Pittsburgh’s own Nancy Martin is here today! I’ve been a fan of hers for years now and am so glad she agreed to an interview. Her books are just so fun and fast-paced and full of incredible dialogue. And her heroine, Nora Blackbird, is one of the most stylish creations in the mystery genre. AndNancyis pretty darn impressive too. 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.Nancyhas also written the Roxy Abruzzo mystery series forSt. Martin’s Minotaur, FOXY ROXY and STICKY FINGERS. As if that weren’t enough, serves on the board of Sisters in Crime and is a founding member of Pennwriters.
What can I say? She’s Wonder Woman. 🙂
1. Hi Nancy and welcome to the site! Thanks for the interview! Well, I have tons to ask so let’s get started!
You won the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award for Mystery Writing from RT Magazine. Congratulations! It’s hard to maintain a career in publishing. So what do you think the key to longevity as a writer is?
Chocolate? No, keeping my butt in the chair. I’ve been writing–and publishing–for 30 years, which also means I’ve been lucky. And business-savvy. I must keep the cash flow consistent, so I’m always thinking ahead to the next book and the book contract after that. And I watch for the proverbial writing on the wall. If it looks as if my current path is turning iffy, I re-invent. I’ve switched genres, changed publishers, taken courses to improve my skills, hired and fired agents–the works. Staying current with industry news is key. But the main thing might be not letting the tough stuff get me down. I have never been rejected. Well, of course I have, but I don’t focus on rejection. Those writers who save rejection letters? That’s completely against my nature. Keep moving forward.
2. Chocolate is the key to everything. You’ve written over 50 stories in your career. That’s incredible! How do you keep the stories fresh?
I pay attention. I meet people. I listen to their stories and think about their emotional lives. And I read a lot. Two books a week, at least, plus two newspapers a day, and loads of magazines. I like knowing what’s on people’s minds, what issues they’re talking about. I think one key to good mystery writing is being able to synthesize current issues into the books you write. Not all mystery writers do it, but the good ones can. Good books are more than just plot.
3. Do you have a set routine for writing? Do you think those are important?
Everybody’s different, so don’t think I’ve got the answer. For me, it’s important to write every day, and to set daily goals. When I start slacking off, or I can’t seem to generate a solid number of pages every week, I know it’s time to analyze what’s wrong in my process. I need to know where my plot is going (I do outline, although I don’t always follow it) but I also need fresh material for my characters to think and talk about. So my routine varies a little every day, but I’m always reading, writing, editing.
4. You were one of the founding members of Pennwriters, an organization in Western PA for writers. How did that come about?
My good writer friend Susan Anderson and I were living in a smallPennsylvaniatown, and we had each other for support. (And what writer doesn’t need the support of like-minded friends?) But we wanted a larger writer community, so we sat at my kitchen table and cut and pasted together a newsletter that we sent to various people we knew were interested in writing or had taken some courses I was teaching at the time. After a while, some writers who were good at organizing jumped on board, and they took it to the next level. Pennwriters has over 600 members now–writers of all kinds, from all overPennsylvania. We have an annual conference to which we invitedNew Yorkagents and editors. It’s a topnotch writers event of national caliber. You should come!
5. How important do you think having a network like Pennwriters is to an author’s career?
I belong to Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and Pennwriters, and have belonged to RWA and Novelists, Inc, and they’re all terrific resources for writers. I have an agent, and she has incredible resources at her fingertips, too. My editors (I currently write for twoNew Yorkhouses) are forthcoming with info, and they hook me up with experts when they can. Craft-related information and networking opportunities abound if you go looking for them. I don’t think any writer can survive in the business right now without a substantial support and information system. It would be nice to write quietly in a garret, but that’s just not possible in this rapidly changing era in the publishing industry.
6. To sort of flip the question, you’ve been in this industry a long time. Is there anything an author should NEVER do?
A writer should never stop writing. Especially nowadays, I see writers getting caught up in the work of self-promotion. I do it, too, of course, because it’s a necessary part of the business, but I see so many writers–even writers who aren’t published yet!–devoting their days to promotion to the detriment of their writing. The best advertising for your book is . . . another book. Our first job is to generate a product that people will be eager to pay money to read. If you forget that mission in favor of trying to make yourself into a household name, you’ve lost your way.
7. You’re a Pittsburgh girl! Do you find a lot of inspiration and influences in the city? Does living in Pittsburgh effect how you write?
For years, I’ve been looking for the best way to conveyPittsburgh’s unique qualities in a book. ThePittsburgh”voice” was hard to portray in a way that national readers would be motivated to buy. I think I came close with Sticky Fingers, the second Roxy Abruzzo mystery. Roxy is a resilient, hard-working, hard-playing young woman with a heart of black and gold. She’s tight with her neighbors, sticks up for her friends, loves her kid. Working on Roxy gave me new eyes as I moved aroundPittsburgh. We have a great city, but we don’t always notice.–That’s one of our primary characteristics, isn’t it?
8. We do have a great city! Christopher Nolan put it on fabulous display. J Pittsburgh seems to have a pretty great literary scene. There’s tons of book signing every weekend, workshops and conferences. Where do you think the city is headed in terms of publishing? What would you like to see?
I should get out more. I hardly ever go to events. I attend two or three of the Carnegie lectures every year, and I go to a handful of signings (mostly when friends come to town or my local friends have book launches) and I attend the Pennwriters conference when it’s here in the city. I teach a workshop or two every year, and I attend one or two, depending on who’s teaching or where I am in my own process. But I could do more. I’d really like to go to poetry readings. Trouble is, socializing isn’t writing. And writing is what I need to be doing. Pennwriter Jonathan Mayberry hosts a monthly writers coffeehouse in thePhiladelphiaarea, and I’ve been tempted to host one of those here to see what we could get started. A Sunday afternoon just hanging out with other writers for a couple of hours, talking about writing, no formal program–that sounds as if it could be inspiring. Also, one of my pet peeves is the proliferation of scams against writers. We need to talk more about what’s a good deal and what’s a sinkhole for writers. I hate seeing good writers–especially local new writers–take a wrong step into quicksand because they’re naive or uninformed. More open discussion could save a lot of careers.
9. Let’s switch gears and talk about your upcoming book, No Way to Kill a Lady. Tell us about that story and how it came about!
For ten years, I loved working on the Blackbird Sisters, and it was big fun getting back into their world of impoverished high society. Nora Blackbird is the person I wish I could be–she has such a code of honor, a good heart, a civil tongue–unlike me! I was reading an obituary about a very wealthy woman who died, but she hadn’t had any contact with her family in years and years. Her story made me think about the ways families split up and what the consequences might be. So I folded her story into Nora’s. In NO WAY, Nora and her sisters inherit the estate of their wealthy aunt, “Madcap Maddy” Blackbird, but the estate isn’t what they thought it was, and neither was Aunt Maddy. Hilarity–and murder—ensues.
10. This is your eighth book in the Blackbird Series. Yay for longevity! But I have a few questions about that.
A. Did you always want this to be a series?
I set out to create a series from the get-go, yes. I was careful to craft a character with an arc that could extend into eight or ten books. If you read the first book through the eighth, you’ll see Nora starting out at a very shaky point in her life, and now she’s stronger, more independent. I like to read about characters who grow, change, mature, become the people they want to be. I took a hiatus when I realized I was close to the end of Nora’s arc, but I’ve figured new directions in her life, so we’re good to go a little longer. She’s got a new set of problems now, and I think they’re just as compelling as her earlier troubles.
B. As a writer myself, I’m working on a series. It can be hard not to paint yourself into a corner! What advice do you have for someone setting out on their series?
Well, think ahead. Don’t be intimidated by outlining. Stephen King says good books don’t give up their secrets right away, and I agree. Put characters into big emotional trouble and let things unfold slowly, not always for the better. Writers who seek happy endings need to squelch that urge. Don’t be afraid to make things hard for your characters. Readers mightthink they want happiness . . . but they really don’t! Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait–still good advice.
C. Very good advice. How many more books do you think you’ll write featuring your very fashion-savvy heroine, Nora?
Enough to fund my husband’s retirement. He’s been my rock, and I’d like to give him a break. Besides, I can’t imagine not writing. So I’ll keep going while he plays golf.
Great answer Nancy! And thank you so much again.
Readers can always buy autographed or personalized copies of my books at Mystery Lovers Bookshop. (Free shipping!)