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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In The Middle

By Sherry — another rainy day in Northern Virginia

Marci Konecny is the winner of the Sarah Winston books! Thanks to all of you who stopped by! I used Random.org to draw the winner.

Usually no one wants to be in the middle, but I am and here is why I’m so happy to be.

Tagged for Death mech.inddThe second anniversary of the release of Tagged For Death was last Friday, December 2nd (look for the celebratory giveaway at the bottom of the post). And this anniversary made me reflect on where I’ve been, where am, and where I’m going. I started thinking about all of the people who helped me along the way – too many to list here but I do want to mention some pivotal moments.

My first writers conference run by the Cambria Writers Workshop was in Monterey, California where I received gentle criticism and lots of encouragement.

I also attended the now defunct Seaside Writers Conference run by the faculty of the Florida International University’s creative writing department. I learned so much about structure and passion for writing. Plus I met some wonderful local writers.

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You meet the nicest people at Malice. Here I’m with Dru Ann Love, Aimee Hix, Shari Randall, and Kathryn O’Sullivan

Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland was life changing in so many ways. (I gave them a shout out in the acknowledgements of Tagged For Death.) I also made a lot of friends there and met Julie Hennrikus who told me about the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime and Crime Bake and of course became my dear, dear friend.

When I joined the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crimes Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette), and Hank Phillippi Ryan were the head honchos of the chapter. They are all amazingly generous to me and so many other writers.

Crime Bake gave me a chance to meet authors, agents (lots of rejections), and pre-published friends.

seascapeSeacape run by Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib, and S.W. Hubbard (the year I attended). Never has so much learning and opportunity been packed into less than forty-eight hours. But even more important were the friendships that were formed. I met Edith Maxwell, Liz Mugavero, Barbara Ross, and Kim Gray that weekend – Wicked Cozy Authors wasn’t even a twinkle in our eye then. I also met Ramona DeFelice Long, and Christine Hillman who is from Australia – both are amazing women and writers.

Then of course there’s Barbara Ross who thought of me when agent John Talbot asked her if she knew anyone who could write a series about garage sales.

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Photo by Meg Manion Silliker

And there are my dear Wickeds. What would I do without all of you?!

When I moved back to Virginia I joined the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime and found another group of people who encourage and support me in so many ways.

I’m also very grateful to so many friends, readers, bloggers, and reviewers who are with me on this journey.

So with all this talk of the past why did I title the post “In The Middle”? I realized I get to help other writers now. It is so much fun! And I have had such gracious examples of how to do that from people who have helped me in the past and continue to help me now.

There are so many ways to help other writers. Sometimes it’s reading a manuscript and making suggestions. Or it’s saying to someone my agent is looking for someone to write a series. It could be an introduction, just an encouraging word, writing a blurb for someone, or telling people to join Sisters in Crime.

A few weeks ago I did a panel on getting published with Maya Corrigan and Kathryn O’Sullivan at the Barnes and Noble in Fairfax, VA. We had a small but enthusiastic crowd. We ended up talking to a man for quite a while after the panel and encouraged him to join Sisters in Crime.

Photo by Eleanor Carwood Jones who took the selfie!

Photo by Eleanor Carwood Jones who took the selfie!

Last weekend was the Chesapeake Chapter Mystery Extravaganza where chapter members who’ve published a book or short story during the year get a couple of minutes to talk about their work. While I was up at the podium talking I spotted someone in the crowd and thought that guy looks familiar. I started racking my brain to figure out why (I think I kept talking while that was going on).

Then I realized it was the man from the Barnes and Noble panel. I had a chance to speak with him after the event was over. His eyes lit up and he said he’d written eight chapters since the panel. That he’d put off grading papers (he’s a high school psychology teacher) and doing things around the house to write. Seeing his enthusiasm warmed my heart.

Being in the middle is a wonderful place to be.

threebooksReaders: Who have you given a hand up to?

I’m giving away a set of all three Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries to one reader. Leave a comment for a chance to win.

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving — Late Fall Reads

thankful-for-our-readers-giveaway-3It’s double giveaway day! Edith and Sherry are both giving away a book to one lucky winner! Sherry is giving away a copy of one of her books: Tagged for Death, The Longest Yard Sale, or All Murders Final — readers choice! And Edith is giving away one of her 2016 mysteries: Delivering the Truth, Grilled for Murder, or Murder Most Fowl — also readers choice!

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! After all the cooking and cleaning we hope you have time to put your feet up and enjoy a good book. Here’s what we are reading:

Liz: I’m super excited I’m getting a pre-read of Barb’s Iced Under! We’re doing some joint blog posts to celebrate our dual launch next month, so we’re reading each other’s books in advance. As usual, I’m loving it.

Sherry: I just finished reading Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger — what an amazing and beautifully written book. Next I’m going to read Permanent Sunset by C. Michele
Dorsey. I loved the first book in the Sabrina Salter series and a trip to St. John sounds perfect this time of year.permanentsunsetfinal1

Jessie: After my recent visit to Iceland I can’t get enough of Icelandic crime novels. I’m currently reading Cold Comfort by Quentin Bates. Next up is The Day is Dark by Yrsa Sigurdardottir.

Barb: I’m excited to have an ARC of Liz’s Custom Baked Murder in my hot little hands. I am also reading Mediterranean Summer,  a non-fiction about a chef who spends a summer working on a yacht, for my “work.” My work is so hard!

Edith: I’m also thrilled to be reading Permanent Sunset by C. Michele Dorsey, and when I’m done I’m diving, finally, into Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Say No More.

Julie: I just turned in Chime and Punishment (book #3), so I can read again!! My pile is large, but on top a book Sherry recommended–Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. Really looking forward to finally cracking it open.

Readers: What are you reading?

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Crime Bake On A Stick 2016

thankful-for-our-readers-giveaway-3img_1749Today we are giving away goodies from Crime Bake! It includes a Crime Bake tote bag, a filled out bingo ice breaker card (with author and attendee signatures), a folder with tablet and pen, a copy of The Writer magazine, a Crime Bake survival kit, and a moose tea candle holder (our table won it in the limerick contest — William Kent Krueger picked the winner!) Here’s our winning limerick:

At Crime Bake having a ball
We met a strange moose named Saul
We thought he was dead
From the hole in his head
But 🎹 he’s going to make it after all🎹  (we sang the last line to the tune of the Mary Tyler Moore show theme song). Leave a comment for a chance to win.

Ginger Smith was the winner of our Fan On A Stick contest and here are some of her adventures:

img_1738Ginger arrives at Crime Bake!

The first person Ginger meets is author Donna Andrews!

The first person Ginger meets is author Donna Andrews!

Ginger runs into Liz and Jessie at her first panel.

Ginger runs into Liz and Jessie at her first panel.

First panel -- Our Big Guns and How They Got There with Joseph Finder, William Kent Krueger, Leslie Meier, B.A. Shapiro and moderator Sharon Daynard

First panel — Our Big Guns and How They Got There with Joseph Finder, William Kent Krueger, Leslie Meier, B.A. Shapiro and moderator Sharon Daynard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ginger happens by the bar and meets Barb, Lea Wait, Edith, and Kate Cone. Then she spots Julie and Sheila. But wait there’s more — there’s Toni L.P. Kelner and Sid!

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Ginger meets Susan Oleksiw.

Ginger takes a break and goes up to her room. What a view!

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Back downstairs Ginger runs into the Wickeds again and author Ray Daniel.

Then it’s time for the banquet Let Loose With The Moose at the Pinewood Broiler  — a salute to William Kent Krueger’s books and Minnesota.

There’s even a dinosaur (Rhonda Lane)! img_1694

Ginger finds Sherry and author Shari Randall wearing their plaid. But who is that? It’s Rocky and Bullwinkle aka Hank Phillippi Ryan and her husband Jonathan!

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Ginger out on the dance floor with Hallie Ephron and Lucy Burdette. She bumps in to author Marian Stanley and agent Paula Munier. Then finds authors Eleanor Carwood Jones and Diane Vallere. And oh my there is William Kent Krueger and his lovely wife!

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After a wonderful day and evening Ginger is all tuckered out!

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Thanks for joining us, Ginger!

Readers: Do you have a favorite event that you attend? Leave a comment for a chance to win the Crime Bake swag!

 

Wicked Wednesday — Grateful For Our Mentors

thankful-for-our-readers-giveaway-3Julie here! Today is my day to do a giveaway! Reader’s choice–either Just Killing Time or Clock and Dagger! Or, I can give you a Level Best anthology with one of my short stories. Comment to enter, I’ll announce the winner this weekend.

Continuing the our November theme of being grateful, Wickeds tell us about a mentor that helped you along your path to publication. Since I know we all have had a lot of help from a lot of different sources, think waaaaaayyyyy back to someone who helped you early on. What did they do? How did they help?

Edith: My mother said, about my early short stories, “Edie, you’re a good writer,” and I believed her for the rest of my life.

But as an adult, when I started writing fiction again, I’d have to say Kate Flora. She was one of the original Level Best Books editors and has more published crime novels, fiction and non fiction, than I can even dream of. The first story I’d submitted to a Level Best anthology was accepted, but I had a number of rejections after that. More than once Kate wrote a handwritten note on the form letter. “Don’t let this discourage you. You’re a good writer. Keep writing.” And I believed her. Thank you, dear Kate. Hallie Ephron and Hank Phillippi Ryan have also been huge boosters of mine – and continue to be. A big thank you to these talented, gracious, generous authors.

Liz: I was blessed to be able to attend two Seascape writers retreats with Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib, and Susan Hubbard. Those ladies were the best teachers ever. They pushed me to put more of myself on the page, hone my craft and become better. I remember Hallie saying to me once, “You’ll do it [get published]. You have the talent, but you also have the drive.” It was the best feeling in the world to tell her about my first contract. Thank you Hallie, Roberta and Susan – you definitely changed my life.

Barb: It’s amazing how certain people have such a strong through-line in so many New Englander’s writing careers. I, too, can never repay Roberta Isleib (Lucy Burdette), Hallie Ephron, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Kate Flora, so I try to pay it forward. I’ve been so lucky in both my work and writing lives to have so many strong women provide such powerful support and advice. Let me recognize another–B. A. Shapiro, author of The Art Forger and The Muralist, and my first mystery writing teacher.

Sherry: Eons ago I attended my very first writers conference — the Cambria Writers Workshop conference held at Asilomar in Monterey, California. As part of the conference we were able to read part of our manuscript. As I was reading I realized my manuscript was all backstory — terribly written backstory. I managed to get through it and thank heavens they were a kind and supportive group. They pointed out the good things and gently critiqued what was wrong. I remember going up to the keynote speaker later and asking if she thought I should continue writing. She said, “You’re talented.” It might have been a lie but it kept me going. I’ve always thought under different circumstances, with different people, it would have been easy to throw in the towel. The writing community is a generous one and I’ve been helped along the way by many, many people.

Julie: I am going to give Hallie Ephron another shout out. At one of my first Crime Bakes, when I was barely admitting aloud I dreamed of getting published, she took the news that my manuscript was being requested with a “that’s really wonderful–they don’t say that to everyone. Be proud of yourself.” Even this last weekend, she went out of her way to tell my how funny one of my Facebook posts was. Also, shouting out to Hank Phillippi Ryan, one of the most gracious women I know. She’s been a huge booster, and continues with that.

Dear fellow writers, who are your mentors? Readers, who has encouraged you along the way in one particular area of your life?Save

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Be A Puffy Cat

practiceTomorrow I am going to do a “write up” about a fabulous Sisters in Crime New England workshop Hank Phillippi Ryan held last Saturday. It was entitled “Perfecting Your Author Presentation”, and covered two topics. First, doing an author presentation. Second, tips for when you are interviewed. Much more on the content of the day tomorrow on the blog.

Today, I want to discuss my favorite piece of advice Hank gave us for when we are nervous wrecks about doing a reading.

Be a puffy cat.

Well, practice and be prepared. But be a puffy cat.

When a cat gets scared, she doesn’t shrink into herself and try to hide. She gets puffy, takes up more space, and gets ready to rumble. So, when you’re afraid, be a puffy cat. At the very least, think of a puffy cat, which will make you smile, and take away some of the fear. But I say, go for the visual image and try your best to create it. Breathe, and be a puffy cat.

I am an introvert who plays an extrovert in my professional life. I teach, do speeches, moderate panels, lead discussions, and try my best to participate fully in society. Then I go home, talk to my cats but no one else, and reacharge my batteries. Being a professional extrovert is exhausting, but necessary. I couldn’t do my work running a non-profit, teaching, or being an arts advocate if I couldn’t fake being an extrovert.

More and more, I realize that part of being an author requires being an extrovert as well. Meeting readers, doing readings, being on panels, doing interviews. Selling my books. That part of my life was made easier this past weekend, with one phrase offered by the wonderful Hank Phillippi Ryan.

I’m a puffy cat.

 

 

Malice Memories with guest Annette Dashofy

WithAVengeance cover FRONTAnnette, thanks so much for taking time to stop by during the launch of With A Vengeance the fourth Zoe Chambers!

By the time you read this, Malice Domestic will have been long past. But as I’m writing this post, I haven’t even unpacked yet. Seriously. I need to do laundry. Later.

Wow. What a fabulous weekend.

Sherry Harris, Joyce Tremel and Annette Dashofy

Sherry Harris, Joyce Tremel and Annette Dashofy

Malice, for those of you who have never experienced it, is one big family reunion. Every year the family grows by leaps and bounds. The moment I walked through the hotel doors, I spotted Dru Ann Love charging toward me with her lovely smile and her arms open wide for the first of many hugs. Yeah. It’s like that. All weekend long. I’ve learned to start out at least fifteen minutes early to get from Point A to Point B because there will be many stops along the way for embraces and squeals of delight at seeing an old friend or meeting a new fan.

Last year I had been nominated (along with Wickedly Wonderful Sherry Harris!) for Best First Novel. I didn’t think it could get any better than that.

I was wrong.

IMG_8756This year, I went to Malice carrying the mantle of nominee for Best Contemporary Novel (for Bridges Burned). With fellow nominees like Hank Phillippi Ryan, Margaret Maron, Catriona McPherson, and Louise Penny, I went in with low expectations for a win, but with high expectations for breathing rarefied air. My Cinderella weekend. It was definitely that and more.

Does an author ever tire of having readers stop her in the hall to tell her how much they love her books? Or having readers and fellow writers whisper, “I voted for you!” as they scurry to the next panel? I think not.

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Looking back at the weekend, there are a lot of special moments that stick with me and keep the smile on my face. Some big, like Opening Ceremonies, sitting in the front row next to Guest of Honor Victoria Thompson, a fellow Pennwriter, whom I’ve long admired and adored. On my other side, none other than Best First nominee Julie Hennrikus herself! Then having my name called, walking up to collect my nomination certificate, and standing with Hank, Margaret, and Catriona for the photo. Let’s just say tears were very close to the surface.

IMG_8909Speaking of tears, Amanda Flowers’ sweet speech following her win for Best Children’s or YA Novel in which she shared emotional memories of her parents will also stay with me.

But there are those smaller moments. Quieter moments. The ones with no photos to document the occasion. Sitting in a corner catching up with a long time friend. Chatting one-on-one with a reader I’d just met, and with a wonderful pair of fans—a mother and daughter I met two years ago who have become my good pals. An unplanned Working Stiffs (my old group blog) lunch reunion. And of course, hanging out with all the Wicked Cozies!

Speaking of… You ladies rock! Congratulations to Julie and Edith on your nominations! I loved watching both of you bask in the limelight. And while none of us brought home the tea pot this year, here’s my biggest take-away from Malice Domestic 28. Those Cinderella moments don’t necessarily only happen once. Never take them for granted. But don’t completely count out the idea of starting a collection of those nomination certificates!

Who knows. One day we might add a teapot.

Readers: What dream are you waiting to accomplish?

Dashofy-1559 (534x800)Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE, published by Henery Press, was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and BRIDGES BURNED was an Agatha Award finalist for Best Contemporary Novel of 2015. Her latest release, WITH A VENGEANCE, is the fourth in the series.