Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tales of the Teapot: Interview with Best First Agatha Nominee Amanda Flower

Breathes there a maid with soul so dead/ Who never to herself hath said,/ “This is an ugly bridesmaid dress!” Very few women escape the bridal attendant’s ordeal entirely. Smiling as your friend picks out an expensive, ugly and unflattering dress; smiling as you drop a small fortune on shoes and the shower gift and travel to the wedding site; smiling as you unwillingly listen to family fights and bad covers if Unchained Melody. So it’s no wonder Amanda Flowers debut, Maid of Murder struck such a chord with readers.


The Best First Agatha nominee agreed to talk with us about librarianship, writing what you know, and feline birthday parties.

JULIA: What was your path to publication? Did you work your way through small presses? Land a deal with a major press? Win a contest? Everyone has a different story to tell.

AMANDA: I sold my first book, Maid of Murder, to Five Star, which is a small press within the larger publisher Gale/Cengage Learning, without a literary agent. Since then, I have signed with an agent and am so grateful to have her on my side. She makes my life so much easier.

As a young writer I sent Maid of Murder out to agents before it was ready and was rejected countless times. I stopped submitting the novel, joined a critique group, and revised it over and over again. When I felt the book was finally ready, I decided to submit it to mystery publishers that didn’t require an agent because I had already been rejected by every agent I knew who represented cozy mysteries. One of those publishers was Five Star.

However, Five Star rejected me, and I took it as a sign to let the book go. I saved the manuscript on my computer and decided to move on to a new book, hoping I could sell my first manuscript after I published something else. Almost exactly one year later, I got an email out of the blue from a new acquisitions editor at Five Star. She said she found my manuscript and wondered if it was still available. I said it was, and a month or so later, she bought it. It’s my literary miracle.

JULIA: "Write what you know" is the oldest piece of advice around. Is your mystery based on your own interests/vocation/experiences?

AMANDA: The following might answer your question…
I am a vegetarian academic librarian at a small college in Northeastern Ohio whose mother is a Presbyterian minister. India is a vegetarian academic librarian at a small college in Northeastern Ohio whose mother is a Presbyterian minister.

But seriously, India and I are not identical twins. I only took some of the pieces of my real life that were quirky, fun, and added to the story. India actually is a much calmer person than I am and takes a lot in stride. I’m not like that, but I wish I were. I think her temperament is a mix of my closest friends’ temperaments. Like India, they could handle a murder investigation. Could I handle one? I don’t think so.

JULIA: Tell us a bit about your background in library sciences. My oldest daughter, in college, maintains she is going to become a librarian. I have learned to take her seriously. Any suggestions?

AMANDA: Some people laugh when I tell them that I wanted to be a librarian at a very young age. I grew up in libraries and have been working in one library or another since I was sixteen years old. After I graduated from college, I went directly to library school and have never regretted my decision. I love being a librarian. I love helping patrons find exactly what they are looking for.

I would tell anyone who wants to be a librarian that it’s much more than books. Many of today’s librarians are extremely tech savvy. They have to be to keep up the increase in the demand for electronic resources. My advice would to take all the tech-related and desktop publishing courses you can in library school. Even if you think you won’t need them, you will. I avoided them like the plague when I was a student because I was convinced I was going to be a reference librarian at a public library. Instead I am college library department head in charge of the library’s network. Trust me; I have had a trial-by-fire education to learn how to manage a library server.

More important than tech savvy, the best attribute any librarian can have is a willingness to help. Librarians are very helpful folks.

JULIA: How much thought and planning did you put into Maid as the first in a series? (I only discovered the term "story arc" after I was told my book would actually be published.)

AMANDA: I always knew that Maid of Murder would be the first in a series because I’m a huge fan of series fiction. I love reading a series from beginning to end, and I’m one those readers who must read books in order. This drives my family crazy because they buy me books and I ask, “Is it the first one?” They usually don’t know because they are a little more relaxed in their reading habits. Thankfully being a librarian, I can find all the books in a series even if they are out of print so that I can read them in order.

One theme that will run throughout my India Hayes Series is India’s relationship with her brother Mark. They have a complicated relationship to be sure. From my observations of siblings and my own experience of being a sister myself, I think most sibling relationships are complicated.

JULIA: What's your writing process? Outline or organic?

AMANDA: It’s a little bit of both. When I start a new book, I usually have a vague idea what is going to happen and will start writing immediately because tone and voice are important to me as an author. I like to hear the main character and find out who she is before I throw her into the middle of a murder investigation. When I feel I know my protagonist well enough, I will write a synopsis for the entire book. I follow the synopsis for the most part, then make any changes to it that may have a occurred during the writing process when the book is complete.

JULIA: Having your debut mystery nominated for an Agatha is an amazing experience. There were only about 15 gazillion mysteries published last year. What did you do when you found out?

AMANDA: I was absolutely shocked when I got the call that I was nominated, especially considering my book was from a small press. When the committee member called, I’m afraid I may have squealed into her ear with delight. I’d like to take a moment to apologize to Marian for any damage I may have caused to her hearing. I do remember saying, “holy cow” a lot.

I’m still in a state of happy shock by the nomination. All most aspiring writers want is to be published. Anything beyond that is a surreal gift; it certainly is for me. Thank you to all the Malice attendees who nominated my book! You are all wonderful!

JULIA: I really enjoyed your characters, especially India's parents, and even minor characters are quite memorable. Do you base your characters on real acquaintances? And do you own a cat in real life?

AMANDA: I do base some of my characters on real people, and many of those people know who they are. However, most of my characters are a mix of people I know, have seen, and made up.

Yes, I do have a cat, two in fact. I’m an animal lover. I tried to write a book once with no animal characters, and it was a disaster. For me the animal characters make the people characters seem more real. One of my cats, Puddleglum, is a Maine Coon and is suspiciously similar to Theodore in the novel. He’s much older than Theo though. He’ll be having his Sweet Sixteen on May 4th and is expecting a tuna cake to celebrate.

JULIA: Being a librarian in real life, a profession near and dear to my heart (like so many writers, I grew up in a library), how do you see the profession evolving over the past ten years, and the next ten?

AMANDA: The main trend is electronic, electronic, electronic. It’s been the trend for the last ten years, and I don’t see it stopping in the foreseeable future. In a college library like mine, students want to have seamless, wireless, and instantaneous information. Not that I blame then, I want all those things too. Just to give you an idea, I work for a very small college (under 2,500 students), and we have 80,000 some print books and 60,000 some ebooks. One of my jobs is the ebook collection. I add on average 900 ebooks a month while typically we only add 2,000 print books per year. You can see where this is going. In the near future we will have more ebooks than print.

Before anyone panics remember that I work at a college library, so we aren’t buying novels a patron will want to curl up on the couch with. Most of our collection is research and academic program related. However, my library does have a copy of my book.

JULIA: What's next? What are you working on?

AMANDA: My second India Hayes Mystery, Murder in a Basket, will be released early 2012. In this second book, India is working at a face painting booth at an arts and crafts festival and stumbles across the dead body of a basket weaver. To her horror, she learns that the basket weaver is her provost’s sister.

In addition to this series, I am working on a few other projects at the advice of my agent. It’s an exciting time in my writing and much of the excitement is due to the Agatha nomination. The nomination has truly changed the course of my career. I could never thank Malice Domestic and the Readers enough for nominating me. Readers make authors dreams come true everyday!

JULIA: Do you blog? Enjoy social media? Where can we visit you?

AMANDA: Readers can visit me online at http://www.amandaflower.com/. They can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, The Little Blog of Murder, and Clash of the Titles.

Thank you, Amanda! JRW readers, you can download and read the first chapter of Maid of Murder at Amanda's website. After you do that, come back here and share your worst wedding experience ever. Hey! Maybe you can recycle that bridesmaid's dress and wear it to the Agatha Awards banquet at Malice!


26 comments:

Roberta Isleib said...

Thanks for interviewing Amanda, Julia! Amanda, that's a great tale of persistence!

So interesting to hear about your library experience. I'm on the board of our local library and we're wondering if the town will support an expansion. Do you see the ebook evolution as diminishing the role of libraries in the future?

And tell us more about the book. Love all those hideous bridesmaids photos....

Hallie Ephron said...

Hi, Amanda - your book sounds like great fun and congratulations on the nomination! I love your character's name -- where did it come from?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, the dresses! Too funny!

And did you see the article that says scientists have found the best predictor of longevity is: persistence?

Amanda, you're certainly a role model for persistence--and may you (and your series) have a very long life!

Amanda Flower said...

Thanks Roberta!

More about Maid of Murder-
When bride-to-be Olivia turns up dead in the Martin College fountain and the evidence points to India’s brother Mark, India must unmask the real culprit while juggling a furious Mother of the Bride, an annoying Maid of Honor, a set of hippie-generation parents, a police detective who is showing a marked liking for her, and a provost itching to fire someone, anyone—maybe even a smart-mouthed librarian.

Amanda Flower said...

@Roberta. Great question about libraries and ebooks!

I don't see ebooks diminishing libraries at all. Public libraries are busier than ever as people need to use the libraries' computers and other resources. This is especially true in a tough economy. Also companies like Overdrive make it possible for readers to check out ebooks on their ereaders. Amazon just announced that the Kindle will be the latest device to allow this service. This is great news for readers and libraries!http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9MNM1G00.htm

Amanda Flower said...

Thank you Hallie! I love naming characters. It's one of my favorite things about writing. I love to travel and India is on my MUST SEE list, so I named my protagonist after the country. I found her last name in a phone book. :) I haven't been to India yet, but someday...


Thank you so much, Hank! Congrats again on you Best Novel nomination! That's wonderful!!

Shannon said...

Congratulations on the Best First! I'm not sure what this says about my close friendships but I was only in one wedding besides my own and I got to choose the dress. I'm either universally disliked or been blessed with friends who opt for small weddings with sisters as attendants. All I know is I get to sip champagne wearing what I like.

Amanda Flower said...

Thanks Shannon! I've only been bridesmaid twice myself, and neither of my dresses were as bad as poor India's. ;)

Julia Spencer-Fleming said...

I'm buying a copy of MAID OF HONOR for my would-be librarian. At 18, she hasn't entered into the Bridesmaid Years yet, but since she goes to a women's college, I feel safe in predicting that she'll be attending many, many weddings in the coming decade.

I just wanted to say I so identify with the bad-dress brigade. All my friends got married in the early-to-mid eighties, and some of the horrors I wore... Thankfully, they make great dress-ups for my 10-year-old!

Rosemary Harris said...

Worst dress ever for me was the peach-colored prairie dress with the high neck, poufy sleeves and rick-rack on the front. Don't even ask.
This is a subject all women can identify with and share a laugh over! Sounds like a fun book - good luck next week!

Maryann Miller said...

Really enjoyed the interview and all the pictures. I can't believe some of the bridesmaid's dresses that people actually wore. LOL

And congrats again on the Agatha.

Deb said...

What a fun post! The dresses--how truly hideous!!!

Congratulations on your nomination, Amanda, and on your persistence. I'm betting this is the beginning of a long and successful writing career!

Roberta Isleib said...

Oh but Ro, that sounds so sweet:)

My worst bridesmaid dress was in my father's second wedding. Long, flimsy empire waisted halter dresses--a very plain dirt brown color with a flowery cape to wear in the church.

Later, I sewed gold sequins around the neckline and wore it to a lip sync party...still have it should anyone need to borrow...

Gail Pallotta said...

Hi Amanda,
What a neat interview, and I love the photos. Congratulations on your book. There's someone close to me who would enjoy this book a lot. I wish you much success with it.

Rosemary Harris said...

Roberta, your dress sounds cool..I looked like Holly Hobby

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

RO, I had a dress, just like that! Peach, with puffy sleeves, and a huge sash, and yikes, it was--like a big puffy pumpkin. I wish I still had it. It would be pretty funny. (The bride's name was Hallie, coincidentally,but not our Hallie.)

WHY do brides do this? (Amanda--have you explored this??)

Rosemary Harris said...

Easy - they don't want anyone else to look good on their special day!

Amanda Flower said...

@Julia Thank you! I hope your daughter enjoys the book. She's going to love being a librarian!

@Rosemary Thank you!! I'm enjoying reading each of your bridesmaid stories. :)

Thank you Maryann, Deb, and Gail!

Hank, I think Rosemary is right about the brides motivation. It's definitely the motivation for Olivia, the bride in my book.;)

Amanda Flower said...

Thank you for letting me stop by today ladies! It's been so much fun reading your comments!

A special thank you to Julia for interviewing me. You asked some great questions! Thank for the dress pictures too. ;)

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