Agatha Award Nominees for Best First Novel talk about Superstition
Welcome to the Agatha Award Nominees for Best First Novel. Julie, Liz, and I were all nominated in that category and know what an exciting and nerve racking time this is. The Agatha Awards are voted on by the attendees of the fabulous Malice Domestic conference for fans of traditional mysteries. I love that since it is Friday the 13th you decided to talk about superstitions!
Superstition and I parted ways the day I discovered that stepping on a crack would not, in fact, break my mother’s back. Yet, I find superstitions fascinating. Mer, my protagonist in Adrift, is a woman of science. To her, superstition is nonsense, yet her grandmother had given her a pendant when she was a child, and before every rescue she touches it. To an observer, it appears she does it for luck. She would argue she touches it for comfort. But isn’t that what superstitious responses are designed to do? They impart a sense of comfort when events are otherwise out of our control. Maybe we should all knock on wood that it works.
I don’t consider myself superstitious. I don’t avoid black cats and I don’t walk under ladders because…well, dangerous. However, superstitions also involve rituals, like wearing lucky socks to sporting event. In that regard, I have a writing ritual. Similar to my protagonist in THE PLOT IS MURDER, Samantha Washington, for many years, I wrote in secret. Only a handful of trusted friends and family knew my heart’s desire was to be a published writer. Even after two manuscripts, I didn’t announce to the world that I was a writer. A stack of rejections and a huge pile of self-doubt convinced me I wasn’t a ‘real’ writer. However, after learning one of my favorite writers was an adjunct professor at Seton Hill University. I enrolled and got my MFA. That helped to boost my confidence enough to declare to the world (and the IRS) that I am a writer. To maintain the feeling whenever I sit down to write, I almost always wear my Seton Hill T-shirt, Sweatshirt or baseball cap to remind myself that I am, indeed a writer.
For me, superstition is a Stevie Wonder song. I don’t have them! I am not afraid of black cats. (I am allergic though.) I don’t freak out on Friday the 13th. (Mainly because I usually forget what day it is.) If I see a penny, I’m not picking it up. (Now if it was a twenty dollar bill…) Like I said, I don’t have superstitions. I do, however, have preferences. For instance, I prefer to not open an umbrella inside. Not because I’m superstitious but because it usually doesn’t rain indoors. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) I also prefer to knock on wood. I don’t encounter a lot of ladders but if I did, I definitely won’t be walking under them. Mainly because I can’t fit.
Superstitious? Me? I might be a little skittish, but I come by it honestly.
My father, who passed away a few years ago, was a huge baseball fan. Like– reschedule chemotherapy because it conflicts with spring training– huge. As is the case with many passionate fans, he had his own rituals, and if he went to the kitchen to get something and his team scored, guess who was going to the kitchen every inning for the remainder of the game?
I like to err on the side of luck and don’t see any reason to stack the deck, so I won’t walk under a ladder without a REALLY GOOD REASON. Black cats don’t scare me, although a broken mirror might give me pause. Maybe I’m selective with my superstitions, and I realize that it’s all in my head, but why take the chance?
The Indians are down by two, so I’m going to the kitchen. Need anything while I’m there?
I’ve never been one for superstitions. Spill some salt? Clean it up. Open an umbrella inside? Why not? Walk under a ladder? Don’t mind if I do. Ritual, on the other hand, is another story.
In the early days of writing Protocol, I created a rite for writing: wearing headphones. Not headphones to listen to music or tune into podcasts. Just…headphones. Donning those glorified earmuffs helped me shut out the outside world and concentrate on the universe of my characters. It also helped me listen to my own voice, something I tend to lose since I write in my clients’ voices on the daily as an advertising copywriter.
Strange? Uh huh. Alarming? Definitely for anyone who witnessed me wearing headphones with the cord plugged into nothing. But it seemed to work when I needed it.
Now I find myself leaning less on ritual and instead trusting that I’ll find my voice and remember that the path to The End is paved with hard work, relentless reading, copious amounts of caffeine and the friendship of other authors, like my fellow Agatha nominees. But I’m keeping the headphones handy, just in case.
A retired police captain, Micki Browning writes the Mer Cavallo Mystery series set in the Florida Keys. In addition to the Agatha nomination for Best First Novel, Adrift, has won both the Daphne du Maurier and the Royal Palm Literary Awards. Beached, her second novel, launched January 2018. Micki’s work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. She lives in South Florida with her partner in crime and a vast array of scuba equipment she uses for “research.” Learn more about Micki at MickiBrowning.com.
V.M. (Valerie) Burns was born in Northwestern Indiana and spent many years in Southwestern Michigan on the Lake Michigan shoreline. She is a lover of dogs, British historic cozies, and scones with clotted cream. After many years in the Midwest she went in search of milder winters and currently lives in Eastern Tennessee with her poodles. Receiving the Agatha nomination for Best First Novel has been a dream come true. Valerie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. Readers can learn more by visiting her website at vmburns.com.
Kellye Garrett writes the Detective by Day mysteries about a semi-famous, mega-broke black actress who takes on the deadliest role of her life; Homicide Detective. The first, Hollywood Homicide, was recently nominated for Agatha, Lefty and Barry awards. The second, Hollywood Ending, will be released on August 8, 2018 from Midnight Ink. Prior to writing novels, Kellye spent eight years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for the TV drama Cold Case. The New Jersey native now works for a leading media company in New York City and serves on the national Board of Directors for Sisters in Crime. You can learn more about her at KellyeGarrett.com and ChicksontheCase.com.
Laura Oles is a photo industry journalist who spent twenty years covering tech and trends before turning to crime fiction. She served as a columnist for numerous photography magazines and publications. Laura’s short stories have appeared in several anthologies, including MURDER ON WHEELS, which won the Silver Falchion Award in 2016. Her debut mystery, DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN, is a Claymore Award Finalist and an Agatha nominee for Best First Novel. She is also a Writers’ League of Texas Award Finalist. Laura is a member of Austin Mystery Writers, Sisters in Crime and Writers’ League of Texas. Laura lives on the edge of the Texas Hill Country with her husband, daughter and twin sons. Visit her online at lauraoles.com.
Kathleen Valenti is the author of the Maggie O’Malley mystery series. The series’ first book, Agatha- and Lefty-nominated Protocol, introduces us to Maggie, a pharmaceutical researcher with a new job, a used phone and a deadly problem. The series’ second book, 39 Winks, releases May 22. When Kathleen isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning advertising copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running. Learn more at www.kathleenvalenti.com.
Readers: Are you superstitious? Do you have a superstition that you can’t get over?