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.

108 Thoughts

  1. Congratulations to all of you! I love hearing about all these varied journeys, which all share a love of writing, the determination to complete a novel (or three!), and the willingness to hone your craft. I wish you all could win the Agatha. ;^)

    1. That would be great, wouldn’t it, Edith? I do know the competition is stiff this year. It’s truly an honor just to share the stage with these terrific authors.

      1. Me, too, Edith! I loved answering Sherry’s questions and reflecting on the journey with everyone. And I always love visiting the Wicked Cozy Authors!

    2. I want to agree with the other replies. I’m in the middle of reading two of the other nominees right now, with the other two to follow. I am honored to be included with such great work!

  2. Kudos to you all for following your dream! The nominations are great recognition on their own. The winner will get to enjoy the frosting on the cake. How very nice to see competitors chatting collaboratively thanks to Sherry Harris’s invitation.

    1. That has been one of the nicest things, Michele–the supportive relationships among the authors. Sherry’s invitation is a perfect example of that!

    2. It truly is nice to build connections with these lovely ladies. We’re all up for the same award, but writing isn’t a competition. In supporting each other we boost all of us!

  3. Hi Sherry, thanks for inviting us to hang out with the Wicked Cozy Authors. It is truly joyful to be nominated along with such a talented group of writers–you, Annette, Susan and Tracy. Go team!

  4. Congratulations to all of you. Five stories to keep me inspired to keep at it (yes, two keeps in a sentence – I blame the -2 degree temperatures outside that have frozen my fingers and my brain). It’s going to be hard to pick a winner, I’m sure.

    1. -2 degree temperatures would freeze my entire body! I have a small art piece next to my bed (where I do my best writing) and it has the word “perseverance” engraved in it. That has been my mantra all along.

  5. Years ago, I heard a writing teacher say a writing career depends a much on drive as talent. You ladies are perfect examples of that. Congratulations to you all! (And shout out to Terrie)

    1. And don’t downplay the value of luck. I know there are a lot of better writers than I still out looking for agents. Some of it is luck and timing.

  6. Thanks all of you for sharing. I always enjoy hearing about the roads people take to publication. The reminder of the hard work behind a first novel is inspiring.

    1. Thank you. I, too enjoy hearing about the different roads writers travel.

  7. Great group of writers! And how gracious of Sherry to host all of you here. This shows the true spirit and strength of the mystery writing community: support of and appreciation for your fellow authors.

    1. You are so right, Ramona! It’s always been a hand up for me from other writers and getting to know Annette, Terrie, and Tracy has been really interesting. I left Susan out of the “getting to know” group because we live fairly close to each other and have become friends and panel mates.

    2. So true, Ramona. The writing and reading community is wonderful, and Malice is a celebration of that. I liked Sherry the instant I met her, and I’m so thankful she included us in her blog!

    3. I agree, Ramona. The mystery writing community even rivals the yoga community for a spirit of helpfulness. And that’s saying something!

  8. Thanks for sharing how you landed where you are now, nominees for Best First Agatha. Thanks to your perseverance, we would not have enjoyed your stories.

    1. A great group of women! I get to meet Tracy at Left Coast Crime and look forward to meeting Annette and Terrie at Malice. I’m lucky to live not to far away from Susan!

  9. Congratulations to all of you! It’s always fun to see how other writers got started and where they’ve found support and inspiration. For a bunch of people who like to kill, mystery writers are some of the most supportive people I’ve ever met! And of course, we have the best fans. Teapots for all! (The Agatha Award, some of you may not know, is a teapot.)

    1. Thanks, Leslie! I agree! We mystery writers must take out all of our aggression in our stories, because mystery writers are the nicest people I know!

  10. Sherry, I just love how generous you were by inviting your “competitors” to talk about their books on Wicked. I’ve found mystery writers so kind and giving toward one another. I don’t know if you find that in other genres but, in the work world, you don’t see it much at all. Congratulations to everyone. No matter what–you’re all winners…and the books were great.

      1. Does anyone know someone who could do this? It wouldn’t have to be a huge deal. I’m about as artistic as a blind, one-armed gorilla….

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