From Government Worker to Agatha Nominated Novelist
Terrie Farley Moran
Congratulations to Terrie
for winning the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery!
This issue I’m talking to Terrie Farley Moran, author of the “Read ‘Em and Eat” series published by Berkley Prime Crime. Moran also had the honor of having the first book in the series, Well Read, Then Dead, nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Book two in the series, Caught Read-Handed, comes out July 7. Her short stories also have been short-listed twice for Best American Short Stories and have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and various anthologies.
** Learn more by visiting Women of Mystery, where Moran blogs with an eclectic group of writers,www.womenofmystery.net, or visit her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/terriefarleymoran, or her website http://www.terriefarleymoran.com/.
Moran, who lives in New York City, worked as an administrative manager for the City of New York when the unexpected death of a close friend propelled her to make some changes in her life. “I decided it was time for me to do what I’d always wanted to do—write mysteries,” she says.
In 2002, she went from full time employment to hopeful mystery writer, “a profession for which I had absolutely no training or background,” she shares.
The first thing Moran figured was to write what she liked to read. “I write cozy mysteries because 90 percent of the fiction I read is mysteries, and 80 percent of the mystery novels I read are cozies,” she says. “In my short mystery fiction I have written everything from noir to paranormal. But when it comes to novels, I stick with cozies.”
And lest you think all authors are overnight successes… “I struggled along, lots of starts and stops, and three years later my first short story was accepted for publication in a Sisters in Crime anthology,” she says. “I’d written the story while on a brief break from my first novel which may never see the light of day.”
Moran stuck with it, however, though she knows it could have easily gone the other way. “I met my fabulous agent, Kim Lionetti of Bookends, at the Sleuthfest conference in Florida in 2012,” she says “By then I had a number of short stories published, but no luck with the first and only novel I’d written, a cozy called Driven to Death. I pitched to Kim, she read a partial, and pronounced it unpublishable.”
Luckily, Moran says, the agent “liked my voice and style. She asked if I would consider writing something else, with a younger protagonist and a bookish feel. I agreed and immediately began writing the novel that eventually became Well Read, Then Dead, which she eventually sold to Berkley as part of a three book package.”
Once the idea comes, the hard part, of course, is the writing. “Getting the words on paper is the toughest challenge for writing anything,” she says. “I write or do some writing related work every single day. I start first thing in the morning, usually take two exercise breaks and work straight through until evening. If a deadline looms or something is coming together extremely well (doesn’t happen often) I write straight through until bedtime.”
All should be well and good, right? Well, Moran learned to always expect the unexpected and be ready for anything.
“Berkley requires outlines for each novel,” she notes. “As a ‘pantser,’ I’m not good at outlines but I try my best and it does force me to focus, at least initially, on where the book is going. Well I’m now writing book three—tentatively titled Read-Sky in Mourning. My idea was to have a book club travel about 50 miles north to the hot springs in North Port for a spa day. I planned to tie in Florida history since it’s rumored to be the Fountain of Youth that Ponce de Leon spent years searching for.”
She continues, “I’d already visited the springs and taken notes. I wrote the outline and then moved to another project to let the outline cool off. Right before it was due I went back to the outline and revisited my research. Well, it seems that the town of Northport closed the springs and now is considering selling the site to a private developer. Who knows if the springs will ever be opened to the public again? I had to redo all the historical data. Fortunately Thomas Edison and Henry Ford wintered in the area for decades so I could use the Edison and Ford Estate, but the change altered a lot of what I planned to talk about in book three.”
To other writers hoping to get published she advises: “write consistently and fearlessly. Start at the beginning and write until the end. Don’t stop because you don’t think the work is good enough. Don’t ask friends and families to review what you’ve written so far. Have the confidence to complete the project. Then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Remember that writing is a business, so don’t get emotionally attached to your work. Be prepared to edit extensively.
Moran says her favorite part of writing mysteries is the setting. “In everything I write, the setting is mega important. If I feel like I am standing in that place, in that time, I am comfortable writing about it and confident that I can bring the reader along with me.
“I had to be immersed in the setting to write my short story, ‘On Target,’ which takes place in 1949 in New York City and was published in the April issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and I have to be immersed in the setting for my ‘Read ’Em and Eat’ cozy novels which take place in present day Fort Myers Beach.”
When asked about her favorite character, she’s more flexible: “The character I consider my favorite changes according to what I’m writing at the moment. In Well Read, Then Dead, I think Aunt Ophie was my favorite because she was so helpful and so flamboyant all at the same time. In Caught Read-Handed, Miguel Guerra became my absolute favorite because of the way he fought for the safety of the pets on the island. It’s too early to say who wins the title in book three.
“As for my short fiction, right now I would say that Tommy Flood, from the story, ‘Inquiry and Assistance’ is my favorite. In the midst of the Great Depression, he’s clever, dapper and protective of his family. I’m waiting to see what readers think of him when the story is published in a future issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.”
About the books:
Well Read, Then Dead is set in the very homey café known as The Read ’Em and Eat on the coziest island imaginable, Fort Myers Beach, Florida. The café owners, Sassy Cabot and Bridgy Mayfield, have been “besties” since elementary school. Besides serving great food, they sell books and organize book clubs. Unfortunately the café chef breaks his leg and Bridgy’s Aunt Ophelia, she of the impossibly high heels and cinched waist belts, spins through the café door ready to help. Before she can bake so much as one buttermilk pie, a sweet and much beloved book club member is murdered, and the chase is on.
In Caught Read-Handed, Sassy visits the local library with book donations for their annual fundraising sale. Unfortunately, the welcoming readers’ haven is in turmoil as an argument erupts between a patron and new library volunteer, Tanya Lipscombe—also known as “Tanya Trouble.” She may lack people skills, but everyone’s shocked when she’s later found murdered in her own hot tub.
Excerpt from Caught Read-Handed:
A couple of fisherman came in, the salty smell of the Gulf of Mexico still clinging to their clothes. I sat them at Robert Louis Stevenson. The man with the beard and a half dozen colorful fishing flies stuck on the patch pockets of his well-worn gray vest, looked at the table top and began reading the poem we had laminated there among other Stevenson quotes and pictures.
“You expect me to believe that the same guy who wrote Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde wrote this little kiddie poem?”
I laughed and quoted, “When I was down beside the sea…it’s called ‘At the Sea-Side.’ What better poem for a café at the beach?”