Answering Agents’ Questions: Favorite Authors

It’s been quiet on the blog lately, but I have not been idle! I’ve just finished a rewrite of one of my full-length books in preparation for submission. Without giving too much away (since I want you to buy it when it is eventually published…if it’s ever published…oh, please, ye gods, let it be published…), it is a cozy mystery linking old mysteries with new ones.

A cozy mystery is one that typically features an amateur sleuth (usually female), whose profession or connections allow her to gather information and discover criminals without the help of professionals. Sometimes, she does happen to have a convenient friend – the chief of police, for example – or the coroner or a computer hacker. There is very little violence (except for a very sanitized murder), very little sex (although almost certainly some sexual tension) and no naughty words. It often has a hook like treasure hunting, scrapbooking, knitting, herb gardening or baking.

My protagonist is female and amateur but has no convenient friends except for a grouchy, acid-tongued antiques dealer who has a  penchant for gossip and a long memory. She has recently moved to her husband’s hometown and finds the change…challenging. (Art imitating life much?) The murder is highly sanitized and there are no explicit sex scenes or even bad words. This was a challenge because the antiques dealer definitely has a potty mouth. He had to tone it down for the book. My hook is that all of the old mysteries are actually REAL. I didn’t make them up. Our new town may not have a Target, but it has a lot of old mysteries. (Some days, I’d rather have Target, but I digress.)

I’ve been working on this book for four years and developing the idea and researching it for a year before that. I would have finished sooner except I got busy having a second baby, leaving my career, moving and deciding to homeschool. The book was my entertainment, my “me” time, and I’m excited to have it finished. (I must admit, however, that after working on it off and on for so long, I thought about killing off all the characters more than once.)

Now comes the hardest part–waiting! But as I send out more things, that gets easier. I try to use the time to do something constructive, whether that’s more writing or cleaning the bathrooms.

This time around, I’ve been exploring how to talk to agents and publishers and I found this great article, “4 Questions Agents Ask Writers at Pitch Sessions.” Today, I’m answering the first two questions here.

As for question one, I always have two or three projects going at a time. If I get stuck on one, I work on another. Right now, I am getting ready to resubmit a middle-grade nonfiction proposal, developing a middle-grade fiction idea, rewriting a picture book and working on books two and three in my mystery series. I’ve sketched out the primary plot and subplots, the settings, the calendar, the new characters and planned scenes for book two.

As for question two, I love this question! You can tell a lot about a person by the books they love most. I can imagine an agent or publisher would want to know if the person they are considering has actually read in the genre they are trying to write and if so, which authors have influenced their style. And I can imagine they want to know quickly – without necessarily having to read all 130,000 words of a prospective manuscript.

Now, to be fair, I read just about anything and everything. Really. But in mysteries here are my favorite authors and protagonists (in no particular order). Not all of them are cozies, but all of them are wonderful.

1. Ellis Peters – Brother Cadfael.

2. Agatha Christie – Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. (Well, duh.) If you want to write mysteries and you haven’t read Dame Agatha, please, don’t write mysteries. Please.

3. Elizabeth Peters – Amelia Peabody.

4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes.

5. Anne Perry – Charlotte and Thomas Pitt.

6. Ruth Rendell – Inspector Wexford.

7. Lilian Jackson Braun – The Cat Who…series featuring James Qwilleran

8. Robin Paige (Bill and Susan Albert) – Kate and Charles Sheridan

9. Susan Wittig Albert – China Bayles

10. M.C. Beaton – Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin

11. Jeff Abbott – Jordan Poteet

12. Charlaine Harris – Aurora Teagarden

13. Dorothy Sayers – Lord Peter Wimsey

14. Sue Grafton – Kinsey Millhone

You’ll notice that many of these are British though there are many Americans in the mix, too. Some of them feature amateur sleuths, some professional. Some are historical fiction and some are contemporary. And there is a wide variety of tone. Cadfael and Inspector Wexford are quite different reads from Agatha Raisin and James Qwilleran! I have never felt haunted by an Agatha Raisin story though Inspector Wexford has certainly had that effect.

But what all of these have in common are that these authors write about more than just the mystery. The books aren’t just cute little whodunnits – they often touch on deeper themes and the human condition. No, they aren’t “Crime and Punishment.” But, they are beautifully (and subtly) crafted explorations of the inner workings of the human heart. I like that. I read mysteries primarily for their entertainment value, but for the story to resonate with me, the author needs to be pointing to a deeper truth. Even if the deeper truth is simply, “Don’t be a jerk or twelve people will stab you to death on a train.”

So, I wait and I read and I write. I know isn’t easy to find a publisher – you have to fit their list and be someone they think can sell enough books to make their investment worthwhile. They may like your concept, but not your style. Or like your style, but not your plot. Or they may not like your title and never even actually read your submission. That’s okay. Louisa May Alcott was told, “Stick to teaching,” and look how that turned out.

I’ll keep trying.


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