by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of the first book in a brand new series from first time author V.M. Burns. We also have an interesting interview with V.M. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of The Plot is Murder, and a link to purchase it from Amazon and an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
The Plot is Murder: A Mystery Bookshop Mystery by V.M. Burns
Review by Cynthia Chow
It is a bitter truth that it took the loss of Samantha Washington’s greatest love for her to achieve her greatest dream. While she and her husband had always dreamed of owning their own mystery book store, it was not until his death six months ago that insurance money and the sale of their home provided the incentive and means. Poised to open Market Street Mysteries in North Harbor, Michigan, the one contingency Sam didn’t plan for was to find her real estate agent dead outside her patio. Clayton Parker may have been unethical and greedy in his attempt to sell out her building to a higher bidder, but Sam certainly didn’t want him dead. She’s going to have to convince lazy Detective Brad Pitt (not that Brad Pitt), so to keep her independent bookstore from closing before it even opens, Sam is going to have to utilize all of the techniques and lore she’s learned through reading mysteries to track down a killer.
What helped Sam grieve, and now combat the stress of a murder investigation, has been her novice attempt at crafting an historical British mystery. Unfortunately, the names and method of murder bear a little too much resemblance to actual persons and events for Detective “Stinky” Pitt to see them as coincidental, placing Sam firmly on the suspect list. It should be a long list, as Clayton’s own family is doing much mourning and his wife has a sexy personal trainer waiting in the wings. Sam’s enthusiastic Nana Jo (essentially all of the Golden Girls rolled into one) enlists her own senior girlfriends in a mission to infiltrate Clayton’s former life, and considering that the ladies spend their time at Zumba, Aikido, and water-skiing classes, it’s going to be a lively investigation.
Interspersed between Sam’s detecting and bookstore intrigue are chapters of her ongoing manuscript. What could have been a distraction to the main mystery actually turns out to be a charming and delightful highlight. An exuberant blend of romantic intrigue and murder, fans of Jane Austen will revel in the witty escapades of sisters who may be more alike than they think.
This debut series skillfully introduces a multitude of very likable characters, with Sam as a standout young woman forced into starting her life over. The stories of both Sam’s life and her own fictional creations deliver surprising twists for all, promising even more exhilarating adventures to come. Cozy mystery readers and historical novel aficionados will adore this warm-hearted, cleverly plotted new series.
Interview with V.M. Burns:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
VM: I’ve been writing for close to 20 years. I started writing screenplays in 2000. I later moved to mysteries. However, I struggled to find a home for any of the screenplays or early attempts at mysteries.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
VM: The Plot Is Murder is my first novel, and it was released on November 28, 2017. This is the first book in the Mystery Bookshop mystery series. When Samantha Washington’s husband dies, she realizes how short life is; she decides to pursue the dream she and her husband shared of opening a mystery bookstore in Southwestern Michigan. When the listing agent for the building Sam buys is murdered, the police believe she is a good suspect. It’s up to Sam, her grandmother, Nana Jo, and her friends from the retirement village, to use their network of friends and family to find the real killer. Opening a mystery bookstore is only one part of Samantha’s dream. She also dreams of writing British historic cozy mysteries. Each book in this series will include a mystery within a mystery, the contemporary mystery Sam must solve, and the historic cozy set in between the two world wars, which she is writing.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
VM: I have four screenplays which have never seen the light of day. Mysteries are my passion.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
VM: I think the setting and character for The Plot Is Murder came from my own dreams and desires. Similar to the main character, my dream is to one day own my own mystery bookstore. I lived in Southwestern Michigan for several years, and that’s where I was when I first started writing the book. Although I now live in Tennessee, I think location in Michigan. The Lake Michigan shoreline is a beautiful area.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
VM: I write to entertain and educate. I have three series: The Mystery Bookshop Mystery series; the RJ Franklin Mystery series (first book releases July 1, 2018), and The Dog Club Mystery series (first book releases August 2018). Each series will have what I hope is an intriguing mystery, but they will also include components which (I hope) will educate readers as well as entertain them. The bookshop series includes my love of history and includes lots of information about the period leading up to World War II. The RJ Franklin Mystery series takes place in Northwest Indiana which is my hometown area. It includes a lot of information about African-American culture and includes soul food recipes. The Dog Club Mysteries includes information on different dog breeds and various activities for dogs.
KRL: They all sound great! Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
VM: I set writing goals of 7,500 to 10,000 words per week. This translates into 1,000 to 1,500 words per day. I try to write daily, but if I miss a day, then I can usually make it up on the weekend. If I can stick to that schedule, then I can generally get a rough draft completed in two months.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
VM: Unfortunately, I am not a plotter, although I think my editor would prefer it if I were. I develop my characters and create a general idea of the plot. I create a detailed synopsis which provides a framework for the story. I write down the major clues and red herrings and allow the story to develop from the characters’ interactions.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
VM: In my perfect world I would write from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. Unfortunately, I don’t live in [a] perfect [world], so I write at night, usually 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
VM: YES! Most publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts from unagented writers. So, I tried to find an agent and sent out tons of query letters to publishers and agents. Most agents receive thousands of query letters and it can be frustrating to wait for a reply. However, the key is to keep going and not give up. Once I signed with my agent, things fell into place fairly quickly. Writers don’t have to have an agent. However, it definitely makes life easier.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
VM: The Plot Is Murder is my first published book. However, it was not the first book I wrote. The first mystery I wrote was called Travellin’ Shoes. I tried for years to find a publisher. Eventually, I moved on and wrote The Plot Is Murder and sold it. Unfortunately, my publisher wasn’t interested in Travellin’ Shoes. Rather than giving up, I decided to send it out again. I was fortunate to find Camel Press, and signed a six-book deal. Travellin’ Shoes will release in July 2018. So, my advice is, never give up.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story in a bookstore or other venue?
VM: I haven’t had a lot of book signing stories yet, but I recently agreed to go on a small, local radio program to promote my book. I was scheduled to be in the studio at eight on Saturday morning. I decided there was no need to get dressed up since this was radio and no one would see me. So, I skipped makeup, threw on jeans and a sweater and headed to the studio. Imagine my surprise when I learned the radio program was streaming live on the internet. I learned from that experience to always be photo-ready, no matter the venue.
KRL: Future writing goals?
VM: My writing goals are to continue writing, and hopefully have a long-term career doing the thing that I love.
KRL: Writing heroes?
VM: Victoria Thompson, Emily Brightwell, Sue Grafton. These writers have created long-running series that continue to keep readers’ attention. The characters grow and evolve, yet maintain the unique qualities which got me hooked on the series in the first place.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
VM: I do a lot of research on the internet. I watch documentaries and read a lot of history books.
KRL: What do you read?
VM: I read a lot of cozy mysteries. I enjoy the genre and trying to figure out whodunit. However, I also read cozy mysteries to learn what worked well. I like to re-read old favorites, like Agatha Christie’s The Murder Of Roger Akroyd, or And Then There Were None. I try to figure out what it is about the books that make them work. I also like to read biographies and the occasional fantasy novel. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a lot of time to read lately, so my To-Be-Read pile is huge.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
VM: I love mysteries (Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe). I also watch a lot of science and history. One of my favorite shows is Mysteries at the Museum.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
VM: Keep writing and don’t give up. You will get a lot of rejections, but you have to keep trying. If you wait until the planets are perfectly aligned, then you will never achieve your goals. When something is important you make time for it, even if it’s only 10 or 15 minutes per day. Don’t worry about making everything perfect. Get the words on the page. You can always fix it later, but you can’t edit a blank page.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
VM: The Plot Is Murder is my first book to be released. However, I have two other series that readers may enjoy that will release in 2018. So, check out my website for more information on the RJ Franklin Mystery series and the Dog Club Mystery series.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
VM: I love dogs and like to include them in my books. However, not a lot of people know that at one time I used to compete in Canine Agility and Obedience with my dogs. We weren’t very good, but I met a lot of wonderful people.
KRL: How fun! My sister competes in Agility.
Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of The Plot is Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “plot,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 20, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section.
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