One of many great articles that you can find each month in The Big Thrill!
Fans of well-written, cleverly plotted amateur detective novels are in for a treat; Meredith Cole, author of Posed For Murder, has written a second novel in her series featuring art photographer Lydia McKenzie. Dead In The Water will be released May 11.
Posed For Murder won the St. Martin's Minotaur/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, and was an Agatha Nominee for Best First Novel. In Cole's first book, her protagonist is holding an exhibition of film noir style pictures which depict a series of cold cases involved murdered women. When one of her models is found murdered and posed in the same style as Mckenzie's photograph, McKenzie - who works as a Girl Friday for a detective agency during the day - becomes embroiled in the murder investigation.
In Dead In The Water, Cole says, "Lydia is now taking portraits of prostitutes on the waterfront, and one of them ends up a floater in the East River."
In addition to writing her mystery series, Cole has written and directed several films, teaches writing and is a wife and mother. To find out more about Meredith Cole, visit http://www.culturecurrent.com/cole/author.html
I see that you went to Smith College where you majored in Women's Studies and minored in film. Did you take any writing courses, either in high school or college, or was that a self-taught skill?
Before I could actually write, I dictated songs and stories to my mother to write down for me. I can't really remember a time when I didn't write. Over the years, I've taken classes, participated in critique groups, and read many books on writing. They've all been helpful to varying degrees, and now I teach writing (at a writing center and at UVA in the fall). But one of the best ways to become a good writer is to spend hours, days and years doing it. Classes can't replace that time or give you a shortcut to finding your own voice.
Who were your favorite authors as a child?
I have so many favorite authors -- it's hard to pick. I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Kate Seredy, Beverly Cleary, E.B. White, and Madeleine L'Engle. We had a library in the small town near where I grew up, and the librarian, Louise Holt, let us take out as many books as we wanted. I dedicated Dead in the Water to Louise and to all the librarians out there who are forced to do more with less funding these days. They are my heroes.
What are you working on now? What's coming up next?
I'm working on book number three right now, tentatively called An Artful Death. It's a Real Estate mystery. Lydia is working for a landlord who is trying to get rid of illegal tenants, and one of the tenants is murdered. She suspects that the landlord did it, so she starts investigating.
I'd love to know about your daily writing process - do you set a certain amount of time aside every day to write? Do you have a certain number of words that you assign yourself? How do you find uninterrupted time to write as the mother of a young child?
Do you write an outline of your book before you start, or just go with the flow? ("Plotter" or "Pantser"?)
I'm definitely a plotter. Before I start a book, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the story. My outline very rough, and it's certainly not final (there's always room for changes and surprises), but I need to know where I'm going before I start. Also, my writing schedule requires that I pick up and put down my first draft quite a lot. If I already have a note about what's coming up in my next scene, then I'm able to pick up where I left off much more easily.
How long did it take you to write your first book? Your second book?
My first book took about two years to write. I think my second book took about a year and half, but it's hard to measure exactly. I keep hoping I'm going to get faster!
In your first book, Posed For Murder, you thank members of the New York Police Department for helping you out with information about police procedure. How did you go making that first contact with them? Did you sit down and interview the officers in person? Did you have a list of specific questions that you wrote up before meeting with them?
After 9/11, it became very difficult to get access to the police department in New York. I tried reaching out to some detectives in my Brooklyn precinct. They were willing to talk, but said I had to get permission from headquarters. When I called the NYPD, they told me I could only talk to a retired police detective but never gave me the name of one. Lucky for me, I met a retired police officer in my MWA chapter who was willing to answer a list of questions I had prepared and emailed to him. Eventually I met a couple of current detectives through friends (and who asked to remain anonymous) who were willing to answer questions as they came up.
What drew you to the mystery genre in particular?
When I was thirteen, I went on a trip to Europe with my mother. The only books I could find in English that I liked to read were by Agatha Christie. My father is English, and I was fascinated with English culture and society. I loved the sense of order in the books, and enjoyed trying to figure out the puzzle. I read everything she wrote, and then moved on to other mystery authors.
When I got pregnant with my son, I didn't think I was going to be returning to a film set anytime soon with a small baby. I decided to do something a little more flexible, and started my first novel. It seemed natural to write a mystery since that's a genre I've always enjoyed reading.
Who are some of your favorite authors in that genre?
I read everything by Ruth Rendell, Laura Lippman, Laurie King, Ed McBain, Katherine Hall Paige, Dick Francis, Robert Parker, and so many more. It's been amazing to meet so many authors since I started going to mystery conventions, and I know my list of favorites will continue to grow.
How did you go about seeking an agent? How did that process go? (Did you send a query letter and then the agent request to see your full manuscript, etc.?)
I sent out queries and partials for about a year, and got rejected by quite a few agents. A few told me that they didn't see a market for my kind of book, meaning they really didn't know who would buy it. The traditional mystery market has really shrunk a lot over the past few years. After I won the SMP/Malice Domestic Best Traditional Mystery Competition and had a publishing deal, a friend asked if I would be interested in talking to her agent. Her agent contacted me to ask for a copy of my manuscript. I sent it to her, and two days later she called me to say she'd like to work with me.
How did you decide on a career for your heroine, Lydia McKenzie?
I loved the idea of a photographer solving crimes. Photographers are so observant, and they often see things that others miss. I made her an art photographer because I wanted her involved in the Williamsburg art scene.
One problem with amateur sleuth novels is that you have to give your heroine a reason to be investigating. Every artist needs a day job, so I gave Lydia one as an administrative assistant to two private eyes. I figured that job would give her a few skills, and give her a reason to be investigating.
Dana Granger is an award-winning former newspaper reporter who lives in Florida with her family. She is currently working as a freelancer writer, writing a YA thriller, and pursuing a career in emergency medicine.
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