Tag Archive for: Best First Novel

Interview with Agatha Nominees for Best First Novel!

Each year at Malice Domestic, writing
excellence is recognized by the Agatha awards. This year’s nominees for Best
First Novel are:
Best First Novel:
Adrift: A Mer Cavallo Mystery
by Micki Browning (
The Plot is Murder: A Mystery Bookshop
by V.M. Burns (
Hollywood Homicide: A Detective by Day Mystery by Kellye Garrett (Midnight Ink)
aughters of
Bad Men
by Laura Oles (Red Adept Publishing)
Protocol: A Maggie O’Malley Mystery
by Kathleen Valenti (Henery Press)
Today, the Stiletto Gang welcomes Micki, Valerie,
Kellye, Laura, and Kathleen. Thanks for stopping by to share your work and
thoughts with us!—Paula Gail Benson
writing habits enabled you to complete a novel?
Micki Browning
Micki Browning:  The word habit
suggests I have a routine, and sadly, that just isn’t the case. I’m a freestyle

who works

there is a looming
deadline. I’m a somewhat recent convert to outlining. I’ve found that plotting the milestones ensures I don’t get lost along
the way. But by keeping the outline spare, it doesn’t stifle
my ability to take the occasional road less traveled to
get to where I want to go
Valerie Burns:  I set a weekly goal
of writing between 7,500 to 10,000 words per week. If I write 1,000 to 1,500
per night, then I can easily make my goal.
Kellye Garrett
Kellye Garrett:  I wish was one of those writers
who got up at 5 am every morning and pounded out 1,000 amazing words before I
even had a dose of caffeine. I am not. My favorite quote is from Dorothy
Parker: “I hate writing. I love having written.” For me, I write after there is
literally nothing else for me to do. Like I will clean my toilet and yours
before I write a single word. For me, the key is having a detailed outline. I
may go a bit overboard. (My 25-plus page outlines are legendary among my
friends.) But the blank page scares me as much as a good horror movie villain.
So I like to know exactly what I need to write and what comes next. I also
allow myself to do a “vomit draft” where I just throw things on the page to
clean up in later drafts. My books aren’t anywhere near decent until around the
draft number three. 
Laura Oles:  I was fortunate in that I spent many years
writing for digital photography magazines and publications, so the writing
practice had been part of my regular routine.  I managed deadlines and
worked with editors, and I came from the perspective of writing being not only
craft but also a business. Still, writing fiction is completely different and I
had a great deal to learn.
My critique group, Austin Mystery Writers, has also been a huge
support.  AMW is truly focused on helping each member produce the best work
possible.  Writing can be such a solitary pursuit, so having other authors
to bounce ideas off of has been a wonderful thing.
Kathleen Valenti
Kathleen Valenti:  The single best
piece of writing advice came from a romance novelist in my hometown. When she
saw how much (little?) I had on the page after writing for longer than I care
to admit, she gave me some tough author love: stop
fannying about and write. (Okay, so maybe she
didn’t say “
fannying about,” but
sometimes my bookish memories have an English accent.)
She taught me about
the importance of word counts and to meet them daily, come hell or
marathons. Her advice
proved invaluable. Not only did making (and meeting) word count goals help me
move from page one to page 300, it helped me silence the internal editor that
kept me polishing the same phrase again and again without moving forward. This
habit of writing toward a goal helped me finish my second book ahead of its
deadline and have the confidence to realize that even when plots or characters
don’t seem to cooperate, I’ll get there, one word at a time. As other wise
novelists have pointed out, sometimes you have to let the rusty water out first
for the good stuff to run clean. 

Is your debut novel part of a series or a stand

Micki Browning:  Adrift is the first of the
Mer Cavallo Mysteries. Book two,
Beached, launched in January. I’m currently writing a stand-alone police
procedural, and then it’s back to Mer with
V.M. “Valerie” Burns
Valerie Burns:  My debut novel is
part of The Mystery Bookshop Mystery series.
Kellye Garrett:  It’s a series, which is a good
thing since
Hollywood Homicide ends on a bit of a cliff hanger. The second book, Hollywood Ending, comes out in August 2018
and features three of my favorite things: gossip blogs, blind items, and fancy
award shows. The third book will be out sometime in 2019.

Laura Oles

Laura Oles:  Daughters of
Bad Men
is the first book in the Jamie
Rush mystery series. Jamie Rush is a skip tracer working in the coastal town of
Port Alene, Texas.  Jamie and her partner, Cookie Hinojosa, take on the
emotional task of finding Jamie’s missing niece. Accepting Kristen’s case isn’t
an easy ask.  Jamie’s relationship with her family is a complicated
one.  She doesn’t trust them, and for very good reason. Still, when
Kristen goes silent, she agrees to take the case because…well, she’s
family.  You don’t turn your back on family.

Kathleen Valenti:  Protocol is the first of
the Maggie O’Malley mystery series. The second book,
39 Winks
, releases May 22nd.
What shoes would you,
your protagonist, or another character from your novel wear to the
Micki Browning:  Mer is a flip-flop
and bare feet kind of gal.
She’d dig around in the back of her closet until she located the
pumps she’d worn when she defended
her dissertation–black, no nonsense, perfectly
serviceable. And she’d kick them off under the
banquet table when no one was looking.

Valerie Burns:  Irma, one of the
sleuthing seniors who
helps Samantha in the series is very fond of six
inch hooker heels. She’d rock these shoes.
Kellye Garrett:
In Hollywood Homicide, my main character Dayna covets a pair of Pink Panthers,
described as
“a hot pink stiletto with panther spots that was the shoe of the
moment.” She wears them the entire book, including when chasing a suspect. They
a big role in the story
that we even had her wearing them in an early
version of the cover. So she’d definitely proudly rock her Pink Panthers to the

Laura Oles:  Jamie would wear Chuck Taylor Converse.
Burgundy since it’s a special occasion.  But she would make sure to pair
them with a jacket and dark jeans.  It’s about as dressed up as she
gets.  Formal gowns make her nervous.
 Kathleen Valenti:  Maggie is the antithesis of the
While I’d gladly don cute sling-backs or a kitten heel for the Agathas banquet, Maggie
would show up in running shoes, even if she were forced to shimmy into a ball
gown. Since she’s a new college grad on a serious budget, she’d be sporting
Court Classics rather than,
say, Nike or New Balance. And because she doesn’t care about her appearance—or
anyone else’s opinion—she’d wear those bright white kicks with pride.

Here’s more
information about these novelists and their work. Check them out!
Micki Browning
retired police captain, Micki Browning writes the Mer Cavallo Mystery series
set in the Florida Keys.
addition to the Agatha nomination for Best First Novel, Adrift, has
won both the Daphne du Maurier and the Royal Palm Literary Awards.
Beached, her second novel, launched January 2018. Micki’s work has
appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. She
lives in South Florida with her partner in crime and a vast array of scuba
equipment she uses for “research.” Learn more about Micki at
biologist-turned-divemaster Meredith Cavallo thought adjusting to a laid-back
life in the Florida Keys would be a breeze. But when the host of a
ghost-hunting documentary crew hires her as a safety diver and then vanishes
during the midnight dive, Mer’s caught in a storm of supernatural intrigue.
Determined to find a rational explanation, Mer approaches the
man’s disappearance as any scientist would—by asking questions, gathering data,
and deducing the truth. But the victim’s life is as shrouded in mystery as his
disappearance. Still, something happened under the water and
before long, she’s in over her head. When someone tries to kill her, she knows
the truth is about to surface. Maybe dead men do tell tales.
Valerie Burns:
(Valerie) 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. Receiving the Agatha nomination for Best First
Novel has been a dream come true. 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.
The Plot is Murder~
Washington has dreamed of owning a 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?
Kellye Garrett
Garrett writes the Detective by Day mysteries about a semi-famous, mega-broke
black actress who takes on the deadliest role of her life; Homicide Detective.
The first, Hollywood Homicide, was recently nominated for Agatha, Lefty and
Barry awards. The second, Hollywood Ending, will be released on August 8, 2018
from Midnight Ink. Prior to writing novels, Kellye spent eight years working in
Hollywood, including a stint writing for the TV drama Cold Case. The New Jersey
native now works for a leading media company in New York City and serves on the
national Board of Directors for Sisters in Crime. You can learn more about her
at KellyeGarrett.com and ChicksontheCase.com.
Hollywood Homicide~
Dayna Anderson’s Deadly New Role: Homicide Detective
Anderson doesn’t set out to solve a murder. All the semifamous, mega-broke
actress wants is to help her parents keep their house. So after witnessing a
deadly hit-and-run, she pursues the fifteen grand reward. But Dayna soon finds
herself doing a full-on investigation, wanting more than just money—she wants
justice for the victim. She chases down leads at paparazzi hot spots, celeb
homes, and movie premieres, loving every second of it—until someone tries to
kill her. And there are no second takes in real life.
Laura Oles
Laura Oles
is a photo industry journalist who spent twenty years covering tech and trends
before turning to crime fiction. She served as a columnist for numerous
photography magazines and publications. Laura’s short stories have appeared in
several anthologies, including MURDER ON WHEELS, which won the Silver Falchion
Award in 2016. Her debut mystery, DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN, is a Claymore Award
Finalist and an Agatha nominee for Best First Novel. She is also a Writers’
League of Texas Award Finalist. Laura is a member of Austin Mystery Writers,
Sisters in Crime and Writers’ League of Texas. Laura lives on the edge of the
Texas Hill Country with her husband, daughter and twin sons. Visit her online
at lauraoles.com.
Daughters of Bad Men~
Rush understands what it takes to disappear because her parents taught her that
long ago. Leveraging her knowledge of why and how people run from their own
lives, Jamie has built a business based on bringing those in hiding back to
answer for their actions. She takes pride in using her skills to work both
inside and outside the law.
her estranged brother, Brian, calls and says his daughter is missing, Jamie
initially turns down the case. Kristen has always been a bit wild, frequently
dropping off the grid then showing up a few days later. But Brian swears this
time is different, and even though Jamie vowed years ago to keep her conniving
sibling at arm’s length, she can’t walk away if Kristen could be in real
Jamie begins digging into Kristen’s life, she uncovers her niece’s most guarded
secrets. Uncovering the truth will put a target on Jamie’s back and endanger
the lives of those she loves.
Kathy Valenti
Valenti is the author of the Maggie O’Malley mystery series. The series’ first
book, Agatha- and Lefty-nominated Protocol, introduces us to Maggie, a
pharmaceutical researcher with a new job, a used phone and a deadly problem.
The series’ second book, 39 Winks, releases May 22. When Kathleen isn’t writing
page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a
nationally award-winning advertising copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her
family where she pretends to enjoy running. Learn more at
minted college graduate Maggie O’Malley embarks on a career fueled by professional
ambition and a desire to escape the past. As a pharmaceutical researcher, she’s
determined to save lives from the shelter of her lab. But on her very first day
she’s pulled into a world of uncertainty. Reminders appear on her phone for
meetings she’s never scheduled with people she’s never met. People who end up
help from her best friend, Maggie discovers the victims on her phone are
connected to each other and her new employer. She soon unearths a treacherous
plot that threatens her mission—and her life. Maggie must unlock deadly secrets
to stop horrific abuses of power before death comes calling for her.

Meet the Authors of the 2016 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
Best First Novel:
Terror in Taffeta by
Marla Cooper (Minotaur)
Murder in G Major by
Alexia Gordon (Henery Press)
The Semester of Our Discontent
by Cynthia Kuhn (Henery Press)
Decanting a Murder
by Nadine Nettmann (Midnight Ink)
Design for Dying by
Renee Patrick (Forge Books)
the Stiletto Gang welcomes Marla, Alexia, Cynthia, Nadine, and Renee (
the pseudonym for married authors Rosemarie and Vince
. Thanks for stopping by to share your work and thoughts
with us!—Paula
Gail Benson
What writing habits enabled you to
complete a novel?
never been one of those writers who gets up two hours early every day so she
can have dedicated writing time. But I did find a handy way to trick myself
into a consistent writing practice. For me, getting started is the hardest
part. So when I’m writing a novel, I make myself sit down and write 50 words
every day. That’s all. Just fifty little words. They don’t even have to be good
words. Most days, I end up getting into my groove and writing a whole lot more
— but just getting myself past the resistance makes all the difference.


Having deadlines helps
me. I hate to disappoint (one of my hang-ups) so being accountable to another
person for turning in pages prompts me to get the pages written.


thing that’s helped me is to allow the entire first draft to be a kind of a
joyful keyboard pounding, in which I don’t evaluate or second-guess anything; I
just write until I have a complete story. Then comes the deep and intensive
revision phase, in which there is not only second-guessing, but also
third-guessing and fourth-guessing and so on…times infinity (or so it feels).
the fear of regret, which isn’t really a habit but it feels like one, I would
do writing sprints with a friend. We would text to set a start time and then
write for thirty minutes, checking in with each other when we were done. It was
a great way to hold each other accountable and we both would often keep writing
past the thirty minutes. Currently, I’m trying to do Magic Mornings where I
wake up and write first thing without checking the Internet or my phone. It’s
still an effort but I’m hoping it will become such a habit that I never miss a
morning. I might be hoping for a while as it’s very tempting to look online
when I wake up.
RENEE (Rosemarie and Vince):
were both raised Catholic, so we each have two powerful motivational tools on
which we can rely: guilt, and the fear of guilt. They power us through every
endeavor, but when combined they are nigh upon unstoppable. To any and all
aspiring writers out there, we say find yourselves a co-author. Knowing that
you will have to answer to a trusted friend or loved one for missed deadlines,
mixed metaphors and botched jokes will keep you typing until your fingers ache.

What shoes would you, your protagonist, or
another character from your novel wear to the Agathas banquet?


about the shoes: As a destination wedding planner, my main character Kelsey has
to sacrifice style for practicality since she sometimes is on her feet for up
to 8 hours at a time. But for the Agathas, she’d have the night off from
playing party planner, so she’d probably break out the Laboutins in the back of
her closet. (She inherited from a bride who bought them in three different
colors “just in case,” but couldn’t be bothered to return them.)


Gethsemane would wear some bad-ass high-heeled boots. Because I
can’t wear them and Gethsemane was born out of wish-fulfillment. 


would be planning to wear her favorite black Doc Martens lace-up boots, but her
cousin Calista would talk her into some still-in-the-box Jimmy Choo pumps, a
gift from Lila’s mother that has been languishing in her closet.


for shoes, I’ll choose Tessa for this question as she loves clothes and fashion.
In Decanting a Murder, Tessa wears a pair of navy blue Manolo Blahnik heels but
I think for the Agathas banquet, she would go for a bright red pair that were
several inches high. Katie Stillwell would probably wear very small heels,
unless Tessa talked her into some tall ones again.

RENEE (Rosemarie and Vince):

Frost would choose a high-heeled sandal in sparkling silver but Edith Head
would suggest a more practical black kitten-heeled pump. And thank you for the
invitation but Edith couldn’t possibly attend, she’s much too busy.

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.
http://JulianneHolmes.com @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.

Meet the Authors of the 2014 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:
Circle of Influence by Annette
Dashofy (Henery Press)
Tagged for Death by Sherry Harris (Kensington Publishing)
Finding Sky by Susan O’Brien (Henery Press)
Well Read, Then Dead by Terrie Farley Moran (Berkley Prime Crime)
Murder Strikes a Pose by Tracy Weber (Midnight Ink)
the Stiletto Gang welcomes
Annette Dashofy, Sherry Harris, Susan O’Brien, Terrie Farley Moran, and Tracy Weber. All are not
only skilled and talented writers, but also charming and caring people. Thanks,
Annette, Sherry, Susan, Terrie, and Tracy, for stopping by to share your work
and thoughts with us!
What was the idea or inspiration that led you to write your
nominated novel?


Years ago I happened to overhear a
snippet of conversation regarding a local political brouhaha. The person said,
“Someone should just kill him and put him out of my misery.” No one actually
did, but you can’t say something like that around a crime fiction writer and
not have it end up in a story! In my case, it spun out a bunch of “what if”
questions that ultimately became Circle
of Influence


My story is a little
different. An editor in New York was looking for someone to write a garage sale
series. Through a series of fortunate events the chance to write a proposal for
him landed in my lap. I’ve always loved garage sales and the proposal
synopsis of the first three books, first three
chapters, cast of characters, and marketing plan
poured out of me in four days.


wanted to be an author since childhood, and I’m not sure why. I don’t remember
ever not wanting to be an author! My
love of mysteries grew over the years, and by the time I was ready to write
one, I was a parent. My protagonist Nicki is a mom, and I wanted her to be
honest about the funny, overwhelming nature of parenting—while solving
mysteries that I hope parents and non-parents will enjoy. Also, I planned to
donate part of my royalties to organizations that serve missing kids and their
families. It’s almost surreal to have these dreams come true!


wrote the book I wanted to read. If I could create my own world, (Oh, wait—I
can) I would have my home away from home be a book store/restaurant just like
the Read ’Em and Eat—all books all the time, with book-themed food served on
author-themed tables. Book clubs meet there regularly, and I wondered what
would happen if a beloved book club member was tragically murdered. In Well Read, Then Dead that is exactly
what happens.


A homeless lady—I’ll call her Susan—used
to hang out near the entrance to my neighborhood grocery store, and she always
had a large Rottweiler mix in a crate next to her. Over time, I got to know
them both, and I asked her about the crate. She told me that the Rottweiler
would sometimes lunge at other dogs that walked by on the sidewalk. The
crate—which she stored behind the building at night—allowed her to keep the dog
with her, in spite of its reactivity.
Susan adored that dog and went to great
lengths to take care of it, in spite of her own financial issues and living
conditions. She was as dedicated to her pet as most people are to their
I started to wonder: What if her dog had
an expensive health condition as well as its behavior issues? What would she
do? What could she do? That’s when
Bella and George formed in my head. Unfortunately, Susan disappeared from the
neighborhood long before I wrote the first draft of Murder Strikes a Pose. I haven’t seen her almost two years, so I’ll
probably never know what she would have thought about being my muse. I hope she
would have felt complimented.
What advice would you give to writers?


Don’t ever give up. Keep studying the
craft of writing. And finish the book.
Don’t give up and study the
craft. I have stacks of rejection letters
from back in the day when everything was still done by snail mail.
I have two and a half books written that never sold. I kept writing, went to
lots of conferences, met people, and learned. When the opportunity finally
came, I was ready. Also, I wish someone would have told me that maybe it was
time to move on from the series that didn’t sell and to try something new.


you believe your work is meant to be published, stay positive and don’t give
up! The journey to publication can be long and difficult—yet incredibly
rewarding. Keep your options open, too. I ended up working with a small
publisher and an attorney (not an agent).
best advice for every writer is: Trust your own judgment. Keep on writing.
Submit. Don’t wait to hear back. Write something else. Submit that. The more
you write, the more comfortable writing becomes until you can’t imagine your
life without pounding the keyboard or picking up the pen.


Don’t give up, and don’t procrastinate. Write every day. Write
what you love. If you spend every day working on what you love most, even if
you never get published, you’ll have had a good time. That’s what matters most.
For the Agatha banquet, what kind of shoes would you (or if
you prefer, your protagonist or a character from your story) wear? [This is,
after all, The Stiletto Gang!]
This is such an appropriate question
since it’s one I’m currently pondering. I bought a great dress, but it’s white
and all my dressy shoes are black or dark brown. I was thinking of getting
taupe pumps, but lately I’m considering getting crazy and going with ruby red
or animal print pumps!


Ah, lovely stiletto wearing
folks of the world, I envy you but I gave up heels a long time ago. I will look
for a pair of snazzy flats! However my protagonist Sarah would wear something
with a peep toe and a three inch heel.
protagonist Nicki and I are both uncomfortable walking in high heels. (Her next
adventure actually relates to this topic!) Honestly, I wear orthotics, so I’ll
probably wear my only pair of dress shoes—with a moderate heel—that
accommodates them. If you see me, please understand! Thanks!


Having grown up in the era where a lady’s shoes and purse must match, and heels
were worn every day, I once owned stilettos in half a dozen colors. (We also
wore white gloves on the subway, but that’s a story for another time.) Due to
an ancient softball injury, compounded decades later by a broken ankle, I will
be wearing a pair of very low-heeled pumps to the Agatha Banquet. But, never
fear Stiletto Gang, I still have a pair of gray suede three-inch heels in my
closet that I cannot bear to give away. Sometimes I put them on and hobble
around the house, with my cane in hand for safety. They still look fabulous and
I feel fabulous when I have them on my feet. Alas, my left ankle wobbles if I
try to walk in them.
Given that Kate and I are both yoga
teachers, we would really prefer to go barefoot. But if that won’t work, a pair
of comfy Birkenstocks will work quite nicely!