Wednesday, November 10, 2021

An Interview with V. M. Burns by E. B. Davis


Bookstore owner and mystery writer Samantha Washington comes to the aid of the cop who once arrested her own grandmother . . .
Sam and Nana Jo are back in sleepy North Harbor, Michigan, where Sam is eagerly awaiting the publication of her first book. In search of more immediate excitement, Nana Jo hits the casino with her fellow Shady Acres Retirement Village gal pals—but they get more than they bargained for when they witness Detective Bradley Pitt decking mayoral candidate John Cloverton.
As Sam well knows, mystery novels are full of brilliant detectives, genius sleuths, and hero cops. Detective Bradley Pitt—aka “Stinky Pitt”—is another story. In the past, the dull-witted detective has mistakenly accused members of Sam’s family for crimes they didn’t commit. Now, it’s his turn: when Cloverton turns up dead, he’s arrested. With his predilection for polyester, Pitt has been wanted by the fashion police for years, but Nana Jo knows her former elementary school math student would never commit murder—it doesn’t add up. Somebody’s framed the flatfoot to take a fall, and Sam and Nana Jo must step in to restore the reputation and good name of Detective Pitt.


Killer Words is the seventh Mystery Bookshop Mystery by V.M. Burns and will be released on November 30. One of the reasons I love this series is the contrasts and similarities between the contemporary mystery Samantha Washington tries to solve and the historic cozy mysteries she presents in her books. There are similarities, even if the eras are very different. But then, people never change and politicians are always motivated via their agendas no matter the times.


Sam and Nana Jo’s related and non-related family support each other to solve the mysteries and overcome obstacles in their path to success.                           E. B. Davis 

Sam and Nana Jo are shocked by unsubstantiated allegations and innuendo printed in what used to be regarded as respected and learned newspapers. Do you see this happening often in real life? Authors often look to real life for their inspiration when writing fiction, and cozy authors are no different. My inspiration inspired when I read an article in a well-respected journal that was completely based on opinion rather than facts. Times have changed and gone are the days when readers could rely on the news for an impartial review of facts that have been checked and double checked.


Nana Jo assumes that Sam will be free to pick up her friends at Shady Acres. Does Sam ever resent that Nana Jo just assumes she’s free and willing to do whatever Nana Jo wants? Sam has lost many people who are close to her, including her father, her grandfather and her husband. Losing your loved ones helps put things into perspective. I believe Sam realizes that she is blessed to still have Nana Jo in her life and is eager to spend time with her. Sam knows there’s nothing that Nana Jo wouldn’t do for her. So, she doesn’t resent doing things for her, especially because she knows her grandmother would never take advantage of her. Nana Jo is more than Sam’s grandmother. She and the girls from Shady Acres are her friends. They’ve been through a lot together. So, no she doesn’t feel any resentment at all.


What is the attraction to casinos for the older folks? Casinos, like the Four Feathers, offer discounts for seniors. They also provide a place where adults can eat, drink, and play in one spot.


Sam’s relationship with her mother is very different than with Nana Jo. Why? Who raised her? Sam and her sister, Jenna, were both raised by loving, caring parents. Their father is dead, but their mother, Grace, is still alive. Parents are expected to provide discipline, structure, rules. Grandparents are on a completely different level. I saw this difference firsthand when my parents became grandparents. All of the rules went out the window when it came to grandchildren.


One of Sam’s characters in her cozy historic British mystery series she writes is Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, one of President Kennedy’s siblings. What interested you to write about Kathleen? Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy was one of the Kennedys that I hadn’t heard much about. When I read about her life, I found it intriguing. Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish became the Marchioness of Hartington when she married William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington and heir apparent to the 10th Duke of Devonshire in May 1944. Their romance was not sanctioned by either family. Kathleen was an American (not popular after Wallis Simpson) and Catholic. Sadly, William was killed only four months later by a German sniper while fighting in Belgium. The more I read about Kathleen’s determination, the more I realized that I wanted to include her in the series.


How does Sam’s writing help her think about the case she’s trying to solve? Sometimes when I have a difficult problem, I find focusing on something completely different helps to work out the details. In the same way, writing allows Sam to focus on something different. There are often parallels between the books she’s writing and the case she’s trying to solve. Consciously, she’s focused on the British historic cozy she’s writing. As she writes, her subconscious is free to wander.


Have you studied Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey? I worked at a company that required all managers to attend a week-long class, and read the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. At the end of the course, we were trained to use the Covey Planner. I thought it was merely a class about learning to use a day planner, but the course was so much more. In fact, it was probably one of the books/courses that most changed my life.


Sam says her mission statement when she took a course on Covey’s book was, “Live well. Enjoy life. No regrets.” How did she decide on that? Sam’s mission statement is short, concise, and yet broad enough to cover a lot of territory. She isn’t a young woman just starting out in life. She’s lived and loved and has had a lot of experiences. Over the years, she’s learned what’s most important to her. She’s said many times, “life is too short not to be happy.” She and Leon spent many years working jobs they didn’t love, just to make ends meet. All the time, they dreamed that one day they could quit their jobs and open a mystery bookshop. But they didn’t. And now Leon is dead. Sam wants to live and enjoy whatever time she has. And when it’s over, hopefully she won’t have any regrets.


What is a “digital display room?” I’m not technologically savvy, so I don’t know the technical words to describe how it works. I can only say that there’s lots of technical stuff that can create a virtual reality experience without the weird glasses.


Who appointed Joseph Kennedy as Ambassador to England? Was he good at the job? Was Ambassador Kennedy, who made his money “importing” or perhaps, bootlegging liquor, really a teetotaler? Joseph Kennedy was appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938. Kennedy had many business ventures including stocks, commodities, and real estate. He made a large amount of money reorganizing and refinancing Hollywood studios and distributing the rights for Scotch. There were rumors that Joseph Kennedy was involved in bootlegging liquor during Prohibition, but none of the rumors have been substantiated. Kennedy was also a prominent member of the Democratic party and the Irish Catholic community. My research indicates that Kennedy drank little alcohol and disapproved of drinking as a “stereotypical Irish vice.” One story alleges that he even offered to pay his sons $1,000 not to drink until they turned 21.


You mentioned Alan Turing. Wasn’t he the Englishman who broke Germany’s Enigma Code? Yes, Alan Turing was an English mathematician and cryptographer who is best known for his work in breaking the Enigma code which gave the allies an edge during World War II.


Although Stinky Pitt has tried to arrest Sam, Nana Jo, Dawson and Harold, they have compassion on him. Why do they still call him Stinky Pitt? Stinky Pitt is a nick name that he picked up in elementary school. Nana Jo often used the nickname to irritate the detective, but she was careful never to use the name outside of their group. However, she slips in Killer Words, and Cloverton seizes on it. Nana Jo regrets it, and it is probably a contributing factor in why she wants to help Detective Pitt. It’s also an example of something that I’ve struggled with. When you are accustomed to using a nickname for years, it’s hard to stop. Apologies to my cousins (Bucky, Little Ed, Little Mary, Ping Pong, etc.). Like Nana Jo, I’m working on it.


Nana Jo taught Stinky Pitt elementary math. Does she usually carry a gun? Nana Jo grew up on a farm where she learned to shoot. She won many trophies for marksmanship. Her late husband gave her the gun that she carries for protection. Nana Jo carries it mostly as a keepsake. However, since they’ve started solving murders, it’s become a helpful tool.


Nana Jo and Dorothy are both martial arts experts? I gained my knowledge of martial arts from watching Bruce Lee movies on television. Those highly choreographed, acrobatic fight scenes created an image of martial arts that’s misleading. While many varieties of martial arts are used in combat, some don’t involve breaking bricks with your hands or wielding swords. Some forms of martial arts focus on a spirituality and religion. Both Nana Jo and Dorothy are martial arts experts, which I hope will broaden the way people view older women and martial arts.


Does Irma have a drinking problem? She seems to use alcohol like cough syrup. Irma does like to take a nip from her flask, but she doesn’t have a problem with alcohol, yet.


Would a man who was given a dishonorable discharge from the military be able to join the police? A dishonorable discharge would show up on a background check, and it’s unlikely that anyone dishonorably discharged would be able to join the police. Like much of the people and incidents in this series, I was inspired by a real case. There are some interesting (and scary) things that slip through the cracks that make great stories.


Corn chowder, bacon sandwiches, lemon cake…has Frank won Sam’s affections with food? Absolutely!


You stated that crime on Indian Reservations is 2 ½ times greater than anywhere else in the country. Since Indian Reservations are considered separate nations, isn’t it the responsibility of the Indian Reservation to enforce Federal law, which is applicable there? The statistics for crime on Indian reservations is startling. Indian reservations are considered separate nations in many respects, which means arresting and prosecuting criminals is complicated. In 1978, the Supreme Court stripped Tribes of the right to arrest and prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on tribal lands (Oliphant v Suquamish), which is approximately 86% of crimes against women. If the perpetrator is non-Indian and the victim is an enrolled tribal member, then only a federal agent can make the arrest. If both parties are tribal members, then the Tribal Officer can make the arrest, but tribal courts cannot sentence those convicted to more than three years in prison. Jurisdiction is complicated, but this is unacceptable.


Christopher and Zaq are headed for grad school. Emma has already been accepted to medical school. Jillian is trying out for the Russian Ballet. Sam’s sister, Jenna is a lawyer. Sam owns a bookstore and is a mystery author. Nana Jo is a former teacher. Sam’s mother Grace is married to Harold, who is a multimillionaire. And Dawson is headed either to the NFL or culinary school. How talented can this bunch be? Are there any duds in the extended family? Unlike the people in Sam’s British historic cozy, none of Sam’s family and friends were born with silver spoons and titles. These are all honest, hardworking men and women. Hopefully, people will be inspired to see what a good education and hard work can accomplish.


With most of the kids going off to grad schools and such, will the series change? What’s next for Sam, Nana Jo, and the gang? Change is inevitable, but Sam, Nana Jo and the girls will still be around. They will continue getting involved, figuring out mysteries, and getting in trouble.



  1. Val, welcome back and congratulations on your latest release! As always, I look forward to reading it. Paw waves from my standard poodles, Jazz and Louie.

  2. Congrats on your new book, Valerie. As always, you do a great interview.

  3. Congratulations on your newest and welcome back to WWK!

  4. Great stories! And I love the poodles.

  5. An engaging interview! I'm looking forward to the new book.

  6. Congratulations on the new book, Valerie! I'm looking forward to reading it!