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Monday, October 21, 2013

Author Interview - Victoria Abbott

Victoria Abbott is a collaboration between the always very funny and creative artist, photographer, and short story author, Victoria Maffini and her mother, Mary Jane Maffini, award-winning author of three mystery series and two dozen short stories.  Mary Jane Maffini's latest series, the Charlotte Adams mysteries, has five books featuring this professional organizer from New York State. Book five, The Busy Woman's Guide to Murder won the Romantic Times 2012 award for Best Amateur Sleuth.  Please welcome the mother/duaghter writing duo of Victoria and Mary Jane Maffini (aka Victoria Abbott.)  

I reviewed the first book, The Christie Curse, in this new series (click here.)

P.S.  If you are looking for the Spooktacular Blog Hop, that is two posts down.

Why do you write? Do you love it or love having done it? What motivates you?
Yes to both. We love to write when it’s going well, ahem, but always love having written. We want to write the kind of books we have fun reading and we enjoy being part of the book world, meeting readers, booksellers and other authors. There’s no life like it!

What is your routine when you're facing your next novel?  Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?
We usually start with one of the authors from the Golden Age of Detection as each book in the book collector mysteries will focus on one of them and their body of work. We began with the great Agatha Christie in The Christie Curse, moved on to Dorothy L. Sayers in The Sayers Swindle (December 2013) and now are having fun with Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books for The Wolfe Widow. Once we have the series, we brainstorm a plot or situation that can link that body of work with our characters, preferably in a perilous way.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc.) before sitting down and writing?
We don’t really outline but are starting to do story lines in order to make it easier to have the same vision.  MJ has 13 books in three series and never outlines, but writing together makes it more important to have a shared concept.  Working together, we leave the detail until the writing stage and lots of it to the rewriting stage.  We do try to have an unexpected plot turn one quarter through and another one three quarters through. We have to keep the readers surprised, and sometimes ourselves too.

What do either of you and Jordan Bingham have in common? How are you different?
Victoria and Jordan have lots in common, including a fondness for pugs, antiques, vintage clothing, second hand stores and some crazy relatives. They share a sense of humor as well.  Victoria is an artist but she would give anything to have that job of Jordan’s!  MJ shares Jordan’s love of collecting and lying around reading stacks of books.  Like Jordan, we both value our friends.

Jordan Bingham is a fun, strong character, and the rest of the crew with the uncles is great as well.  What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?  How do you handle minor characters?
We are pretty organic with the characters. They seem to take shape themselves. We don’t use pictures, although we should as sometimes we have different ideas of what they look like. Compromises ensue. We do discuss them a lot and find ourselves laughing out loud. We maintain a bit of a bio on each of the main characters as a good back story can add a lot of texture to a book and it’s good to keep your facts straight.

Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
MJ needs quiet uninterrupted time in her office.  She hopes her dogs are reading this and getting the message about not barking to go outside and then immediately barking to come back in. Baroque music can help her with concentrating when the going gets tough.  Victoria needs a vat of coffee and a pug snuggled up beside her.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?
Each book is in the hopper for quite a while before we start to write. There’s a lot of background reading, discussion and research in a series like this.  Once we start we have to move fast. Where does the time go? It takes about six months to finish a book.  We try to write every day, although there’s lots of competition from the research and promotion side of the business.  We like to blog and to visit book clubs, do signings and attend conferences and that takes time.

How does the collaboration work, do you somehow split the writing?  How do you get the final work to be cohesive?
Much of the collaboration is in conversation. We have to brainstorm plot and scenes. We are best on the phone as we don’t distract each other.  We will identify scenes that need to be written to advance the plot and decide who will write them.  Victoria does all the dream sequences, the texts and the phone calls. MJ likes that kitchen stuff and the meals. We flip a coin for scenes with the uncles.  Having a unified voice is important and we have to add at least an extra draft to make sure that the book reads as though it was written by one person.

How did you pick your setting and how do you like to interject a sense of place?  Do you use places that you know well for your settings?
Our editor wanted New York State for the series. We found a location that seemed perfect and invented a fictional version of it.  We do a lot of research on the real place and its history. Google earth is great and so are websites.  We try to have detail in the houses, streetscapes, businesses and landscape. We worked hard on the detail for the Van Alst mansion even down to the interior floor plan.

What in your background prepared you to write mysteries?
Victoria claims to have been raised by a mystery writer. In turn, MJ claims to have been a librarian. Both Victoria and MJ were part of Prime Crime Mystery Bookstore in Ottawa, Ontario and that involved total immersion in the wonderful world of crime fiction.  But they both believe that reading and loving mysteries is the best preparation for writing them.

In literature (not your own) who is your favorite mystery/suspense character?
Victoria has a fondness for Grandma Mazur and Lula, while MJ in currently madly in love with Archie Goodwin and, although this will sound strange, Chet the Dog from the Chet and Bernie mysteries. She’s not kidding about this. Probably therapy will help.

Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?
Victoria finds David Sedaris inspiring because he breaks all the rules so amusingly.  MJ has a lot of trouble narrowing it down. She finds the genre inspiring and important and also believes that mysteries appeal to our need for justice and also that cozy mysteries celebrate relationships and the ability of women to step up and do what needs to be done in tough situations. What’s not to love?

How did you get your first break to getting published? Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?
MJ sold Speak ill of the Dead: a Camilla MacPhee mystery, her first Canadian book back in 1998.  After many a query and contest, she met a lovely publisher at a conference. The publisher had just started RendezVous Press, a Canadian mystery line and agreed to read the manuscript. She went on to buy eight of MJ’s books in two series.  Victoria got her start in the short story anthology Fit to Die with her story ‘Down in the Plumps’.  Did you know a Walmart changing room could be such a dangerous place?

What's the one thing a reader has said that you've never forgotten and perhaps found startling?
Yes: Have you ever killed anyone? We answered ‘no’. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

If your Book Collector mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your top character's roles?
Well as they say, go big or go home.  We think Jennifer Lawrence has the right combo of edge and appeal to play Jordan.  And since we’re thinking big, Cloris Leachman as Vera and Jason Segel as Officer Tyler “Smiley” Dekker.   Then Dean Norris from Breaking Bad (add ginger hair) as Uncle Mick.  We could go on …

Tell us about your next book in the series - or next

project?  What is your biggest challenge with it?
We are beavering away on the third in the book collector’s series. The Wolfe Widow will come out in September 2014.  After Christie and Sayers, we have moved back ‘across the pond’ and are exploring the works of Rex Stout in this adventure. Vera Van Alst, the crotchety collector, has a fascination with the eccentric detective Nero Wolfe, while Jordan (and MJ too) has a crush on Archie Goodwin.  Rex Stout wrote more than 80 books, and although we read many of the Nero Wolfe books years back, it’s a challenge to reread enough of them to get a good feel for the series. The good news is that the series stands the test of time and the books are still fast-paced and witty. The big challenge with a series is keeping it fresh and not telling the same story over again. You have to keep what readers like about your characters and yet let them grow and change. Good thing it’s fun.

Do you have a newsletter or blog for readers to stay informed of your news?
We do have a free e-newsletter with news, contests and more. Send us an email detect(at)rogers(dot)com or follow the link on our websites and and we’ll add you to the list.  We blog the second and fourth Saturdays of each month over at the very delicious and one of our characters blogs on the 30th of each month on That’s a great place to get a taste of an author’s work.

Thanks so much for interviewing us. It was lots of fun to be here.

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THANK YOU M.J. and Victoria for a great interview.  I enjoyed getting an idea of how a collaboration works.  I love the answer to what author inspires you and I agree about the genre's portrayal of women. 
Readers, what struck you in the interview?

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