This past September, we hosted our tenth annual All-Iowa Writers’ Conference. Over the years, we have had the chance to meet many wonderful authors. We would like to share with you some information about and advice from authors who have attended our conference and authors we hope will be able to attend in the future.
If you have a favorite author you would like to see showcased, please pass their name on to us. And feel free to reach out to your favorite author and let them know you’d like to see them in our Authors' Corner!
Mary Lee Ashford
Please tell our readers a little about yourself and how you become an author.
It seems like I've always written or at least I've always been a reader. From a young age, I was a frequent library visitor, bringing home stacks of books. Plowing through Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and then on to Agatha Christie. Like many who love books, at one point I decided to try my hand at writing one...and immediately discovered just how little I knew about fiction writing. Which led to a journey of learning, writing, entering contests, taking classes, writing more, attending workshops, and finally completing manuscripts, and submitting queries to agents and publishers.
Please tell us about your book(s) and list the title(s). Where are they available to purchase?
I write two different series. Both are what is termed a "cozy" mystery, which mainly means nothing graphic is portrayed. So, while there's a murder in the book, the violence is off the page. If you think about television shows such as Murder She Wrote, they would be similar in tone. The first series, the Pampered Pets Mysteries, I co-wrote with a friend under the pen name Sparkle Abbey. There are ten books in that series, beginning with Desperate Housedogs.
More recently, I've written a new series, which I'm thrilled to say is set in Iowa. It features two friends, a former magazine editor and a blue-ribbon baker, who start a community cookbook business. Things are going well until a town VIP is found dead and the two must figure out the murder before someone innocent takes the heat - and the real killer gathers enough ingredients to strike again.
In the Sugar & Spice Mystery Series, there are currently two titles available. Game of Scones (Book 1) and Risky Biscuits (Book 2). The third book in the series, Quiche of Death, will come out in July 2020. They are available both in ebook format and trade paperback, and can be purchased at most book retailers. If you're looking for a paperback copy, I'd recommend Beaverdale Books in Des Moines or Pageturners in Indianola because they both keep copies on hand. And also, of course, any other indie bookstore, because I love to support local small businesses. For ebook copies the books are available the usual places: Amazon/Kindle, Barnes & Noble/Nook, Kobo, and iBooks.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
My best advice is to keep reading and keep writing. As writers, we must not only learn the craft but also continue to improve our writing skills. It's essential that we continue to read widely and find ways to hone our craft. Additionally, I'd recommend aspiring writers look into genre specific professional organizations. You can learn so much about writing standards for particular types of books, as well as specific industry requirements. In the mystery genre, that would include groups such as Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. There are also organizations for science fiction, romance, and children's books.
What is your current writing project?
Currently, I'm working on the fourth book in the Sugar & Spice series. It involves a local County Historical Society in my fictional small town, a cold case, and some tasty bread recipes.
Please tell us about your publishing journey. Are you self-published or are you traditionally published?
I am traditionally published, but if you were to view a graphic of my publishing journey it might look like a crazy piece of modern art. Writing and publishing for every author has it's up and down (and sometimes sideways) loops, and my journey certainly is no exception. After learning as much as I could about writing (classes, workshops, etc.) I began entering contests, especially those where the winner received feedback from an industry professional. One of my manuscripts won first place in the Daphne du Maurier contest which was thrilling, because it told me I was on the right track. That contest win, along with two other contests where I was a finalist, gave me the opportunity to submit my work to a couple of different agents and editors. Finally, one editor was very interested an asked for the full manuscript. After her review, she was excited about the book and it was to be moved on up the decision chain. Then she left that publisher. Her new publisher didn't publish cozy mysteries and the editor who took her place wasn't as excited about the project. See what I mean about the ups and downs? Though that book was never published, the industry contacts proved very helpful and I went on to co-write the Sparkle Abbey mystery series that was picked up in a four-book deal - but not with either of those publishers. After acquiring a literary agent, we proposed a new culinary mystery series to Kensington Books and subsequently signed a three-book contract with them. There are many more ups and downs and sideways parts to my journey, but you get the idea.
Do you have any upcoming appearances or book signings?
I recently attended Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, in Dallas and I always attend Malice Domestic in Bethesda, MD which is an annual convention for readers who love traditional mysteries. My publisher does a big book signing event at the convention and I'll be there, along with tons of other Kensington authors. I don't have my 2020 appearances or book signings completely firmed up, so the best way to find out about appearances is to check my website: www.MaryLeeAshford.com. or follow me on social media. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
First off, a big thank-you for the opportunity to share a little bit about myself and my books. The other thing I would add is a plug for our Iowa authors. We have so many talented and hard-working authors here in Iowa. Any type of book you like to read, there are any number of Iowa authors for you. Please, please check them out!