Edith here, writing from Cape Cod, and delighted to welcome Agatha nominee V.M. Burns back to the blog! She’ll give away a copy of her newest mystery, The Read Herring Hunt, to one lucky commenter here today, too. Here’s the book blurb:
To the town of North Harbor, Michigan, MISU quarterback Dawson Alexander is a local hero. To Samantha Washington, owner of the Market Street Mysteries Bookstore, Dawson is more than a tenant—he’s like an adopted son. But to the police, he is their prime suspect after his ex-girlfriend is found murdered. It’s more than enough real-life drama for Sam to tackle, but her role as a mystery writer also calls. While Sam’s lawyer sister Jenna rushes in to build Dawson’s defense, Sam and her lively grandmother, Nana Jo, huddle up to solve the mystery and blow the whistle on the real killer. With the tenacious members of the Sleuthing Senior Book Club eager to come off the sidelines, Sam and her team just might stop a killer from completing another deadly play .
Writing What You Know
Most writers have heard the old adage, “write what you know.” It’s a good principle. If you’re writing about something you know the story will sound authentic and hopefully the passion and sincerity will ring through to the reader. That probably explains why many mystery writers are former police officers or lawyers. Thankfully, few are actual murderers. So, is it possible to write about murder without actually committing one or joining the police force?
When I was working on my MFA at Seton Hill University, the Director of the Writing Popular Fiction program asked the question, what does it mean to Write What You Know? I pondered that question a lot. I wanted to write cozy mysteries, but the only thing I knew about murder I learned from reading books by Agatha Christie, Victoria Thompson, Rex Stout and Sue Grafton and watching Murder, She Wrote and Colombo on television.
During that residency, I took stock of myself. What did I know? My first job was working for an organization where I met a lot of vibrant, active, and entertaining seniors. I lived with my two toy poodles, Coco and Cash in a small town on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The town had a quaint downtown area with cobblestone streets and brownstone buildings turned into shops. I often walked those streets and dreamed of owning one which I would turn into a mystery bookshop, a place where I could feed my cozy mystery addiction. I wanted a bookstore that would not just have one or two bookshelves dedicated to the latest mystery, but a place that would specialize in nothing but mysteries where I could find older series along with newer ones. That’s what I knew, but how to connect that to writing murder mysteries?
Every murder mystery has a victim, a sleuth and a villain, but what makes the mystery interesting are the details the author weaves around the characters which brings the story to life. Whenever I read Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express or Murder in Mesopotamia, the details ring true because Agatha Christie visited the Middle East and described the country in wonderful detail. She was married to an archeologist (Max Mallowan) whom she met on the Orient Express.
Even without direct knowledge about a topic, the Internet makes it possible to become knowledgeable about practically any subject. I have always been interested in England and World War II. Thanks to The History Channel, Google, and tons of books, I was able to incorporate a great deal of the knowledge I’ve obtained into my Mystery Bookshop Mystery series. Just like me, my protagonist, Samantha Washington, owns two chocolate toy poodles. She dreamed of owning a mystery bookstore and write British historic cozies set at the start of World War II. Her sidekick and sleuthing partners are her grandmother, Nana Jo and a group of fun-loving seniors.
Writing what you know has created a broad range of cozy mysteries which include everything from culinary cozies, knitting cozies, to winemaking cozies. The use of an amateur sleuth allows the writer to get around needing extensive knowledge of police procedures. An amateur sleuth is bound by no rules and can pretty much do whatever he or she wants (within the realm of believability). It also enables writers to combine their love of murder mysteries with their other passions without having to become a policeman or commit murder. All in all, I’d say it’s a good marriage.
Readers: What’s your favorite themed cozy (eg dogs, knitting, recipes)? What theme/concept would you love to see included in a cozy series? Remember, VM is giving away a copy of the new book to one of you!
V.M. 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. Her debut novel, The Plot is Murder was nominated for a 2017 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. 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.