Author of the Month
It seems like a century ago when a friend of mine named Nancy Mehl mentioned to me that Susan McBride, a columnist at myshelf.com was planning on leaving the site to pursue other things. Nancy thought I'd be a good fit as Susan's replacement and introduced me to Brenda. I'd been a fan of Myshelf for a while and wasn't sure that I'd measure up to their professional standards. Brenda convinced me that I should at least give it a try and I've been causing her to pull her hair out ever since.
When my turn came up to submit an "author of the month," Nancy was the first one I thought of. Nancy is a rapidly rising star in the literary world. I've read three or four of her novels so far and have seen her grow in confidence and in her delivery. It seems as if she is sitting on the brink of a major breakout these days and I'm proud to say that I knew her when.
Here is our conversation.
Dennis: How long have you been gone from the staff at MyShelf.com?
Nancy: I wrote my last column in December of 2005. It was a sad day for me because I loved working for MyShelf. Brenda is the kind of editor every writer wants to work for. She encourages you to expand your horizons. She gave me my own column, and I had such a great time with it!
Dennis: What is the grand total of books that you've had published so far?
Nancy: The grand total? Hmmm. Eight—or nine if you consider one book that was reprinted by another publisher. My first three novels were published by small companies. Only one of those books, SINNER'S SONG, is still in print. The last five have been published by Barbour Publishing. There are four books in my Ivy Towers mystery series. The first three have been included in COZY IN KANSAS—a compilation book. This book is now in stores across the nation—and doing very well. I do have an entry in another book that includes inspirational advice from authors. And I've recently concluded a couple of articles for another similar book.
Dennis: You've tried a few different featured characters. Who is your latest?
Nancy: Well, the latest published character is Ivy Towers, but I'm busy writing a second series for Barbour. My newest protagonist is Hilde Higgins. I created her in a very unique way. My agent and I were talking about all of the "hooks" that seem to be in mysteries. You know, the main character either has some hobby or job that puts a spin on the story. She mentioned hairdressers, which has been done. (I particularly enjoy the Bad Hair Day mysteries from Nancy Cohen.) I brought up the idea of a novel set in a funeral home. My agent told me about a series that was being written with that setting. As a joke I said, "Well, maybe I should write about a hairdresser who works for funeral homes." We laughed and went on our way—but the idea stuck in my mind. MISSING MABLE, the first novel in my CURL UP AND DYE mystery series will be released in 2009. I'm now writing the second one, BUMPING OFF BINKY. I love that title!
Dennis: What made you decide to write Christian mysteries?
Nancy: I have to honestly tell you that it wasn't my idea. After trying to write different types of novels, I finally asked God if He might have his own plan. After promising to follow whatever path he had for me, within a couple of weeks I was presented with the opportunity to write a proposal to Barbour Publishing for a cozy mystery. My first questions to my agent were "How do I write a proposal?" and "How do I write a cozy mystery?" I'd reviewed a few—but I don't believe I'd ever read a cozy inspirational mystery. After some coaching, I plopped myself down in front of my computer with the attitude that if this was what I was supposed to do, it would work. Writing IN THE DEAD OF WINTER, the first book in my Ivy Towers series, was the easiest writing I've ever done. I don't remember spending much time plotting. It just came out. Within two weeks of reading my proposal, the editor at Barbour contacted my agent and offered a contract. When the manuscript was finished, the editor e-mailed me to tell me that I'd written "the perfect cozy mystery." Who woulda thunk it? (Well, one Person did, huh?) I've been writing cozy mystery ever since. For someone who planned to be the next Frank Perretti or Ted Dekker (Christian horror), writing cozies is a long way from my original plan. But I wouldn't have it any other way.
Dennis: Tell us about your experience with Barbour.
Nancy: What can I say about the perfect publisher? I have an editor, Susan Downs, who loves my work and who is one of the most encouraging people in my life. I love her to pieces. Barbour is staffed with smart, smart people who know just how to market their books. A couple of times I've wondered about certain decisions—and each time they turned out to be absolutely right. My books go through a cozy mystery book club first (Heartsong Presents: Mysteries!), then after six months they are offered to the public. IN THE DEAD OF WINTER is now available online, as is BYE BYE BERTIE. But even after marketing the books through the book club (which is now up to almost 10,000 members), and online, they present a mystery compilation to stores across the country. They don't miss a beat. And by the way, I was notified in December that during one particular week, COZY IN KANSAS was their best-selling book in Walmart stores across the country! What a rush. To be honest, if I had my way, I would stay with Barbour exclusively. I can't imagine a better publisher.
Dennis: Will Ivy Towers be around for a while?
Nancy: Well, as long as the books hold up! LOL! Sadly, unless something odd happens, I've written my last Ivy book. THERE GOES SANTA CLAUS completes the four book series. But I don't see Barbour taking them out of print for quite some time. Hopefully, many people will get the chance to enjoy them. I've received so many wonderful letters and e-mails from people who've fallen in love with Winter Break, Kansas, and my Ivy. Those communications mean the world to me. Even more than sales figures or good reviews. I would really like to encourage MyShelf readers to take the time to contact authors you enjoy. It blesses us more than you know.
Dennis: Tell us what the future holds.
Nancy: Well, I don't know. It's all in His hands now. Barbour has penciled in another series after the CURL UP AND DYE mysteries. It's a series I've been itching to write for a long time. I need to do some research for it, but I am really looking forward to it. My agent is shopping around a manuscript that is a little more suspense than cozy. It is a story I like, and I would like to write it, but we'll see. For now, I'll just keep writing these cozies until someone tells me to stop! LOL! Writing a book every three to four months is a challenge, believe me. I do intend to spend even more time writing in 2009. I'd like to get myself ahead of schedule. Sadly, right now I'm lagging behind a bit. Of course, my ultimate goal is to write full time. I believe that will happen within the next year or so.
Thanks, Dennis for allowing me to be a part of MyShelf again. And a big "hello!" to all my past colleagues. (Hi, Brenda!!!!)
2009's Honorary List