Best First Agatha Nominees on Writing

I’m humbled and thrilled to be one of the nominees for an Agatha Award for Best First novel this year. I asked my fellow nominees Annette Dashofy, Terrie Farley Moran, Susan O’Brien, and Tracy Weber to join me to talk about getting published. Is the book you are nominated for the first book you wrote? And from the time you decided to write a novel how long did it take you to get published?

Tagged for Death mech.inddSherry: My journey was a long one. I joke that I started writing on stone tablets with a chisel. In some ways I’ve always written stories whether they were for my high school yearbook, my job in marketing for a financial planning company or writing humorous Christmas letters. What pushed me to write a novel was a short story contest advertised in the newspaper when we lived in Dayton, Ohio. I quickly realized the story was too big and ended up writing two and half books that still sit in the proverbial drawer.

I learned a lot by writing those books, taking classes, attending conferences, reading books about writing, and editing books for other authors. So when the opportunity to write a series with a garage sale theme came to me via a New York City editor, agent, and finally through friend Barbara Ross, I was in the words of Barbara, “ready”. From writing the proposal for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series to contract was a month and a half. From contract to the publication of Tagged for Death was a year and ten months.

Circle of Influence Cover FrontAnnette Dashofy: My first writing implement was a crayon, so that should give you an idea of how long I’ve been doing this. In high school I wrote “novels” longhand in spiral-bound notebooks. Now it would be called fan fiction. Back then I simply created a character that was me and stuck her into my favorite TV shows. My “fans” read my stories in study hall. They’d pass them around and eventually the notebook came back to me with orders to keep writing.

I didn’t get serious about publishing my fiction until decades later when the bug bit me in 2004. I wrote one novel that no one will ever see again. Trust me. It was bad. A second novel snagged me two agents, but no publisher. I kept writing. Circle of Influence (Zoe Chambers Mysteries) was the fourth manuscript I wrote, but the first to be published—finally—in 2014.

WellRead_2Terrie Farley Moran: I have always known that I would be a mystery writer someday. Lo and behold “someday” finally showed up in early 2003 when I started writing Driven to Death. It took me a few trial-and-error years to finish the first draft. In 2006 at the exact moment I started the second draft, my Sisters in Crime chapter put out a call for submissions for short stories for a chapter anthology. I wrote a story called “Strike Zone” and two things happened. First, I discovered that I absolutely loved writing short mystery fiction and second, my story was accepted and the anthology Murder New York Style was released in 2007.

I continued writing short stories and was lucky enough to have them published in various venues including Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and an MWA anthology. All the while I edited and polished Driven to Death. Finally, in February 2012 I met a fabulous literary agent, Kim Lionetti of Bookends LLC. When she turned down Driven to Death, Kim said she liked my voice and style and asked if I would write something else, which led to Well Read, Then Dead the first in the Read Em and Eat Mystery series and a 3 book contract with Berkley Prime Crime. Typical writer’s path. Up, down and all around.

FINDING_SKY_front_under_2mb-2Susan O’Brien: In the middle of writing Finding Sky, the first in the Nicki Valentine mystery series, I was hired to write Child Abduction and Kidnapping, an educational book for young adults. The pay was relatively low (with no royalties), but I’m passionate about children’s safety, so it just felt meant to be. Part of my earnings from Finding Sky are donated to missing children’s organizations. Also, I got quite sick while writing Finding Sky and wrote a spiritual/medical memoir, which I can’t wait to edit when I “have time” someday!

It’s funny to think about the time from deciding to write a novel to pursuing publication. I’ve wanted to be an author since childhood, so in a way, it took decades! Finding Sky was written over many years while I was busy raising children and freelance writing. Once I started querying, it took a little more than a year to have a signed contract. I chronicled the experience on Twitter in hopes of connecting with other writers. My first tweet was about sending my first query letter! I’m thrilled and grateful to be on this journey with each of you and the entire, incredible writing community!

Murder Strikes Pose full sizeTracy Weber: I am so incredibly lucky.  Yes, Murder Strikes a Pose is my first novel and the first of the Downward Dog mystery series.  In fact, it’s my first attempt at writing fiction except for a short story I wrote in college at age 20 and a three-page very bad flash fiction piece I wrote a few years ago.

I thought about writing Murder Strikes a Pose for almost two years before I actually sat down and put fingers to keyboard.  Once I started, the words poured out of me and I wrote the first draft in three weeks!  (Subsequent drafts took significantly longer.)  😉  I refined the work for about a year with the help friends and a wonderful freelance editor named Marta Tanrikulu.  When I started submitting, things went quickly.  I signed with my agent, Margaret Bail, within a few weeks and she sold the first three books in the series a few weeks after that.  Murder Strikes a Pose was on bookshelves nine months later.

So, from typing “Chapter 1” to publication was about two and a half years.  Only one year of that was actually writing.  😉

Sherry: Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedules to share a bit about your writing journey! I really enjoyed each of your stories.

Welcome Susan O’Brien

We are so happy to have Susan O’Brien with us today. Thanks for joining us!

FINDING_SKY_front_under_2mb-2My first mystery, Finding Sky, was published this week, and I’m especially thrilled to celebrate with the Wicked Cozy Authors. That’s because although Finding Sky is set in the D.C. area, I plan to write in—and about—the most beautiful place I’ve ever been: the Damariscotta River in Maine. Side note: Maine is the first place I heard the word “wicked” used in a positive way. I was in elementary school, and since I’m a “word person,” it was unforgettable!

I’ve always wanted to be an author, and plenty of dreaming about it was done on childhood trips to my grandparents’ Maine property—a coastal paradise with its own beach, blueberry bushes, and soft, pine-needle walking paths. I adored gazing at the water, notebook and pen in hand, feeling inspired. It’s one of the few places I’ve ever written poetry.

Damariscotta_River_Susan_OBrienOnce, a writer visited while we were there, and he took my passion for the craft so seriously that I can still picture him on the beach, chewing “spruce gum”—which he cut from a nearby tree and shared—treating me as an equal. What a gift.
I hesitate to reveal too much, because someday, my protagonist Nicki Valentine will explore the same treasured location with her children. Seeing it through her eyes—with her sense of humor and romantic challenges—will be quite an adventure. (Although I did have a massive, totally unrequited crush on my hunky sailing instructor one summer. Hmmm. That could provide some inspiration!)

Walking_path_Susan_OBrienI can’t wait to escape to Maine with Nicki and her family—literally. I’ve spent countless hours looking at real estate online, envisioning what it would be like to plot on a dock, clear my mind in a kayak, and make a riverside deck my “home office.” (During the winter, I plan to live in Florida, which involves a whole other real estate plan and imaginary budget.)

In reality, I may have to rely on a research trip, Google, and the memories I’m lucky to have. And that’s plenty. The peace I felt in small-town Maine is enough to last a lifetime.
I’m curious, do you dream of writing in a special location? Which settings do you find most inspirational and why? Do you long to share a certain spot with your characters and readers? And as a reader, do you enjoy visiting new locales with protagonists? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Happy travels!

Susan_OBrien_Web_PhotoSusan O’Brien has been passionate about reading and writing since childhood, when she started a neighborhood newspaper and escaped tween stress with mysteries. Since covering her first big story (the birth of gerbils next door), she has worked with USA TODAY, PI Magazine, The Parent Institute and others. Susan has an M.A. in forensic psychology and is a registered private investigator in Virginia. Among her diverse interests are photography, gardening, loud R&B music, healing prayer and reality TV. She lives with her husband and children in the D.C. suburbs and donates part of her earnings to missing children’s organizations.
Visit Susan on her website, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.