The Agatha Best Short Story Nominees!

by Barb, who’s getting excited about seeing everyone at Malice

Malice27Today, the Wickeds are delighted to host the nominees for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story. The Agathas are given every year at the Malice Domestic conference to the best examples of traditional mysteries. You can see the nominees in all the categories here. You can also access and read all the nominated short stories, which I highly recommend.

As you might guess, from my years as a co-editor at Level Best Books, I have read tons of short stories. After I read the nominated stories, I had SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.

Thanks so much to the nominees for indulging me today.

Barb Ross: Barb Goffman, your story, “A Year Without Santa Claus” is genre-bending, combining a cast of magical beings with a crime story. What was your inspiration for this story? Was crossing genres something you did consciously, or was it the result of the tale that came to you?

Barb Goffman Cleaned-up version croppedBarb Goffman: The main character’s voice came to me in a dream. I heard a woman complaining about someone having killed the Easter Bunny. When I woke up, I tried to think how I could use this character in a mystery set in New Jersey. (There was an open call at that time for NJ-based mysteries.) I wrote the first page, having figured out that my main character, Annabelle, was the head of everything magical that happens in NJ and that Santa wouldn’t come to NJ this year because there was a killer on the loose, killing mortals who dressed as magical beings. Annabelle couldn’t allow Santa to skip Jersey (think of the poor children), so she decided she had to catch the killer. It was a good setup. But then I got stuck on the plot. It took me more than three years to figure out how to proceed. (Yes, I missed the deadline for the NJ anthology.)

Did I cross genres consciously? Well, the magical realism aspect of the story came from the dream. Since I write crime stories, it seemed obvious to merge the two genres. It ended up working out well because it allowed me to get my sleuth access to police files (through a magical snap of the fingers) without subjecting her to police procedural rules. Giving her that ability helped move the story along quickly. But I didn’t want her to solve the crime using magic. That would have felt like a cheat. So while she used her magic to get background information, in order to figure out whodunit, she had to use old-fashioned sleuthing techniques available to any mortal. It was fun to write. And, I hope, for people to read.

Barb Ross: B.K. Stevens, one of the cleverist things about your very clever story, “A Joy Forever” is that you never reveal the gender of your protagonist, who is far from a disembodied voice, but is a very strong presence in the story. Why did you make this story choice? Was it your intention from the beginning or did it evolve?

Picture BKSIt evolved. In early drafts of the story, the narrator was unambiguously male—a young man named Dan, Mike Mallinger’s nephew. But although I liked other elements of the story, the narrator’s voice always seemed off to me. It was too flat, too bland. In one sense, that was all right. After all, in this story, the narrator is essentially a spectator and a reporter—or maybe I should say a photographer, since that’s the narrator’s profession. I didn’t want Dan to be so dynamic that he’d distract attention from the central drama unfolding between Mike and Gwen. But I also didn’t want the narrator to be simply two dimensional, so I looked for a way to connect Dan to the story’s themes about conflicts between men and women, about Mike’s attempt to force Gwen into the role of a traditional wife who’s completely domestic and utterly dependent on her husband. I started toying with the idea of making the narrator someone who doesn’t fit comfortably into the traditional roles for either men or women. So I renamed the narrator Chris and decided to leave his or her gender ambiguous.

I do think it’s clear that Chris is either gay or lesbian. Chris accepts Mike’s invitation to stay at the Mallinger house in Boston, then says, “When my partner offered to come along, I said no. I’m all for confronting prejudices and shattering stereotypes. But not with Uncle Mike, not now.” Once I made these changes, I rewrote the story again, and it seemed to me that the narrator’s voice became livelier and more definite. I hope the changes make Chris a more interesting character who helps develop the story’s themes more fully. And maybe the events in the story make Chris more confident about taking every opportunity to confront prejudice and shatter stereotypes.

Barb Ross: Harriette Sackler,”Suffer the Poor” is historical, set in another country, (London’s poverty-washed East End in 1890), and includes characters of different social classes. That seems like a massive amount of research to do for a short story. What came first, the setting or the story, and how did one come out of the other?

hsacklerIn answer to your question, the setting for my story came first. Several years ago, I visited London’s East End during a trip to England. I honestly felt as though I had stepped back in time, walking the streets of London’s poorest souls, and imagining what it must have been like to live in despair every single day of one’s life.

Life in Victorian England has been an interest of mine for some time, so I already had done a great deal of reading on the subject. Bu what I chose to focus on in “Suffer the Poor,” were the efforts of both missionaries and members of the wealthier classes to help improve the lives of those less fortunate. And that is what I researched for this story.

Truthfully, my undergraduate days as a sociology major so long ago, never left me. One way or another, the complex nature in which people interact with society provides the foundation for all my stories.

Barb Ross: Terrie Farley Moran, “A Killing at the Beausoliel” incorporates Sassy and Bridgy, the central characters from your Florida-based Read ‘Em and Eat Mystery series. When you write a short story about series characters, how do you decide how much backstory to put in? Also, in this story you do advance the Sassy-Bridgy plot. How do you handle this given some series readers will never read the short story and some short story readers will never read the series? (I’m, er, asking for a friend.)

Terrie Moran: Hi Barbara, thanks so much for having us visit the Wicked Cozies. I am so excited to be here. I should tell you that the genesis of “A Killing at the Beausoliel” came directly from the readers of the Agatha Best First Novel, Well Read, Then Dead. Shortly after the novel was released, I started to receive lots of e-mails and Facebook messages from readers who wanted to know what happened after Sassy and Bridgy left Brooklyn but before we met them for the first time in the Read ’Em and Eat Café and Book Corner. I suppose it was because in that first book, Sassy mentioned that they had moved to Fort Myers Beach three years earlier and folks were wondering how they spent their time when they weren’t waiting tables and running book club meetings at the Read ’Em and Eat. Were they kayaking in Estero Bay? Were they lying around on the sand at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico working on their tans? Were they sitting around waiting for a murder to investigate?

Apparently Sassy and Bridgy’s readers have inquisitive minds. So I decided to write a prequel story which would allow us all to hang out with Sassy and Bridgy on their very first day as Floridians. Given the length of a short story, there isn’t a lot of word count available for backstory, but I felt it was important for the readers to know why Sassy and Bridgy had left Brooklyn.

And you are absolutely right, some series readers will never read the short story and some short story readers will never read the series, so I answered the “why” question briefly in “A Killing at the Beausoliel”. It does come up in every novel in the series because I never know which book a reader will pick up first. As a prequel, the story does advance the reader’s knowledge of Sassy and Bridgy’s history but it still leaves plenty of space between that first day and the opening pages of Well Read, Then Dead. What was going on during those years? Let the readers’ imaginations run wild.

Barb Ross: Edith Maxwell, your story, “A Questionable Death,” was the springboard into your new Quaker Midwife historical mystery series from Midnight Ink. What came first, the idea for the story, or the idea for the series? How did the second emerge from the first?

Edith MaxwellEdith Maxwell: Thanks for these great questions, Barb! My story looks like a springboard, but actually Delivering the Truth, the first Quaker Midwife Mystery (released last week!), was in first draft when I wrote “A Questionable Death.” I was already following forthright Quaker midwife Rose Carroll around in 1888 as she catches babies, hears secrets, and solves crimes. At one point during the writing I realized she needed a bestie partner in crime, as it were, so unconventional Bertie Winslow popped into my head. She’s the forty-something postmistress of Amesbury, rides a horse (astride, not sidesaddle) named Grover – after the President – and lives with her lover Sophie in a “Boston marriage.” She and Rose are good friends and get up to some good detecting together.

I liked Rose, Bertie, the era, and the setting so much I wanted to keep writing about them, and this was before I had the three-book contract from Midnight Ink. When I saw the call for submissions for History and Mystery, Oh, My, I immediately knew the where, when, and who! I just needed to come up with the details of the story. Those came along easily, too, after I read about police attitudes toward domestic violence in those days, and about how it was already possible in 1888 to detect poison from a hair sample. Figuring out the twist at the end was the best part, though!

Thanks, Agatha Best Short Story Nominees. Readers, short stories–yes or no? Favorites? Twisty or straight?

Welcome Leslie Budewitz!

Wicked Cozys at lunch with Leslie Budewitz

Wicked lunch post Crime Bake. From lower left clockwise, Julie, Sherry, Leslie, Barb, Sheila, Liz, Jessie

NEWS FLASH: The winner of Joyce Tremel’s To Brew or Not to Brew is Ruth Nixon! Joyce will be contacting you, Ruth.

Sisters in Crime (SinC) president’s hat at the New England Crime Bake. Since Sisters in Crime (the New England chapter) is one of the reasons the Wickeds know each other, I (Julie/Julianne) thought I’d talk about this wonderful organization a bit.

How long have you been a member of Sisters in Crime?

I joined in 1995, after a friend spotted a piece in the book section of the Sunday paper on SinC and MWA. I lived in rural Montana at the time, far away from other writers and groups, and SinC—which was all by mail then—was my first real introduction to writers’ groups.

Tell us about your writing journey and your path to publication.

I started writing at 4, on my father’s desk. Literally – I did not yet understand the concept of paper. But while l always wanted to be a writer, I didn’t actually think it was something you could do. In my late 30s, I decided I really did want to write seriously, though it took more than fifteen years before I held my first book in my hands. In the interim, I wrote several unpublished manuscripts, although a few were agented and came close, and published half a dozen short stories.

elizabethandleslie-300x199

Elizabeth George and Leslie Budewitz at Crime Bake. Photo: Mo Walsh

As an English major turned lawyer who always preferred research and writing to the courtroom, I started reading everything I could about mystery writing. I went to mystery conventions, and in 1999, took a week-long intensive mystery writing workshop with Elizabeth George, which changed my writing life. It’s not her fault that I didn’t get a book published for another twelve years! And it was super-wonderful to reconnect with her at the New England Crime Bake.

 

Along the way, other writers started asking me questions about using the law in their fiction—how does their fictional police officer get a search warrant, can one character inherit from another, who is Miranda and why are we always warning her? I wrote columns for several writers’ newsletters, including the Guppies’ First Draft and SinC National’s quarterly, InSinC. I was inspired by D.P. Lyle’s Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensics Questions for Mystery Writers to create a book proposal, which eventually became Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver Books), winner of the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction.

While I was writing Books, Crooks, I realized that as much as I love helping other writers get the facts about the law write—er, right—I wasn’t through telling my own stories. I love the light-hearted subset of traditional mystery sometimes called the cozy, and decided to try that genre. Foodie fiction is popular, and I love to eat and cook, so I created a village obsessed with food—in Montana, of all the unlikely places. Erin Murphy manages Murphy’s Mercantile aka the Merc, a specialty regional foods market in her family’s hundred-year-old building in the village of Jewel Bay. The village is inspired in part by the town I live in, and while there are even more great places to eat on the page than on our streets, it’s actually not too far from the mark! Happily, the locals have embraced the books. The first, Death al Dente, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, which still gives me the thrills!

And now I write a second series, the Spice Shop Mysteries, drawing on my love of Seattle, where I went to college and practiced law for eight years.

They are both such great series! Several of us are also Guppies, and by that I don’t mean fish. You are one of the founders of the Guppies. Tell us about the creation of the group, and where it is now?

In the summer of 1996, a beginning writer who was part of the Internet chapter put out a call for new writers to form a support and information group. I responded to the call, along with half a dozen others. In those pre-Internet days, we communicated mainly by mail, sending each other round-robin packages crammed with articles we’d found and chapters for critique. Eventually, we grew large enough for a real mailing list and newsletter, and in 1997, went online. The name came at about that time, from the nickname, The Great Unpublished. We formed the first Guppy Steering Committee in 1997, and I was the first treasurer. Official chapter status came a few years later.

The Guppies is now the largest chapter of SinC, typically reaching 600 members by year-end. It’s such a welcoming place that many members stay in the group long after they become published, as I have. When we started, the challenge was finding information about craft and the business of writing. Now, the problem is too much information, and the Guppies, along with SinC National, does a great job helping writers navigate those crowded waters.

I truly would not be published today if not for the support and encouragement of my friends in SinC, especially in the Guppies. I wrote in my essay for the marvelous anthology Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey that, while writers spend a lot of time home alone in our rooms, every opportunity and achievement I’ve had as a writer is the result of something I learned or someone I met in a group. And it’s absolutely true.

It is true! Other writers make the journey a lot more fun, that’s for sure. Tell me, what do you wish you’d understood at the beginning of this journey?

Honestly, I’m glad I didn’t know how long it would take me to get published, or I might not have kept going, and that would have been a sad thing. I’m a happier, healthier person because I spend so much time alone with people who only exist because I made them up. I kinda wish I’d figured that out a few years earlier and gotten started seriously sooner!

Or maybe your timing was just right, since both your series are so much fun. Tell us about the new book!

cover of Guilty as Cinnamon by Leslie BudewitzGuilty as Cinnamon is the second Seattle Spice Shop Mystery, following Assault and Pepper (March 2015). I fell in love with Pike Place Market as a college student in Seattle, a squillion years ago, and as a young lawyer working downtown, ate my way through the Market regularly. It’s a marvelous setting for a series—a city within a city, a historic place that’s always new, a place where anything can and does happen.

When one of Pepper’s potential clients, a young chef named Tamara Langston, is found dead—possibly from ingesting the dangerously hot ghost chili, a spice Pepper carries— Pepper is drawn in.

I wanted to explore the relationships between the Spice Shop staff and show Pepper struggling a bit with certain aspects of her business. She’s no longer confident in her personal judgment when it comes to romantic relationships, so I wanted to delve into that. I knew that Tag, Pepper’s ex-husband and a bike patrol officer, does not get along with one of the homicide detectives; this book gave me a chance to find out why.

As in all my books, but especially the Spice Shop series, there’s an underlying social justice issue as well. And I wanted her to have fun with that dog!

It is on my TBR pile! Thank you for coming to visit the Wickeds today, Leslie. Readers: questions for Leslie? Ask away.

More about Guilty as Cinnamon:

Pepper Reece knows that fiery flavors are the spice of life. But when a customer dies of a chili overdose, she finds herself in hot pursuit of a murderer…

Murder heats up Seattle’s Pike Place Market in the next Spice Shop mystery from the national bestselling author of Assault and Pepper.

Springtime in Seattle’s Pike Place Market means tasty foods and wide-eyed tourists, and Pepper’s Seattle Spice Shop is ready for the crowds. With flavorful combinations and a fresh approach, she’s sure to win over the public. Even better, she’s working with several local restaurants as their chief herb and spice supplier. Business is cooking, until one of Pepper’s potential clients, a young chef named Tamara Langston, is found dead, her life extinguished by the dangerously hot ghost chili—a spice Pepper carries in her shop.

Now stuck in the middle of a heated police investigation, Pepper must use all her senses to find out who wanted to keep Tamara’s new café from opening—before someone else gets burned…

Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries—and the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. She fell in love with the Pike Place Market as a college student in Seattle, and still makes regular pilgrimages. The president of Sisters in Crime, she lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat Ruff, a cover model and avid bird-watcher. Connect with her through her website and blog, www.LeslieBudewitz.com, or on Facebook.

Welcome Author Karoline Barrett

Hello, Wicked People! Susannah/Sadie here, celebrating a release month with author Karoline Barrett. Let’s give her a Wicked Welcome!

 Act Like You’ve Been Here Before

A big thank-you to Susannah Hardy for inviting me to guest blog here on Wicked Cozy authors! I’m honored to be here since it’s one of my favorite blogs.

Bun for Your LifeLike so many writers, I’ve always been a reader, and in the back of my mind was the vague notion that someday I’d write a book myself. That “someday” didn’t happen until later in life. I’m not telling you exactly how much later, but as the saying goes, better late than never.

Bun for Your Life is my first cozy mystery and the first book in my Bread & Batter series. While it’s not my first published book, it’s the first one for which I signed a contract with a major publisher. You’d think I’d be thrilled to death about that. And, you’d be right, I definitely am! However, while I’m an optimistic, cheerful, and upbeat person most of the time, I began to be besieged with insecurity, especially as my Facebook world grew, and I connected with other cozy mystery authors who not only had multiple books out, but multiple series out, and wrote under more than one name.

As I set up a virtual book tour, participated in Facebook author events, arranged to do interviews and guest blogs I kept wondering, do I belong here? Am I a good enough writer? Are my books good enough? Do they have engaging plots? Enough mystery? Characters readers will fall in love with? Will the town I built make readers want to move right in and settle there? Am I as good as author so-and-so who has ten books out there? Blah, blah, blah went my inner voice.

Amidst all my angst, I remembered something my youngest son’s high school football coach said to him about sportsmanship, and winning games and championships: Act like you’ve been here before.

I thought about that and I decided it applied to me. What difference did it make that so far I only have two books coming out, one series, and one name under which I write? Does anyone really care? Apparently readers don’t. And so far, no blogger or book reviewer has said to me, “Um, wait. You only have two books coming out? Only one series? And you only write under one name? (insert maniacal laughter) Don’t think so.”

So, my insecurity was for naught. Every single author I’ve connected with on Facebook, and some in “real life” have been so incredibly supportive. Three well-known authors read Bun for Your Life and did blurbs for it—awesomely nice blurbs. Everyone who has hosted me on a Facebook event, or signed me up to guest blog, has been incredibly supportive as well. I’m pretty sure I’m treated the same as a well-established author with a bazillion books out there. I’ve made a lot of reader friends on Facebook, and my Facebook author page has gotten a lot of “likes.” Readers have pre-ordered my book, woo hoo!

KB pictureI hope to have many more books out and maybe another series, I’ve even picked out another name in case I need one, but for right now, I’ve pushed my insecurity aside and am enjoying the ride! I’ll close with this quote, which I love because it makes me feel better. I always think the insecurity is going to go away, but it’s always there. Only bad writers think they’re good. ~Harlan Coben

Good luck, Karoline! Here’s where you can connect with her:

http://www.karolinebarrett.com/

https://www.facebook.com/KarolineBarrettBooks/

https://twitter.com/KarolineBarrett

A Wicked Welcome to Hank Phillippi Ryan

TBT cover hi resThe Wickeds all know Hank Phillippi Ryan. She is a Sister in Crime, a friend, and a cheerleader. We had a great conversation, with the second half of the interview appearing over at Pen, Ink, and Crimes, the Sisters in Crime New England blog.

I want to talk about your books, especially Truth Be Told, the new Jane Ryland novel, but first I’d love to ask you a little bit about you. You had/have a huge career as a television reporter. Tell us a little bit about that.

Oh yes, I am still investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. I’ve been a television reporter since… 1975! And so far have 32 Emmys for investigative reporting. Longevity does have its pluses.

I think it was on my mother’s influence, because when I was growing up she would never tell me the answer to anything. “Go and find out,” she would always insist. “Go ask for yourself.” So I learned how to ask questions, and how to be confident in research. It always seemed like fun to me, solving a puzzle and having an adventure.

I never planned to be a reporter, though. I thought I would be a geneticist, or an English teacher, or the lawyer for the Mine Workers. Finally deciding I wanted to change the world, I went into politics, and worked in several political campaigns. Sadly, no candidate I worked for actually won. Seemed like the universe was trying to tell me something!

Finally, with crossed fingers and a lot of nerve, I applied for a job as a radio reporter, This was 1971. I only got the job–and I know this is true–because I told them their license was up for renewal at the FCC and they did not have any women employees. Ta dah. The next day I had my first job in broadcasting. I took a chance—and found my first calling.

So I’m really proud to be part of breaking the gender barrier in broadcasting!

And if you ask me what the best story I’ve ever done is, I would say… It’s still to come.

At 2013 Malice Domestic, celebrating Hank's win for Best Contemporary Novel. From L-R Liz, Kate Flora, Julie, Eidth, Hank, Barb, Sherry, and Mo Walsh

At 2013 Malice Domestic, celebrating Hank’s win for Best Contemporary Novel. From L-R Liz, Kate Flora, Julie, Edith, Hank, Barb, Sherry, and Mo Walsh

I’m glad to hear that! What made you start writing mysteries?

Oh, I always wanted to be a mystery author, ever since I was a little girl. Tess Gerritsen always says writers “self-select” at about age 7, and I sure did. I was all about Nancy Drew, and Sherlock Holmes, and even back then, Agatha Christie.

I loved the idea of being able to create a puzzle, that someone could then solve. But that the result would be surprising.

What was surprising… It wasn’t until maybe 40 years later that I actually had a good idea for a plot!

The moment I thought of it, secret messages in computer spam!, I got goosebumps, and I still do now. And from that moment I was obsessed with writing. I told my husband… I’m going to do this! No contract, no agent, and absolutely no idea of how publishing worked. But I was obsessed.

That turned out to be Prime Time, which won the Agatha for best first mystery.

And ever since then, writing mysteries has been at the top of my mind! I think about it all the time.

The newest, TRUTH BE TOLD, is a big exciting entertaining thriller, set in Boston–about a diabolical mortgage fraud scheme and a notorious cold case murder. And also about a reporter who fabricates stories.

It got starred reviews from Booklist and from Library Journal, which has the best review line I’ve ever seen: “Drop everything and binge-read until the mind-boggling conclusion!” Got to love that.

HPRThe buzz on this book is great. I wonder, how has Hank influenced Jane Ryland?

That’s a wonderful question. The reason all of our books are special, and unique, is that only we could write them, correct? And I know Jane Ryland could not exist without me.

But Jane is, what, 30 years younger than I am? So what she’s going through now are cycles of life that I have already handled. And problems and decisions I have already faced, both personal and professional.

Still, she is not me! She is a new person, and that is part of the joy. It’s really amazing as she reveals herself to me… Her confidence and her fears and her vulnerability and her history and her goals.

She doesn’t always make the same decisions I would. And that surprise is also part of the fun.

Jane is much more confident than I was at 34, I can tell you that! But she is 34 at a different time in our culture than I was, see what I mean? (I’ll be 65 next week! Yeesh!)

Happy early birthday!! What can Jane do that you wish you could do?

Well, as an objective reporter, I am not supposed to have any opinions. And I certainly can’t comment on the state of journalism these days. Jane can.
And does.

I love that. Your first series featured Charlotte McNally, and was a more of a traditional mystery, with some cozy influences. Tell us a little about writing that series.

The Charlie series, which I think of as a mystery series, is a little bit more humorous – I guess, a lot more humorous than the Jane Ryland thrillers. They are in first person, only from Charlie’s point of view. So there’s a lot more internal dialogue. And that makes a huge difference in telling the story.

The Jane books are multiple point of view, past tense, third person. There’s Jane, and Detective Jake Brogan, and three others in each book!

I started doing writing that way because I knew the story of The Other Woman woman was so much “bigger” than a Charlotte McNally story could be .

And in the Jane books, including the new Truth Be Told, the tone is darker, and the events are more pervasively sinister. It has more of a big city feel, even though both series are set in Boston.

In a big thriller, the story can be so much more complex then it can be in a first-person traditional mystery. I still don’t write graphic sex or violence (though I certainly read books that include it!) It’s much more interesting to me as a writer to create anticipation and aftermath and imagination.

(More about Charlie in the next year or so!)

Can’t wait for the Charlie news! Last question, what do you wish your readers knew about you?

I’m so grateful for everything–but you knew that. And I’m so excited and nervous about Truth Be Told–but you knew that. And I am crossing fingers that you love it–but you knew that, too.

Thank you for visiting with the Wicked Cozys Hank! Readers, Hank will do a giveaway today to whet your appetite for Truth Be Told— one copy of The Other Woman and one of Agatha-winning The Wrong Girl.

About Truth Be Told:

TRUTH BE TOLD begins with an all-too-familiar tragedy in today’s headlines: a middle-class family evicted from their home in the suburbs of Boston. In digging up the facts on this heartbreaking story—and on other foreclosures—reporter Jane Ryland soon learns the truth behind a big-bucks scheme and the surprising players who will stop at nothing, including murder, to keep their goal a secret.

Boston police detective Jake Brogan may have a liar on his hands. A man has confessed to the Lilac Sunday killing, a long-unsolved murder that haunted Brogan’s police-commissioner grandfather. While Jake’s colleagues take the confessor at his word, Jake is not so sure.

In the meantime, Ryland and Brogan’s paths are once-again intertwined—and as their private relationship heats up, it may mean difficulties in their professional lives.

Financial manipulation, the terror of foreclosures, the power of numbers, the primal need for home and family and love… What happens when everything you believe is true turns out to be a lie?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 32 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of seven mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: three Agathas, the Anthony, Daphne, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her 2013 novel, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and the Daphne Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, and is a seven-week Boston Globe bestseller. Her newest hardcover, TRUTH BE TOLD, is a Library Journal Editor’s Pick and RT Book Reviews Top Pick, with starred reviews from Booklist and from Library Journal, which raves, “Drop everything and binge read!” She’s a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of America University and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime.

Welcome Sharon Daynard!

We are thrilled that Sharon Daynard stopped by to talk about her writing career, short stories v. novels, and Sisters in Crime.

Wicked Cozy Authors (WCA): Sharon, you have two anthologies with your short stories that came out this fall. It is hard to pinpoint a specific genre for your work. They are funny, twisted, dark. Sometimes all three! Is there a specific genre you are drawn to?

Sharon Daynard (SD): A friend once referred to my writing as “bipolar.”

Maybe she was right. One side of me likes to write cute crime capers featuring fuzzy little cottontail bunnies, while the other side is just dying to feed them through a wood chipper. But seriously, the best thing about writing short stories is that I’m not pinned down to any one specific genre.

When I start a short story, I never know what direction it will take. About all I know is how it starts and how it ends. Everything in between is a surprise for me. “Cheese It, The Cops” is a humorous story while “Malarkey” is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

It’s the “never knowing” part that keeps writing fun for me.

WCA: Give us the background of the two stories this fall. How did you come up with the idea for your story in Level Best Books’ Stone Cold?

STONESD: I really didn’t have a particular idea or theme in mind when I sat down to write “Malarkey.” I wanted it to be a fun story about two sweet old ladies with a secret knack for hitting the lottery. I knew the names of my two main characters, elderly sisters Cadelia and Lila Malarkey, and to a very small extent what their secret was.

When I started the story, it quickly became apparent that “Malarkey” was going to be dark. The more I wrote, the darker it got. It wasn’t until the end of the story that Cadelia and Lila gave up their secrets to me.

Even though “Malarkey” is dark, it has a line here and there that makes me laugh.

WCA: And how about “Cheese It, The Cops” in The Killer Wore Cranberry: Room for Thirds?

CRANBERRYSD: I originally wrote the story a few years ago as “Cletus Harper and the Great Mouse Heist.” Told though an unreliable narrator the truth is hidden in the lies of a squabbling elderly couple, Cletus and Flo Harper. It had always been one of my favorite short stories, but I’d never found a publication for it until a member of my critique group, Ruth McCarty, told me about the Untreed Reads call for submissions. The story had to be humorous, feature a typical Thanksgiving dish as a vital part of the story and have a great mystery or crime at the heart of the story.

Cletus Harper immediately came to mind. It was humorous, involved a crime and cheese—lots of cheese. All I had to do was figure out how to work that cheese into a Thanksgiving dish. I settled on a broccoli and cheese casserole, tacked on few words to work in the Thanksgiving holiday and ta-da! “Cletus Harper and the Great Mouse Heist” became “Cheese It, The Cops.”

WCA: Do you write novels? Is that similiar or different? Do you have a preference?

SD: I’ve completed a few manuscripts. Much like my short stories, they run the gambit from quirky cozy to dark suspense.

I prefer writing novel length fiction, but short stories offer a welcomed break from the time- consuming research that goes into writing crime fiction.

The manuscript I’m currently working on is dark—very dark, but a few chuckles still manage to creep into it every so often.

WCA: We know each other via Sisters in Crime. What does that organization mean to you?

SD: I joined Sisters in Crime in September of 2001. The first meeting I attended was on the weekend after 9/11. I remember during the long ride from New Hampshire to Leominster, MA, thinking I should turn around and go home, that having a few short stories published didn’t make me a “real” writer, and I was just going to embarrass myself there. For whatever reason, I kept driving.

Any doubts I had about myself or my writing vanished the minute I walked into the meeting. I can’t tell you how welcome the Sisters made me feel.

The speaker for that day was stranded at the airport in Paris, unable to find a flight to the US. So instead, the group held an informal meeting over coffee, introducing themselves to me and discussing what they were currently working on.

I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to be surrounded by people just like me. People who didn’t snicker or roll their eyes when I said I’d just finished the first draft of a novel. They actually clapped for me. They asked what the novel was about. They asked about my characters. They asked about me and my hopes and dreams for that manuscript. And they inspired me.

Twelve years ago, I never envisioned I’d someday be vice-president of the Chapter. And everyday, I’m grateful that I didn’t give in to the naysayers in my head, and head home on the way to that first meeting.

WCA: And so are we! Thanks for coming by Sharon.

********

 

Sharon Daynard

Sharon Daynard

Sharon Daynard has crossed paths with a serial killer, testified before grand juries, and taken lie detector tests. She’s been scrutinized in bank fraud and county retirement fund scandals, labeled “a person of interest” in a major drug find, and offered the services of a professional hit man. Her short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies in both the US and Canada. Her 51-word flash, “Widow’s Peak”, received a Derringer nomination for Best Flash of 2004 and has been used to teach minimalist writing in college classrooms. She is a member of the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

 

Interview with suspense author J. P. Choquette

I love the New England Crime Bake for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is that I always end up meeting fabulous new people and making new friends. This year, I had the pleasure of meeting J.P. (Joy) Choquette, who was new to the conference. She was such a delight that I wanted all our readers to meet her too, so she’s here today letting me interview her.

Liz: Tell us about yourself and your books. 

Author Photo 16Apr13J.P.: First of all, thanks so much for the invitation to guest blog here at Wicked Cozy. It was such a treat to meet Liz at this year’s Crime Bake.

I’m J.P. Choquette and I like to spy on people. Well, that’s not completely true; I prefer to think I’m just curious about human nature. Actually, I got my BA in psychology because I am fascinated by people and their motivations.

Epidemic, a fast-paced medical suspense set in the lazy rural area of northwestern Vermont was my first book and came out earlier this year. My second, Dark Circle, will be released in February 2014. Right now I’m working on my third book, yet another suspense, also set here in northwestern Vermont. This one might turn into a trilogy or series . . . we’ll see! 

Liz: Have you always written suspense? Why?

J.P.: Yes, as far as novels go, suspense has always been “it” for me. I’ve kept a journal for ages and ages and written lots of bad poetry and many short stories, but writing suspense novels is such an incredible treat. I think it must harken back to my first hero, Nancy Drew. I always saw myself as her fluffy friend Bess, actually, but Nancy was just so much cooler than me. And she had that sweet blue car AND the handsome boyfriend (sigh).

Liz: The Wicked Cozies all write about a New England setting. Tell us about where your books are set, and how that influences the story.

J.P.: My novels are set in northwestern Vermont, where I work and live. To me, the setting is extremely important: it influences everything. From the characters themselves to the situations they deal with–generational poverty and drug addiction, elder care and mental health issues–that simmer below the surface in so many small towns. Vermont is incredibly beautiful, but like many places, it also has a very complex system of people, industries, mindsets and cultures that meld together. This makes for an interesting story and offers a great opportunity for spying. I mean, people watching with great curiosity.

Liz: What do you like to read in your downtime?

J.P.: I love mysteries/suspense/thrillers and oddly, I also really like reading spiritual growth and DIY-type books and publications. I suppose it makes me a well-rounded reader though sometimes I feel like Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde.

Liz: What are you working on now?

J.P.: I just put the final touches on Dark Circle, a novel about Sarah Solomon, a woman who moves with her husband to Vermont after a traumatic event in her life. They come to this beautiful gated community, hoping for a fresh start. But the neighbors are weird, distant and almost hostile. And while Sarah is hiking in the woods behind her house, she sees the ghost of an Abenaki Indian woman. At least, she thinks it’s a ghost. Sarah has spent some time in a psychiatric ward and is on some pretty heavy doses of medication. She begins to research the tribe and in the process uncovers secrets that people in the area want very much to stay buried.

Liz: And just for fun – someone asked me this question once and I thought it was a hoot. If you were stranded on a desert island, what ten people, living or dead, would you want there, and what would you all have for dinner? Don’t forget dessert 🙂

J.P.: Oh my goodness, this is going to be a funny one because, as above, my readig preferences are all over the place. Hmmm, let’s see:

1. Agatha Christie—because I mean, come on!
2. Sue Grafton—I’d love to talk to her about her career and if she ever thought to herself, “Good grief, I have to write how many more books in this series?!”
3. Louise Penny—I am very much enjoying her Armand Gamache series right now. Plus, she lives just over the border from me so we could share 70 spf sunscreen.
4. John Grisham—this is one amazing author. Not just the books he’s written but the way he writes them and the longevity of his career. Impressive for sure.
5. & 6. Deb Macomber and Stephen King—OK, I couldn’t get two people with less in common maybe, but I have learned a lot from each of their nonfiction books. I have yet to finish one of their novels (cheeks reddening) but their nonfiction work is great. I share the resource of Stephen King’s book, “On Writing,” to students in my novel writing class.
7. Elizabeth Berg—she’s outside my genre but her work is breathtaking. I think she’s a phenomenally great writer and I’ve read every one of her books.
8. Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez who co-wrote, “Your Money or Your Life,” a book on living more simply/frugally. Without reading this book when I worked full-time, I don’t think I’d have ever been financially able (or brave enough!) to quit my day job. I did and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, for my career and sanity.
9. Martin Luther King, Jr.—because he is my hero.
10. Mother Theresa—because she’s my other hero.

For food? With this diverse group I think we’d have to go with a potluck. And for dessert (the most important course in my opinion—actually, let’s start with dessert in case a tsunami comes and blows us away before the rest of the meal), chocolate. In any form. In fact, as many forms as possible. Who knows how long we might be stranded here?

J.P., thanks so much for joining us today! We hope you’ll stop by again. And readers – tell us with whom you’d want to be stranded on a desert island!

For more on J.P. Choquette, visit her on Facebook, Twitter @scaredEcatbooks, or at www.scaredEcat.com.

So Who is Barbara Ross?

I love to chat with my wicked cozy sisters – they’re such interesting people, and I find out new nuggets of information every time! Today I’m talking to Barbara Ross, author of “Clammed Up,” to get an idea of what makes her tick.

Barbara RossBarb, how long have you been writing? What did you start out writing?

I always wrote. My mother has an embarrassing illustrated story about a wild horse circa second grade that she’s saving to blackmail me with some day.

Who has influenced you?

So many people! Like a lot of girls, I graduated from Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie to Dorothy Sayers. Then I wandered in the desert of contemporary American literature for awhile and found my way back to mystery via P.D. James, Ruth Rendell and Colin Dexter.

Who do I buy as soon as the books hit the stores? In mystery, Louise Penny, Deborah Crombie, Julia Spencer-Fleming.

Who would I say has most influenced my series? Cleo Coyle, Sheila Connolly, Kaitlyn Dunnett, Sarah Graves, Leslie Meier, Lucy Burdette, Kate Flora, Lea Wait.

Who would I trade my soul to write like? Alice Munro.

Clammed Up: A Maine Clambake MysteryTalk about your past life in the business world. How has that influenced your fiction?

Julia Snowden, the protagonist of Clammed Up worked at a venture capital firm and I knew quite a few people like that when I was a tech entrepreneur. One scene in the book is a direct lift from the life of a young investment banker I knew.

What’s your connection to New England?

I was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, but my family left when I was just a few months old. It tool me 22 years to get back, but the instant I moved to New England, it felt like home. Currently, I live with my husband in Somerville, MA and we have a summer place in Boothbay Harbor, ME which I’ve highly fictionalized for the Busman’s Harbor in my Clambake mysteries.

What’s your favorite thing about New England?

The people. Hands down. And the variety. City, country, ocean, lakes, mountains, rivers, winter, spring, summer, fall, history, contemporary. You never get bored or run out of things to do.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

People are always surprised to learn that I’m a scrapbooker. I think it doesn’t fit with my personality, but it’s a hobby I enjoy.

bloodmoonfrontcoverWhat are you working on right now?

Book two in the Maine Clambake Mystery series, Boiled Over. Reading all the submissions for Level Best Books where I’m a co-editor. Getting ready to open registration for the New England Crime Bake, where I’m co-chair.

Why cozies? Do you write anything else additionally?

Cozies because I love a good mystery. I also write short stories.

Which are the top five books are in your to-be-read pile?

There Was an Old Woman–Hallie Ephron

The Clover House–Henriette Lazaridis Powers

Zinsky the Obscure–Ilan Mochari

Together Tea–Marjan Kamali

Kneading to Die–Liz Mugavero

Thanks for sharing, Barb! Can’t wait to read Clammed Up – and I love the title Boiled Over too. Looking forward to your book. Now I’m off to look up your mother, because I would really love to read the wild horse story…..