Talking with Valerie M Burns
Which of Kensington Book Publishing authors keeps its editors hopping? Probably V. (Valerie) M. Burns. Writing three mystery series that run the gamut from settings and characters involving a bookshop, dogs, detectives, and a fairy tale or two, she also manages to fit in a full-time job.
V.M. (Valerie) Burns was born and raised in the Midwestern United States. She currently resides in the warmer region of the country.
Valerie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dog Writers of America, Crime Writers of Color, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime.
You write three cozy series. Why so many?It takes a long time to write a book (months) and during that time, I spend a lot of time with the characters. I write every day. After spending every day together for months, by the time I finish a book, I’m really tired of those characters and need some time apart…a separation.
However, I’ve learned from experience that if I just take time away from writing, it’s hard to get back into a rhythm of writing every day. I’ve found that what works best for me is to write three series. When I finish one book in a series, then I move onto the next series and spend time with those characters. Eventually, I am ready to circle back to the first series.
Describe briefly how you came up with them.
Each one of my series contains a piece of me. The first series that I wrote was my RJ Franklin Mysteries. It features a policeman who solves crimes with the help of his godmother, Mama B. It’s set in a fictional town, that is a lot like my hometown of South Bend, Indiana. This series includes soul food recipes and all of the titles come from Negro Spirituals and includes the heart and soul of my upbringing in a mid-sized Midwestern town including the food, the songs, and the spiritual aspects of my culture. For many years when I lived in Indiana, I competed with my toy poodles, Coco and Cash in canine agility and obedience. Later, I moved to Eastern Tennessee just like Lilly Ann Echosby in my Dog Club Mystery Series.In my Mystery Bookshop Mystery Series, Samantha Washington dreams of quitting her job and opening a mystery bookshop and writing British historic cozy mysteries. This is Sam’s dream and also happens to be my dream.
How different are they from each other? Was Dog Club inspired by your poodles.
Each of my series are different and represent different times of my life. One common thread in all of my books is that they all have a dog. I love dogs and my two poodles, Coco and Cash were the inspiration for Snickers and Oreo in my Mystery Bookshop Mystery series. In fact, those are my dogs on the covers of that series. I now have a black toy poodle, Kensington (yes I named her after my publisher) who was the inspiration for Aggie in the Dog Club Mystery series. My sister used to have a standard poodle named Chyna that I also featured in the Dog Club Mysteries.
How did you get into writing books? When did you start? Whence came the passion?I have been an avid reader my entire life. I grew up three blocks from my local branch library and spent almost every day at the library, especially in the summer. When I was young, I was introduced to Agatha Christie and fell in love with cozy mysteries. After reading a ton of mysteries, I developed a list of ‘I wish someone would write a book about…’ After decades, I decided that maybe I should try to write the books I wanted to read.
You have a day job. Do you ever sleep? Whats your writing schedule?I do have a day job. Sleep? What’s that? Just kidding. When the day job is over, I take 30-60 minutes to eat and then I write. I set a weekly writing goal of 7,500-10,000 words. If I can write 1,000-1,500 words per day, then I can hit my weekly goal. Some days my brain is fried after the day job and if I don’t write, that’s fine. I can usually make up a day or two on the weekends. Usually, at 8:00 my dogs require my attention, so I take a little time with the poodles and then we all sleep.
Where do you write? Do you have a special writing space?
You are also a book reviewer – how did that come about and for which publications/blogs?
I’m not an official book reviewer for any specific publications. However, as a mystery lover, I read a lot of books. As an author, I know how important reviews are to authors, so I always try to leave reviews whenever I can. I often write book reviews for my website, vmburns.com. I also leave reviews on Amazon, Barnes&Noble,
Goodreads, and Bookbub.
Does your home state of Tennessee inspire you, or any other setting? Definitely, I find inspiration in the lush green mountains of East Tennessee and looking at Lake Michigan when I lived in Southwestern Michigan.Your story-within-a-story is well-handled (Bookshop). What inspired this literary device and drew you to that historical era?Initially, I was only going to write a mystery about a woman writing a mystery. The only murders would happen in the book she was writing. I thought it would more realistic. That’s where the title came from for the first book, The Plot is Murder. However, I wondered if mystery lovers would be engaged if the protagonist wasn’t actually solving a mystery. That’s when I got the idea to include two mysteries, a story-within-a-story. My dream was to write British historic cozy mysteries, so this gave me the opportunity to do that. I’ve always been fascinated by England at the start of World War II. In my opinion, the British showed so much foresight to see what was coming and courage to enter the war even if they had to fight alone. I wanted to recognize the courage and bravery of the British in my own small way.
What’s your publishing history?The first book I wrote was Travellin’ Shoes the first book in my RJ Franklin Mystery Series. In 2008 I attended a writing conference and pitched my not-yet-finished book to a publisher who seemed interested. However, she wasn’t able to accept a manuscript unless it was sent to her by an agent. It took a year for me to finish the manuscript. Then, I started my search to find an agent. I sent query letters to practically every agent in the U.S. I got a LOT of rejections. After many years of frustration, I decided to research some of my favorite authors and try to follow in their footsteps. One of my favorite cozy authors is Victoria Thompson. Her biography stated that she was an adjunct professor in the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA. Seton Hill has a low-residency MFA program. I applied and was accepted in June 2012. I had two ideas for mysteries. Travellin’ Shoes became my thesis project and I also had an idea for the Mystery Bookshop series, which I started during my last term. I graduated in January 2015 and sent query letters for both books. The Plot is Murder. was accepted by an agent later that year. In April 2016 I had an offer for a three books. Publishing is slow. My first book wasn’t scheduled to release until November 2018. So, I wrote the next two books in the series and started a fourth. My publisher asked if I would write another series for their Lyrical Underground imprint. They weren’t interested in Travellin’ Shoes, so I submitted a proposal for the Dog Club Mystery series. I believed in Travellin’ Shoes and submitted it to a small press who accepted it.
How do you do your research?
There’s a wonderful used bookstore near my house and I love looking for books about World War II and biographies. I also do a lot of research online. I can spend hours looking up details that don’t often make their way into the books, so I have to watch the amount of time I spend surfing the web. I also try to make sure that I find reliable sources.
Do you attend conferences?
Have you been to the UK?
I have been to the UK several times and I LOVE it. There’s never enough time to see everything. I don’t know if I sell well in the UK, but I sure hope so. Generally, when my books are discounted, I pick up quite a few sells.
Which writers’ organizations do you belong to?
I’m a member of Crime Writers of Color, Mystery Writers of America, Dog Writers of America, and I’m on the board of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and the National Board for Sisters in Crime.
Any marketing tips to share with writers?
What is your life like now – are you able to handle job and writing calmly?
I don’t know if I’d call my life ‘calm.’ Before the pandemic I had a routine that was great. I had to find a new routine when my home office became my only office for over 1.5 years. However, I think I’m finding the balance.
Which book did you have the most fun writing?
I’m tempted to say whatever book I’m working on at the time. However, I think I have the most fun writing about Nana Jo and ‘the girls’ in my Mystery Bookshop Mystery series. These senior sleuths are feisty and I never know what havoc they will create in my books. I wish I was as uninhibited as they are.
What/who is your DIY muse?
My muse is fickle. She comes and goes at will. If I need inspiration, that usually means my tank is empty. So, I take time to reread my favorite books (usually Agatha Christie or Rex Stout) and binge watch mysteries that I’ve seen a million times, but still love (Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple, etc.). After a weekend of reading and watching
mysteries, I’m usually ready to get back to my computer.
Oh, this could take a while. I’m a HUGE fan of Agatha Christie. I also love Rex Stout, Emily Brightwell, Victoria Thompson, Susan Elia Macneal, Jill Churchill, Heron Carvic, Patricia Wentworth, Alexia Gordon, Ellery Adams, Sue Grafton, Dorothy Gilman, and Martha Grimes.
Writing tips/advice for first-time authors?
Write. Lots of people dream about writing one day. Don’t wait until the planets are aligned and everything is perfect. Writing is long, hard work. If you want to be a writer, find the time and write the book you want to write. Write the book that keeps your butt in the chair.
Your current work-in-progress?
I am currently writing the 4th book in my RJ Franklin Mystery series. The current working title is Wade in the
Water. I’ve ended my Dog Club Mystery series after five books, but I’m excited to be starting a new series. So, follow me on social media vmburns.com to learn more.
Jill Amadio hails from Cornwall, U.K, like the character in her crime series, Jill was a reporter in Spain, Colombia, Thailand, and the U.S. She is a true crime author, ghosted a thriller, writes a column for Mystery People ezine, and freelances for My Cornwall magazine. She lives in Southern California.
Her new book
In Terror's Deadly Clasp P
Published 16 July 2021