Agatha Award for Best Historical Mystery 2017

Edith here. Last week we hosted the Agatha nominees for Best Short Story and Best First Novel. Today we’re lucky enough to have the nominees for Best Historical Mystery! Jessica Estevao (otherwise known as Jessie Crockett) and I, also nominees, are delighted to welcome D.E.Ireland (also known as Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta), Catriona McPherson, and Victoria Thompson to the Wicked Cozys. Here are (imagine me wearing my Oscar Ceremony gown here) the nominated books, in author-alphabetical order:

  • Jessica Estevao: Whispers Beyond the Veil
  • D.E. Ireland: Get Me to the Grave on Time
  • Edith Maxwell: Delivering the Truth
  • Catriona McPherson: The Reek of Red Herrings
  • Victoria Thompson: Murder in Morningside Heights

First, Jessica asks: In which time period do you set your books and how did you come to choose that era?

WhispersbeyondtheveilJessica:A few years ago my family purchased a vacation home in Old Orchard Beach Maine. By the end of our first summer there I knew I wanted to start a mystery series set in that town. The biggest question was when it should take place. After all, in a town as steeped in fascinating history as Old Orchard, a writer is spoilt for choice!  are So, I decided to begin at what was the beginning of the town’s real fame, 1898 when the original pier was built.  Between the cultural shifts, the technological developments and the architecture it proved to be a fertile time period to explore!

DE: Our Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins series features the main characters from Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, and begins mere weeks after the action of the play concludes. We couldn’t have chosen a better historical setting than 1913 London. Although the Edwardian era technically ended when King Edward VI died in 1910, the four years between his death and the outbreak of war is a fascinating mélange of old world traditions coming up against an upheaval in politics, culture and technology. In other words, a perfect time in history for an iconoclastic phonetics teacher to partner with a former Cockney flower girl turned lady. But a lady who demands to be regarded as an equal.

Of course, Eliza Doolittle may have learned to speak and act like a lady in the earlier Victorian era, but her prospects for respectable employment would have been limited. But 1913 is a perfect time for Eliza to become a teacher like Higgins, allowing her to help others to better themselves as she has done. While Shaw made Higgins something of a careless misogynist, we’ve let readers occasionally glimpse a warmer side to the arrogant professor – all thanks to a newly independent, modern Eliza. We are also far less inclined to rush Eliza into marriage with her ardent suitor Freddy, as Shaw intended. Instead, we decided our characters need to take full advantage of these tumultuous and exciting years before the war. It is a new, uncertain century, one suited for a pair as rebellious and resourceful as Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins.

Edith: My choice of era came about accidentally. I had moved to Amesbury , Massaschusetts in 2012, having bought a modest home built for the textile mill workers in 1880, but I had been in the area and a member of Amesbury Friends Meeting (Quaker) since 1989. In April of 2013 I read a local newspaper article about the Great Fire of 1888, which burned down many of the factories which made Amesbury’s world-famous carriages. A few days later I was walking to worship on Sunday morning, as Friends have over the centuries in Amesbury, and a story popped into my head about a 17-year-old Quaker mill girl who solved the mystery of the arson. (Historically it wasn’t arson, but hey, I write fiction.) After the short story was published in a juried anthology, the characters and setting refused to go away, so I invented the mill girl’s aunt Rose, an independent midwife.

As it turns out , 1888 is a really interesting time to write about! So much is in flux – electricity and telephones are starting to come in but aren’t widespread, midwives still predominate but physicians are starting to edge into the birthing world, and even women’s clothing is changing with the new emphasis on bicycling and physical fitness, leading to looser garments and fewer corsets.

Catriona: I don’t really set mine in a real historical era. Dandy Gilver lives in a corner of our culture that’s half the 1920s (eek – except I’m up to 1934 now!) and half the Golden Age of British detective fiction, where gently-born amateur sleuths solved murders. It’s never happened in real life, but in between the wars in the UK it seems normal.

MorningsideVictoria: The Gaslight Mysteries are set in turn-of-the-century New York City.  The series starts in 1896 and the most recent, MURDER IN MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, is set in 1899. Oddly enough, the original concept was generated by Berkley.  They did that a lot in the early days at Berkley Prime Crime.  My agent called me one day to tell me she’d just had lunch with a Prime Crime editor who was looking for someone to write a series set in turn-of-the-century New York  City where the heroine was a midwife.  My agent thought of me, since I’d recently written a book set in that time period and I had been putting mystery subplots in my historical romances for a while.  They sent me their ideas for the series.  I liked some of them and threw out a few others.  Then I realized that my midwife, Sarah, would need a male cohort, preferably someone who would logically be solving murder mysteries, so I created Police Detective Frank Malloy. Berkley had suggested that Sarah be a poor relation of a rich family, but I made her the rebellious daughter of a rich family, which would give her entré into all levels of society.

My new series, The Counterfeit Lady Series which launches in November, starts in 1917.  I purposely chose this era because so much was happening in the world at that time.  Women were demonstrating for the right to vote, which finally came in 1920.  The US had just entered World War I.  The flu epidemic that killed millions is looming on the horizon.  Most importantly, for both my series, the issues people were concerned about then are the same issues we are concerned about today, which makes these books a lot of fun to write.

Great answers! Now, how about this one from me (Edith):

What’s the most fun thing you’ve ever done as research for your series? How about the hardest or most risky?

Jessica: This past summer I spent several days in Lily Dale, NY which is the world’s largest Spiritualist enclave. It dates to the Victorian era and was a delightful place to work and to conduct research. I atttended open air platform readings by a wide variety of mediums. I attended talks, visited the library and booked a private consultation with a medium. All in all it was a fascinating trip and it taught me a lot about what it would be like to live and work in the fictional world I have created for my characters to inhabit.

FinalGetMeToGraveFullCoverDE: Although learning about the Edwardian era is always fun, neither of us have done anything hard or risky regarding research for this particular series. However research was responsible for the plot of the first book in our series, Wouldn’t It Be Deadly, where a Hungarian linguist blackmails his students. In the process of researching Pygmalion, we discovered Shaw later wrote updated versions of the play, including screenplays and revisions to the 1912 text. One of the revised versions of Pygmalion contains a scene between Higgins and this Hungarian language expert, who boasts that he makes all his students pay, “and not just for lessons.” Voila! Researching Shaw’s revisions gave us our first murderer, with a motive already provided.

A similar serendipitous moment occurred in our second book, Move Your Blooming Corpse. Because the novel opens at Royal Ascot in 1913, we knew the real life Harold Hewitt would run onto the racetrack and be trampled by horses – in a copycat of Emily Davison at the Derby. While creating a colorful cast of suspects who would attend this deadly Ascot race, we learned Harold Hewitt survived being trampled and was sent to a mental hospital. Soon after, Hewitt escaped and was never captured. This true event allowed us to make Hewitt one of our murder suspects. We’ve never been happier to discover how correct Mark Twain was when he wrote, “truth is stranger than fiction.” All it took was a little research to prove it.

Edith: The most fun has to be riding in a real carriage (buggy, actually) drawn by a real horse on real outdoor trails. I wore my long linen skirt and hung on tight. The side of the carriage are low, there are no seat belts, and it’s bumpy! I fully understood what women as old as me and with knees as creaky as mine went through to relieve themselves in the middle of the night back then.

Called to JusticeIn one of my past lives as a childbirth educator and doula, I did attend a number of births, first as an observer and then as a support person (but not a midwife – I never wanted the responsibility a midwife carries). I know firsthand the risks of any birth, as well as the normal, healthy process that it is in the absence of risk factors. It wasn’t dangerous to me personally to be part of the miracle of these births, but I was present at more than one where things went seriously wrong due to no fault of the caregivers or the birthing mother. Those experiences have enriched my fictional descriptions of childbirth, both easy and otherwise.

 

Catriona: I’ve never put myself in danger. But fun, now? The way I do research it’s a 7b98a5ff-fdcb-478d-b41c-62517b4f7e22stretch to call it working. I go to castles, palaces, manor houses and various other stately piles in Scotland and I ask awkward questions until one of the docents demands to know why. Then I reveal that I’m writing a book (and produce an earlier one to prove it). And without fail, at that point they fetch an enormous bunch of keys and take me to my favourite place – “round the back”, aka the attics and dungeons where the public don’t get to go.  Bliss for a nosey parker!

 

Victoria: Funny you should ask. I did one thing, completely inadvertently, that really helped with my Gaslight research into what a midwife does.  I arrived at my daughter’s house for the birth of grandchild #3 to discover that, after two C-sections, she intended to have a natural home birth with a midwife and a doula. My duties included a trip to the hardware store for an adapter so we could fill the inflatable tub for a water birth (which didn’t happen) and keeping the two older boys, ages 6 and not-quite 2, occupied during her labor.

We were all present when Keira Jane made her dramatic entrance into the world and when she didn’t realize she was supposed to start breathing right away. A little oxygen and an unnecessary visit from the fire department paramedics set her on the right path, though, and I got way more information than I needed about how a midwife works.  I even got to see a placenta up close and personal (while the midwife explained its function to my oldest grandson and the younger paramedic) and watch as my oldest grandson cut the cord. Was it fun?  Oh, yes, when it was all over.  Was it hard?  Let’s just say explaining the situation to the 911 operator while my newborn granddaughter turned blue was pretty difficult.  Was it risky? Not for me, since I didn’t actually have heart failure and it all turned out fine. Keira is now 7 and just as feisty as you’d expect. I’ll never forget the 911 operator asking me if she was breathing, and when I looked over the midwife’s shoulder to see, Keira was staring up at me, all pink, as if to say, “What’s all the fuss about?”

Thanks, ladies. See you all in Bethesda at the end of April! Below, left to right: Catriona McPherson, Victoria Thompson, Sharon Pisacreta, Meg Mims. You can find Jessica and Edith in the Wicked Cozy banner.

Readers: What era do you like your fiction set in? What risks would you take – or not take – in the name of research?

Agatha Best Short Stories 2017

Edith here, super delighted to welcome my fellow nominees for this year’s Agatha Award for Best Short Story!

Greenteapots

Let’s have a Hip-Hip-Hooray for:

  • Gretchen Archer for “Jinx” (Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story)
  • Barb Goffman for “The Best-Laid Plans” (Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional)
  • Edith Maxwell (that’s me!) for “The Mayor and the Midwife” (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016)
  • BK Stevens for “The Last Blue Glass” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
  • Art Taylor for “Parallel Play” (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning)

Because it’s also St. Patrick’s Day today, let’s dish on an Irish connection in your story.

Gretchen: In my Agatha nominated short story “Double Jinx,” the luck of the Irish is with July Jackson, Holiday Host at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, as she tries to locate the missing body of a previously undead zombie, foils a thief trying to make off with three million of the casino’s dollars, and meets the man of her dreams.

“Double Jinx,” is a Halloween story, complete with Asylum, the Musical playing to a sold-out audience in the theater, a Spooky Rich slot tournament in full swing, and a Black and Orange Ball after a Biohazard Buffet. Chances are if we could visit with July today, she’d be hosting the casino’s Lucky Leprechaun poker extravaganza, where her players would be shamrocked from too many Four Leaf Clover martinis, and the pot of gold at the end of the tournament rainbow has gone missing.

What a great idea! I’m off to write it. Read “Double Jinx” here: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/uQrJO

BK Stevens: Around the end of the sixteenth century, Spanish conquistadores came home from South America with plundered Incan gold and also with a strange new vegetable—the potato. In Ireland, potatoes soon became the staple crop, star ingredients in dishes ranging from colcannon to stew. But when the 1840s brought the potato famine, over a million Irish people died, and a million and a half more had to leave their homes, mostly for the United States. Apparently, some Irish-Americans still observe the tradition of defying the weather to plant potatoes in their gardens on Saint Patrick’s Day. So, in good times and bad, potatoes have played a role in Irish history. They also play a role in my Agatha-nominated story, “The Last Blue Glass.” Until Edith challenged us to link our stories to Ireland, I didn’t really realize that —I’d never thought of my characters as having any particular ethnicity, and I’d definitely never thought of potatoes as symbols. But they do crop up (horrible pun) at crucial points in the story.

“The Last Blue Glass” is framed by two dinner parties. At the first, newlyweds Cathy and Frank entertain four guests. A novice cook, Cathy has to call her mother long-distance for advice on how to keep peeled potatoes from turning brown—and to endure her mother-in-law’s snide remarks when the potatoes are underdone. Cathy becomes a far more skilled cook after Frank suddenly decides to ditch his insurance job and buy a bar. She labors to create a bar snack called Spud Balls—scooped-out spheres of potato browned in butter and carefully spiced, designed to draw in customers and support Frank’s dream. It’s a labor-intensive dish, reflecting Cathy’s devotion to her charming, impulsive husband. But their marriage is undermined by Frank’s weaknesses and by the manipulations and betrayals of people he trusts. At the end of the story, the newly widowed Cathy invites the same four people to dinner again. As she cooks up a final batch of Spud Balls, she thinks about the revenge she’s planning to take on one of her guests, the one she sees as most responsible for Frank’s death. You can read “The Last Blue Glass” at http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com/book/the-last-blue-glass/ ; and if you’d like to try the recipe for Spud Balls, you can find it at http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com/recipes-from-the-stories/.

Barb: “May the luck of the Irish be with you.” That sounds nice, doesn’t it? But it’s debatable whether the sentiment truly is. Some say the phrase stems from the Irish people being lucky—having overcome so much adversity. But others think it’s a sarcastic saying—something you’d say to someone you don’t like. My main character in “The Best-Laid Plans,” Eloise Nickel, would run with the latter meaning when it came to her nemesis, Kimberly Siger.

Both Eloise and Kim are mystery authors, and both are about to be honored at this year’s Malice International convention, Eloise as the lifetime achievement honoree and Kim as guest of honor. They once were friends, but Kim long ago moved on to friendships with more useful authors. Now, with the convention looming, Kim has been rude to Eloise in a big magazine article. Eloise vows revenge—a series of mishaps to occur at the convention to poor down-on-her-luck Kim. But to her dismay, it seems the luck of the Irish might really be with Eloise.

We mystery authors like to make our characters suffer. It keeps things interesting, and boy does Eloise suffer during the convention. Yet she soldiers on despite multiple setbacks. As she does, the reader gets a good glimpse into her psyche and even, at times, her humanity. But is the luck of the Irish with her or not? You’ll have to read the story to find out. It’s available at http://www.barbgoffman.com/The_Best_Laid_Plans.html. Happy reading and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Art: When my dad reached the question about ancestry in the 1980 U.S. Census, he read me the list of suggested answers, and when one or the other of us said, “Irish. Let’s be Irish,” he marked it down and made it official. The odds are good that we do indeed have Irish background; North Carolina is rich with Scotch-Irish heritage, and one of the earliest Scotch-Irish communities in the state was founded in the same small county where my parents were born some two hundred years later. Plus, given that my birthday is the day before St. Patrick’s Day (yesterday as you’re reading this!), I’ve always felt an additional kinship here—always on the lookout for any potential Irish ties, whether they’re really there or not.

Given the question on the blog today, I’ve found myself in a similar situation—since there’s nothing Irish in my story “Parallel Play,” which follows a young mother and her son through a perilous afternoon in Northern Virginia. It was pointed out to me that there’s lots of rain in my story, since folks often think of Ireland’s rainy weather, and in one scene, that young mother and the father of another child in the same play group share a pot of tea, which I could probably call Irish Breakfast (one of my own favorite flavors) except for the fact that I already called it Lapsang Souchong in a post on the story at Mystery Playground a few weeks back.

So I was basically at a loss here… until circling back to that image of my father and me tackling the census: the two of us teasing through, at some fundamental level, who we were, our family, our larger connections—not just by birth but literally, in our case, by choice. To a degree, that’s what “Parallel Play” is about: what it means to be a family, the choices you make for your family, and in my story at least, the consequences too. That’s a loose connection to something Irish, I know—but it’s the one for me that stands out most. “Parallel Play” is linked here: http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/books/6715-2/

Edith: First – happy birthday, Art! But I now realize what a silly idea this was, to ask my fellow nominees to link their stories to something – anything – Irish. I am hard-pressed to do so with my own story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” No, I’ve got it! Amesbury Detective Kevin Donovan is definitely Irish. When the mayor of New Orleans comes to the northeast corner of Massachusetts in 1888 to visit his pregnant daughter, he meets Quaker midwife Rose. He tells her he had also arranged a meeting with the town’s bigwigs – but none of them would have a drink with him. Rose takes him to meet Irish Kevin, who she is quite sure would be happy to discuss crime-fighting with the mayor over a tankard of ale. But when the mayor’s son-in-law is murdered, he and Kevin – and Rose – end up working a lot more closely to solve the crime. You can read the story here: https://edithmaxwell.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/the-mayor-and-the-midwife.pdf

Who we are:

DOUBLEJINXfrontGretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher educations, ran off and left her. She’s the bestselling author of the Davis Way Crime Caper series by Henery Press. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, her son, and a Yorkie named Bently.

Malice 11 front cover proof 2 - FINALBarb Goffman edits mysteries by day and writes them by night. She’s won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and she’s been a finalist for national crime-writing awards nineteen times. Her newest story, “Whose Wine Is It Anyway,” appears in the mystery anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet, which was published earlier this week. When not writing, Barb runs a freelance editing and proofreading service. She blogs every third Tuesday at www.SleuthSayers.org. In her spare time, she reads, reads, reads and plays with her dog.

cover-herren-blood-on-the-bayou-200x300pxNational best-selling author Edith Maxwell is a 2017 double Agatha Award nominee for her historical mystery Delivering the Truth and her short story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” She writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies, and she is honored to served as President of Sisters in Crime New England. Maxwell writes, cooks, gardens, and wastes time as a Facebook addict north of Boston where she lives with her beau and three cats. She blogs here at WickedCozyAuthors.com, at Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors.

last-blue-glass-hitchcock

B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens is the author of Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books), a traditional whodunit offering insights into deaf culture, and Fighting Chance (Poisoned Pen Press), a martial arts mystery for young adults. She’s also published over fifty short stories, most of them in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Eleven of her stories are collected in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime (Wildside Press).

CC_StormWarning_FINALArt Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has also won two Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.

Readers: What’s your favorite short story of all time? Do you prefer reading short or long crime fiction?

 

Guest: Wendy Tyson

This is Edith, wondering what New England will give us for weather next! And happy to BitterHarvest fronthave the talented Wendy Tyson back as my guest. Her newest Greenhouse Mystery, Bitter Harvest, came out this week, and to celebrate she’s giving away an audiobook (on CDs) of the book to one commenter today. Wendy was kind enough to consent to an interview, so let’s go (my questions are in boldface)!

You wrote a darker standalone, plus the Allison Campbell series for Henery, about an image consultant. I haven’t read either the standalone or the series, but even the series seems a bit darker than the cozy Greenhouse Mysteries. Do you prefer one style over the other?

I’m a huge fan of crime fiction—from small-town cozy mysteries to great, sprawling international thrillers and everything in between. The Greenhouse Mystery Series is very dear to me because I love organic gardening, and I feel passionate about the regenerative farming movement. Plus, I’ve fallen quite in love with some of the characters.  And these days, when you turn on the news and you’re constantly confronted by some tragedy or another, it’s nice to return to a place that’s welcoming and just a little isolated from some of the world’s misery (even if that place is fictional). That’s how I feel about Winsome, PA, the setting of Bitter Harvest.

That said, I also enjoy writing darker mysteries and thrillers. These books provide a different kind of outlet as a writer, and it’s exciting to sink into an edgier, more complex novel. I guess the answer is no, I really don’t prefer one over the other. I like to think there is the flexibility for me to write and publish both.

Our readers are always curious about our writing schedules and habits. Do you have a day job in addition to writing fiction? When and where do you write your mysteries?

Vermont Respite

Vermont

I do! I’m an attorney and I work full-time as a consultant at a mutual fund company. (I practice ERISA law. Bonus points for Wicked readers familiar with that area of the law.) I have a husband, three sons, and three dogs, and I split my time between Vermont and Pennsylvania. Life is hectic, but writing provides me with the quiet time I need to recharge. Making time for writing isn’t always easy, though.

A schedule? I get up early—around 5:30 am—and write every day before work, until about 7. If I’m up against a deadline, I’ll also write during my lunch break. I try to reserve evenings for my family and for any social media/marketing I need to do. That all sounds very disciplined, doesn’t it? The truth is, while I do stick to that schedule, it’s often not enough to meet my deadlines, and so I tend to be a binge writer. I write for hours during family vacations, on my days off from work, at soccer and lacrosse tournaments, in waiting rooms. I’ve learned the art of writing wherever and whenever. To do that without sacrificing family time, I integrate writing with my life. This means I can write at the kitchen island while the boys do homework or play and a meal is simmering on the stove. I’ve had to learn to block out distractions. (If only I had mastered that skill in college!)

I know you are an avid gardener, as is Megan Sawyer, your Greenhouse series protagonist. What’s your favorite crop to grow, and which give you the most problems? (I’ll add my own answers after yours!)Yard mico farm Tyson

Red peppers are a favorite crop. We plant red bell peppers and Hungarian peppers, and we eat the bells like apples (the kids love them). Peppers grow very well in our climate. Potatoes do as well, and we generally have excellent crops of red and Yukon potatoes. Homegrown potatoes are delicious—earthy and flavorful, even without butter.

Most problematic? That changes to some extent every year. Last summer, we had a tough time with tomatoes (another favorite crop), and mid-way through the summer our basil died for no apparent reason. The year before we had more tomatoes than we could possibly eat, and fresh, fragrant basil until well into fall. We almost always get aphids on our spring kale and spinach eventually…something you learn to live with when you’re planting an organic garden on a small piece of property.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

E: Oh, man, broccoli was such a pain. It’s good to plant, because it’s healthy and doesn’t mind cold weather. But when the cabbage moth lays its eggs in the head and you’re in the kitchen getting ready to chop one up for your dinner and there are MOVING CREATURES hidden in the florets? Gah! Forget it. I’ll buy broccoli at the farm stand. When I was selling my own produce, the tiny holes the flea beetles chew in arugula and other leafy green crops was a big pain but not harmful, just cosmetically unpleasing. But I love growing my Sun Gold cherry tomatoes every year. I used to start those from seed before hardly anybody knew about them – now all the garden centers sell seedlings.

Bitter Harvest takes place in the fall. Here in New England more and more family farms are putting up hoop houses and nurturing crops like hardy greens all winter long. Do you try to grow year round? 

Absolutely. We were inspired some years back after reading Eliot Coleman’s book, The Winter Harvest Handbook, and my husband built an unheated hoop house and low tunnels in our yard. It’s been a little bit of heaven to go out into a snowy yard and pick fresh spinach or kale. We’ve also grown arugula and pak choi in the low tunnels with decent success.

E: I’ve seen Coleman speak! And still own my copy of Four Season Harvest.

Other than writing about murders and growing food (and being a wife, mom, and dog owner…), what else do you do for fun in your “free” time? Believe me, I’ve been there except for the dog part, which is why I put free in quotes!

Free time…you’re right, there isn’t much left over. I love, love, love to travel. The entire part of a trip, from planning to execution, is great fun, and we’ve managed some interesting trips over the last five years or so. We drove to Montana from Pennsylvania one summer, another summer we did a “road trip” through parts of Western Europe and

Corfu, Greece

Corfu

Slovenia, and we spent three weeks in a house on the Greek island of Corfu a few years back. These trips provide family time and writing time, and I find that a new locale always offers novel ideas and a fresh perspective. Aside from travel, I enjoy hiking and swimming with my kids, especially in our adopted state of Vermont.

Since this year is Sisters in Crime’s 30th anniversary, tell us how the organization has benefited you and helped you along as an author. Are you active in any chapters?

I value Sisters in Crime and the networking opportunities it provides. I’ve met so many inspiring authors through the organization, and I’ve learned a great deal about marketing and the writing industry in general. I’m also a member of International Thriller Writers, and I’ve been an editor and columnist for their two publications, The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins. I highly recommend that new and aspiring authors join SinC or ITW or another writing organization. Absolutely invaluable.

What’s one thing hardly anyone knows about you? 

I don’t own an e-reader. While I applaud the advent of the e-book, and I see the great value of e-readers for so many reasons, I’m hopelessly attached to paper books. My husband built me a wall of bookshelves, and even so we don’t have enough room for them all. I love the smell, the feel of a new book, the comfort of an old favorite. I am addicted. (There, I admitted it for all the world to see.)

You could do a lot worse with addictions, my friend! What’s next for you on the writing front?

My fourth Allison Campbell Mystery, Fatal Façade, launches on June 13, 2017. I just turned in Seeds of Revenge, Greenhouse Mystery No. 3, and that comes out in late 2017. This year promises to be a busy one!

Readers: Who has an e-reader and who doesn’t? How do you feel about gardening? Favorite vacation travel story? Remember,  Wendy is giving away an audiobook (on CD) of the book to one commenter today.

In Bitter Harvest, Megan Sawyer should be shouting from the barn roof. Washington Acres survived its first year, the café has become a hotspot for locals, and Winsome’s sexy Scottish veterinarian is making house calls—only not for the animals. But as summer slips into fall and Winsome prepares for its grand Oktoberfest celebration, beer isn’t the only thing brewing. When the town’s pub owner is killed in a freak accident, Megan suspects something sinister is afoot in Winsome—but no one is listening. As nights grow longer and temperatures chill, Megan must plow through Winsome’s fixation with autumn festivities to harvest the truth—before another dead body marks the season.Wendy Tyson

Wendy Tyson’s background in law and psychology has provided inspiration for her mysteries and thrillers. Originally from the Philadelphia area, Wendy has returned to her roots and lives there again on a micro-farm with her husband, three sons and three dogs.  Wendy’s short fiction has appeared in literary journals, and she’s a contributing editor and columnist for The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins, International Thriller Writers’ online magazines. Wendy is the author of the Allison Campbell Mystery Series and the Greenhouse Mystery Series.

A Wicked Welcome Back to Laura Bradford

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, dreaming of daffodils…

I’m super excited to bring Laura Bradford, a/k/a Elizabeth Lynn Casey, back to the Wickeds. I asked her some questions recently, and here’s what she had to say:

  1. Tell us about yourself.laura

I’m a mom. I’ve wanted to write since I was ten. I’ve had 29 books contracted since being diagnosed with MS in the summer of 2006.  I love—and I mean, love—to bake (and eat). And if I could only vacation to one place for the rest of my life, I would choose Disney World—I love the innocent joy and the way it lifts my spirits.

  1. Tell us about your series.

How about I tell you about two of them? 😉

silenceflans_front mech.inddFirst, some quick background on the Emergency Dessert Squad Mysteries, before I get to talk of the latest book.

When the series begins with Éclair and Present Danger, Winnie Johnson (my protagonist) owns a bakery. It’s all she’s ever wanted to do with her life. But the rising cost of rent on the shop soon threatens everything. When she learns she’s been named in a good friend’s will, she thinks she has a chance to stay open. Unfortunately, she soon learns she wasn’t left money but, rather, an old vintage ambulance and a cat that hates the very sight of Winnie. Forced to close her bakery, Winnie is left wondering what she’ll do now. That is until she really looks at the ambulance and sees a way to reinvent her business.

The Silence of the Flans—book # 2—comes out March 7. In an attempt to help de-stress her new boyfriend, Winnie (my protagonist) offers to let one of his business students do a short stint with her Emergency Dessert Squad. The hope is that the hands-on time with a real small business can make the difference between graduating and not graduating for this troubled girl.

Jay (Winnie’s boyfriend) tries to warn her about this particular student. Renee (Winnie’s best friend and employee) tries to convince her to let her go within the first few minutes…but Winnie doesn’t listen.

It’s a decision that may very well derail her new business when the next customer ends up dead—poisoned by one of Winnie’s own desserts.

Now for another new series…

death-in-advertisingDeath in Advertising, the kick-off title in my new Tobi Tobias Mysteries, debuted last month. While the book can be purchased in a trade paperback size on line, the main focus is the e-book and it’s lower price. From a career standpoint, I pursued this contract as a way to get my work in front of the E-audience as the vast majority of my readers, to date, buy physical books. I, too, am a physical book reader, but I know that there is a segment of the population who isn’t. And by reaching them, I hope to grow all of my series.

Death in Advertising is the first book in what, for now, is a three-book series.  All three books will be out in this calendar year so there is no lengthy wait between visits with characters I hope you’ll come to love.

Tobi Tobias (my protagonist) is a fun character. She’s funny, quirky, and, at times, a bit self-deprecating. But she learns a lot about herself as she moves through the books. And her posse of friends—including an African Gray Parrot she pretends to hate—are an absolute hoot to spend time with.

  1. Candy corn. Explain.

I wish I could. I just know that the final day or two of a deadline has me consuming large quantities alongside many glasses of milk. The Brachs Corporation really should consider me as a spokesperson.

  1. You are a very prolific writer. How do you get so much done?

I’m not sure how prolific I am. I have eight years of college tuition to pay (I’m halfway through now!) and that’s quite a motivator to work, work, work if there ever was one.

  1. You’re a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan. Which is your favorite book?

On the Banks of Plum Creek. It had everything—girl drama (Laura/Nellie), dramatic moments (leeches!) and everything else you could want in a good book.

Now that I’m thinking about that book, I’m realizing it’s time to do a little re-reading. J

  1. What’s next for you?

A few things.

*The 12th Southern Sewing Circle Mystery—Patterned After Death (written under my pen name, Elizabeth Lynn Casey) comes out in June.

*The 2nd Tobi Tobias Mystery—30 Second Death—comes out in July.

*I’ll be releasing the sixth book in my Amish Mysteries in late summer/early fall.

*The 3rd Tobi Tobias Mystery—And Death Goes To—comes out in December.

*Dial M for Mousse, the third Emergency Dessert Squad Mystery, will be out in January, 2018.

*And a brand new project I’m beyond excited about will debut in the summer of 2018, releasing first in trade with a mass market reprint.  I’ll share more on my Facebook Author page when I can.

Thanks for stopping by, Laura! Readers, what’s your favorite Laura Bradford or Elizabeth Lynn Casey book or series?

Making a Writing Retreat: Part II

From Edith, starting to walk around again (after getting a new knee) north of Boston.

Here’s Part II of my poll on writing retreats, with answers to my questions from authors Tiger Wiseman, Ramona DeFelice Long, Liz Milliron, and Holly Robinson – their bios are at the end of the post. Check out Part I for the purpose and feeling of a retreat, although of course there is overlap.

What are your top five tips for what to bring?

T:

tiger

Tiger Wiseman

  • Writing snacks ( I bring potato chips)
  • A good book or two
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • MP3 player
  • Wine
R: 
  • For work, only what you need. Before you leave, prioritize your projects and bring research, notes, etc. for those projects only, instead of every possible story on your dream list. Bringing too many projects can leave you feeling like a failure because you’ll never get to them all.
  • Comfort items, like your favorite pillow, blanket, teddy bear, Christmas lights, a sound machine.
  • A story idea or issue that can be discussed or brainstormed as a group. This is a real bonding experience.
  • A journal. If you are a newbie, it may help to note what you brought that was a godsend and what you left behind that you longed for. If you have a meaningful experience, journaling it will keep it alive for you  long after the retreat is over.
  • A camera! I use my cell phone and love looking back at photos of my writing escape places.

L:

liz

Liz Milliron

  • Anything you need to make your writing space comfortable (pillows, lap desk, favorite blend of tea, etc.).
  • Something you can take notes on (cards or a phone app), preferably portable so if you decide to take a walk and inspiration strikes, you’re prepared.
  • Materials for the WIP – me I never go without my MacBook air, which has everything I need on it, but if you write longhand make sure you have all your things. This sounds silly, but I once went on a retreat and a woman there had forgotten half her research materials.
  • Snacks to power you through the day (our retreats are never lacking for food, but if you crave something bring it along).
  • Comfortable clothes to write in. I am known in our Sisters in Crime chapter for my Cookie Monster pajama pants.When the pants come out, everyone knows I’m about to hunker down.Jeans are for socializing, but Cookie Monster is for writing!

H:

  • Flannel Pajamas & slippers: my favorite writing uniform
  • Running clothes: I find that solitary runs with music are the best way to wake up my brain
  • Bath bubbles: Yes, a bath works wonders to ease the kinks in your body after writing for hours
  • Quick reads: when I’m intensely writing, I like a good mystery or thriller for escape
  • Chocolate & wine: yeah, I know those are two things, but they go together!

E:  I’m seeing a theme of snacks and comfort, there! And what I bring is no different.wellspring-bedroom

  • Comfy clothes and walking shoes (yes, and slippers).
  • My smaller laptop, favorite pen, and paper notebook.
  • Super easy meals. I don’t want to waste time cooking unless I’m with others.
  • Wine and chocolate, of course.
  • Chargers!
How long does it take you to get into the groove? What’s the optimal number of days to be away?
T: I can get into my writing groove immediately. Optimal retreat is 4 to 7 days.  Anything shorter and you don’t get enough written to feel successful; longer and you start to fret about things not getting done at home. . .and the dog.

R: I lose the bulk of the first day and the last day for coming and going, so the optimum

ramona

Ramona DeFelice Long

short side is 5 days, because that leaves you at least three full days to write. I have been away for two weeks and four weeks, and the first is too short and the last is too long. For long term I’d say the sweet spot is three weeks.

L: I get into the groove pretty quickly – an hour, tops.l think this is because my limited writing time during the week has conditioned me to hit the ground running. I love weekend retreats. A day isn’t quite enough and I think I’d go a little bonkers after a week, but a weekend (Friday afternoon through Sunday morning) is perfect for me.
H: I get into the groove pretty quickly, after setting up my stuff, unpacking, and taking a walk to clear my mind. Optimally, I love going for 3-5 days: intense 10-hour writing days.
E: It takes me a few hours, usually. I have to get the space set up to my liking, poke around the kitchen, breathe some oxygen outside, and depending on long my drive was, take a walk – but even that is kickstarting my writing.
If you’ve hosted a retreat, any comments about the experience? Selecting whom to invite?
T: I’ve hosted several retreats in Vermont. I find that 3 to 5 writers (including host) is a good number since we share cooking duties.  I often let one person invite whoever they want, their friends.  I don’t think the choice of people is as important as making sure everyone understands and follows the rules: quiet times, chore division. Anyone can get along for 5 days, as long as they’re accomplishing what they came to do. Down time is very important.  If you’re alone, you may push too hard; with others, you stop for dinner and–at my retreats–wine and conversation or games. Makes for a well-rounded, relaxing retreat.

vcca-real-world

Sign as one leaves the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts

R: I have hosted. Once I rented the retreat house and invited a few people I thought might be available. Another time, I specifically invited people who’d been to a past retreat, as a reunion. A schedule that allows for private work all day and a dinner followed by group readings, brainstorming, discussion, or just chilling with wine is my favorite program. If there are workshops or any programming, those should be in the morning so the afternoon can be devoted to a long period of writing.

L: if you are putting together a weekend and inviting people (as opposed to something like doing it as a chapter of an organization), look for people who are flexible. People who like being in groups and are willing to pitch in – not sit around and live off other people’s work. Nothing brings a group down faster than a constant complainer. And if your event is going to be open to a chapter and you know there’s a complainer, resolve that the person is not going to ruin the weekend for you.
E: Morning workshops wouldn’t work for me. I need my morning creative time alone, and would rather hang with the group late afternoon and evening. Re-entry can be rough, too.

H: I do have mini-retreats at my Prince Edward Island house. I only take friends who write

holly

Holly Robinson

as intensely as I do—that’s just three people to choose from—my favorite friend to take is one who knows when not to talk! Which is pretty much all day, unless we’re on an afternoon walk, or after the wine comes out after dinner and we share what we’ve been working on.

E: Holly, I’m that kind of writer! Take me along next time, please?
My guests:
Readers:  Ask our retreatants questions – they’ll pop in and check throughout the day if they can. And be sure to check out their writing if you haven’t already. They are a talented bunch!

After The Contract — Guest Debra Sennefelder

The winner of the giveaway on Wednesday is: Booth Talks Books! Sherry has sent you an email.

Welcome, Debra Sennefelder! Debra and I haven’t met but a few weeks ago she left a comment on one of our blogs that she’d just signed a contract for a book! I was so happy she shared her news with us and when I had the idea for doing the After The Contract series, I hoped she’d be able to share her experiences!

I was so honored and thrilled when Sherry asked if I would write a post about my brand-spanking new contract. It took all of a nano-second to type my reply and here I am today.

debraheadshotv3“The call” came the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. I was home just finishing up my lunch break from writing when the phone rang. The caller ID said it was my agent. Oh, boy. Either she had great news or bad news, like all the editors we’d sent the submission to passed on it and made the suggestion I should give up writing forever (I know, that seems extreme but it’s how a writer’s mind works). Since it was 50/50, I took a deep breath and answered the call. She gave me the news. Good news! Kensington Publishing had offered me a 3-book contract for my Food Blogger Mystery series. That phone call was about to change my life (maybe a little too dramatic?) but truly things were about to change.

I was speechless (rare). My dream publisher wanted to buy my book. Three books. I recovered and somehow managed to have a coherent conversation with my agent and then we said goodbye. I had a decision to make of whether or not to accept the offer. But first I needed to process what just had happened. I’d spent months writing the book that was now in my new editor’s hand. I’d spent years pursuing publication. I’d spent years learning the craft of writing. And now it was actually going to happen. I was going to become a published author. The hour following the call is a blur. Text messages and phone calls to family and close friends and my critique partner. Everyone was excited and I was still in shock.

Fast forward a few weeks when I shared the news with those beyond my inner circle and was overwhelmed with everyone’s reaction. Everybody was thrilled, excited and they had loads of questions. But at that time I had little information – 3-book contract, first book due out in early 2018. Title? I wasn’t sure if the publisher would keep the title I gave the book.  I have since learned that the publisher is keeping the title so the first book is called The Uninvited Corpse.

When I first got the call and shared my good news with fellow authors I received what seems to be a never ending list of things I will need to do. Social media. Newsletter. Blog tours. Excerpts. Graphics for social media. Goodreads. Amazon author page. Website. Promotional material. Write the next book. Write the third book. My head was spinning. I was told all that I had to do now but the truth was all I had to do at that moment of receiving “the call” was to enjoy the moment. Of course I expect to have many, many more calls about offers to publish future works (hope my editor is reading) but it will never be the first call again.  I needed to enjoy the moment.

The next thing I made sure to do is breathe. With what I had to do for my editor, granted it wasn’t a lot of work but it was very important work, and writing the second book and working a full-time job and life, I could have easily dropped the ball many times. But I chose to breathe and not let everything that I needed to do overwhelm me. I think I’ve been smart, at least I hope I have, and began a spreadsheet for all of my social media for the year, I’ve set up an accounting system, I’ve started a newsletter (best to get into the routine now and you’ll find the sign-up form on my website – see, I’m honing my blatant self-promotion skills), I’ve started using my Outlook calendar for dates of blog posts and I’m heavily relying my handy-dandy organizer for notes and keeping my daily schedule on track. To think that when I got the call I thought that early 2018 was so far away but now I’m thinking early 2018 is close. Amazing how our perspective changes over time.

For the rest of December and January I kept my head down working on the second book which is due in the fall of this year. But it still didn’t feel real to me. Maybe it was because I didn’t have anything tangible besides a signed contract and a telephone conversation with my editor. You would think that would be enough but it kinda wasn’t. Then came two things that needed to be done for my editor – an author Q&A needed to be completed and feedback on the cover of the book. A cover? Wow. My book was going to have a cover. Well, of course it was and I knew that but to think about what the cover would look like? It was getting real now. To make it more real, my editor wanted the outline for book 2 by a specific date. I now had a deadline and now it was real.

Let me wrap this post up with one final thought on being in-between the signing of the contract and the release of the book.  I knew that signing the contract meant I’d be faced with a boatload of work and I prepared myself for that. What I didn’t prepare for was how much I would truly enjoy everything that I’m being tasked with doing. What’s that old saying, do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life? It’s true. I don’t believe I’ll ever have another work day again.

Thank you Wickeds for letting me share my contract experience with everyone. Before I go I’d like to remind everyone that dreams to come true. Believe and don’t give up.

Readers: What dreams have you refused to give up on?

 

Go West, Young Woman — Guest Annette Dashofy

nowayhome-cover-front-sm-518x800I met Annette when we were both nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. One might think we’d be bitter rivals but instead became good friends (along with all the other nominees). We welcome Annette back to talk about her fifth book in the Zoe Chambers mystery series!

I grew up with a steady diet of westerns. My dad and I watched them all. Bonanza, The Virginian, Gunsmoke, Big Valley. Later I fell in love with Alias Smith and Jones. Much of my reading material was authored by Zane Grey. My cousin and I used to play cowboys on our horses. In my vivid imagination, our farm buildings were livery stables, saloons, hotels, and the sheriff’s office. The green valleys of Pennsylvania became the rocky canyons of Wyoming in our world.

annettehorseI never lost that love of the Old West. The TV shows faded into obscurity, and I’d almost forgotten them until one day I turned on a retro television network and spotted Hannibal Heyes. The next week, I randomly tuned into the same station and re-discovered Trampas. That long dormant passion flamed back to life.

However, in spite of my romance with the mountains and deserts of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico, the farthest west I’d ever been was eastern Indiana.

At some point, I decided, dadgum it, I was going out there. Call it the top of my bucket list or whatever, but it became my mission in life. And it finally happened.

That trip in the summer of 2013 was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime dream vacation. Not only was I going out West, I was going to finally meet several friends I’d known online but never face-to-face.

In his best “let me get this right” voice, my darling husband said, “We’re going to fly to Colorado and stay with someone you don’t know?”

I said, “I know her.”

Hubby is something of Luddite and distrusts the internet. Distrusted it even more back then. “But you’ve never met her.”

I shrugged.

He went on, “And then we’re going to drive for hours to stay with someone else you don’t know???”

I didn’t see the point in arguing with him.

But that’s exactly what we did. We flew in to the Colorado Springs Airport and jumped into a vehicle with my longtime critique buddy Donnell Bell and her husband, Les. It felt more gardenridelike a wonderful reunion than a first-time meeting.

Almost a week later, we bid a tearful goodbye, and Hubby and I loaded our gear into a rental SUV for a long drive southwest to Aztec, New Mexico, where we “met” my dear friend Leta Burns. There was much schoolgirlish squealing and hugging. Hubby stood back, certain we were all insane. But at least he was finally convinced that my online friends were neither imaginary, nor ax murderers luring hapless victims from across the country with promises of horseback rides and ghost towns.

Anyhow, besides meeting old/new friends, the trip was amazing. I remember looking out of the window of the airplane as it came in for our Colorado landing and crying at my first sight of real mountains. I exclaimed, “Wow!” at every new vista. That drive from Colorado Springs to Aztec took us from snow capped peaks to flat prairies to mesas. We drove through Wolf Creek Pass.

Wow.

After our visit in Aztec, Leta, Hubby, and I drove south nine hours through even more diverse scenery to Silver City. We saw a gazillion prairie dogs and a few elk.

garden-of-the-gods-trail-ride-001-800x612On that once-in-a-lifetime trip, I rode a horse through the Garden of the Gods, I shopped the streets of Durango and ate at the haunted Strater Hotel. We wandered through a ghost town and toured the cabin where Billy the Kid lived…at least in the movie The Missing.

And oh so much more.

What I didn’t realize until I returned to the green rolling hills of Pennsylvania was that the once-in-a-lifetime trip wasn’t once in a lifetime. Like the lyrics from one of my favorite songs, I’d come home to a place I’d never been before. And those online friends had become family. I’ve been back every year.

I also didn’t realize right away that a seed of a story had been sewn. Heck, at that time, Circle of Influence didn’t yet have a publisher. I didn’t know there would be a Zoe Chambers mystery series.

But there is, and by the second book in it, I knew at some point, Zoe would be taking a trip to New Mexico. My exclamations of “Wow!” would come from her lips as well. A Pennsylvania fish out of water in the badlands of the four corners.

No Way Home is the fifth in that series and it does indeed take Zoe someplace she’s never been before.

dashofy-1559-534x800Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel of 2014 and BRIDGES BURNED was nominated for the 2015 Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel. NO WAY HOME, the fifth in the series, hits bookstores March 14.

Readers: Have you ever visited some place that unexpectedly felt like home?