug abuse makes investigators take his veiled threats against them seriously.

Local police, frustrated by a fruitless wintertime search through miles of frozen wilderness, finally enlist the aid of Maine game wardens along with cadaver dogs and their dedicated volunteer handlers. This Law and Order meets CSI drama culminates in a riveting courtroom drama.

Barb: Welcome back, Kate. Your previous true crime book, the Edgar-nominated Finding Amy, scared the stuffing out of me, and not only because I had a daughter who was Amy St. Laurent’s age when I read it. After you finished that book, you vowed, “never again.” What was so compelling about the story behind Death Dealer that you broke your promise?

deathdealerKate: What I realized, a year or so after finishing Finding Amy and vowing never again, was that the writing life is a very solitary one, while the researching life, particularly when it involves a lot of contact with experts, can be interactive and fascinating. At the launch party for Finding Amy, the Maine warden lieutenant, Pat Dorian, had said, “So, when you’re ready, Kate, I have another one for you.” So I called him up and asked him to tell me about the case.

That led me on a series of hellish drives up to northeastern New Brunswick, Canada, but the people there were so open and welcoming, and I was quickly convinced, as with Amy St. Laurent, that Maria Tanasichuck’s story—and the story of the officers dedicated to getting her justice—really mattered.

Then I had a conversation with a New York agent who specialized in true crime, and when I told him the story, including the part where the bad guy starts stalking the police and their families, he said I should go find a better story, that no one was going to be interested in reading about a small town Canadian crime. Stubborn Yankee that I am, that was all it took to ensure I’d write the book.

Barb: Death Dealer is the story of the search for Maria Tanischuk’s body and the Maine Game Wardens and cadaver dogs who aid the Canadian authorities. What was the most surprising thing you did to research this book?

Kate: Good question. Certainly among the things that were new and different were:

  1. Hiding in the mosquito-filled spring woods on a cadaver and search dog training, waiting to be found. Luckily, I only had to be lost. I didn’t have to be a cadaver.
  2. Driving an ATV deep into the Canadian woods to view the spot where Maria’s body was found. First time on an ATV. We’ll skip the part involving the emergency room.
  3. Going on a stake out with the Miramichi police, and being the one to spot the thief.

Barb: And on the flip side, what is the most surprising thing you learned as you researched this book?

finding amyKate: I’m not sure you’d call it surprising, but what I learned was that you can have a whole room full of interviews, and criminal records, and photographs, and data, but it still takes storytelling skills to figure out how to present that in a way that will make people want to read the book, care about the characters, and keep turning the pages. So what did I learn? I learned that writing fiction has taught me a great deal about how to write nonfiction, and I learned that spending time in the real world of crime and law enforcement has helped me make my police procedural fiction deeper and more authentic.

Barb: You write both fiction and non-fiction. I’m sure you could write a book about the differences, but I wonder about your mindset. In a nutshell, as you go to your desk every day, what is the difference between making stuff up and uncovering the truth? What is similar?

AndGrantYouPeace-final-4Kate: What is different? That in writing fiction, I control the characters. I shape them, I give them voices, I direct their actions. In writing nonfiction, I have to learn who the characters are and show them to a reader. It sounds simple. But when you know that real people will be reading the book, it creates a lot of pressure.

What is similar? Either way, I have to make the reader care. I have to make the reader see, feel, inhabit the story. Because either way, it’s storytelling.

Barb: What are you working on now?

Kate: Well…I’m doing the happy dance right now because another one of my nonfiction projects—a collaboration with a retired Maine game warden on his memoir, has just sold. Another fascinating adventure in the world of law enforcement, A Good Man with a Dog is the story of a challenging twenty-five year career in a job where everyone carries a gun. It’s got animal stories, and fishing stories, and amazing search and rescue stories, and cadaver dog stories, and cadaver dogs finding crime victims. And it is the deeper story of how what we ask of our public safety personnel can inflict damage on the people who serve and protect us.

So I’m back to saying: No one had better call up and say, “When you’re ready, Kate, I’ve got another one for you.” But someone will.

Meanwhile, I am writing the next Joe Burgess, And Led Them Thus Astray, and flipping out e-mails to my police advisers constantly, asking questions like: What kind of a rifle would the bad guy use?

Thanks for visiting, Kate. And congratulations on selling the new true crime!

Readers, true crime or no? Writers, anyone out there who, like Kate, writes both?