Agatha Nominees for Best Contemporary Novel 2017

Hi Barb here. Since the nominations were announced, the Wickeds have hosted this year’s Agatha Award nominees for Best First Mystery, Best Short Story, and Best Historical. Today we’re bringing you the nominated authors for Best Contemporary Novel.

The Agatha Awards, given at Malice Domestic, honor the “traditional mystery,” and this year’s nominated novels span the length and breadth of the category–from cozy to edgy, amateur sleuth and professional, female protagonist and male, series mystery and standalone. I’m excited to be on this list with some of my favorite authors.

Agatha Award Nominees Best Contemporary Novel for 2016:

Body on the Bayou by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane Books)
Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books)
Fogged Inn by Barbara Ross (Kensington)
Say No More by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge Books)

Here’s our question for the nominees: Did you know at the outset that your main character was strong enough to carry a book/series? How did this character change as you got to know him or her better?

Ellen Byron: I didn’t know for sure if my protagonist could carry a series, but I knew she had to. I was too in love with the fictional world of Pelican, Louisiana – and the real world of Cajun Country – to stop writing about it after one book. What I find exciting is how I’m always discovering new things about Maggie Crozat. A friend who was trying to wrap her head around the amateur sleuth angle of my series once asked me, “Does she see things other people miss because she’s an artist and very visual?” To which I replied, “She does now!”

I’m currently working on the fourth Cajun Country Mystery, and Maggie just shared she’s an only child, and was lonely growing up. This came as news to me because originally I gave her a brother, but then put him on the back burner because he didn’t contribute to the story. I always thought he’d come back someday, but Maggie has spoken. She’s declared herself sibling-free. I feel so close to her that sometimes I forget she’s not real. Those are the moments when I think, “Hmm, might be time to go back to therapy.”

Catriona McPherson: Oh, I wish this was a series! I miss them all now that the book’s done, even though it took me a while to get to know Jude – my heroine – well enough to write about her with confidence. I knew she was a librarian and she lived in London, but I wrote and wrote and couldn’t get the essence of her. She was flat, while all the other characters came to joyous life around her.

Then one day I was writing a scene in the dusty, disordered bookshop where the story takes place and the thought of all the dirt and mouse-droppings and dust-mites was making me feel itchy. Suddenly, I got that tingly feeling (different from the itching) and I knew that Jude was a cataloguer who’d given up working on the desk with the general public because she’s a germaphobe and the way people treat library books distresses her too much. I used to work in a public library and I know this from bitter experience. Worst bookmark I ever found in a returned book? Bacon rind. Anyway, germaphobe Jude came instantly alive and the book was plain sailing after that.

But it’s not the start of a series. The story of Jude, Lowell the bookshop owner and the irrepressible pregnant nineteen-year-old Eddy is done. Unless I think of another one . . .

Louise Penny: Initially my main characters were going to be the artist couple, Clara and Peter Morrow.  But as I thought about it more, I could see that while strong secondary characters, making them the center, the core of the series simply would not work, for all sorts of reasons, primary that I was afraid readers, and I, would tire if they had too much of them.

The other reason was that the head of homicide seemed so fully formed when he first appeared and I realized he was the one I needed.  Gamache could hold the series together, and that would allow the secondary characters to shine without the burden of carrying the series.  But he needed to be someone whose company I would enjoy, perhaps for years.  And so I made him a man I would marry, since this is, in effect, a marriage.  As it turns out, far from creating Armand Gamache, I actually transcribed him.  Gamache is inspired by my husband, Michael.

Barbara Ross: When I go back now and look at the original proposal for the Maine Clambake Mysteries, it’s amazing to me how much of Julia Snowden was there. Her family was there–her mother, sister, pain-in-the-neck brother-in-law, and niece were there, as was the still acutely felt absence of her late father. Her parents’ unusual marriage between a summer person who lived on a private island and the boy who delivered their groceries in his skiff was there, too.

This last was particularly important to me, because I am not and would never claim to be a native Mainer, so I needed to be able to write with the perspective of someone on the outside looking in. In her view, her parent’s marriage has left Julia forever on the outside, belonging to neither tribe in her resort town. (Her sister Livvie, on the other hand, doesn’t feel that way at all. Which is something that fascinates me, how people can be brought up by the same parents at more or less the same time, yet experience their circumstances utterly differently.)

But there was huge thing I didn’t know at the beginning–how Julia would act and react when put in a series of extraordinary situations. While I had a sense of her character, there was no way to know until those scenes were written. In that sense she continuously reveals herself to me.

Hank Phillippi Ryan: That is such a great question, because it made me examine my choices, and realize I hadn’t asked myself that question at all.

When I began the Jane Ryland books with The Other Woman, that started with a plot. And forgive me, here is a tiny bit of backstory: I had been reading about Governor Mark Sanford, who told his wife and constituents that he was “hiking the Appalachian Trail “when he was actually off with his mistress. And I started thinking about why anyone would be the other woman. It’s so destructive in every way. So someone was quoted as saying “You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequences.”

And I thought: that’s my book.

So I needed a main character to tell that story. And it couldn’t be my first series character, Charlotte McNally, because the story was too big and textured for first person.
But I knew she would be a reporter, a tough, strong, curious, honorable, caring reporter.
And a reporter’s life is all about the search for the next big story. That is natural! So once I decided on “reporter,” it never crossed my mind that she wouldn’t be able to handle it.

But the fabulous part is how she came to life! Jane Ryland is 33-ish, when the book starts, so 64 year-old me, at the time, could not really draw on my experiences at that age, since that was a million years ago. That made me channel her through a different time…how that age would behave now. And I love how she showed up on the page! Confident, and not self-centered, and a little fearless when it comes to asking questions. Sometimes I am too worried about what other people think, and I was delighted to say she is somehow less timid than I am.

SAY NO MORE has her tackling a very difficult and sensitive subject. Not only testing her responsibilities as a journalist, but her emotional capabilities when dealing with victims and perpetrators of campus sexual assault. She turns out to be compassionate, and caring, and I love how she weighs her responsibility to the subject of her story with her responsibility as a journalist.

Yes, I know I wrote it, but you can’t MAKE a character do something they wouldn’t do. That’s when I know the plot is driving the story, not the character. Jane lets me know when I am doing that—it comes across awkward and “written.” And I think, oh, that’s Hank, not Jane. So when I am lucky, Jane reveals herself to me on the page, and I am so proud of her in SAY NO MORE. (Well, eventually.)

Readers: What do you look for in a character to carry you through a book–or series?

Ellen, Catriona, Hank and I will be at Malice at end of this month. If you’ll be there, we’d love to have you attend our panel, “Simply the Best: Agatha Best Contemporary Novel Nominees,” moderated by Shawn Reilly Simmons on Friday at 1:00 pm. (Or honestly, come talk to any one of us at any time.) Louise, we’ll all be thinking of you!







Agatha Best Short Stories 2017

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


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:

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 ; and if you’d like to try the recipe for Spud Balls, you can find it at

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 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:

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:

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 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, at Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors.


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?


Agatha Nominees for Best First 2017

Julie here, hoping this blizzard was the last for New England.

Last year I had the thrill of having Just Killing Time nominated for the Agatha award for Best First Novel. My fellow nominees and I became good friends during the run up to Malice Domestic, and did a small blog tour. Sherry did the same thing the year she was nominated. We’re thrilled to give a wicked welcome to this year’s nominees.


Today they are going to answer the question who would play the main characters in the movie or TV show made from your novel?

Alexia Gordon, author of Murder in G Major (Henery Press)

Gosh, that’s a difficult question. Truthfully, I don’t know. I could see Thandie Newton or Zoe Saldana as Gethsemane. Maybe Richard Harrington (from the Welsh TV series Hinterland) as Eamon. A member of a book club that discussed Murder in G Major suggested Kerry Washington as Gethsemane.

When I watch movies and TV shows I forget (on purpose) who’s “starring” in the role and focus on the character being portrayed. For instance, Hugh Jackman isn’t Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine, he is Wolverine. Hugh Jackman ceases to exist for 120 minutes. Consequently, I’m pretty good with characters’ names but I’m pretty bad with actors’ names. Not what any actor wants to hear but I mean it as a compliment. It takes talent to convince a rational adult that you’re someone who doesn’t really exist.

I have this fantasy of WGBH Boston or BBC America turning my books into a series and holding an open casting call. Hundreds (oh, why not, thousands) of unknowns would line up to audition and the casting directors–the people who cast Midsomer Murders or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot (David Suchet was brilliant as Poirot)–would discover the new “it” actors.

Renee Patrick (Rosemarie and Vince Keenan), author of Design for Dying (Forge)

This is a tricky one. Can we name the 1930s actors who could play our characters instead, because that’s when Design for Dying is set? No? Very well.

Let’s start with Lillian Frost, the toughest casting call for one reason: the role has to be played by an actress good enough to make us believe she’s terrible. It’s Lillian’s lack of skill in front of the camera, after all, that chases her out of pictures. She’s also got to be resourceful, kind, and look stellar in period wardrobe. On second thought, it’s not so tough, especially if you’ve seen Brooklyn. The Oscar-nominated star of that wonderful film Saoirse Ronan would be perfect as a young woman making a new home for herself in a strange and distant place. We know from Captain America that Chris Evans can sport vintage attire, and he’s got the low-key charm of Detective Gene Morrow down pat.

We considered plenty of names to play Lillian’s partner in sleuthing, legendary costume designer Edith Head, and settled on the wild card: pop provocateur Lady Gaga. No, really. It’s not only the resemblance. Gaga has blazed her own trail in show business, developing a distinctive persona and ensuring that everyone knows her name. Just like Edith did decades earlier.

Oh, and the 1930’s version? Priscilla Lane, Dennis O’Keefe, and Mary Astor.

Nadine Nettmann, author of Decanting a Murder (Midnight Ink)

Although a fun question, it’s always a tough one. One of the main characters in Decanting a Murder is Detective Dean, who I describe as tall with slicked back blond hair. While I didn’t have a specific actor in mind for this role when I wrote it, I watched some recent work of Mark-Paul Gosselaar and I think he would be great as Dean. I’m also a fan of Jason Lewis, from Sex and The City, as he has the stoic look that Dean carries, as well as Ryan Kwanten from True Blood. Though, I wouldn’t mind a brand new actor to play the part. It’s always great to see new talent.

As for the main protagonist, Katie Stillwell, I purposefully don’t describe her in the book as I want the reader to identify with her and perhaps put themselves in her shoes. So I’ll hold back on any potential actresses and let readers decide who they would like cast in that role.

Cynthia Kuhn, author of The Semester of Our Discontent (Henery Press)

All of the following not only “look” the part but have something else that makes them seem like strong contenders. (The age of the actor may not align perfectly with the age of the character in these choices, but that’s where the magic of the movies comes in, right?) And now, without further ado: for Lila, someone like Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Connelly, who have played strong characters who sometimes fumble (with amusing results) in certain situations; Reese Witherspoon or Kristen Bell for Calista, either of whom could capture the poet’s quirkiness; Paul Rudd has the right blend of earnestness and laid-back vibe for Nate; Michael Ealy seems like a perfect match for the confident and determined Francisco; and Armie Hammer has the charming, smooth qualities of Tad.

Marla Cooper, author of Terror in Taffeta (Minotaur)

I’ve gone back and forth about who I would cast as Kelsey McKenna, but right now Cristin Milioti from How I Met Your Mother and Fargo is my top pick. (I’m sure she’d be thrilled to know that she’s even being considered for the part—ha!) Her deadpan delivery and comic timing won my heart as the Mother in How I Met Your Mother, and I really, really want her to have a role where she doesn’t have a terminal disease.

As for the supporting roles, there’s only one that I can picture perfectly, and that’s Mrs. Abernathy. Now, I’d probably get outvoted because she’s slightly more “mature” than the role calls for, but Susan Sullivan (AKA Castle’s spitfire of a mom) would be the perfect choice to play the Mother of the Bride in Terror in Taffeta. I had so much fun writing the demanding Mrs. Abernathy, and I can perfectly picture Susan Sullivan delivering lines like, “Put your shoes on, girls. This is a wedding, not a hoedown!”


Marla Cooper is the author of Terror in Taffeta, an Agatha and Lefty nominee for Best First Mystery and book one in the Kelsey McKenna Destination Wedding Mysteries. Her second book, Dying on the Vine, is set in the California wine country and comes out April 4. As a freelance writer, Marla has written all sorts of things, from advertising copy to travel guidebooks to the occasional haiku, and it was while ghostwriting a guide to destination weddings that she found inspiration for her series. Originally hailing from Texas, Marla lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and her polydactyl tuxedo cat. Learn more at

Alexia Gordon has been a writer since childhood. She continued writing through college but put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. Medical career established, she returned to writing fiction. She completed SMU’s Writer’s Path program in Dallas, Texas. Henery Press published her first novel, Murder in G Major, book one of the Gethsemane Brown mysteries, in September 2016. Book two, Death in D Minor, premiers July 2017. A member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Writers’ League of Texas, she listens to classical music, drinks whiskey, and blogs at

Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery series, which includes The Semester of Our Discontent and The Art of Vanishing. She teaches English at MSU Denver and serves as president of Sisters in Crime-Colorado. For more information, please visit

Nadine Nettmann, a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, is always on the lookout for great wines and the stories behind them. She has visited wine regions around the world, from France to Chile to South Africa, but chose Napa Valley as the setting for her debut novel, Decanting a Murder. The next book in the Sommelier Mystery Series, Uncorking a Lie, releases in May 2017. Chapters are paired with wine recommendations.

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym of married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington.

Welcome Back to the Agatha-Nominated Lea Wait!

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

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

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


Here’s the blurb for UNCERTAIN GLORY.

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

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

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

Who were they? What were they thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ThreadandgoneBarb: What are you working on now?

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

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

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



Welcome, Catriona McPherson

Edith, who can tell by the giant piles of snow and the temperature outside she’s not in California anymore.

Catriona, we are so pleased to welcome you to the Wicked Cozy Authors 1014280_529090457140360_828004586_n[1]blog. For those who don’t know, Catriona [pronounced like Katrina] McPherson is an Anthony-, Bruce Alexander-, Macavity- and Agatha-award winning bestselling author and the current president of Sisters in Crime National. And she’s a funny, generous, lively person to spend time with. Catriona and I have a couple of unexpected things in common, and I was delighted that she agreed to let me interview her. So let’s get to know her even better. (And she’s promised to give away one of her fabulous books to a commenter, too!)

E: First, tell us why you write mysteries, and how you came to love the genre.

C: I’m circling my brain cell trying to remember the first mystery I ever read. I know I was reading Agatha Christie when I was an under-graduate, because a lofty fellow undergrad (male, need I say?) was withering about her. Not twice. I also adored Georgette Heyer’s detective stories and Ngaio Marsh too, Her Dottiness Dorothy L. Sayers, of course, Michael Innes . . . It was pretty well inevitable that when I started to write, I’d write crime. I love that the stakes are so high in crime fiction and that people reveal themselves in tight jams. A bit of me likes to dig into the worst of humanity and poke around there seeing how it works. But also, there’s the escapism of resolution – what Jill Paton Walsh called “a dream of justice”. Life is so rarely like that, but in our books we can have right prevail.

E: You write the Dandy Gilver books, a long-running historical mystery series that I’m woefully behind on, featuring an upper-class Scottish woman in the early 1900s who has a bent for solving crimes. Tell us how you conceived of her and why you set the series when you did.

C: I set it in the golden-age for British detective fiction rather than in a real historical period. And actually pretty early, starting in 1922, because I wanted time to pass between books and I didn’t want to crash in WWII. It seemed a wee bit conceited at the time but here I am, writing book eleven, set in 1932 – in other words, more than halfway there. I worry, because she’s got two teenage sons and here it comes.

Ha! That last sentence’ll make it hard for me to claim she’s not a real person in my mind, eh?

I started out quite mechanically with a clip-board and a biro [E: um, that’s a ballpoint pen] (on the beach (in Scotland, so well wrapped up)) to work out who my detective was going to be. Female, rich because poor women were so constrained then – not much time to solve crime after a twelve-hour shift in a linoleum factory, married because married rich women were free to do as they chose after they produced the heir and the spare. Hence the sons. I sometimes regret her poshness. I’m not at all posh and not that sympathetic to the concerns of 20th century aristocracy either, but it’s a lot of fun putting her in situations where she has to broaden her ideas. The thing I really regret is giving her a dog. Think about it: she started with a six-year-old Dalmatian and it’s eleven years later . . . the latest book was hard to write.

E: I also write an historical mystery series, set several decades before yours and in New England. Tell us a bit about how you do your research, and what your best sources have been.

C: I’m filled with awe for your research, Edith. Mine is much easier. Well, suddenly moving to California wasn’t a clever step, but generally Scotland now looks a lot like Scotland in the 1920s, and the 1820s . . . and also I spent a wonderful couple of years working in the local history archive at Edinburgh City Library. That was a great training in how to get social history out of documents and photographs. I love to put together an Ordnance Survey map and a Post Office Directory so I deadpeopleknow who was living where in some little town and what shops were at the end of the street. Newspapers are my absolute favourite resource. Not the big news stories, but the adverts, personal ads and editorials. And photographs. I spend a lot of staring into the eyes of long-dead strangers.

E: Totally agree about the little bits in the newspapers: the price of shoes, what was playing at the opera house. But you also write these fabulous standalone suspense novels from Midnight Ink. Isn’t it hard to create an entire new world every time you write a standalone? Have you considered spinning one of them, like Jessie Constable in The Day She Died, into a series?

C: Well, thank you! That’s very kind of you. And here’s a secret. I cheat. A lot. The beach in The Day She Died is the same beach where I sat with my clip board dreaming up Dandy Gilver. And the house in As She Left It is my friend Diane’s house. She read the book sitting in the house. I’m very proud that I freaked her out so much she had to lock the doors and check the cupboards.

I know what you mean about letting them all go. I miss Jessie. But her story is told. Maybe, years down the line, she might fall into another patch of trouble but what I love about standalones is that you can thrash your characters to bits and leave them reeling. They don’t need to be functioning for a book every year.

E: Thrashing characters to bits. I like the sound of that! After you so kindly sat at my table at the New Author breakfast at Malice Domestic a couple of years ago (the morning after you’d won the Agatha!), you told me that, like me, you also hold a PhD in linguistics. Why did you leave that world?

C: I remember it – what an energy in that room! I enjoyed doing the PhD and can always win hands-down at any competition to find the most useless-sounding thesis. (I built a possible worlds theory of the interpretation of references to non-existent objects. Beat that.) But I did it in what must have been the warmest, fuzziest university department ever – linguistics at Edinburgh. When I got a job as a professor in a normal university department, with all the back-biting and one-upmanship, I started to wither. My love of semantics couldn’t make up for having colleagues who didn’t say hello when we passed in the hallways. So I packed it in to write stories and make up my own people. It wasn’t a classic career move, but it’s going okay.

E: I should say it IS going okay! And yes, you’ve got my thesis beat (A Study Of Misarticulation from a Linguistic Perspective). You’ve lived in California, my home state, for five years. Davis is dry and hot and, well, California. What’s been your hardest adjustment to leaving Scotland? What’s easier in the Golden State?

C: Gliding around on straight flat roads with no frost in an automatic car is easier than struggling up and down vertiginous lanes over black ice with a stick shift!

Apart from separation from loved ones, the hardest adjustment has been . . . oof, is it the dialect chasm? I got used to the three tiers of shopping failure: A. what words am I saying? B. that’s not what it’s called, and C. they haven’t got it. (Curry paste, riddles, double cream . . .) Which brings me onto the other thing – the unavailability of some foodstuffs I grew up on. Now, California has better oranges and watermelons than Scotland – don’t get me wrong! – but sourcing the ingredients for haggis is an adventure. Never foresaw perfecting the Spanish for sheep’s stomach and kidney caul fat so early on in my learning. (Mexican butchers are the bomb.)

E: Kidney caul fat – never heard the term before, although since I write about a traditional midwife, I know what a caul is. But what are riddles? Okay, I googled it. Still not sure. A sieve? A colander?

C: Ha!  See what I mean? It’s a big round sieve for “riddling” weeds out of soil or soil out of gravel.

E: Now, what’s next? What are you working on now, and when are your next books coming out?

C: Boysie-boy, this year is nuts. Right now I’m writing Dandy Gilver No.11, as I said, knocking out the first draft. Next up I’m going to write standalone No.5 and before the end of December I’m planning to write something completely new. (It’ll be fine.) Sorry to be mysterious but I never talk about books until the first draft is done.

However, I can talk about the books coming out this year – another three. (It’ll be fine; it’ll be fine.)

In May, it’s COME TO HARM, a standalone from Midnight Ink. I’m looking over cometoharmpage proofs now. It’s the story of Keiko Nishisato who moves to Edinburgh to study for a PhD (I couldn’t have done it without the help and friendship of Etsuko Oishi, Mariko Kondo and Yuko Kondo who were there with me in the 90s – cheating, see?) and finds herself living above a butcher’s shop in a very friendly little town. Too friendly? We’ll see . . .

In July, DANDY GILVER AND THE UNPLEASANTNESS IN THE BALLROOM is published in the UK. It’s 1931 and Dandy and Alec are in Glasgow at the height of that city’s dance fever, trying to stop a professional ballroom and Latin competition descending into bloody murder. Between traditional Glasgow/Edinburgh rivalry and foxtrot steps, it was a lot of fun to write. I can’t wait to see the cover.

In September comes THE CHILD GARDEN – another standalone from Midnight Ink. This is the extra one. It’s a hardback coming out to help celebrate MI’s tenth anniversary. Cheating again, I’ve set this in my house in Galloway and it was a treat to go back there. In TCG, Gloria Harkness, single parent of a profoundly disabled teenaged son, answers the door one night and finds Stig Tarrant, who sat beside her at school when they were ten and who was her first love. He’s soaked through and terrified and she doesn’t pause for a minute before letting him in . . . how could it go wrong?

And then in November . . . wait a minute! This makes four. (It’ll be fine) but I’m stopping before my ears bleed.

E: I am blown away by your year. Four books? You’re amazing. And you’re right, it’ll be fine. ;^) Anyway, thanks SO much for hanging out at the Wicked Cozy water cooler today, Catriona. Final question: when are you coming to the New England Crime Bake? We’d love to have you.

C: Oh, me too. So much. But you’ll understand if it’s not this year, right?

E: I don’t know. SINC presidents have been making an appearance every year now. No pressure, but…

Readers: Questions for Catriona? Accolades? Admiring comments? All are welcome! Remember, one of you will win a book from Catriona!