~ What does it mean to you to be called an author?
In my opinion, a writer is someone who writes. An author is a writer who has completed a work (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc.) and now has that work published (either traditionally or self-published). So, for me, being called an author is a big accomplishment. It represents the culmination of a lot of hard work in writing a book from beginning to end AND publishing that book.
~ Can you tell us a bit about the story and its main characters?
Killer Words is the 7th book in the Mystery Bookshop Mystery series. Samantha Washington is a former high school English teacher, aspiring mystery writer, and the owner of Market Street Mysteries. Sam and Detective Bradley Pitt have had a rocky relationship ever since he accused her of murder in the first book in the series, THE PLOT IS MURDER. Over time, the overzealous detective has not only accused Sam, but her grandmother, her assistant, and her stepfather of murder. Regardless of his many faults, Sam knows there are limits. Detective Pitt may not be the swiftest gazelle in the herd or the smartest detective on the North Harbor Police force, but he’s not a murderer. At least, Sam doesn’t think he is. So, when he is accused of murder and arrested, it’s up to Sam, her grandmother, Nana Jo, and their friends from the retirement village to find the real killer.
~ What inspired the idea for your book?
The protagonist, Samantha Washington, and her late husband used to dream of quitting their jobs and opening a mystery bookstore. When her husband dies, Sam realizes that life is too short, not to follow your dream. So, she quits her job as a high school English teacher, sells her house, buys a building and opens the bookshop. But opening a Mystery Bookshop was only one of Sam’s dreams. She also dreamed of writing British historic cozy mysteries. This series is unique because it features a story within a story. Readers will get to solve both the mystery that Sam is faced with, as well as the mystery she’s writing. I was inspired to write this because Sam’s dreams are also my own. I dreamed of quitting my job and writing British historic mysteries (or any mysteries) and owning my own mystery bookshop. I’m half-way there! 😊
~What was the most surprising thing you learned in writing this book?
One of the main characters in this book is an enrolled member of a Native American tribe. The most surprising thing I learned while writing this book was around the distressing statistics involving crime on tribal land. Indian reservations are considered separate nations, which means arresting and prosecuting criminals is complicated. In 1978, the Supreme Court stripped Tribes of the right to arrest and prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on tribal lands (Oliphant v Suquamish), which represents approx. 86% of crimes against women. If the perpetrator is non-Indian and the victim is an enrolled tribal member, then only a federal agent can make the arrest. If both parties are tribal members, then the Tribal Officer can make the arrest, but tribal courts cannot sentence those convicted to more than three years in prison. I love doing research, because I learn so much, but this was shocking.
~Tell us about a favorite character from the book.
Sam’s grandmother, Josephine Thomas, Nana Jo to her friends and family, is one of my favorite characters in this series. Nana Jo may be in her 70s, but she’s intelligent, active, and brave. She’s a crack shot with a gun, holds two martial arts titles, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Nana Jo has lived long enough so she feels free to do what she wants, say what she wants, and live how she wants. One day, I’d love to have her courage.
~ Where did you come up with the names in the story?
This series features a story within a story. The British historic cozy that the protagonist, Samantha Washington is writing takes place before World War II. Many of the characters in her historic cozy are based on real people. In this book, Joseph Kennedy and his daughter, Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy are key players. Most of the names in the contemporary mystery that Sam is faced with solving are randomly selected with no ties to real people living or dead, with one exception. Writing, for me, is cathartic. Whenever someone makes me angry, I relieve my frustrations by killing them in my books. I always change the names, but I leave the initials. Needless to say, my coworkers now flip through my books looking for their initials.
~ If you were friends with a character in this book, what kinds of things would you do together?
If I were friends with Samantha Washington, I think we would spend a lot of time eating and discussing mysteries. There’s nothing like a hot cup of coffee in the morning and a BLT minus the T. If I’m lucky, I can get a bowl of chicken corn chowder at the diner run by Frank Patterson. Sam is as much of a fan of Agatha Christie as I am. It would be great to discuss Mrs. Christie’s books in depth with another fan. We’d sit down for tea and scones with clotted cream and talk murder mysteries. When we weren’t talking about mysteries, we’d talk about poodles. Sam and I both have two toy poodles. I feel confident that we’d be the best of friends. We’d probably even spend some time at the Four Feathers Casino.
~ How do you define success as an author?
I think each author has to come up with their own definition of success. For me personally, it means doing what I love (writing) and finding an audience that enjoys reading my books.
~ Can you share a day in the life of an author?
Like a lot of writers, I also have a full-time job. Writing is a passion, but it doesn’t provide a regular paycheck with benefits. So, my day starts with getting up and going to my day job. When I get home at 6pm, I grab a bite to eat and sit down at my laptop and I write. I set a goal of writing 7,500-10,000 words per week (1,000-1,500 words per day). If I’m tired and don’t hit 1,000 words in a day, then I try to make it up on the weekends. In about 3 months, I will have a crappy first draft. Then the editing starts and that’s when the book really takes shape.
~ What made you say to yourself, “Today, I am going to write a book that I will publish.”?
After reading books for decades, I had developed a list of “I wish there was a book about…” I had a long list of books that I wanted to read and was just waiting for someone to write. One day, I realized that no one was writing those books, and if I wanted to read the ones on my list, maybe someone else did too. So, if I wanted to see those books in print, maybe I should try to write them.
~ How do you avoid or defeat writer’s block?
I write three different mystery series. I feel this helps me avoid getting stagnate and helps avoid writer’s block. If I’m not able to avoid writer’s block, one thing that helps me move beyond it is to immerse myself in the books/movies that I love. Reading good mysteries almost always inspires me to want to write.
~ What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?
My advice to anyone who wants to be a writer, is to WRITE. I used to dream of being able to hit the lottery, quit my day, and write full-time. But, statistics show, I have a better chance of being struck by lightning than hitting the lottery. When something is important, you make time for it. Steal an hour in the morning, use your lunch hour, or stay up an extra hour at night. But, find the time and put the words on the page. Dreamers, dream about writing, but writers, write.
~ What are you working on in the near future?
I write three mystery series. So, at the moment, I’m working on a new mystery series, Baker Street Mystery series. The first book, One Part Sugar, Two Parts Murder, will release in late August 2022.
~ Do you have any quirky writing rituals?
I don’t know that my writing rituals are quirky, but I like to be comfortable, so I usually put on a comfortable T-shirt or sweatshirt, and I often wear a baseball hat that I got when working on my MFA at Seton Hill University.
~ What comes first for you — the plot or the characters?
The characters always come first for me. It’s important for me to really KNOW those characters so that I know how they will react when dropped in various situations which create the plot.
~ As an author what do you think makes a good story?
A good story is one that engages the reader and meets their expectations for the genre. I write mysteries. Readers expect a mystery (usually a murder) and they expect the sleuth to solve the mystery while playing fair and sharing clues which gives them a fair shot of solving the mystery.
~ Who is your audience?
My audience is anyone who likes a mystery. The Mystery Bookshop Mystery series features both a contemporary and British historic mystery, so it has something for both contemporary and historic mystery readers.
~ What has been your favorite reader feedback?
My favorite reader feedback came from a woman who was going through a divorce. She said that she was able to escape into my books and it was helping to keep her sane. Often people talk about fiction as “escapist” as though that’s a bad thing. I love escaping into books and I’m glad that readers like escaping into my world.
~ How do you interact with your readers?
I interact with readers on Facebook, emails from my newsletter, and from my website. I will respond to questions from a variety of sources, but the most personal interaction comes from Facebook and my newsletter.
~ What is your all time favorite book or author?
Do you think this has influenced your writing? Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. I love the characters and I suspect it might be why characters are so important to me. Jane Austen wrote Pride & Prejudice over 200 years ago, but readers are still interested in what happens to the Bennetts and Mr. Darcy.
~ What do you look for in a story as a reader?
I look for engaging, characters who are practical. I want to like the characters in the books I’m reading. I want to feel that I have shot at solving the mystery and that justice will prevail in the end.
~ What is the first book that you remember reading?
The first book I remember was a Dr. Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham.
~ What is an underrated book you think everyone should read at least once?
Emily Brightwell’s Mrs. Jeffries Mysteries.
~ What are your top 5 favorite authors?
My top 5 favorite authors are:
and Jane Austen.
~ What are you reading now?
Dogged by Death by Laura Scott.
~ What difference do you see between a writer and an author?
In my opinion, the only difference between a writer and an author is that authors tend to complete their projects and are actively engaged in getting their work published.
Read More from V.M. Burns
Bookshop Mysteries by V.M. Burns are always a good time. The characters are like old friends and the story is always a page turner. With this series you get two stories for the price of one. The first, a cozy mystery investigated by Sam, helped in ways great and small by Nana Jo and her retirement village girls. The second is a historical cozy written by Sam. Both suck the reader in until the last page.
In Killer Words, Sam and Nana Jo find themselves trying to clear the name of Detective Pitt after he is seen to have gotten into a disagreement with the irksome victim. This is a fun read full of charm and banter, along with well-written mysteries, full of the great clues and twists, all of which I have come to expect from this series.
I received an advance review copy for free through Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours, and I am leaving this review voluntarily
Bookstore owner and mystery writer Samantha Washington comes to the aid of the cop who once arrested her own grandmother . . .
Sam and Nana Jo are back in sleepy North Harbor, Michigan, where Sam is eagerly awaiting the publication of her first book. In search of more immediate excitement, Nana Jo hits the casino with her fellow Shady Acres Retirement Village gal pals—but they get more than they bargained for when they witness Detective Bradley Pitt decking mayoral candidate John Cloverton.
As Sam well knows, mystery novels are full of brilliant detectives, genius sleuths, and hero cops. Detective Bradley Pitt—aka “Stinky Pitt”—is another story. In the past, the dull-witted detective has mistakenly accused members of Sam’s family for crimes they didn’t commit. Now, it’s his turn: when Cloverton turns up dead, he’s arrested. With his predilection for polyester, Pitt has been wanted by the fashion police for years, but Nana Jo knows her former elementary school math student would never commit murder—it doesn’t add up. Somebody’s framed the flatfoot to take a fall, and Sam and Nana Jo must step in to restore the reputation and good name of Detective Pitt.
V.M. Burns was born and raised in the Midwestern United States. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dog Writers Association of America, Thriller Writers International, is on the national board for Sisters in Crime. She currently resides in the warmer area of the U.S. with her two poodles. Readers can visit her website at http://www.vmburns.com
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