Monday, March 19, 2018

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 (
Alibi-Random House)
The Plot is Murder: A Mystery Bookshop Mystery 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

What 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 writer who works best when 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 Dateline 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 alone?

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 Chum. 

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 Agathas banquet?

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 play such 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 Agathas.

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 girly-girl. 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
A retired police captain, Micki Browning writes the Mer Cavallo Mystery series set in the Florida Keys. In 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
Marine 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:
V.M. (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
The Plot is Murder~
Samantha 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
Kellye 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 and
Hollywood Homicide~
Actress Dayna Anderson’s Deadly New Role: Homicide Detective
Dayna 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
Daughters of Bad Men~
Jamie 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.
When 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 trouble.
As 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
Kathleen 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
Freshly 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 dead.
With 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.


  1. So much loving the blog tour for this group—and this stop in particular. Shoes! Oh, and writing habits too, though first things first, of course. :-)

    Congrats again to you all—and see you in just a few weeks!

    1. Thanks, Art! Shoes and writing are two of my favorite topics. :)

      See you at Malice!
      Kathy (aka Kathleen)

  2. Thank you for stopping by, Art. It's been terrific to get to know this group and I'm looking forward to having the short story nominees as guests very soon!

    1. Thank you so much again for having us!

      Kathy (aka Kathleen)

  3. Paula, these are great questions - who doesn't want to talk about writing and shoes? I'm looking forward to reading all these terrific books.

  4. Paula, thank you for hosting us! It's always fun to imagine what our characters would do in unusual situations--like the Agatha banquet. Now if I could only figure out what shoes I will wear...

    Art, I'm looking forward to reconnecting with my Malice mentor.
    Shari, I hope you enjoy Adrift. I know you will enjoy the other stories!

  5. Thank you, Shari! These are truly some wonderful writers!

    Micki, you have been a marvelous co-ordinator. Thanks for getting the answers and photos to me. Many good wishes to you and the other nominees. You are all winners in my book!

  6. Thanks for posting this! I'll add the link to my Mystery Melange blog post this week. And best of luck to all!


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