Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nancy Martin Explains It All: Including Chickaboomboom

"In this stellar first in a new series, Martin introduces Roxy Abruzzo, ultra-sexy Pittsburgh sleuth and owner of Bada Bling Architectural Salvage... "
STARRED REVIEW Publishers Weekly

HANK: Nancy Martin's an amazing mixture of Grace Kelly and Rosalind Russell and Dorothy Parker. That's what I think at least. With a little--hmmm...Glinda the Good Witch thrown in. (Since wonderful things seem to happen whenever she's around.) She's also none of the hardest working and most generous people in the biz.

So when Nancy Martin decided to put her hilariously best-selling Blackbird sisters on hold and go for something completely different--many of us thought--of COURSE. Genius. How did she decide to do it? (And--should we?) As always, Nancy knows all. And is here to dish.

HANK: So, Nancy. You have taken the exciting step of creating a brand new series heroine--where did Roxy (the main character in Our Lady of Immaculate Deception) come from, and why? (Set in Pittsburgh, the series stars Roxy Abruzzo, a tough girl from the Rust Belt “with a heart of black and gold.”)

NANCY: I don't know about you, Hank, but I most enjoy reading books that surprise me. And recently I decided I might scream if I read one more mystery about a sweet woman sleuth with a cat and a cop boyfriend and a meddling mother.

Sure, Agatha Christie mysteries always seemed to feature a vicar and the lady of the manor and the attractive young couple, but when do those stock characters become boring cliches?

Television was turned on its ear by the likes of Tony Soprano, Nancy Botwin and Nurse Jackie. But when I thought about our genre, I wondered: Where are our ground-breaking characters? The bad girls, for instance? The characters who take chances, make wrong choices and surprise readers? Are writers limited to only writing about nice girls? I wanted something new to read, and I figured I'd better try writing it.

About the same time I was stewing about all this, my husband and I bought a very old house which is lovely and full of character, but there's always a disaster looming. (Ex: Two weeks ago, our copper gutters fell down. Ack!) During our repairs and renovations, we have met every kind of contractor known to suckers like ourselv----er, I mean typical homeowners.

The crew we hired to fix the porch, for instance, actually included a couple of guys wearing Lojack ankle bracelets, which the contractor tried to convince me were the "latest thing" for engaged couples. The girl gets a diamond, and the guy gets an electronic locator. Needless to say, we decided to hire a different crew when our kitchen renovation became unavoidable. The woman contractor who took charge of that job got me thinking about tough women in non-traditional careers. Roxy started to grow in my imagination--a woman who considers herself an expert in architectural salvage, but actually runs a junk yard and has to be *really* tough to deal with the people she encounters. Roxy's definitely full of surprises.

HANK: The Roxy books have been described as Chickaboomboom. That is--wonderful.
Um, what does that mean?

NANCY: If you figure it out, please tell me! Publisher's Weekly came up with "chickaboomboom" for OUR LADY OF IMMACULATE DECEPTION, not me. I think it means a girl thriller--a hybrid between a mystery and a suspense novel, but with a woman driving the action--lots of action--and, yeah, there's sex, too. But any other writer who wants to try writing "chickaboomboom" should make her own story choices. Labels can force writers to pigeonhole and limit ourselves.

HANK: You've been such a fixture in the mystery world--and by that I mean a pillar, a goddess, a paragon. How do you think things have changed since you started writing? In fact, how have *you* changed?

NANCY: How have *I* changed after thirty years of keeping my butt in the chair to write books? My butt has changed, that's for sure! Otherwise, I hope I've become more generous to other writers, because we're all in this together.

How has our world changed? The publishing biz definitely ebbs and flows. I rode the big wave of the romance genre in the 80s and jumped ship just as the tide receded. I think we've experienced a similar high tide for mysteries in recent years, and now things are beginning to recede again. The marketplace gets flooded. Readers tire of us or get lost. Technology changes the game, etc, etc.

But one big factor that always drives change in publishing is . . . us.
Writers have the power to make things different. We have more control of our fates than we sometimes think. We need to push the limits, come up with new ideas, stretch the boundaries of the wonderfully flexible literary form that is the mystery novel. Take chances--that's my motto these days.

HANK: Check out Nancy's website--where Roxy even has a playlist!

It includes, of course, Naughty Girl, Bad Girl, and of course, um, Respect. (Any ideas for what she should add?) Nancy will stop by to say hi--so questions for Nancy--or Roxy? Bring it on, sistahs. (And bruthas.) As Roxy says--just keep reading, and nobody gets hurt.


Cool stuff:
Winner of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement award for mystery writing from Romantic Times magazine, Nancy Martin is the author of 48 pop fiction novels in mystery, suspense, historical and romance genres. Nancy created The Blackbird Sisters in 2002--- mysteries about three impoverished Main Line heiresses who adventure in couture and crime --as if“Agatha Christie had wandered onto the set of Sex and The City.” Nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery of 2002, HOW TO MURDER A MILLIONAIRE won the RT award for Best First Mystery and was a finalist for the Daphne DuMaurier Award. Nancy lives in Pittsburgh, serves on the board of Sisters in Crime and is a founding member of Pennwriters. She blogs at the popular and trend-setting The Lipstick Chronicles.

PRIZES! We are delighted to offer a free personally signed copy of OUR LADY OF THE IMMACULATE DECEPTION to one lucky lucky commenter! Winner announced tomorrow...
(if you don't win, sigh, check out Mystery Lovers Bookshop, which will send you a signed copy!)

and also tomorrow...short stuff. (Clue: If you'll be my bodyguard, I can be your long lost pal...)


  1. This one is one my radar bigtime. Thanks for offering a special copy. Looking forward to meeting Roxy!

  2. This sounds like a great read. Please include me. Thanks for the chance.

    dlodden at frontiernet dot net

  3. Thanks, ladies. Hope you enjoy the book.--Roxy's a kick!

  4. Writers taking chances--I like it!

    That Lojack ankle thing, though, that's kinda creepy. Not sure I'd fall for the LoveJack line.

  5. Great interview, ladies. I love the bit about the guys with ankle bracelets!

  6. I really enjoy the Balckbird sisters and I'm sure Roxy will be just as entertaining.

  7. It's a discussion so many authors have had--with themselves, their agents and their readers--do you keep a series going, or try something new?

    As a reader: How long do series usually last before you think--ah, I'm done with this.

    Anyone thinking about this?

  8. Nancy's also on Poes Deadly Daughters today!Check it out..

  9. We're all thinking about it, Hank. Do we wait until our favorite authors "jump the shark" or do we hang no matter what? (I did hang on with Parker's Spenser. I read and enjoyed those books no matter how repetitive. As a writer, though, sales are a huge indicator. Although the Blackbird sales were still very good, I didn't see the needle moving upward anymore. So I figured it was time to make a leap. Now, of course, we're hearing that "flat is the new up" in sales, so maybe I blew it? But I felt as if the story engines of the series had lost their momentum. I was going to need to make a big, big change in the Blackbirds to keep the story moving forward, and I didn't want to do that. MOre reason to try something new with Roxy!

    I'd be interested in joining a group of writers and brainstorming about what the genre needs to boost its energy.

  10. Flat is the new up--got to love it.

    AH. Really?

    And I see what you mean--if you had radically chaged the Bloackbirds--and readers might not be happy with that.

    I remember Lee Child said his father told him: readers want something new--but they want it to be exactly the same as what they already like.

  11. When I wrote romance, Hank, we talked a lot about the McDonald's fish sandwich. It's the same in China and in Texas--and readers want the same consistency in books, too---but different. It's a conundrum, because to be the same will doom a writer, too. Everybody *says* they want another Evanovich, but they really resent any writer who's compared to her. (Even if we don't say it ourselves! There's only one Evanovich!) So . . . we must all be ourselves--fresh and entertaining in our own ways.

  12. Hi Nancy, I'm so glad to see you here and delighted that the new book is out! I remember talking with you when it was barely a glimmer in your eye.

    I also remember you saying as you wrote it that you would never show a first draft to your agent for fear she'd think you were on your way out. Maybe that was just a low moment, but I'd love to hear a little about your writing process. Do you have readers or a critique group after all these years?

    Note for JR Readers: Nancy is definitely one of the most generous writers around--I know that from our stint together on the Sisters in Crime board. And I can say if you hear her talk about brainstorming for the next thing for women writers, jump on board. The last time I heard her talk that way, The Lipstick Chronicles evolved!

  13. Good question: "How long do series usually last before you think--ah, I'm done with this." Several of us Jungle Red Writers have faced this question. I think it takes courage to take off in a new direction rather than stay in a place that's comfortable. Three cheers for Nancy for going off on a new tangent, and taking her readers with her.

    I gave up a series and wrote a standalone and haven't regretted it one iota. Change is (often) good even if it is scary.

  14. Roberta, the last time you blew such warm air up my skirt, you were wooing me onto the board! But thanks for the kind words. I had good company. ;-)

    Process? Erg, does anybody really care how other writers write? Wait---somebody asked me that question over the weekend at a book festival, and I kinda blew it off and later felt the question had been asked in earnest and I owed a thoughtful answer. (That's the trouble with Q&A sessions for me.--I'm liable to be too flip.)

    I do spend a lot of time thinking--especially about what kinds of elements the suspects of my murder bring to the table. Are they interesting? Do they show the reader a new world? Do they contribute more than plot to the story? Do they force change in my protagonist? Do they reflect and/or contrast the theme I'm working with?

    And I outline. During the draft stage, I throw away the outline sometimes, but it's always there if I need it. If I don't use one, I find I make obvious storytelling choices or I pick up the last thing I saw on Law & Order, and readers always catch that sort of thing. I spend too much time tinkering with my draft, when I really ought to just bang it out, because it's usually garbage and I lavish months on the re-write. For me, the re-write is the best time--the most creative and the most language-intense. When I was in theater, I liked the rehearsal process much better than performance, too, and it's still my process, I guess. I hate showing my drafts to my agent or editor, because they feel like unmade beds to me--showing things I'd rather not make public.

  15. I do think it's time we brainstormed about the health of our genre. I think we've allowed publishers to shine a light on the right path too long, and maybe we've only succeeded in weakening ourselves. An editor thinks, "Hey! We sold a bunch of that mystery about tiddlywinks--let's buy more books just like it!" And readers got tired of the same thing over and over. When you look around, the series that have been most successful are those that are unique unto themselves. Hank, I'm thinking of your reporter. who's dynamic and takes the reader on an authentic tour of a world that's only slightly familiar to all of us, but you show the fascinating details.--And your books are not dumbed down. (Another trait some editors seem to encourage.) Charlaine's vampire mysteries seized readers' interest in a way that seemed extradorinary, but wasn't really.--Charlaine wrote wonderfully emotional books all along, but she took a step out of the typical genre guidelines and look what happened.

    What do you all think? What new mystery series would you most like to see hit the shelves? We really haven't had a good beauty shop series. Or an authentic American horse-racing series. What else?

  16. Oh--great idea--ahh..but, just to prove your point--I'm rushing to a news story! Back soon.. you guys, talk. And I'll catch up.

    Grr. Don't want to miss this. Wish I had an iphone. No, I dont. Yes, I do.

    As Eeyore (or was it Pooh?) said: Bizy. Backson.

  17. Sounds like a really interesting read. Put me in.

  18. I love the idea that you've made your heroine on the grittier side. Is there a junk yard dog, too? Sounds like a great read!

  19. Oh, defintely there's a dog! Check out Nancy's website--you'll be introduced...

  20. Aha! It just so happens that my beauty shop series debuts in May under the name Lila Dare (TRESSED TO KILL--check out the starred PW review) :-). Thanks for the lead in, Nancy. And I think that even though Dick Francis's books were weaker in recent years, and he's dead now, he left awfully big shoes to fill on the horse racing mystery front.

  21. Laura, that's so cool!! Oh, I can't wait to read it! Hope it's juicy.

    I think there's room for an American horse-racing series. Francis was so British, I hardly think the two would feel similar.

    I'm also pushing a friend to write a rodeo series. I think that would be dandy! If I knew anything other what what I see watching PBR, I would write it myself.

    I don't see how a zombie mystery series would work, but I've been thinking about what I hear is the next big thing--clones--and I think there's a way to make that happen that mystery readers would go for.

  22. PS----Thank you, Hank and ladies of JR, for allowing me to visit today. You are faboo!

  23. Winner posted tomorrow! And thanks, Nancy, you are a dream.

    Come back Thursday to read some terrific short stories!

    And Friday--well, it's too hilarious to talk about.

    Saturday! Erin Hart.

  24. I've been reading about your new series. If I don't win one (and I'm sure I won't) I'll be sure to buy one at Pennwriters Con, if not before!