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

WWK's May interviews will be: 5/2--indie author Bobbi Holmes, 5/9--TG Wolff (aka--Anita Devito), 5/16--Chocolate Bonbon author Dorothy St. James, 5/23--Lida Sideris, 5/30--Food Lovers' Village (and multiple Agatha winner) Leslie Budwitz. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

Our May Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 5/5--John Carenen, 5/12--Judy Penz Sheluk, 5/19--Margaret S. Hamilton, 5/26--Kait Carson.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Tina Whittle's sixth Tai Randolph mystery, Necessary Ends, debuts on April 3, 2018. Look for it here. Tina was nominated for a Derringer Award for her novelette, "Trouble Like A Freight Train Coming." We're all crossing our fingers for her.

James M. Jackson's Empty Promises, the next in the Seamus McCree mystery series (5th), will be available on April 3, 2018. Purchase links are here.

Dark Sister, a poetry collection, is Linda Rodriguez's tenth published book. It's available for sale here:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with the authors in this anthology on 4/14! Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

Shari Randall's second Lobster Shack Mystery, Against the Claw, will be available in August, 2018.

In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An Interview With Victoria Abbott

by Grace Topping

Books from the Golden Age of Detection or Detective Fiction by such writers as Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, and Dorothy Sayers are among my favorites, and I’m sad that we won’t be seeing more books from those terrific writers. So it was with great pleasure that I discovered a series of books by Victoria Abbott that highlight the works of several writers from that period.

The mother-daughter team of Mary Jane Maffini and Victoria Maffini, under the pen name of Victoria Abbott, has written five books in the Book Collector Mysteries series. The books feature Jordan Bingham, a book specialist, who is hired by Vera Van Alst to hunt down rare mysteries for her collection. Each book in the series features and pays homage to an author from the Golden Age of Detection:

The Christie Curse (Agatha Christie)
The Sayers Swindle (Dorothy Sayers)
The Wolfe Widow (Rex Stout)
The Marsh Madness (Ngaio Marsh)
The Hammett Hex (Dashiell Hammett)

The Marsh Madness won the 2016 Bony Blithe, an award for mysteries that make us smile. The Book Collector Mysteries series will entertain you, remind you of some of the best writers that have come along or introduce you to them if you haven’t read them before, and make you smile.

Welcome, Victoria Abbott (Mary Jane Maffini and Victoria Maffini) to Writers Who Kill.

What motivated you to write as a team?

Victoria Abbott (Mary Jane Maffini and Victoria Maffini)
We thought the idea of the book collector mysteries with its links to the authors, sleuths, and books of the Golden Age of Detection was something that we would both love writing. MJ was an experienced mystery writer with thirteen mysteries at the time and Victoria brought humor and a youthful perspective to our sleuth. Having been part of Prime Crime Mystery Bookstore in Ottawa, we both knew the world of mysteries well and enjoyed both contemporary and the classics. We also felt that it would be fun. 

What was the most challenging part of writing together, especially as mother and daughter?

A collaboration has to be equal and neither of us “owns” the book, so that called for caution and tact. Ahem. Although we both had to be free to speak our minds, we had to be careful not to hurt the other one’s feelings. After all, we each knew 147 ways to kill people. On the other hand, we each had to defend our ideas. We did get into a rhythm with it in time.  

What is it like writing with a partner? Do you bring different skills to the team?

It’s been surprising and interesting. Victoria brought some wonderfully unexpected twists and idea, as well as off-the-wall humor, and MJ was under the impression she provided experience and an understanding of plotting. We each think the other one is pretty funny, so that goes a long way to making it an enjoyable process.

Please tell us about your process? How do you divide up the work? Do you have different levels of participation?

First, we get together to pick the Golden Age author/sleuth we want Vera Van Alst, our curmudgeonly collector, to covet and take it from there. We brainstorm about possible plots, locations, and new characters. We consider what can happen in our sleuth Jordan’s life and what could go wrong with Vera and the Van Alst house.  Often there was some aspect we’d hoped to explore: romantic, dramatic, or somehow involving the uncles.

MJ usually works on the spine of the plot after we’ve identified where we want the book to go. Victoria writes scenes with certain characters and tosses in new ideas. MJ will eventually get over such ideas as the exploding still in The Marsh Madness and the disappearing bookshop in The Hammett Hex, but often she has to lie down and put a cold cloth over her eyes. We do like to take the other one by surprise.

MJ rereads the works and researches the life of whatever author we are writing about. Victoria does the research into the antiques, rare books, old houses, vintage clothing, and all that fun stuff.  

If you disagree, who’s the tiebreaker? 

We haven’t gotten to the point of a real disagreement, although we could always toss a coin if we did. There’s quite a lot of all ’round the mulberry bush though.

What surprised you the most about the process?

The biggest surprise was that it takes us longer to write together than it takes MJ to write a book as a rule. Melding the two styles to sound like one unified voice takes time, and we work to ensure we are going in the same direction as well. Then there’s that mulberry bush …

Based on your experience writing together, what advice would you give writers who plan to write with a partner?

We have found that things go better with an outline, although we’ve never actually completed one. Do as we say, not as we do. It is also worthwhile to be sure that you are each doing what makes you happy in the collaboration. MJ wants to charge ahead on plot and Victoria likes to make things blow up.

In your Book Collector Mystery series, you focus on Golden Age detective fiction and the works of famous authors from that era, including Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, and Dashiell Hammett. Why did you select the authors you featured?

We selected authors that we thought would still resonate with contemporary readers and also those that we enjoyed. We wanted strong and interesting sleuths and sidekicks and authors who had interesting private lives. These authors’ own lives often make their fiction almost pale in comparison. It would have seemed like a lot more work if we hadn’t been so fascinated.

In The Wolfe Widow, I particularly noticed the parallels you drew between Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin and your Vera Van Alst and Jordan Bingham. For example, Vera’s idiosyncrasies and Jordan’s purchase of yellow silk pajamas as a gift for Vera. Anyone who reads Rex Stout knows that Nero Wolfe loves to lounge in his yellow silk pajamas. Do you draw parallels in each book to the author you feature?

Yes, we try to, although the yellow PJ’s were particularly fun. In The Marsh Madness we drew comparisons to Ngaio Marsh’s love of theater, staging, and dialogue. She was brilliant at all that, and we wanted to make it be an integral part of the story. In The Hammett Hex we delved into Hammett’s fictional world to show that you really can’t trust anyone. Because Hammett was an investigator—as were many of his characters—we wanted to use some of his techniques for shadowing a suspect. Also we played with those irresistible dark alleys in San Francisco. We had a lot of fun with that.  

Jordan’s employer, Vera Van Alst, is a real curmudgeon. Why does Jordan continue working for her?

Such a good question. Jordan loves everything about the job except for Vera. She adores her attic apartment with the cabbage rose wallpaper and the view of the property. She’s very keen about the three meals and additional snacks every day provided by the eccentric (Eat! Eat!) Signora Panetone. She is enchanted by the Van Alst House in all its crumbling glory: antiques, silver, paintings, and gardens. It’s all wonderful to her. Last, but not least, there’s the fascination of the books to be located and collected. Jordan also comes to love the genre, and she has her own little buying and selling sideline on the go. Vera may be hard to take, but Jordan has some liking and sympathy for her (most days). Vera’s life wasn’t easy, and who would want to be the most hated woman in Harrison Fall, NY?

With the lodging and food included and the sideline, the job lets Jordan save to restore her funds and with luck get back to grad school. It also keeps Uncle Kev off the streets and probably out of jail. It’s not like she’d find anything else that good. Tolerating Vera might be a small price to pay. We wouldn’t mind that life ourselves.

Jordan was raised by her loving but larcenous uncles. Does knowing about their questionable business activities present Jordan with a moral dilemma?

Yes, although we don’t dwell on it. Jordan loves the uncles to bits. Even so, she has made a commitment to being honest, and she only breaks the law in the interest of helping someone else—she does have those lock picks she got for her Sweet Sixteen. She doesn’t assist the uncles in their “entrepreneurial” activities, but she doesn’t do them any harm either. She’s never going to turn them over to the cops or betray them to her love interest, Officer Tyler “Smiley” Dekker. It was the best we could do.

Mary Jane, you’ve written other series. Please tell us about them. Do you have any books coming out in those series?

Thanks for asking. I have three other series: the Camilla MacPhee books feature a stubborn lawyer and victims’ rights advocate in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, against the backdrop of Ottawa’s many festivals. Camilla’s smart, tough, and funny and is the kind of person who goes through the mountain rather than around it. She can’t help it. I have burdened her with three bossy older sisters and the world’s worst office assistant, but she’s equal to it all. I am working on the seventh book in the series now. They are edgier than cozies, but have the relationships, setting, and humor that are common to the cozy sub-genre.

The two Fiona Silk books are comic capers set in West Quebec and feature a failed romance writer with no sex life. Coincidence? At any rate, corpses pop up and hilarity ensues.

People who like or need organizing or de-cluttering may enjoy the five books with professional organizer and amateur sleuth, Charlotte Adams. They all contain organizing tips and wicked miniature dachshunds at no extra charge. The fifth Charlotte Adams mystery won the 2012 RT award for best amateur sleuth.

I understand that Victoria did the artwork for one of your books.

Victoria, who is also an artist and photographer, did the artwork for Two Hot to Handle, the second Fiona Silk mystery. Then someone bought the painting right out from under MJ’s nose!

Victoria, have you written books under your own name?

I have short stories that have appeared in the anthologies Fit to Die and Dead in the Water. 

You now have five books in the Book Collectors Mystery series. I hope we’ll be seeing more. What’s next for Jordan Bingham?

We hope so too, but the fate of the books is up in the air. We do however have a mysterious proposal for a new series, with a bit more edge. Watch for news on that.

Thank you, Mary Jane and Victoria, for joining us at WWK.

For more information about Victoria Abbott, Mary Jane Maffini and Victoria Maffini, their books, and short story news, visit their websites and sign up for their free e-newsletter. They love to hear from readers.

Visit them also on Facebook:

Take a look at the latest book in the Book Collector Mysteries series:

The Hammett Hex

The national bestselling author of The Marsh Madness takes rare book collector Jordan Bingham on a trip to San Francisco—home to Dashiell Hammett’s hard-boiled heroes—where nothing is as it seems.

On a getaway to the City by the Bay, book collector Jordan Bingham becomes entangled in a mystery with more twists than Lombard Street...

Jordan has been able to swing a romantic trip to San Francisco with Officer Tyler “Smiley” Dekker on one condition—she must return with a rare copy of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest for her irascible employer, Vera Van Alst. For his own part, Smiley is full of surprises. He’s a Dashiell devotee himself—excited to be in the city of Hammett’s hard-boiled heroes like Sam Spade and the Continental Op—and also announces he plans to visit his previously unmentioned estranged grandmother, who lives in an old Victorian in Pacific Heights.

But the trip goes downhill fast when Jordan is pushed from a cable car and barely escapes death. And when a dark sedan tries to run the couple down, it’s clear someone’s after them—but who? Just like in Hammett’s world, nothing is quite what is seems...


KM Rockwood said...

Fascinating! Your senses of humor and ability to both surprise one another and work together shine through in the interview. Thanks for sharing with us.

Margaret Turkevich said...

Great interview! Your zest and enthusiasm are readily apparent, and your overall theme compelling. Looking forward to reading your books.

Gloria Alden said...

I read the Christie Curse not too long ago, but didn't know what the titles, if there were any, were. Now I know and wrote them down because I enjoyed their first book. Also, I've read three of Mary Jane's Charlotte Adams, organizing books, and have enjoyed those, too.I'm not sure how many are in that series, either.

Shari Randall said...

What fun! I've recently rediscovered Ngaio Marsh (thanks to a blog post here by Warren Bull). I'm looking forward to your spin on her books. Thank you for stopping by WWK!

Warren Bull said...

It sounds like you enjoy writing together and you come up with fun books.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

Thank you all for coming by! We are both thrilled to be here and to have actual comments.

Great fun for us!

Cheers and happy reading.

MJ speaking for both of us!

E. B. Davis said...

Another series for my TBR pile. Your corroboration sounds like a winner. Good luck with this new release. Great interview, Grace!

Mary Jane Maffini said...

Thank, E.B. This was a fun day for us.

We all love the towering TBR piles.\


MJ and Victoria

Grace Topping said...

Thanks for joining us at WWK. Your responses were terrific and very informative.