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!

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Wicked Congratulations to Barb, Jessie, and Edith!

Malice Domestic is a conference that celebrates the traditional novel. The Agatha nominations were announced this week, and Barbara Ross, Jessica Estevao, and Edith Maxwell were on the list! The awards will be given out April 29. We’ll all be there, dancing in the aisles.

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Recapping 2016 and Looking Forward to 2017

You know, dear readers, we Wickeds haven’t been blogging together all that long. Four years this May, is that right? And though Jessie, Barb and Edith (aka Tace Baker) had published books prior to the Wickeds forming, this blog coincided with the launching of several series. 2016 was a bumper crop for all of us, and 2017 promises to top this year. So we thought today we’d celebrate this past year, and give you some books to look forward to in 2017.

WhispersBeyond_FixJessica Estevao/Jessie Crockett/Jessica Ellicott

2016:
Whispers Beyond the Veil by Jessica Estevao, Book 1 Change of Fortune Mysteries, September, 2016

2017:
Body of Water by Jessie Crockett, Book 2 The Granite State Mysteries, Spring 2017
Whispers of Warning by Jessica Estevao, Book 2 Change of Fortune Mysteries, September, 2017
Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicott, Book 1 The Beryl and Edwina Mysteries, November, 2017

ALL MURDERS FINAL mech.inddSherry Harris

2016:
All Murders Final, Kensington
“The Lighthouse” in Edgar Allan Cozy
“Anna, Belle, and Lee” in Edgar Allan Cozy

2017:
A Good Day To Buy, April

ClockandDaggerJ.A. Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes

2016:
Clock and Dagger by Julianne Holmes

2017:
Chime and Punishment by Julianne Holmes, August
J.A. Hennrikus will have news soon!

Edith Maxwell/Maddie Day

2016:
Delivering the Truth – April (Quaker Midwife Mystery #1)
Grilled for Murder (as Maddie Day) (Country Store Mystery #2)
Murder Most Fowl – May (Local Foods Mystery #4)
“An Intolerable Intrusion” in Edgar Allan Cozy – January
“The Mayor and the Midwife” in Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 – September

2017:
When the Grits Hit the Fan (as Maddie Day) March (Country Store Mystery #3)
Called to Justice – April (Quaker Midwife Mystery #2)
“The Tragic Death of Mrs. Edna Fogg” in Malic Domestic 12: Mystery Most Historical – April
Mulch Ado About Murder – May (Local Foods Mystery #5)

MurdermostfinickyLiz Mugavero/Cate Conte

2016:
Murder Most Finicky (A Pawsitively Organic Mystery Book 4), January

2017:

Custom Baked Murder, (A Pawsitively Organic Mystery Book 5), December/Jan.
Pawsitively Organic Mystery Book 6, December 2017
Cate Conte’s first, Cat About Town, Aug. 1, 2017

catbouttown

Barbara Ross

2016:
Fogged Inn
, Maine Clambake Mystery #4, February
Eggnog Murder (with Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis), October

2017:

Iced Under, Maine Clambake Mystery #5, January
Stowed Away, Maine Clambake #6, late 2017

Sheila Connolly

2016:
A Turn for the Bad (County Cork Mystery #5), February 2016
Dead End Street (Museum Mystery #7), June 2016
Seeds of Deception (Orchard Mystery #10), October 2016
Search for the Dead (Relatively Dead Mystery #5), October 2016

2017:
Cruel Winter (County Cork Mystery #6), March 2017
A Late Frost (Orchard Mystery #11), October 2017

Susannah Hardy/Sadie Hartwell

A Killer Kebab Cover2016:
Edgar Allan Cozy (Susannah, Barb, Edith, Sherry, Sheila)
A Killer Kebab by Susannah Hardy

2017:
A Knit Before Dying by Sadie Hartwell, August

Edgar

Readers: What’s on your docket for this year’s reading? And were you able to keep up with all our 2016 publications? (Don’t worry, it’s not quiz!)

Wicked Wednesday: Happy Book Birthday Liz & Barb

book-birthday-hoorayWe are celebrating the book birthdays of Liz Mugavero (Custom Baked Murder) and Barbara Ross (Iced Under). Julia Snowden and Stan Connor have had a number of adventures so far, and we’re thrilled to read their latest. Wickeds, what are your New Year’s wishes for Julia and Stan?

Edith: Don’t get iced under or murdered (custom baked or otherwise)! More seriously, may your sleuthing brains sharpen, may your love lives thrive,  may murder not get too close to home, and may we see many,  many more new adventures from both of you.

Julie: May your adventures be great, and justice prevail. And may your VERY talented creators continue to bless us with stories.

Liz: Thanks for all the well wishes, Wickeds! Here’s hoping enough bodies fall to keep Stan and Julia in business for a good long time.

Jessie: I wish you both investigations galore and a tidal wave of crime in each of your towns!

Sherry: I’d like to wish both Stan and Julia a peaceful New Year but what fun would that be? So may they both always get their man/woman, may their relatives not drive them crazy, and may they continue to intrigue us with all of their twists and turns!

Barb: I wish Stan a huge success with the Pet Treat Bakery she’s hoping and planning for. And for Julia, I wish she finds a home where she is comfortable and happy.

Readers: New Year’s wishes for Stan and Julia? Please add yours!

 

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Boxing Day Book Pairings

book-birthday-hoorayThis week the Wickeds have a double celebration–Barbara Ross’s Iced Under and Liz Mugavero’s Custom Baked Murder are both being released on December 27. A pair of celebrations made me think about book pairings. Wickeds, what would you suggest folks eat or drink while reading your books?


Sherry:
I’m so excited to read the final versions of both of these books! If you are reading any of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale books I’d recommend Italian food (maybe pizza) and a glass of Chianti. Sarah loves to eat at DiNapoli’s Roast Beef and Pizza. The food feeds her tummy and the DiNapoli’s feed her soul.pizza

Edith: That depends on the series, of course. If you’re having brunch at Robbie Jordan’s country store restaurant, you could have a Bloody Mary or a mimosa with your baked French toast or your western omelet. Cam Flaherty in the Local Foods mysteries would recommend a good local IPA with your Irish beef stew. Meanwhile, back in 1888, Quaker midwife Rose Carroll of course goes strictly non-alcoholic, so pour yourself a cup of hot tea and munch on a gingersnap while you read!

Barb: I hope everyone has a chance to put their feet up and relax today. On Boxing Day the servants relaxed, but since so many of us are our own servants…As for pairings, with Eggnog Murder–why, eggnog, of course. No need to fear (he, he, he). With the Maine Clambake Mysteries, I usually recommend a local beer, for example from the Sea Dog or Shipyard brewing companies. But Iced Under takes place  in the dead of winter, so maybe readers won’t feel like something frosty. Go with a hot chocolate or a nice cuppa tea. Sounds lovely. I think I’ll go do so myself.

Liz: Stan spends a lot of time at Izzy’s coffee and gourmet chocolate shop, either eating or drooling over the pastries while sipping a fancy flavored latte. So I would highly suggest getting out of the house with Custom Baked Murder, heading to your favorite coffee shop and sitting in a comfy chair with your favorite drink and a decadent chocolate-something muffin. Or maybe a cheese Danish. Or a steaming hot cinnamon bun. Sheesh, I’m getting hungry….

Jessie: Maine in 1898 was a dry state. In Whispers Beyond the Veil, protagonist, Ruby Proulx lives at her aunt’s hotel for Spiritualists in Old Orchard where the spirits available are the disembodied, rather than alcoholic, sort. A tall, cold glass of lemonade would be a great beverage to enjoy while reading this book. Considering its coastal setting, you can’t go wrong with a lobster roll. Or Pier Fries!

Julie: The Sleeping Latte has great coffee drinks, and Nancy Reed specials. This time of year, I’d suggest an eggnog latte and a molasses cookies. You know the kind of cookies that bend when you pick them up, and are wicked chewy? Yes, those!

Friends, any book and food pairings you’d like to share?Save

Books, Bagels, and Wicked Cozys

By Julie, feeling a bit of holiday spirit in Somerville

wicked-cozy-authorsRay Daniel is a good friend to the Wicked Cozys. This past Sunday he invited us to his temple, Congregation B’nai Torah in Sudbury, MA. It was a Books and Bagels event. When he asked us to participate back in October, he may have expect the more local Wickeds would make it. Instead, we turned it into an event. Sherry flew up for the weekend, Liz drove up from Connecticut, and Jessie drove down from New Hampshire. For the first time EVER, all six Wickeds were on a panel together. To cap the day, we went to the Wayside Inn afterwards. Ray and his wife Karen (an amazing quilter and HUGE cozy fan) came with us, along with Elias (Jessie’s husband) and Bill (Barb’s husband and frequent dead body model for Sherry’s first line photos).

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Wickeds at the Wayside Inn. Clockwise from bottom left: Barb, Bill, Edith, Julie, Sherry, Jessie, Elias, Karen, Liz. Photo by Ray Daniel.

Each of us sat at a different table for breakfast. Afterwards, we all  did a panel that Ray moderated. Conversation ranged from genre to our protagonists, to new series coming up. None of the Wickeds is shy, and we all have opinions, so the conversation was lively. The audience was also very engaged, so it was a great conversation that lasted over an hour.

Now, I’m going to spill the beans about the Wickeds. We all really like each other. We take the business of writing and selling books seriously, and support one another in that. But we also care about each other as people, and seeing each other is a tonic. Ray Daniel (a wonderful writer in his own right) is a good friend of the Wickeds. He gave us an excuse to spend some time together this past Sunday.

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Myth Busting Part II – Word Count

Last week, we started tackling the (many) myths and rules that fly around about writing and the writing process, and busting them.

This week, we’re talking word count. Some say you have to decide on a word count to hit each day (or week) in order to declare success. So what do you think, Wickeds? Do you have a word count goal? Do you feel like you need one in order to feel like you’ve had a productive day/week?

Edith: I do use word count to push myself when I’m writing a first draft. I know some people don’t, and I’m not saying anybody else has to! But for me, to set a word count goal of 1500 or even 2000 words for a day keeps me in my seat, which is where the words flow onto the page. I started the first draft of Quaker Midwife #3 at the start of June, and I finished it at a too-short 56000 words last week on the 13th – which is fast even for me. And I accomplished that by setting word count goals.

Liz: Some kind of goal is helpful for me to stay on track, but it totally depends on where I am in the process. If I’m writing a first draft, I try to do a thousand words a day – but I’m also realistic enough to know during the week sometimes I won’t, so if I log a good number on the weekend instead, it’s ok. If I’m in the plotting phase, which I’m just trying out, maybe it’s 1-2 scenes a day, and then a few more on the weekend. And if I’m editing, I try to do a certain number of scenes, depending on how much work they need.

scrivener project targetsBarb: When I’m in first draft mode, I use word count to push myself. I leave the Scrivener project targets window visible at all times as a motivator. (“When I finish this, I can go for a swim.”) A good, comfortable day for me is 1200 words. For revisions, I have a number of scenes as a goal, or a number of pages. Often I’ll work on one day of the narrative.

Sherry: Early in the process I do a steady 1000 to 1500 words a day. I usually cover the word count on the computer so I focus on writing instead of the number of words.

Julie: I love that Scrivener helps with goals and word counts. I am a plotter, so I try and write a scene at a time. Wish I could say I wrote a scene a day, but having a full time job makes that tough for me. But I try for 4-5 scenes a week. Average manuscript has 60-65 scenes. I would love to establish a 500-1000 words a day habit, but I have trouble enough keeping up with my steps.

Edith: FYI for our non-writer reader friends, 250-300 words makes a page, usually. You can translate our daily goals for yourself.

Readers: How do you keep track of project goals, whether at work or at home? Writers, does word count motivate you?