If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

August Interviews

8/5 Lucy Burdette, The Key Lime Crime

8/12 Maggie Toussaint, All Done With It

8/19 Julie Mulhern, Killer Queen

8/26 Debra Goldstein, Three Treats Too Many

August Guest Bloggers

8/8 Leslie Wheeler

8/15 Jean Rabe

August Interviews

8/22 Kait Carson

8/29 WWK Authors--What We're Reading Now


Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Interview with Mary Miley

by Grace Topping

The Impersonator

“A struggling young vaudeville performer who is persuaded to impersonate a missing heiress gets caught up in a scam that thrusts her deep into the Roaring Twenties’ world of gangsters, bootleggers, and murder.”

Silent Murders

“In the second Roaring Twenties murder mystery, Jessie trades her nomadic vaudeville life for a modest but steady job in the silent film industry. She quickly learns that all Hollywood scorns the Prohibition laws: studio bosses rule the police and gangsters supply speakeasies everywhere with bootleg hooch and Mexican dope. When a powerful director is murdered at his own party and Jessie’s waitress friend is killed for what she saw, Jessie takes the lead in an investigation tainted by corrupt cops. Soon tangled in a web of drugs, bribery, and greed, she finds herself a prime suspect as the bodies pile up.”

Attending panels is an excellent way to meet new authors and hear about their books. It was at a panel of mystery writers at the Fall for the Book program at George Mason University in Virginia that I got to meet Mary Miley. Her description of The Impersonator, set in the Roaring Twenties, immediately captured my interest. After reading The Impersonator, I could well understand why Mary had been awarded the 2012 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. Mary is a historian who has worked at Colonial Williamsburg, taught American history at Virginia Commonwealth University, and published numerous books and articles on history and travel. I'm certainly glad she has now turned to a life of crime. 
Grace Topping

Welcome, Mary, to Writers Who Kill.

Mary Miley
After years of teaching and writing about history and travel, what prompted you to write mysteries?

The urge to find a new challenge. I reached my fifties and wanted to try something different. Writing fiction is very different than writing nonfiction—more so than I realized at the time.

Your first book, The Impersonator, received the First Crime Novel Award from Mystery Writers of America Minotaur Books. Congratulations! The expectations for your next book must have been high. Did it make it difficult writing the second book in your series?

True confession: The Impersonator is not my first novel. It is my first published novel. Actually it is #8. The first two or three were dreadful; the subsequent ones weak but getting better. All were part of the learning process. Almost all authors will tell you a similar tale: their first published book was actually their third, sixth, or eleventh attempt . . .

David Baldacci said of The Impersonator, “This Roaring Twenties period piece drips with bathtub gin, truck-size cars, outside personalities, money, high stakes, and enough twists, turns, and sleights of hand to keep one reading late into the night.” A terrific recommendation, and your book delivered. What inspired this book?

Oddly enough, it was my dissatisfaction with Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey, a book with a premise that resonated and a plot that didn’t work for me. I kept reworking it in my head, trying to make it believable, until one day I decided to write the premise in a way that seemed plausible. The New York Times called it a pastiche novel, and it is. Read both and see what you think.

You’ve become such an expert on the Roaring Twenties that you are often invited to speak on the subject. Why the Twenties?

Because the Twenties is the most intriguing decade in American history, hands down. It has everything: Prohibition, the women’s movement, vaudeville, silent movies, gangsters, scientific innovation, radio, fashion, jazz, bootleggers, smugglers, corruption, the Ku Klux Klan, speakeasies, dating, the bob, the Model T, makeup, flappers, and new social norms. No decade was as exciting, as violent, as innovative, and as jarring as the Twenties, when American came roaring into the modern era.
To launch your Roaring Twenties books, you threw a Roaring Twenties party with “bootleg” champagne, silent movies, Charleston lessons, and Twenties attire. It was quite a hit. What is it about the Twenties that appeals to people?

People today are rediscovering the fashion (the flapper style dress and cloche hats are on display in department stores and dress shops), not to mention renewing their appreciation of jazz, “wild” dancing, and fancy-drink cocktail parties, all of which originated in the Twenties. It is perceived as a fun time, which it was in many respects.

Leah Randall, your main character in The Impersonator, grew up performing on the vaudeville circuit with such performers as Jack Benny. Since life on the circuit was hard, Leah grabs the opportunity to escape by impersonating an heiress. How does Leah justify her decision?

Ever since her mother died when she was 12, she’s had to support herself, and she’s done it the only way she could, sometimes stealing and sometimes “crossing over” to nude burlesque acts or working for shady acts that preyed on gullible people. She knows impersonating the missing heiress for a cut of her fortune is wrong, but she has no money and no family to fall back on. She justifies it by reasoning that no one will get hurt and that she’s planning to take only part of the inheritance.

You’ve traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad. Has seeing the world helped shape your fiction writing?

Since the Roaring Twenties mystery series takes place all over the U.S., yes, I guess my experience traveling in different parts of our enormous country have helped me portray the settings more accurately. None of this series is set abroad—and I don’t intend to do that—but I have another stand-alone mystery, a gothic romance titled Stolen Memories that is set in France and England. I went to school in France and have relatives in England, so have visited those countries often. Stolen Memories incorporates many of my own experiences, like crunching over a bed of snails while walking through a French cave and sneezing in an ancient castle with moldy hunting trophies hanging on the walls.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned since turning to fiction writing?

Writing fiction has made my nonfiction better. I’ve become a lot more creative and a bit more poetic in all my writing but the greatest gain was in my nonfiction.

Most writers do their research reading books, searching online, and interviewing people. You’ve said that you learned a lot from watching silent movies made in the 1920’s. How have silent movies helped you in your research and writing?

Films made in the 1920s give details about everyday life that aren’t in the history books. They’ve answered many of my questions: How did you make a telephone call from a hotel? When did a woman wear gloves? Did a policeman’s badge bear his name? What did children playing in the street wear? What did an office look like? What did a hospital room look like? Movies made in the 20s are a gift!

Your book Silent Murders takes readers to Hollywood and the silent film industry. Again you’ve featured real people such as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, W.C. Fields, and many others. What challenges, if any, do you face when using real people in your books?

As a historian, I am driven by accuracy. I must portray real people as they really were—or as close as I can possibly get. To do that, I read biographies. Autobiographies are best, because I get the subject’s voice as well his/her life story, and I can use phrases they used or expressions they used when I create dialogue. For example, Mary Pickford and her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, had a code sentence, “by the clock,” that they used with one another, and I incorporated that in one of the books.

Since writing the books in your Roaring Twenties series, you’ve written two stand alone books. Please tell us about them.

Not two, just one, a gothic romance/mystery titled Stolen Memories. It’s set in the 1920s too, but in Europe so Prohibition and gangsters play no role. Most of the story takes place in the Champagne region of France, but some is in Paris and some in London. It’s a gothic in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt, and Mary Stewart, whose books I’ve always loved.

I understand that you went to jail recently. Can you tell us about it?

I go to jail every Monday! I am a volunteer writing teacher. My students are men who will be released soon (generally speaking, sentences of less than 3 years are served in jail while longer sentences are served in prison), and there are many programs at the jail to help them leave with life skills that will help them get jobs and become decent citizens and never return to jail. Various programs deal with overcoming addictions, PTSD, and anger issues, improving parenting skills, and getting an education. I’m part of the last. My motives are selfish: I want my tax dollars to go for schools and parks and roads, not prisons.

Writers are now expected to promote their books. What has been the most challenging aspect of doing your own promotion? The most enjoyable?

The most challenging (i.e., difficult) part of promoting books for me is the social media, which I do not enjoy or understand. The easiest and most fun is speaking to groups like book clubs, historical societies, museums, women’s clubs, libraries, and such. The very best is meeting with young people in high schools or universities!

What’s next for your character Jessie Carr, aka Leah Randall? I hope we’ll see more of your Roaring Twenties books.

The third book in the series, Renting Silence, comes out in 2016. The fourth is already finished but has no title yet; it’s scheduled for 2017. Renting Silence is about blackmail and murder (as one character says, you can’t buy silence, you can only rent it, and the rent keeps going up). This book takes Jessie back into the world of vaudeville to track down a performer with something to hide. At the request of her silent film star boss, Mary Pickford, Jessie uses her vaudeville talents to investigate the murder of an extra by a Hollywood actress who has already been sentenced to hang after a fair trial. Jessie’s inquiries lead to the discovery of a blackmailer and more than a dozen actors facing ruin or even death if their secrets are exposed.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I have a cozy, quiet office beside the kitchen where I can use the computer or stretch out on a sofa to think. It used to be the children’s playroom. To some degree, I’m still playing there!

Thank you, Mary, for joining us today at Writers Who Kill.

You can learn more about Mary Miley and her books by visiting her website, blog, and Facebook page:



Margaret S. Hamilton said...

fascinating summary of your career and books, which I look forward to reading.

Warren Bull said...

Sounds like a great read. I had not thought about using movies as a research tool. Thanks for the new idea and thanks for sharing on WWK.

Shari Randall said...

Sounds like a fascinating series, Mary, I am looking forward to reading it. So much change in the Twenties, so much fodder for good stories.
I lived in Virginia and visited Colonial Williamsburg several times (my daughter did a master's degree at William and Mary). You weren't tempted to set a mystery in the Colonial period?

Gloria Alden said...

Welcome to WWK, Mary This is another book to add to my TBO list. I know I'll really enjoy it, and want to read on.

KM Rockwood said...

I've recently been on a binge of reading fiction set in the two World Wars; this is a natural next step for me, after WWI and before the Depression.