A Wicked Welcome to the Agatha Best First Nominees

By Julie, waiting for spring to come to Somerville

AGATHA FIRST BLOG TOURDear readers, you have all been on my publishing journey with me, capped off by the publication of Just Killing Time last October. I was thrilled when it was nominated for a Best First Novel Agatha Award. Icing on the cake–getting to know the other four nominees. Ellen Byron, Tessa Arlen, Art Taylor, Cindy Brown and I have been doing a blog tour, talking about our books, and our paths to publication. For each blog visit we are answering different questions.

Here are the questions of the day:

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?

ByronELLEN BYRON: I’m a playwright who turned to writing for television to Byron Bookmake a living. But during a few months of downtime, a friend started a writers’ group and I thought I’d try writing fiction. I’ve always loved mysteries, but didn’t know if I had the chops to write one. So I decided to challenge myself and just do it!  The first book I wrote was called Reality Checked (now known as You Can Never Be Too Thin or Too Dead). I discovered the Malice-Domestic Convention through a Google search, applied for a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant and won one in 2013. YAY! It took nine months to find a book agent. Boo. But he loved the book and sent it out. YAY! And it has yet to sell. Boo. But… while I was waiting for that possible sale, I wrote a second book, Plantation Shudders, and that sold in a two (now four) book deal to Crooked Lane Books. So… DOUBLE YAY! From the beginning of that writers group to selling Plantation Shudders took about three years, and it launched nine months later. And I’ve been saying YAY! ever since.

ArlenTESSA ARLEN: I have always enjoyed writing but I had never written a book before Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman. When I finished a Arlen bookmammoth first draft (145,000 words!) in 2009 I read up a bit about plot and structure and then set to work in earnest. After about a year and a half I had what I thought might be a worthwhile book.  It was my husband who suggested I find an agent and this took me about eight months or so. In my ignorance I went with the wrong one! She was awful –she would get on the phone and talk for hours but we never seemed to get anywhere and after several months I realized I had a real dud on my hands. And then my wonderful agent Kevan Lyon contacted me and said had just read my manuscript, loved it and that she would like to represent me. Within five weeks she had negotiated a two book (now four book) deal with Thomas Dunne/Minotaur and DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN was published in January 2015.   Now here we are up for an Agatha award. Believe me NO ONE is more staggered by all of this than me!

"Art Taylor"

ART TAYLOR: Looking back over my short story output, I think that I have more failed projects that successful ones—story ideas that Taylor Bookdidn’t pan out, projects that never fully cohered, or even finished, polished manuscripts that simply couldn’t find the right home—and that’s the case with the novel manuscripts I’ve had as well; there are at least four of them in one form or another in file cabinets or filed away in one place or another on my computer. With On The Road With Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, the process was very much a different one, since I’d never actually thought of it as a novel when I first started writing it; Del and Louise were originally characters in a short, standalone adventure, and it was only over some time—several years—that I began to see that story and other tales as part of a longer and more complex narrative arc, one tied together by the two characters’ search for who they are, what they mean to one another, and where they might find a place to call their own, both a physical space and an emotional one. A couple of the individual stories found their own home at Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine before the good folks at Henery Press became interested in the longer novel project, so that road to publication had a couple of welcome stops en route to the book’s final destination.

HolmesJULIANNE HOLMES: Not even close! I have been thinking a lot about my journey, especially given all that is going on. It was about fifteen years agoHolmes Book that I said aloud “I want to write a mystery novel.” The first thing I had to do was figure out how to write a book. And then I wrote one, which is in a drawer and will never see the light of day. Then I wrote another one, about an ex-cop who runs a theater. That book taught me how to edit. I’d love to see that book in print at some point. I noodled with other ideas, and then this series came into my life. Fifteen years is a long time to hold on to a dream, but it is so worth it!

BrownCINDY BROWN: Like Ellen, I wrote plays before fiction. But then Ivy Meadows came knocking on my mind’s door. A sassy, slightly silly Brown bookactress and part-time PI, Ivy didn’t fit into a play, so I decided to write a novel. I’d been reading mysteries since grade school, was writing professionally (mostly as a copywriter and scriptwriter back then) and had written twenty or so plays and screenplays—how hard could it be? Riiiiight. My first attempts were pitiful. As a playwright, my sense of dialogue was good, but I kept forgetting things like, oh, setting and description. So I took classes and workshops and worked in writers groups and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. I even took the book apart and started over. Twice. The second time was at the bequest of Kendel Lynn from Henery Press, who helped me fix a fatal flaw (mystery pun intended) and whip the book into readable shape. It’s difficult to say how long it took me to write Macdeath, because I put it aside several times—twice to write non-fiction books for ghostwriting clients, and once to work on The Sound of Murder when I thought Macdeath might not sell. I’m soooo happy it did—I love my characters like they’re my friends.

Here are some of the other stops on our blog tour:

23 Thoughts

  1. Welcome, ladies and gent! I will confess I haven’t read any of your books except Julie’s – and clearly need to remedy that situation forthwith. I love that two of you were screen/scriptwriters. So interesting – an area I have no familiarity with. I’m so glad you all held onto your dreams and made them happen.

  2. I love all of these stories because it shows there are many paths, but in the end there is only one and that’s your own. What comes through in all of them is the tenacity and hard work it takes to write a book and get it published. I am really looking forward to meeting those of you I haven’t met yet at Malice and having some fun with those of you I do. Congratulations to you all!

  3. I hit post too fast. I have read two of these books and will be working on the rest.

  4. What a great interview! I’m happy to call you all friends too! I loved reading more about your writing journeys and can’t wait to see you all at Malice!

  5. Thanks so much for hosting us today! This has become such a fun and tight-knit group already. Look forward to seeing everyone at Malice. Two weeks—yikes!!!

  6. Thank you for sharing the problems you all had to surmount to get here today. Thank you for writing.

  7. I’m so glad all of you persevered. There are some wonderful books in the first novel category this year. Congrats to you all on your well earned nominations.

  8. Thank you all so much. I keep saying ad nauseum what a warm and welcoming community the mystery world is. But coming from television, which can be so brutal, I swear, there are days when I want to burst in tears because I’m overwhelmed by how kind and supportive mystery writers AND readers are. Can’t wait to see those of you who will be at Malice – and meet the rest of you someday. I adore New England, BTW. I grew up in NY and most of our vacations were spent in NE. There are photos of my in the stocks at pretty much every New England historical site!

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