Welcome Agatha Award Best First Novel Nominees — Superstitions

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!

Micki Browning, author of Adrift: A Mer Cavallo Mystery

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.

V.M. Burns, author of The Plot is Murder: Mystery Bookshop Mystery Series     

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.

Kellye Garrett, author of Hollywood Homicide, a Detective by Day Mystery

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.

Laura Oles, author of Daughters of Bad Men

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?

Kathleen Valenti, author of Protocol: A Maggie O’Malley Mystery

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.

BIOS

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?

 

Welcome Guest V. M. Burns

Allison Herndon  is the winner of The Plot is Murder! Send your email to SherryHarrisauthor@gmail.com

Thank you to the Wicked Cozy Authors and Sherry Harris for inviting me to guest blog today. I’m pleased to give away a copy of my debut novel, THE PLOT IS MURDER to one person who leaves a comment (U.S. ONLY).

Here’s a little bit about the book: Samantha Washington has dreamed of owning her own mystery bookstore for as long as she can remember. And as she prepares for the store’s grand opening, she’s also realizing another dream—penning a cozy mystery set in England between the wars. While Samantha hires employees and fills the shelves with the latest mysteries, quick-witted Lady Penelope Marsh, long-overshadowed by her beautiful sister Daphne, refuses to lose the besotted Victor Carlston to her sibling’s charms. When one of Daphne’s suitors is murdered in a maze, Penelope steps in to solve the labyrinthine puzzle and win Victor.

But as Samantha indulges her imagination, the unimaginable happens in real life. A shady realtor turns up dead in her backyard, and the police suspect her—after all, the owner of a mystery bookstore might know a thing or two about murder. Aided by her feisty grandmother and an enthusiastic ensemble of colorful retirees, Samantha is determined to close the case before she opens her store. But will she live to conclude her own story when the killer has a revised ending in mind for her?

As an avid cozy mystery reader, I like to think I’m pretty knowledgeable about mysteries and cozy mysteries in particular. Now that I’m also a cozy mystery author as well as a reader, I feel an even closer bond to all things cozy. I belong to a lot of Facebook groups which read, discuss and promote mysteries. Recently, someone posted a question to one of those groups about research which has stuck with me. The poster mentioned traditional mystery writers were known to participate in police ride-a-longs and attend conferences to gain authentic details as research for their books. The question was what types of research techniques do cozy authors use for research?

The question of research most likely stems from the nature of cozies. Unlike hard-boiled P.I. books or police procedurals, cozy mysteries feature an amateur sleuth. The protagonist could be anyone from an elderly village spinster, as in Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, to a busy housewife and single parent like Jill Churchill’s Jane Jeffrey mysteries, or even a baker like Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swenson mysteries. The reader doesn’t expect an amateur sleuth to be knowledgeable about forensics, ballistics, or police procedures. In fact, one major appeal of cozies is the innocence (or sometimes ignorance) of the amateur sleuth who stumbles into precarious situations and yet still manages to find a way to put the pieces of the puzzle together to figure out whodunit. Just because an amateur sleuth doesn’t need to know the difference between the various types of guns or bullets doesn’t mean research isn’t important. In fact, accuracy and research are as important for cozy authors as in any other type of mystery; however the difference is the type of research.

One of the common elements of cozy mysteries is themes. There are cozy mysteries with dogs, cats, culinary cozies with recipes, wine lovers, tea lovers, knitting, and practically any other type of theme you can imagine. As a dog lover, I often flock to cozies featuring dogs and include them in my own series. While I own poodles and know quite a lot about them, I am in no way an expert. I find myself researching information about poodles to make sure I have my facts correct. One of my favorite types of cozies is British historical (or any type of historical). Reading and writing historical mysteries requires a great amount of research (I once spent hours trying to find out where Scotland Yard was located in 1938). In the end, I asked myself does it really matter to the story and moved on. For me personally, I have been blessed to meet several former police officers who graciously allow me to pick their brains and bounce ideas around.

They say the devil is in the details. That holds true not only when writing about blood splatter and bullet striations, but in making sure readers feel a part of the protagonist’s world. In my book, THE PLOT IS MURDER, there is a story within a story. So, I need to make readers see the beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline of Southwestern Michigan as well as the manor house charm of 1938 England. Between the internet, reference books, and my police friends, I strive to provide enough authentic details that will help the reader stay in the story until the big reveal.

In the twenty-first century, readers have access to a seemingly infinite amount of data along with countless social media outlets. Now, more than ever, it’s important for authors to utilize a variety of research methods to insure accuracy. Regardless of the type of mystery, details matter.

Readers: What kind of research have you done?

Social Media:

Website: http://www.vmburns.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vmburnsbooks/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/vmburns

About V.M. Burns

V.M. Burns was born and raised in northwestern Indiana. She has a degree in Political Science and Urban Studies from Northwestern University, a Master of Science in Administration from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. By day, she is a training supervisor at a call center, and at night she writes cozy mysteries. After spending most of her life in the Midwestern United States, she is now thawing out in eastern Tennessee with her two poodles.