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.

67 Thoughts

  1. Congratulations on your debut, and best of luck with the book. It sounds delicious. Having recently become addicted to Downton Abbey (I know-late to the party) I am looking forward to reading The Plot is Murder for the contemporary and historic settings.

  2. What a wonderful plot set in a mystery book store! Who wouldn’t love to have a mystery book store in their community! Congratulations on your publication.

  3. SO many people want me to Google SO many things (or look them up on Youtube) that I just want to scream. Currently, I have 7390 emails and a dozen past-due ARCs waiting while I seek recruits to staff the shelter. MAYBE I will get to your enticing book sometime within the decade (sooner if I can get it free).

  4. Your book looks delightful! I do research on 19th century England for my day job, which is the best excuse ever for getting lost in Google Books!

  5. Welcome, Valerie and congratulations on your Agatha nomination! I love your idea of a book within a book. I had a great time when I attended the Fairfax County Police Academy.

    1. Thank you so much, Sherry. I loved the Writers Police Academy workshop. It was so useful and full of practical information. I can’t wait to go again. Hope to see you at Malice.

    1. Thank you so much! I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Read Herring Hunt, book 2 releases on April 24th. So, its just around the corner.

  6. Welcome to the blog! I think you need to add a certain nomination to your bio. ;^)

    I certainly know about historical research – so much to to discover!

    1. Edith, thank you so much. I’m beyond ecstatic to have been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. It’s great to be included with so many amazing authors (including you). You’re right, I do need to update my bio. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. THE PLOT IS MURDER sounds absolutely amazing! How can you not love a book that has a mystery book store in it? Not me! I’d love to read more about Samantha and Penelope and their amateur sleuthing.

    I think that the reason I love cozy mysteries is the fact that someone untrained can gather clues and solve the mystery. Their showing they are amateur along the way making mistakes that sometimes put them in dangerous positions makes it all the more exciting. I do appreciate the research the author has done to make it realistic and factual in details. Otherwise it would lose that believability that readers expect in a good book.

    I’ve done all sorts of research myself from tracing the family tree to just about anything that interest me. Hubby and I love clowns, Emmett Kelly Sr. and Jr. in particular, so when we found out there was section of a cemetery within a few hundred miles of us dedicated to circus workers and performers we had to go see it. After going and taking lots of photos, I ended up spending hours upon hours on the computer researching to find out who those buried there were and how their lives were weaved into the circus world. It was amazing! The research made the whole experience even more vivid and fun. Thus, accurate research that is applied into author’s writings make the books we read definitely fun to read and add to the experience.

    Thanks for the chance to win a copy of THE PLOT IS MURDER. <3
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. What an amazing story. Researching is a lot like sleuthing and it sounds like you’ve gained a ton of experience as you’ve researched your family tree and background information at the circus worker cemetery. Best of luck with your research and also in the drawing.

  8. What kind of research have I done? Dissertation research on Shakespeare. Then more on modern ethnic literature to develop college courses. Yours sounds like fun.

    1. Thanks. I’m a big Shakespeare fan, and could easily fall down a research hole on him and his plays. However, your research is more scholarly and probably doesn’t include many dead bodies. Thanks for commenting and good luck!

  9. Congratulations on the debut! I’m working on a historical right now and spending oodles of time in research: maps, streets, when certain buildings were built, what kind of slang was in use in 1942. It’s exhausting – but exciting at the same time.

    1. Thank you. Your historical sounds like a lot of fun to me. I wish you well with the research and the manuscript. Thanks again.

  10. Congratulations, V.M., on the publication of your book. All of your hard work is finally paying off. Lots of people think that cozy mysteries are a lot of fluff, but they don’t realize how much work actually goes into writing one.

    1. Thank you Grace. There is a great deal of work involved in writing books of all types. I like to believe it takes a lot of skill to make anything look easy. Good luck!

  11. I research things to death. Whenever I become interested in something I start googling. Not long ago I saw a sand cat at the zoo. I’d never heard of this domestic-looking little cat that lived in the desert sand, so I started researching it. I love being able to do that so easily today.

    Congratulations on the new release. I’ve been seeing The Plot is Murder all around. It’s on my tbr. list. ( :

    1. Thank you so much. I love the ease that we can research and find out about practically any topic. I am so thankful for the modern technology which makes this possible. I’ve never heard of sand cats, but now I’m curious. I’ll take a small detour. Thank you so much for the comments and well wishes. Good luck in the giveaway.

  12. I always say that the best part of writing culinary cozies is the research, and by research, I mean eat. 🙂

    Congrats to a sister Domer on the debut and the Agatha nomination! (I’m NDL ’84)

  13. I research the backstory details of any television show I’m interested in, or the career of a favorite actor or actress. I love being able to just look something up if I’m curious about it. Congratulations on the new series and thank you for the giveaway!

    1. Thanks Autumn. I love being able to ask Siri or Google whatever I’m curious about too. It’s really broadened my mind a great deal. Thanks so much for the comments and good luck in the giveaway!

  14. I love the set up for your story: a historical murder mystery within a contemporary cozy. I read historical novels as well, so this sounds like something right up my alley. AND it has a bookstore! What’s not to like? The last serious research I did was for my thesis on18th century indigo resist-printed fabrics. I’m constantly googling facts about TV shows I’m watching-I adore costume dramas. This book sounds like fun!

    1. Thank you so much Mary Beth. I love bookstores so there had to be one in my book (bookstores and poodles). 18th century indigo resist-printed fabrics sounds like an interesting topic. Who knows, it might just make it’s way into a mystery. Thanks for sharing and good luck in the giveaway.

    1. Thank you Barbara. I’m glad to be here. This is such a great group. I’m really excited to finally have my book out and appreciate all the great support I’ve received. Thanks so much for the invite.

  15. Was so happy to read about your book! I added it to my list and after reading I will review on 2 sites. Congrats.

  16. Congratulations on your debut novel and on your nomination for an Agatha Award! I wish you much success.

    I enjoy researching just about everything. I can spend many happy hours lost in learning. Researching my family tree led to meeting some incredible people. Plus I learned a lot about history. For example, a great, great uncle fought in the Spanish American war. Reading about his adventures made the war memorable instead of just an abstract history lesson.

    1. Thank you Melinda. The Agatha Award nomination has to be the most amazing thing to ever happen to me. I’m absolutely thrilled. It’s also nice to meet a fellow research lover. I have not researched my family tree, but I can see how having a connection to someone involved in history can make it much more real and memorable. Thanks again and good luck in the giveaway!

  17. I don’t tend to do much research these days. Does that make me lazy, a know-it-all, or just someone with other interests? We’ll go with the last one. 🙂

    I’ve bought your book already, and I’m looking forward to reading it. Please don’t enter me in the giveaway.

    1. Research isn’t required, although I suspect most people do it without thinking about it (eg Ask Siri or Google). However, its also great to be well-rounded and having other interests is a good thing. Thank you so much for the support and I hope you enjoy the book.

  18. I’m not sure I’d have the patience to do a lot of research—maybe that’s why I’m a reader rather than a writer. Congratulations on your book debut–if the writing is as good as the cover it will be the start of a very successful new series.

    1. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about research requiring patience, but I think you’re right. Fortunately, I enjoy it so it doesn’t seem like work, although I can understand its not for everyone. I am glad that you like the covers. I hope the writing lives up to them. I have been fortunate to have a wonderful illustrator who has created some amazing cover designs which I’ve loved. Thanks for commenting and good luck with the giveaway.

  19. Congrats on the new book and the nomination. I love using Goodsearch while traveling. When I see something along the road or a sign for something unfamiliar, I look it up as soon as I can safely stop. I like learning about everything!

    1. Thank you so much. I thought having my book published was the most amazing thing that ever happened until I was nominated for the Agatha Award. It is a tremendous honor and I’m thrilled. Nice to meet someone else who loves research. I’m not familiar with Goodsearch, but I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the tip and good luck with the giveaway.

  20. Can’t wait to read Samantha’s (& her grandmother’s & the other retirees’) adventures! I’ll research random items that are mentioned in books. Recently a character mentioned feeding chickens & I ended up researching the care of backyard chickens. And I don’t own any nor do I plan to own any chickens.

    1. I can totally understand how easy it is to fall down a research hole. I once spent hours researching poets because the author included lines from their favorite poets in a book. It was time well spent. Thank you so much for commenting and I hope you enjoy Samantha, Nana Jo and “the girls” adventures. Good luck in the giveaway!

  21. Congratulations for your new series. I’ve always thought research was anytime you read any book. You always learn something new from each one. Thanks for the giveaway.

    1. Thank you so much. I agree, I definitely learn new things every time I read a book (fiction or nonfiction). Thank you and good luck in the giveaway.

  22. Your book looks adorable! I’m always looking up something on Google. And I have to say, the internet makes researching things so much easier than it used to be.

    1. Thank you for the kinds words. I totally agree that Google and the Internet make research easy. I am very thankful to live in a time where there is so much information at my fingertips. Thanks again and good luck in the giveaway.

  23. I have to admit that I don’t really do mystery research. I like the fiction in cozy mysteries and don’t mind a little added flair or fudge here and there. It’s a story after-all…not an encyclopedia. It doesn’t have to be 100% accurate for me.

    1. Thanks for the comments Amanda. You’re right and ultimately, its fiction and everything shouldn’t have to be 100% accurate. I wish all readers were as forgiving. Nice to meet someone who is willing to accept a little “flair.” Thank you for sharing and good luck with the giveaway.

  24. Wow – a book within a book! That’s courageous of you! Is that your plan for each book in this series? I love a new cozy theme.

    1. Thanks Korina. Each book in this series will include a book-within-a-book. I don’t know if I’d consider myself courageous or crazy (I think it depends on the day of the week). Fortunately, I love the characters and I’m very anxious to see where they take me. I hope you enjoy the series and good luck with the giveaway.

  25. The book within the book sounds as good as the main story. Just a reader so only research books and TV shows that I like.

    1. Thank you Sally. Without readers we wouldn’t need writers. So, I appreciate you. Thanks for commenting and best of luck with the giveaway.

  26. Going to check this out of the library when it’s available. I think my mother and I will both like it. Good luck!

    1. Thank you Allison. I hope you are able to find the book at your local library. I also hope both you and your mother enjoy it. Good luck with the giveaway.

  27. Thanks so much for visiting the Wickeds today! And super congratulations on your Agatha nomination! I love the topic of research too! Research is one of my favorite parts of the job! You never know just where it will take you. For my second Beryl and Edwin mystery I ended up doing quite a bit of research on pigeon racing. It was unexpected but it ended up being an important part of the plot! Such fun!

    1. Thank you so much for inviting me. It’s been a ton of fun spending time with the Wickeds today. I’ve loved meeting your amazing readers. You are so right about never knowing where research will take you, which makes the journey so much fun. Best job ever! Thank you again.

  28. I love it when an author knows a region well or has done good research to make things realistic. My main experience w/ research was in college–I didn’t take business stat, but psych stat, and I loved being able to learn to evaluate statistics properly. Same thing w/ a logic class I took. I was a nursing major, though, and also took nursing research. One reason I liked my psych classes was all of the statistics. I was only able to be an RN for a few yrs before I was diagnosed w/ MS and I’ve since been in a research study regarding intellectual decline. I also take a lot of surveys to earn gift cards and sometimes cash, and I enjoy that. legallyblonde1961@yahoo.com

    1. Thanks. Your research experience sounds fascinating, especially the logic and RN classes. That information would come in handy when writing mysteries. Thanks for commenting and good luck with the giveaway.

  29. What a great post. As a reader and retired librarian, I love reading how authors research and pull their craft together. I loved The Plot is Murder and I love this blog. I think I am going to start a V. M. Burns Fan Club. I can’t wait to meet you at Malice in April.

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