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Wednesday 5 October 2022

My Debut Mystery by by Jill Amadio

Jill Amadio

Balboa Island, California isn’t too shabby a place to live if you are banished to the colonies as I was as a result of my divorce conditions. I settled in Westport, Connecticut but a job offer on a magazine brought me to the opposite coast, to Balboa Island, Newport Beach, CA. A virtual village, quaint and stunningly beautiful, the island is a place where nothing untoward ever, ever happens. Many of the beach “cottages” are stylish mansions with yachts bobbing at private docks and everyone goes to bed at 10 p.m. When I lived there crime was non-existent except for an occasional purloined bicycle.  In short, the perfect setting for a murder or two.

After ghostwriting a crime novel for a Beverly Hills financier who never read books but wanted his name on one, I decided mysteries were for me. I’d created a series character for him hoping we’d continue with more books, and I was paid, to boot. But he declined after a lengthy book tour including a cruise while signing my creation. Thus, I plunged into writing my own first mystery.

In my bones are the books of Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell. M.C. Beaton and P.D. James whose gentle murders fit more into the solve-the- puzzle games I prefer. Like most authors I bring a few personal experiences to my work, and I wanted to establish a series character so my amateur sleuth Tosca. Trevant, is from Cornwall, UK, like me. I asked Cornish poet and professor Pol Hodge for a supply of Cornish cuss words. He sent two pages of unbelievably descriptive and naughty ones and I got to work sprinkling them throughout my debut mystery, Digging Too Deep.

I joined Sisters in Crime, Los Angeles and its offshoot, Guppies, the Great Unpublished.  I also joined Mystery Writers of America. After the book was polished, I paid a professional editor to give it a look. He said I’d broken most of the Rules of Writing a Mystery; I had not followed The Formula publishers insist upon; I was too freewheeling with my character’s humour, and I should start all over again. Fat chance.

Next, there was the dreaded Perfect Query to be created.  Queries to agents must adhere to their golden rules as posted on their web sites. This time I paid great attention, followed the submission guidelines, reluctantly whittled my prose down to the required three paragraphs, and made up a list of unsuspecting agents. There must be five thousand of them in America. I got it down to 60 agents after spending weeks checking each of their websites, a time-consuming exercise but no way around it at that time although today one can refine the search.  I queried six simultaneously. I’d already talked to two agents – at $50 a pop - at writers’ conferences which were so frequent my bank balance was constantly depleted.

No takers. I next tried the small presses that can be approached directly without an agent. However, a few of those too have strict rules – no violence, no cruelty to animals, no swearing (Oh, dear), and no sex. That last bit was easy. I was British, after all. 

After three editors rejected me the next on my list was Mainly Murder Press. Frankly, I fell in love with the name. It stated exactly and honestly what it published and was on the East coast where all the big publishers were located, a fact that appealed to my snobbish instincts.  MMP only produced 12-15 books a year and its site stated, “Absolutely No Submissions Until Late Spring.” Gosh. It was only January. Then I thought, well, it may be January on the East Coast, but I was in Southern California and the daffies were already nodding their lovely yellow heads. I sent my query in, claiming that where I live it was already late spring.

The very next day MMP asked for chapters, then the full manuscript, and one week later I’d signed a 3-book contract. They thought my book was “wonderful!” I was in heaven.  I liked their book cover design although I requested the flag of Cornwall be added unobtrusively somewhere, and I waited anxiously for their digital ARC to send out to reviewers’ pre-publication.

Alas, MMP did not send ARCs out early, but it did distribute through Ingram, which was peachy, I thought. They also did not give author advances but paid standard royalties and mailed catalogues to 650 independent U.S. bookstores, and to 4,000 public libraries. Good enough.

I thought that the bookstore on my island would order dozens of copies and I asked for a book signing. Again, I’d done everything wrong.  I was told, no, no, you have to create some buzz first! So, I called a couple of local
newspaper editors I knew. After they reviewed the book I took the clippings to the bookstore, thrust them into the owner’s hand, and said, right. Here’s your buzz. 

I lined up more signings, served as a panelist, and gave talks on writing mysteries, a bit of a cheek considering I’d only written one at the time. Thinking outside the box I also joined the Cornish-American Heritage Society which holds annual Gatherings along with a pasty-toss contest. Heaven forbid a pasty splits open and covers someone in meat and potatoes So, while I am still writing novels and biographies having just finished a memoir and moved back to Connecticut in 2019, Tosca’s third adventure is underway. After all, I have only used up nine Cornish cuss words.


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 MysteryPeople ezine, and freelances for My Cornwall magazine.  She lives in Connecticut. USA.  Jill's  most recent book is In Terror's Deadly Clasp, was published 16 July 2021. To read a review of the books click on the bookjacket.

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