Ahead of Malice Domestic (April 27-29), a national conference for writers and fans of traditional mystery, we asked nominees for the Agatha Award to answer a few questions about the genre, their influences, and the mystery community. We compiled their answers into a roundtable discussion that hits on many of the issues in mystery and crime fiction today while reminding us how we fell in love with mysteries—and the mystery community—to begin with. The conversation has been condensed for clarity. Below the discussion, you’ll find a list of those who participated in the interview.
CrimeReads: Let’s start with an icebreaker. What’s your favorite festival memory?
Art Taylor: In 2014, my story “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants” won the Agatha Award for Best Short Story, and my wife Tara was so happy she burst into tears—so enthusiastically that everyone at our banquet table turned their attention completely away from me and toward her! Winning the award was wonderful, of course, but Tara’s reaction was equally priceless.
Kellye Garrett: I haven’t been to many mystery conferences but two memories stand out. The first was last year’s Malice Domestic where I had my first-ever book signing. If you see the pics, I am smiling so hard that I’m surprised my cheeks still don’t hurt a year later.
The second was winning the Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery this in March. It was such a happy shock. I immediately called my dad to let him know. He knew I’d been nominated for Lefty, Agatha and Barry awards and, of course, was on pins and needles like most dads would be. He ended up passing away literally a week after Left Coast Crime. I’m so happy he was able to see me finally achieve my goal of being a published author—something he supported since I was five-years-old—and knew other people liked it too! It wasn’t just his Daddy pride thinking it was a good book.
Rhys Bowen: This is an easy one to answer: when I won my first Agatha tea pot. I was up for best novel. Usually the awards are read in reverse order, with best novel coming last. So I was relaxed when the announcer started. This time the presenter must have been nervous and started off by blurting out “And the best novel goes to Rhys Bowen.” People started clapping. I wasn’t sure whether I’d heard right. I had a horrible vision that I’d come up to the stage and they would say “What are you doing here. we didn’t call you.”
So I stumbled forward, past all those smiling faces and clapping hands and someone handed me a tea-pot. What a fabulous moment!
Debra H. Goldstein: At the festival Murder on the Menu, I was asked to help F.O.W.L. (Friends of the Wetumpka Library) raise money by permitting them to raffle off the name of a character that would appear in my next book or short story. Of course, I agreed. During the signing period, a woman introduced herself to me as Deborah Holt. She handed me a copy of Maze to autograph and then asked if we could take a picture together as she was the winner of my character auction. I was thrilled to pose with her and over the moon that someone had paid to be a character in one of my works. Her name appears in my Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery. It also, I discovered when I moderated a Malice panel a few years after she purchased my character naming opportunity, appears in numerous books of other authors who appeared at Murder on the Menu.
Bidding and winning as many auctions as she can allows Deborah to financially support the library. Buying several copies of each book containing her name and distributing them to her friends is Deborah’s way of supporting authors. She’s been a murderer, corpse, floozie, saint, and witness, but to me, Deborah is the essence of a supportive reader and now friend. BTW, she won the auction when I appeared for Should Have Played Poker, so her name also is included in One Taste Too Many, the first book in my new Sarah Blair series that debuts from Kensington in January 2019.
Margaret Maron: The year Joan Hess masterminded a humor panel at Malice that had a bewildered Patricia Moyes handcuffed to Daniel Stashower and forced up onto the stage while he explained with large gestures of his cuffed hand why he couldn’t find the key.
Jess Lourey: Malice Domestic was the first mystery conference I attended. I was shy, a stranger to everyone, and sooooo nervous. My publisher had given me a dozen copies of May Day, my first mystery, to hand out to “movers and shakers.” I was the only one I could see shaking, and so I handed a book to a woman in front of me in registration who looked nice. She was. Shirley Landes and I have been friends ever since.
CrimeReads: What do you think are the most important issues in the genre right now?
Gigi Pandian: I’m thrilled to see two things happening right now:
- Diverse voices have been underrepresented in traditional mysteries, but happily that’s changing through the #ownvoices movement. I come from a mixed-race multicultural background, and I write diverse characters based on my own experiences. I grew up devouring wonderful mysteries, and when I began writing I wanted to write stories like the traditional mysteries I loved, but with characters that reflected the people in my life who I hadn’t seen in those pages. Publishers are now realizing there’s a broad audience for books by and about people of color. This is much more than a trend, and I hope a new generation of readers will love this genre as much as do.
- Lately I’ve seen a renewed interest in classic Golden Age mysteries, as well as mysteries written in that style. Thanks to several publishers reprinting previously out-of-print authors and translating foreign authors into English (including Locked Room International and the British Library’s Crime Classics series), American audiences are able to get their hands on a range of classic mysteries. This style of mystery is what inspired me to write impossible crime short stories like my Agatha-nominated story, and I’m glad I have so many “new” classic mysteries to read.
Kellye Garrett: Definitely diversity. As one of a handful of black women with traditionally published series out right now, it’s something near to my heart. Needless to say I’m thrilled that both V.M. Burns and I are both nominated this year. It speaks a lot about the strides we’ve made. But I do think we have a ways to go.
I refuse to believe that all races and ethnicities aren’t willing to read a book with a main character who looks different than they do. Definitely not in 2018. I’ve had black women contact me telling me how happy they were to see a mystery with a black woman on the cover. And I’ve had older white women tell me how much they enjoyed Dayna, who is a black millennial who loves Twitter and Instagram. It’s like the phrase, “If you build it, they will come.” Well, if publishers publish it, they will read.
And the more mysteries with diverse main characters that we have, the more diverse writers will want to also write the genre.
Renee Patrick: Representation is a huge issue in so many fields. Mystery fiction is no exception. Authors of color need to feel welcome and a vital part of the genre. From a business perspective, a number of publishers have cut their lines of cozy mysteries even though there’s clearly still a big demand for them.
Natasha Tarpley: I think that diversity is one of the most important issues in the genre right now. We need to see more mysteries not only from authors from diverse backgrounds , but also mysteries written from different perspectives, geographic locations, etc. I remember doing a writing residency in Sitka, Alaska and reading a mystery series that was set in a nearby Alaska town and written by a local author. The books gave me such a strong sense of that place and community. I loved that! I also think it’s necessary to cultivate a diverse audience of readers, who will be open to and seek out a wide range of books and stories. One of the ways we do this is by promoting a wider range of authors (as Malice does).
CrimeReads: Please define the “cozy” or “traditional mystery” for me.
Margaret Maron: For me, the “traditional mystery” is one in which the killer and the victim usually know each other, i.e., no drive-by shootings or organized crime hits. Malice rises out of interpersonal relationships and the murders themselves are fairly tidy. Most occur offstage, so to speak, and there are no long grisly portrayals of torture, or graphic sex. Think Agatha Christie, Elizabeth Peters, Charles Todd, and Nancy Pickard.
“I think one of the thrilling things about this time in crime writing is that there are fewer and fewer boundaries. What were limits, are now starting points.”—Louise Penny
Louise Penny: I think one of the thrilling things about this time in crime writing is that there are fewer and fewer boundaries. What were limits, are now starting points. I think great crime novels have elements of tradition, of procedural, of noir, of cozy, of suspense, of literary fiction etc etc. Like our lives, which have elements of comedy, tragedy, light and dark, action and stillness, our books have all those things too. I am not a fan of genre or sub-genre boxes.
Renee Patrick: It’s a mystery where all the mayhem happens off the page, along with most of the sex and the bad language, placing greater emphasis on deduction. There’s a genuine challenge in writing a traditional mystery because you’re denied the old reliables of sex and violence. It’s more dependent on voice, atmosphere, and logic. Chandler famously wrote when in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. In a traditional mystery, it’s more likely to be a neighbor with a muffin basket.
Annette Dashofy: The definition of “cozy” mystery has morphed over the years and remains far from carved in stone. Generally, cozies tend to take place in a small town, contain no sex or violence on the page, and no strong language. They also involve an amateur sleuth and frequently revolve around a craft or food. My Zoe Chambers mystery series is frequently categorized as “cozy” however they’re actually “traditional” mysteries, which has more latitude in location, language, and levels of on-stage violence. Traditional mysteries can include more police procedure but don’t venture into the darker areas of “noir.”
Rhys Bowen: For me the cozy mystery has to take place in a safe environment, a place we all like to visit. It is usually a confined environment, a shop, a village, that one would expect to be safe from the outside world. The perfect example is Miss Marple. The characters know each other and thus when a crime occurs it is more shocking to me than in a noir novel where the mean streets of the city are known to be dangerous.
The traditional mystery is slightly different in my definition. Louise Penny, Julia Spencer-Fleming write traditional mysteries. These mysteries are really character studies of a people under adversity. Character is more important than action. The crime affects ordinary people. No gratuitous sex or violence. I suppose I write traditional mysteries but with the added layer of being historical and therefore accurate for a time and place..
Cindy Callaghan: “I write mysteries for “tween” audiences, and writing mysteries for tweens has similarities to cozies in that there is no sex, drugs, bad words, dead bodies, violence—basically nothing too “edgy.” I take this seriously and have branded myself as “good, clean fun for girls.”
Kathy Valenti: At one time, “traditional mystery” had a fairly traditional definition. It described mysteries that relied on deductive reasoning, plot devices designed to obscure clues and conceal suspects, and violence that was suggested rather than depicted. I feel that the definition is broadening, right along with the genre. Today, we’re seeing mystery “mash-ups” that blur the line between traditional, cozy, suspense and even thriller, offering readers various shades of “traditional,” while still holding true to the genre’s roots.
Gigi Pandian: Traditional mysteries are fair play puzzle plot stories where the mystery drives the story, and a reader knows they won’t encounter excessive violence, graphic sex, or harsh language. Agatha Christie is a great example. Within the broad traditional mystery category you’ll find cozy mysteries, soft-boiled police procedurals, amateur sleuths of all kinds, impossible crime mysteries, historical mysteries, etc. It’s a very fun genre to write in!
Jess Lourey: I respect the standard definition of “a clever whodunnit without graphic sex or violence,” but I would like to add that a traditional mystery to me is all about relationships: relationships between the characters within the story as well as a relationship between the writer and the reader.
CrimeReads: The mystery community seems particularly friendly in the writing world—would you agree? Why do you think that is?
Micki Browning: The generosity of mystery writers knows no bounds, and I’ve been the beneficiary of it more times than I can recount, from writing organizations like Sisters In Crime and their Great Unpublished Guppy Internet Chapter to individuals I’ve encountered at conferences. I suspect mystery writers are so friendly in person because they’ve work out their aggression by murdering people in their stories. How often have our victims taken on a trait of someone who crossed us? It’s downright therapeutic! And really, is there anything more satisfying than getting the last word—even if it’s only on the page?
Ellen Byron: I totally agree. I’ve written in pretty much every medium, from theatre to journalism to television, and I’ve never met a more supportive community. I think it’s because we’re not competing for the same jobs. Yes, we all want to get published, but whether I do has nothing to do with whether you do. At the end of the day, it’s truly about the material. If a publisher thinks they can sell a book, they don’t care who wrote it. And mystery readers are such devoted fans that it gives us lots of opportunities to find readers. I’m a mystery fan myself and I’m always excited when I find a new series or author. I think that’s something else that makes this community special. We love to write AND read our genre.
“I suspect mystery writers are so friendly in person because they’ve work out their aggression by murdering people in their stories.”—Micki Browning
Renee Patrick: We definitely agree, and it’s probably because crime writers get to work out all their frustrations on the page. That, and the genre features such a broad spectrum of storytelling, from cozies to serial killers, that there’s much less of a sense of competition.
Cindy Callaghan: I don’t know that I agree that one writing community is friendlier than another. I’m part of mystery, thriller and children’s and all are very friendly. I would agree that the tone of support, and willingness to lend a hand is different in writing than in other professions. I think most writers believe there is space for everyone in publishing. I can think of writers who have mentored/helped me: Hank Phillipi Ryan, Jonathan Maberry, J.J. Murphy, Lara Zieses just to name a few, and I pay that back to other writers ten-fold. I have coffee, conversations and phone calls with aspiring writers all the time. It’s just how we roll.
Jessica Ellicott: I think that mystery and crime writers have plenty of time to exorcise their demons and to process their own difficult experiences, both trivial and important, on the page. Whenever I get cut off in traffic or encounter a rude person at the grocer I don’t find it all that upsetting. I just tuck it away in my mind for a bit of a story to use at a later time. It is never the actual incident but rather the feelings provoked or the atmosphere around what happened that makes its way into a book. In some ways, for this mystery writer, the worse the world gets, the easier and better the work tends to be.
Kathy Valenti: I have never known a more generous, kind and wonderful group. Why? That’s tough to say. It might be because many of us are drawn to the genre because deep down, we’re about finding connections, righting wrongs and creating a better world, fictional and otherwise.
Allison Brook: I think the computer has shrunk our world. Our fellow mystery writers are but a touch away. We communicate on email, listservs, Facebook, and other social media. There are more and more mystery conferences, and they are well-attended. As a result, we’ve developed many strong friendships. Groups like Sisters in Crime and its enormous subgroup the Guppies are examples of how more seasoned mystery writers help newbies learn writing skills, share tips on how to write a query letter, how to find an agent, etc. So much sharing doesn’t leave much room for competition.
V.M. Burns: I would agree that the mystery community is very friendly. My personal opinion is that this is due to the vast variety that exists within the mystery genre. There really is something for everyone and room for all types of subgenres and themes. In some other areas, like screenwriting, it is a field that is harder to break into and I think some writers feel they are competing against each other to be one of the limited number of scripts that get optioned and made into film. Prior to writing cozy mysteries I wrote screenplays. At workshops and conferences I heard over and over, how hard it is to break into the industry and that everyone in Hollywood has a script. I have found the mystery community to be much more inviting.
CrimeReads: What was the mystery or author that first got you hooked on the genre?
Annette Dashofy: It’s more a thriller than a mystery, but I’d have to say Mary Higgins Clark’s Where Are the Children. I was able to thank Ms. Clark for her influence on my career when I found myself in an elevator with her at Bouchercon in Cleveland a few years ago. I imagine she heard the same thing from others that weekend, but she was so gracious and humble, you’d have thought no one had ever told her that before.
Gretchen Archer: It was 1990, my daughters were babies, and we were on our way to the beach. G is for Gumshoe had just released. I picked it up, read ten pages, then put it down so I could find Sue Grafton’s backlist. I read straight through from A to G that week and to this day can’t stop reading (or writing) mysteries.
Louise Penny: I still remember my mother handing me an Agatha Christie. We were on the landing outside her bedroom. I took the book. She’s just finished, and it was still warm from her hands. ‘I think you’d like this,’ she said. I was eleven years old, and it was the first book, of what would be a lifetime of reads, we shared. Clearly, I loved it, because of Christie, but also because of the connection to my mother. It was as though she’s breathed life into me, again. I will forever have huge affection for Agatha Christie, as well as admiration. So, I would suggest reading her….but honestly, I believe the better writer was Josephine Tey. She’s the one I always suggest to emerging crime writers, because of her clarity, and emotional impact. Her ability to engage the reader.
Martin Edwards: I began, like so many other people, with Agatha Christie. The first adult fiction I ever read, at the age of eight, was The Murder at the Vicarage, and by the time I reached the final twist, I was well and truly hooked. What’s more, I resolved at that tender age that I too would like to write mysteries that baffled other people rather as Christie had baffled me.
Kristi Belcamino: The originals: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett; and newcomers such as Carlos Ruiz Zafron.
CrimeReads: Who are some of the authors who’ve paved the way for you to write what you write now?
Kellye Garrett: There are so many women authors who fought the good fight for us like Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton. I would have to also thank three black women for diversifying the genre in the 1990s: Eleanor Taylor Bland, Valerie Wilson Wesley and Barbara Neely, who I believe was actually the last black woman to win the Agatha for Best First Novel in 1992. They were true trailblazers and the reason I knew I could write a black main character. Valerie Wilson Wesley’s series actually takes place near where I grew up in New Jersey so it was the first time I actually recognized places in a book. When I signed my book deal, I actually hunted down her email address and introduced myself. She was so nice (and didn’t file a restraining order)!
Caroline Carlson: I wrote The World’s Greatest Detective as an homage to the work of three of my favorite mystery writers: Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Ellen Raskin, who wrote the children’s book The Westing Game. There are a few allusions to all three writers’ works in the book—some obvious and some a little bit hidden! I re-read their work for the thousandth time as I was preparing to write The World’s Greatest Detective; Agatha Christie’s mysteries, in particular, were extremely helpful as a guide to structure and clue-planting.
I also think it’s noteworthy that The World’s Greatest Detective is a murder mystery for children, which I suspect is not something I would have necessarily been able to publish thirty years ago. I still get a few raised eyebrows when I talk about it that way! Children’s mysteries are often about things or people that go missing, not about people who’ve been killed, and I wondered as I was drafting if my mystery plot would be a problem for my publisher. But no one expressed any worries about it, and I think that’s thanks in part to the many children’s writers who’ve been finding ways to raise the stakes in their work over the past few decades. Writers like J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman grappled with death right there on the page, and lots of young readers responded in the way many of us do to a loss of life in a well-told story—with fear and sadness, but also with fascination and a deep investment in the characters and their adventures.
Allison Brook: Roberta Gellis is the author who influenced me the most as a writer. We met when I took fiction writing workshop classes that she led and we grew to become close friends—more like relatives. Roberta helped me complete my first novel, a romantic suspense. I went on to publish five novels for young readers, knowing I could count on Roberta to help me resolve plotting problems, though this was the one genre in which she never wrote. She was a master mystery writer, and is largely responsible for the writer I’ve become today.
Laura Oles: I love a good series. A strong and complex female protagonist. A woman who doesn’t apologize for who she is and how she makes her way in the world. For me, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton and Laura Lippman were authors who created those kinds of characters in V.I. Warshawski, Kinsey Millhone and Tess Monaghan. These authors inspired me to pursue my own dream of writing a series. Now I have Jamie Rush, a skip tracer working in a Texas coastal town.
Gigi Pandian: I combine two styles in my writing: classic puzzle plot mysteries and adventure stories, which I think of as a cross between Agatha Christie and Indiana Jones. The classic mystery authors who wrote incredibly clever impossible crime stories—including John Dickson Carr and Ellery Queen—popularized puzzle plots. And two authors writing adventure mysteries within the traditional mystery umbrella—Elizabeth Peters and Aaron Elkins—showed me I could write adventures within the mystery genre I love.
Martin Edwards: Of all the writers whose work has exerted an influence on my work, I suppose Reginald Hill’s books probably had the most direct impact, because I loved his blend of wit, clever plotting, and beautifully evoked north of England settings. But more generally, the Golden Age authors such as Christie, Sayers, and the splendidly innovative Anthony Berkeley (aka Francis Iles) influenced my fondness for elaborate and unusual mystery plots. When I started publishing fiction in the 1990s, plotting seemed rather out of fashion in the crime genre, as did the Golden Age type of writing. I’m delighted to have survived long enough to enjoy their renaissance!
“We’ve always acknowledged the influence of Rex Stout, which is a nice way of saying we’re ripping him off.”—Renee Patrick
Renee Patrick: We’ve always acknowledged the influence of Rex Stout, which is a nice way of saying we’re ripping him off. We love the dynamic between his characters. Edith Head is our Nero Wolfe, the no-nonsense armchair detective, while Lillian Frost subs for Archie Goodwin in the role of sassy legman–or in our case, legwoman. We’re also great admirers of Craig Rice. She had no fear about fusing comedy and mystery, which we strive to do, and she wrote for and about Hollywood, sometimes with celebrity protagonists like actor George Sanders.
Art Taylor: Margaret Maron—a North Carolina native like me—has been an influence and a supporter in so many ways. Her novels are models of regional mysteries and of engagement with social and political issues and even existential ones; in fact, my story that’s up for an Agatha Award this year, “A Necessary Ingredient,” draws on some of the lessons I learned from her storytelling and even has a small, specific nod to her work. Margaret has also been a great supporter of my own career, inspiring and encouraging in equal measure. I’ve learned so much from her.
Kathy Valenti: The two authors who influenced me the most are Stephen King and David Sedaris. I know, I know. They’re polar opposites. Yet both taught me about courage, a willingness to take chances, and that storytelling is about more than arranging words in a pretty way. Like many writers, I’ve read King’s On Writing multiple times and find new wisdom at each reading. And Sedaris never ceases to amaze me with his ability to elicit an emotional response, whether laughter or tears. Both are masters and inspire me to write with more courage, heart and conviction.
Kristi Belcamino: Writers like Edna Buchanan and Laura Lippman showed me how a reporting career could morph in a crime fiction career.
Debra H. Goldstein: The writing world is filled with mentors. They don’t necessarily take inexperienced writers under their wings and teach specific skills, but the way they act, treat others, and live their lives influences newer writers’ styles and encourages them to pay it forward. Two examples, B.K. Stevens and Bill Crider, both had an immense influence on me. Bonnie, or B.K., was only in my life for a few years, but reading her works taught me technique. Personally, she instilled confidence in me. Both things, and the hope of emulating her willingness to help other writers, will keep her with me for a lifetime.
When I was assigned to a panel with Bill Crider, my impression was of what an unassuming nice guy he was. His bio said he’d been a teacher and the calm way he came across belied that fact. Thinking he was a nice Joe, I invited him to write a guest post for my personal blog, “It’s Not Always a Mystery.” He agreed. The week I wrote to remind him his promised piece was coming due, he responded he was appreciative of the reminder and would dash something off that day because he was going into the hospital for some testing the next day. I offered to forget his piece, but he wanted to fulfill his obligation. He sent me an excellent piece on writing, which I received while he was undergoing the tests that diagnosed his cancer. I printed the piece that week and reprinted it the week he announced that the doctors advised him the treatments were no longer working and he should enter hospice.
I can reread Bill’s lesson on writing and look at the mention in his column where, unsolicited from me, he gave my writing career a vote of confidence, but it was reading his posts about the VBKs (Very Bad Kittens) and seeing how he handled himself during his final months that left an impact. Bill was humble, a gentle man and a gentleman. Again, an individual who came into my life for a reason, season, and a lifetime.
CrimeReads: If you could have dinner with any mystery writer, dead or alive, who would you pick and why?
Natasha Tarpley: I’d love to have dinner with some of the early African American writers like Charles Chesnutt, who was writing during the 1800s and early 1900s, just to learn what his experience was building a writing career at that time. I’d like to talk to Chester Himes, who came after Chesnutt, about how he deals with race in his work, his experience living and writing in Paris in the 1950s and beyond. I would also love to sit down with Agatha Christie to talk craft and process.
Micki Browning: I’d dine with Reed Farrel Coleman. In the interest of full disclosure, I met Reed at a conference several years ago. My husband and I even shared a conversation with him over a cocktail. So why choose someone I’d already met? That cocktail conversation took place before I had ever published a book, before I’d published a short story, heck—before I had any right to even approach him. But I did, and he was gracious. He convinced me that success was only a matter of time. If we had dinner, would we discuss books? Probably, but sometimes it’s more important to push away from the dinner table with the conviction that some hard work, attention to craft, and more than a modicum of stubbornness can result in anything. Reed has the ability to make me believe just that.
Barb Goffman: Louise Penny. I served as program chair of Malice Domestic for six years, and during that time I got to know Louise a little bit. She’s delightful, charming, funny, and kind. The same can be said of her books. After my dad died a few years ago, my concentration was shot. But I found I could escape into Louise’s mysteries. She swept me away to Three Pines, where I could forget my aching heart for a little while. I’d love to talk with her about Three Pines and writing and dogs. We both have dogs, and I’d love to swap funny stories.
Louise Penny: I think it would be Edgar Allan Poe—just because he was such an unusual cat. How fun to pick his brains.
Ellen Byron: Agatha Christie, who’s also the author who first got me hooked on the genre. I’ve read and re-read pretty much everything she ever wrote, as well as numerous books about her. I’d grill her for secrets to plotting. And of course, make her tell me where she was during those mysterious two weeks she disappeared in the 1920s!
Renee Patrick: Anybody more successful than us, for starters, in the hope they’d pick up the check. But we’d definitely choose Agatha Christie. We’re all working in her shadow, so it would be an opportunity to pay our respects. Plus maybe we could find out what happened to her when she disappeared for ten days in 1926.
Debra H. Goldstein: Edgar Allan Poe would be my dinner companion of choice to tap because of his expertise writing mystery, horror, satire, and humor. Although his work was often dark or influenced by mass market tastes, he was the absolute master of what makes a short story stand out—the twist. I think I could listen to his thoughts all evening, but any good dinner party needs other great minds to round out the table, so I would invite two masters of the twist to join Edgar and me—Shirley Jackson and B.K. Stevens.
Margaret Maron: I would so love to have one more dinner with Elizabeth Peters. Gin and laughter and sparkling wit. If not her, then Josephine Tey so that I could yell at her for wasting so much time on mediocre stage plays instead of giving us more of her wonderful novels.
Jessica Ellicott: If I could have dinner with any mystery writer alive or dead I believe I would choose Charlotte MacLeod. Her books are such rollicking fun and I cannot imagine that her company would not be just as wonderful!
V. M. Burns: If I could have dinner with any mystery writer, it would be Agatha Christie. I would love to pick her mind to find out how she came up with ideas. Was she a plotter or a pantser? How did she keep track of clues and red herrings?
CrimeReads: Let’s finish off the discussion with a fun one. If you were going to pick an animal to help a detective solve a crime, which animal would you choose, and why? Options include, but are not limited to, parrots, dogs, cats, and elephants.
Rhys Bowen: Not a parrot. He’d sqwark loudly at the wrong moment. Not a cat. It would walk away when you needed it most. Too many dog detectives. A giraffe would help me look in upstairs windows. An elephant would be too hard to squeeze into my car. Something quick and tricky like an otter, maybe. The ideal side-kick would be a spider. It could get into any room and not be noticed. However I’m terrified of spiders, so maybe not. I think I’ll go with a tiger. If he trapped the prime suspect he’d make them confess instantly!
Natasha Tarpley: I love cats and elephants, so I would pair up the two. Cats are so slinky, springy, mischievous, and quick. Elephants are huge and slow, but also know how to fade into the background. They also have a sense of empathy and connection with others. Both animals are very intelligent, and could balance and complement each other’s skills.
Jess Lourey: Obviously, it’d be a raven wearing a monocle who liked to collect shiny bits which inevitably turn out to be the missing clue that solves the mystery.
Barb Goffman: I have to go with cows because my newest short story, “Till Murder Do Us Part” from the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies, involves cows. The cows don’t investigate or talk to the sheriff, but cow-related events (okay, cow explosions), propel the plot forward, ultimately enabling the sheriff to catch a killer.
Margaret Maron: How on earth could I trust an elephant or a parrot to solve a crime? Sorry.
Gretchen Archer—nominated in the category of Best Short Story
Kristi Belcamino—nominated in the category of Best Children’s/Young Adult
Rhys Bowen—nominated in the category of Best Historical Novel
Allison Brook—nominated in the category of Best Contemporary Novel
Micki Browning—nominated in the category of Best First Novel
V.M. Burns—nominated in the category of Best First Novel
Ellen Byron—nominated in the category of Best Contemporary Novel
Cindy Callaghan—nominated in the category of Best Children’s/Young Adult
Caroline Carlson—nominated in the category of Best Children’s/Young Adult
Annette Dashofy—nominated in the category of Best Contemporary Novel
Martin Edwards—nominated in the category of Best Nonfiction
Jessica Ellicott—nominated in the category of Best Historical Novel
Kellye Garrett—nominated in the category of Best First Novel
Barb Goffman—nominated in the category of Best Short Story
Debra H. Goldstein—nominated in the category of Best Short Story
Jess Lourey—nominated in the category of Best Nonfiction
Margaret Maron—nominated in the category of Best Contemporary Novel
Laura Oles—nominated in the category of Best First Novel
Gigi Pandian—nominated in the category of Best Short Story
Louise Penny—nominated in the category of Best Contemporary Novel
Renee Patrick—nominated in the category of Best Historical Novel
Natasha Tarpley—nominated in the category of Best Children’s/Young Adult
Art Taylor—nominated in the category of Best Short Story
Kathy Valenti—nominated in the category of Best First Novel