Go West, Young Woman — Guest Annette Dashofy

nowayhome-cover-front-sm-518x800I met Annette when we were both nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. One might think we’d be bitter rivals but instead became good friends (along with all the other nominees). We welcome Annette back to talk about her fifth book in the Zoe Chambers mystery series!

I grew up with a steady diet of westerns. My dad and I watched them all. Bonanza, The Virginian, Gunsmoke, Big Valley. Later I fell in love with Alias Smith and Jones. Much of my reading material was authored by Zane Grey. My cousin and I used to play cowboys on our horses. In my vivid imagination, our farm buildings were livery stables, saloons, hotels, and the sheriff’s office. The green valleys of Pennsylvania became the rocky canyons of Wyoming in our world.

annettehorseI never lost that love of the Old West. The TV shows faded into obscurity, and I’d almost forgotten them until one day I turned on a retro television network and spotted Hannibal Heyes. The next week, I randomly tuned into the same station and re-discovered Trampas. That long dormant passion flamed back to life.

However, in spite of my romance with the mountains and deserts of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico, the farthest west I’d ever been was eastern Indiana.

At some point, I decided, dadgum it, I was going out there. Call it the top of my bucket list or whatever, but it became my mission in life. And it finally happened.

That trip in the summer of 2013 was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime dream vacation. Not only was I going out West, I was going to finally meet several friends I’d known online but never face-to-face.

In his best “let me get this right” voice, my darling husband said, “We’re going to fly to Colorado and stay with someone you don’t know?”

I said, “I know her.”

Hubby is something of Luddite and distrusts the internet. Distrusted it even more back then. “But you’ve never met her.”

I shrugged.

He went on, “And then we’re going to drive for hours to stay with someone else you don’t know???”

I didn’t see the point in arguing with him.

But that’s exactly what we did. We flew in to the Colorado Springs Airport and jumped into a vehicle with my longtime critique buddy Donnell Bell and her husband, Les. It felt more gardenridelike a wonderful reunion than a first-time meeting.

Almost a week later, we bid a tearful goodbye, and Hubby and I loaded our gear into a rental SUV for a long drive southwest to Aztec, New Mexico, where we “met” my dear friend Leta Burns. There was much schoolgirlish squealing and hugging. Hubby stood back, certain we were all insane. But at least he was finally convinced that my online friends were neither imaginary, nor ax murderers luring hapless victims from across the country with promises of horseback rides and ghost towns.

Anyhow, besides meeting old/new friends, the trip was amazing. I remember looking out of the window of the airplane as it came in for our Colorado landing and crying at my first sight of real mountains. I exclaimed, “Wow!” at every new vista. That drive from Colorado Springs to Aztec took us from snow capped peaks to flat prairies to mesas. We drove through Wolf Creek Pass.

Wow.

After our visit in Aztec, Leta, Hubby, and I drove south nine hours through even more diverse scenery to Silver City. We saw a gazillion prairie dogs and a few elk.

garden-of-the-gods-trail-ride-001-800x612On that once-in-a-lifetime trip, I rode a horse through the Garden of the Gods, I shopped the streets of Durango and ate at the haunted Strater Hotel. We wandered through a ghost town and toured the cabin where Billy the Kid lived…at least in the movie The Missing.

And oh so much more.

What I didn’t realize until I returned to the green rolling hills of Pennsylvania was that the once-in-a-lifetime trip wasn’t once in a lifetime. Like the lyrics from one of my favorite songs, I’d come home to a place I’d never been before. And those online friends had become family. I’ve been back every year.

I also didn’t realize right away that a seed of a story had been sewn. Heck, at that time, Circle of Influence didn’t yet have a publisher. I didn’t know there would be a Zoe Chambers mystery series.

But there is, and by the second book in it, I knew at some point, Zoe would be taking a trip to New Mexico. My exclamations of “Wow!” would come from her lips as well. A Pennsylvania fish out of water in the badlands of the four corners.

No Way Home is the fifth in that series and it does indeed take Zoe someplace she’s never been before.

dashofy-1559-534x800Annette 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 was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel of 2014 and BRIDGES BURNED was nominated for the 2015 Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel. NO WAY HOME, the fifth in the series, hits bookstores March 14.

Readers: Have you ever visited some place that unexpectedly felt like home?

 

 

 

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.