Meet the Authors of the 2015 Agatha Best First Novel Nominees!

year at Malice Domestic, writing excellence is recognized by the Agatha awards.
This year’s nominees for Best First Novel are (in alphabetical order by first
On the Road with Del and Louise, Art Taylor
(Henery Press)
Macdeath, Cindy Brown (Henery Press)
Plantation Shudders, Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane Books)
Just Killing Time, Julianne Holmes (Berkley)
Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman, Tessa Arlen (Minotaur Books)

the Stiletto Gang welcomes Art Taylor, Cindy Brown, Ellen Byron, Julianne
Holmes, and Tessa Arlen. All are not only skilled and talented writers, but
also charming and caring people. Thanks, Art, Cindy, Ellen, Julianne, and Tessa,
for stopping by to share your work and thoughts with us!
—Paula Gail Benson

writing habits enabled you to complete a novel?
ART TAYLOR: I’m not a person who sets daily word quotas or
time quotas, but instead try to have staged goals for my writing: complete
such-and-such a scene this day, for example, or revise a specific chunk of
prose, or maybe just brainstorm how to fix a troubled turn of plot. Setting and
keeping such goals is easier during the summer when I’m not juggling the
demands of teaching: piles of reading and lesson prep in advance of each class,
piles of grading added to the burden. But I try to touch base as regularly as
possible with the project at hand; forward progress of any kind is better than
no progress, and regularity keeps my brain working on a project whether I’m actively
writing or not.
CINDY BROWN: I am dogged. Not good at sticking to a routine,
necessarily, but good about finishing what I begin. I do try to stick to
a routine and can sometimes manage it (I almost always work on my fiction first
thing in the morning), but typically instead I have to create little incentives
for myself, e.g. “No more coffee until you’ve finished this scene.” I am also
the wrold’s worst typisy (see?), which really slows me down. Luckily, I have
discovered that using voice dictation really helps when translating the mess
that is my first draft. As I speak the correct words into the computer, I also
get a chance to hear them out loud. Very helpful.
ELLEN BYRON: When you write for television like I do, there’s
no such thing as writer’s block. That’s also true for the magazine articles I’m
assigned. I have deadlines to meet. Not only that, since I hate having work
hang over me, my goal is to always beat a deadline. That one habit has
enabled me to complete three novels in the last three years. (One of which, sad
to say, is collecting e-dust in my computer.)
JULIANNE HOLMES: There is nothing like a deadline to get me
moving! I am a plotter, so I have scene cards with objectives lined up. I find
that really helpful when I try and grab time to write during the day, or in the
evening. I can catch myself up fairly easily. I also try and write every day,
but that doesn’t always happen. The other writing habits that help?
Accountability with others. I blog with the Wicked Cozy Authors, and we talk
one another through Book Jail, i.e. time at the computer when you are up
against a deadline. And Fritoes. Fritoes have magical writing powers.
TESSA ARLEN: I am a very energetic person, so I am happiest
when I am doing something. I write first thing in the morning, the moment after
I have taken the dog out, and had a cup of tea. I love winter, because it
doesn’t get light in the Northwest until about half past eight in the morning,
so there are no distractions. I sit down and write and don’t lift my head until
mid-day…and then I take a shower!
your debut novel part of a series or a stand alone?
ART TAYLOR: On the Road with Del & Louise is a
standalone novel. However, when I wrote the first story here (it’s a novel in
stories), I hadn’t planned for it even to become a book—and yet look
where it ended up. Never say never, I guess. And, in fact, the ending of the
book does leave open the possibility of returning to these characters again
some time.

CINDY BROWN: Macdeath is the first in the
Ivy Meadows series–madcap mysteries set in the off, off, off Broadway
world of theater. The Sound of Murder (Book 2) came out in October, and Oliver
(Book 3) will be out June 21st.
ELLEN BYRON: It’s the first in my Cajun Country Mysteries
series, brought to you by Crooked Lane Books! The second book in the series, Body
on the Bayou
, launches on September 13th. I now have a four-book deal for
the series, so look for future installs in the coming years.
JULIANNE HOLMES: Just Killing Time is the first in the
Clock Shop Mystery series by Berkley Prime Crime. Clock and Dagger comes
out in August, and I am working on Chime and Punishment (working title)
TESSA ARLEN: It is the first book in what Minotaur books call
the Lady Montfort series. The second book: Death Sits Down to Dinner will
be published March 29, this year. And I have just turned in Death by Any
Other Name
shoes would you, your protagonist, or another character from your novel wear to
the Agathas banquet?
ART TAYLOR: Footwear is an important decision come banquet
time—and sharp apparel generally. Two years ago, I wore brown-on-brown saddle
shoes, and last year was white bucks—with a seersucker suit! (I was told by one
friend I had rushed the season, but I count Easter and not Memorial Day as the
go-ahead to break out some spring/summer duds.) This year, I’m planning either
bucks again—classic tan this time—or a pair of olive-over-cream saddle shoes
that I always want to wear and that my wife always talks me out of it. (She
won’t be there this year, so maybe I’ll be daring.) As for Del and Louise:
comfort first, always—though Del is more of a loner and likely wouldn’t feel
comfortable anyway with the crowds and the socializing.
CINDY BROWN: I found a nice pair of black patent leather
flats. As a mostly-broke actress, Ivy would probably employ a costumer’s trick:
she’d find a pair of inexpensive vintage pumps, spray them silver, and hot glue
her grandma rhinestone earrings to them. T
rès chic (as long as you don’t look too closely)!
ELLEN BYRON: After many years spent in Skechers Go-Walks, I
made the mistake of wearing two-inch pumps to last year’s Agatha Awards
banquet. If you were there and saw a short brunette grimacing as she limped
around the place, that was me. So this year, I’ll be wearing black ankle boots
that have served me well at other conventions. You hardly notice them under my
palazzo pants, and they’re super comfy. By the way, my protagonist Magnolia
“Maggie” Crozat, also ranks comfort over style—unless she’s trying to turn up
the heat with the handsome and mysterious new detective in town, Bo Durand.
JULIANNE HOLMES: What a good question! Usually I go for
comfort over style, but this year I may need to step it up a bit. That said,
don’t expect to see me in heels. I’m already 5’ 10”, so I’ve never been
comfortable in heels. But I do like platforms.
TESSA ARLEN: Haha! At last
year’s Malice I turned my ankle on Thursday evening and spent the rest of the
night at the local hospital (there is one just up the road by the way -quite
handy). For the rest of the convention I hobbled around in a cast, wearing one
flat shoe on the other foot. My two sleuths would only wear shoes appropriate
to their station to a banquet. Mrs. Jackson is a housekeeper so she is on her
feet all day, but she is an elegant individual as are her black ankle boots
with all those nice shiny little boot buttons down the outside. Whereas,
Clementine Talbot the Countess of Montfort would have a pair of shoes—most
probably designed by Paul Poiret—for every evening dress with what we English
call a ‘lavatory pan’ heel and a pointy toe.
Thank you all for taking the time
to stop by the Stiletto Gang. Best wishes!
These Agatha Award finalists also
are answering questions at a number of mystery-themed blogs in the lead-up to
Malice Domestic. Find them next at
Criminal Minds on Friday, April 22; and at
Chicks on the Case on Monday, April 25!
Here’s some additional information about them:

Art Taylor is the author of On
the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories
. He has won two Agatha
Awards, the Anthony Award, the Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer
Awards for his short fiction, and a selection from On the Road with Del
& Louise
was chosen for the forthcoming Best American Mystery
anthology. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason
University, and he contributes frequently to the Washington Post, the Washington
Independent Review of Books
, and Mystery Scene Magazine.
Cindy Brown is a theater geek, mystery lover, and
award-winning writer who recently combined her passions to produce madcap
mysteries set in the off, off, off Broadway world of theater. Her books
star Ivy Meadows, actress and part-time PI, and are published by Henery
Press. They include Macdeath, The Sound of Murder (3rd place in
the 2013 international Words With Jam First Page Competition, judged by
Sue Grafton), and Oliver Twisted (coming June 2016). Check out
Cindy’s slightly silly look at mystery, writing, and drama at
Ellen Byron’s debut novel, Plantation Shudders, was
nominated for a Best Humorous Mystery Lefty Award, as well as being chosen by
the Library Journal as a Debut Mystery of the Month. Body on the Bayou,
the second in Ellen’s Cajun Country Mystery series, launches in September. Her
television credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me and Still Standing, as well as
pilots for most of the major networks; she’s written over 200 magazine
articles; her published plays include the award-winning Graceland and Asleep
on the Wind
. Ellen is a recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic
Grant for mystery writers.
Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mysteries for Berkley
Prime Crime. The first in the series, Just Killing Time, debuted in October.
Clock and Dagger comes out in August. As J.A. Hennrikus, she has short
stories in three Level Best anthologies, Thin Ice, Dead Calm and Blood
. She is on the board of Sisters in Crime, and Sisters in Crime New
England and is a member of MWA. She blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors. @JulieHennrikus
Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in
or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing,
Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. Tessa’s first novel is Death
of a Dishonorable Gentleman
. She lives with her family on an island in the
Puget Sound.
10 replies
  1. Art Taylor
    Art Taylor says:

    Thanks so much for hosting us today! So glad to be part of this–and just love hearing what all of the other finalists have to say to each of these questions!

  2. J.A. Hennrikus
    J.A. Hennrikus says:

    Thank you so much for hosting us today!! About to hit send on a Zappos order–you've got me rethinking my shoe choices!

  3. Kaye George
    Kaye George says:

    Oh dear! I haven't thought about shoes for Malice yet. I love that Art seems to have given this question the most thought. Maybe next year I'll consult him with plenty of lead time.

    Thanks, all, for the post!

  4. Terrie Farley Moran
    Terrie Farley Moran says:

    So terrific to read all about your writing habits and footwear. See you all very soon and congratulations!

  5. Paula Gail Benson
    Paula Gail Benson says:

    You guys are all so terrific! Thanks for including The Stiletto Gang in your blog tour. Can't wait to see those shoes!

  6. Cynthia Kuhn
    Cynthia Kuhn says:

    What a great interview! (Now I won't be able not to peek at your shoes at Malice!) Congrats, all.

Comments are closed.