J. Kent Holloway
So, I've been waiting a long time to write this post...the post where Charade Media gets to introduce you to the fabulous Nikki Knight and her newest book Wrong Poison. It's a book that Nikki has been working on for quite some time now. A story Charade Media has been working tirelessly on to perfect, promote, and publish. And the day has finally come to release it into the wild. And we couldn't be happier.
I've known Nikki via Facebook for several years now. We had had a few conversations here and there, but had never really been close. I liked her and her other books had intrigued me. As a published author with Kensington Books and Crooked Lane Books, she had been an inspiration to me (those are two of my favorite publishing companies). So, when Sean Smith and I discussed starting Charade Media and I began thinking about various authors who I could reach out to in order to see if they'd be interested in publishing with us, Nikki was up near the top of the list. When I approached her, I was ecstatic when she told me that yes, she had a manuscript for me that might be right up our 'outside-the-box' alley.
When she sent me the book's synopsis and first few chapters, personally, I wanted to jump at it right away. But we have an entire team for Acquisitions, and majority rules when selecting the books we'll publish. So I had to send it to them as well and wait for their response.
Now, keep in mind, Wrong Poison is a cozy mystery. There's no doubt about that. But it also had elements to it that classic cozy enthusiasts might balk against. I knew we'd most likely get some pushback from the purists out there. I simply didn't care. I loved the story. I loved the protagonist and the crazy side-profession she has. I knew it was precisely what Charade Media was looking for with its first original mystery. Thankfully, our Acquisitions Team felt the same way. It was voted unanimously to be accepted, and there isn't a doubt in my mind, it was kismet.
Wrong Poison was just released in bookstores everywhere yesterday (if it's not in your local bookstore, ask a rep to order it for you or buy it via the link I'll provide at the end of this post). For now, however, I thought it would be great for Nikki Knight herself to talk about the journey of this great mystery, as well as her writing career in general.
Thanks for joining us today, Nikki. Let's get started. Your latest book, Wrong Poison, was released yesterday. In your own words, tell us a little about it. What inspired you to write the book?
Grace the Hit Mom is not your usual cozy sleuth, to say the least! She actually came to me years ago, when I was in the middle of a family health crisis and my first round of querying. I started writing about this nice suburban mom who poisons evil men as a fun escape. (Which probably says a lot about me!) Eventually, the story evolved into a cozy with a twist: what if my killer mom used her secret skills to solve murders? Even better, what if she’s forced into sleuthing to protect her family and friends? All kinds of fun possibilities there!
Tell us about some of the characters we’ll meet in your Grace Adair series?
Alcott, Connecticut, the suburb where Grace lives, is full of colorful, diverse, and quirky folks. Grace’s parent pals are (mostly!) kind, relatable people like my own friends and colleagues. And then there’s Old Man Loquat, the almost 100-year-old hardware store owner who has plenty to say, Kryssie the PTA Princess, who collects firefighters…and of course, Scotchie the Giant Dog. I love writing animals with personality! In addition to Scotchie, we have Jimmy Stewart the Hardware Store Cat (a female, BTW!) and Connery, a big orange tabby who loves to menace Scotchie.
It’s a cozy mystery, but the sleuth is an assassin? That’s different! Most cozy sleuths are moms or grandmoms. Knitters, gardeners, coffee house owners. What on earth possessed you to turn Grace into an assassin? Tell us a bit of her background and where she came from. Also, what reactions have you been getting from the cozy community concerning such an unusual protagonist?
First off, to a person, everyone I’ve told about Grace loves the idea. “A carpool mom who poisons people? Where can I buy it?” is a typical reaction. “Can I hire her?” is the other one I get…I THINK they’re kidding. It’s important to mention here that Grace isn’t a typical hired killer. She’s a member of a 700-year-old order of lady poisoners, consecrated to the Archangel Gabriel, who quietly remove evil men – for a price. Grace was chosen (they do NOT say recruited) by one of her law school professors who thought she’d be good at pursuing justice in a more direct way, and she is. It’s not a paranormal thing – we don’t meet the Archangel -- but it’s important to see Grace as a person of faith with a code. She works as a cozy character because we know her as a mom with a wicked sense of humor about suburban life. And we know she’s not going to use her other skills if she can possibly avoid it.
You and your ‘good friend’ Kathleen Kalb have written a few other cozies. Care to tell our readers a little about them?
Ah, yes – Blondie! She’s probably best known for the Ella Shane historicals, about an opera singer who solves mysteries in Gilded Age New York. Both of us (ahem!) write short stories, and I’ve had a lot of success with pieces set at a little radio station in Vermont, which have appeared in some great magazines and anthologies, and even been dramatized in podcasts. The Vermont stories are inspired by my first on-air job after college, and the main character, Jaye Jordan, is a DJ who has a lot of personal issues…which always seem to give her insight into the killer of the moment.
Who are some of your go-to mystery authors or series that you enjoy spending time with? Who are some of your writing inspirations? Why?
Dorothy Sayers is my all-time favorite mystery writer, which you probably guessed from the title WRONG POISON. And yes, Sayers’ STRONG POISON is my favorite mystery ever. That said, I also grew up on Elizabeth Peters’ wonderful mysteries, historical and contemporary. They’re brilliantly done and funny as h-e-double-hockey-sticks. Peters, and Joan Hess, are my big influences. So is Jane Cleland. I took some of her wonderful craft webinars (highly recommended!) and absorbed the idea that a really good mystery can only happen to these characters in this place…and only THIS PARTICULAR sleuth can solve it. I love that idea, because then everything in a story is “earned,” as the entertainment critics say. You’re not just reaching out for any old idea and dropping in whatever…it all grows and works together.
Finally, the question I always ask of all my guests: What is one piece of advice or wisdom you’d give to aspiring writers out there?
Don’t give up. On yourself, OR on a story. WRONG POISON and Grace are a perfect example. The initial, dark domestic-suspense sort of thing sat on my desk for a couple of years. Then I took a new look at Grace, turned her into a cozy sleuth, and my agent pitched her to my publisher at the time…who ran screaming into the night. A cozy killer? Horrors! Okay, back to the drawer. Then I heard about a new publisher who was interested in projects with a twist, and thought, okay, the worst they can do is say no. And we know how that went! The point here is that if you do good work, it will eventually find a home. So do good work and have faith in the rest. Easier said than done, I know, but maybe Grace’s winding road to publication is encouraging!