For the third straight time, we’re thrilled to host this year’s Agatha Award Best First Novel nominees on our blog, including someone we know very well around these parts. Once again, we decided to ask them one of all-time favorite questions: Who would you cast as a character in your debut novel? Read on to learn more about the characters created by these talented group of authors. And don’t forget to stop by their “New Kids on the Block” panel at Malice Domestic on Saturday, April 29 at 10 a.m.
Before I began writing the Mer Cavallo Mysteries, I constructed a storyboard in Scrivener and set about casting my characters. The title role of Dr. Meredith Cavallo went to Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (circa The Abyss and The Perfect Storm). I liked her combination of grit and hidden vulnerability. Add in a bit of Kathy Reichs’ socially awkward Temperance Brennan, and more than a smattering of Sylvia Earle, a marine biologist and Time magazine’s first “Hero for the Planet,” and a more complete picture of Mer emerges. By profession, Mer is a marine biologist who studies octopuses. She’s curious, analytical, and driven in her pursuit of truth. Occasionally, she forgets to engage her filters, but she has a good heart, is dedicated to her friends and family, and is awed by the beauty of the ocean. She’s the type of woman I’d like to hang out with, and she’d definitely make a great dive buddy. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio helped me visualize Mer. And this photograph of the actress helped me bring Mer to life on the page.
Snickers and Oreo are my main character Samantha Washington’s faithful companions. They are chocolate toy poodles with their own unique personalities. I get a lot of inspiration for Snickers and Oreo from my own dogs, Coco and Cash. So, if I were to cast a character, I’d cast my dogs. Coco (Snickers) is a female and the older of the two dogs. She is extremely smart and is definitely the brains in my pack. She loves belly scratches and has a lot of attitude. Cash (Oreo) is happy-go-lucky. He isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he is eager to please. If you’re curious, Coco and Cash are the cover models for The Plot is Murder. Coco is the one in the chair reading How to Plan a Murder (always plotting). Cash, totally oblivious, is the one trying to sneak the scone off the plate.
My main character, Dayna Anderson, is a semi-famous, mega-broke black actress who handles everything with a joke, which gets her in trouble more than once. She’s also smart, head-strong, and will do anything for her friends. As some of you who read the blog know, there’s a multi-hyphenate actress I had in mind when I first came up with Dayna years and years ago, but I if I had to cast her today, I’d definitely choose Aja Naomi King from How To Get Away with Murder. Dayna may not agree. As she mentioned in Hollywood Homicide, “this was Los Angeles. Everyone was so pretty—the men even more so than the women—that you had to resort to a sliding scale, on which I was closer to cute than beautiful.” And Aja Naomi King is definitely closer to the gorgeous side of the scale.
My protagonist, Jamie Rush, is a skip tracer working in a Texas coastal town. Her job, finding people who don’t wish to be found, requires her to be pleasant but forgettable, to blend into the background but also stand out when necessary. Jamie is guarded and slow to trust but is loyal to a fault once you are part of her circle. For her role, Shailene Woodley would be my top pick. Shailene possesses a balance of confidence and vulnerability, and I think she would handle Jamie’s sense of humor in a way that captures her dry approach. Shailene has an authenticity that shines through, and I can envision her occupying Jamie’s character and bringing her to life.
I’m a little—okay, a lot—obsessed with movies. I love any and all cinema, from classics to camp. So it makes a certain amount of sense that I’ve spent waaaaaaaaaaaay too much time thinking about who to cast in Protocol, should it ever grace the big screen.
The problem? I took far too long to write this book. By the time I went from concept to publication, the actresses I had on my short list (and I’m sure they’d say yes, right?) aged out of my protagonist’s twenty-something age range. Fortunately, great new actresses came on the scene, which forged new opportunities.
The actress who I picture as Maggie O’Malley is Emma Stone. Not only does Emma have Maggie’s ginger coloring (or vice-versa?), she also has the kind of independent spunk embodied by Maggie. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, she defines herself rather than letting others do so, and she isn’t afraid to temper her strength with vulnerability—or even a side of goofiness. So Emma, if you’re reading this, I think you’d make the perfect Maggie. Call me?
Thank you to V.M., Kathy, Micki, and Laura for stopping by today. Learn more about them below!
A retired police captain, Micki Browning writes the Mer Cavallo Mystery series set in the Florida Keys. In addition to the Agatha nomination for Best First Novel, Adrift has won both the Daphne du Maurier and the Royal Palm Literary Awards. Beached, her second novel, launched January 2018. Micki’s work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. She lives in South Florida with her partner in crime and a vast array of scuba equipment she uses for “research.” Learn more about Micki at MickiBrowning.com.
V.M. (Valerie) Burns was born in Northwestern Indiana and spent many years in Southwestern Michigan on the Lake Michigan shoreline. She is a lover of dogs, British historic cozies, and scones with clotted cream. After many years in the Midwest she went in search of milder winters and currently lives in Eastern Tennessee with her poodles. Receiving the Agatha nomination for Best First Novel has been a dream come true. Valerie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. Readers can learn more by visiting her website at vmburns.com.
Kellye Garrett writes the Detective by Day mysteries about a semi-famous, mega-broke black actress who takes on the deadliest role of her life: Homicide Detective. The first, Hollywood Homicide, was recently nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Barry awards. The second, Hollywood Ending, will be released on August 8, 2018 from Midnight Ink. Prior to writing novels, Kellye spent eight years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for the TV drama Cold Case. The New Jersey native now works for a leading media company in New York City and serves on the national Board of Directors for Sisters in Crime. You can learn more about her at KellyeGarrett.com and ChicksontheCase.com.
Laura Oles is a photo industry journalist who spent twenty years covering tech and trends before turning to crime fiction. She served as a columnist for numerous photography magazines and publications. Laura’s short stories have appeared in several anthologies, including Murder on Wheels, which won the Silver Falchion Award in 2016. Her debut mystery, Daughters of Bad Men, is a Claymore Award Finalist and an Agatha nominee for Best First Novel. She is also a Writers’ League of Texas Award Finalist. Laura is a member of Austin Mystery Writers, Sisters in Crime and Writers’ League of Texas. Laura lives on the edge of the Texas Hill Country with her husband, daughter and twin sons. Visit her online at lauraoles.com.
Kathleen Valenti is the author of the Maggie O’Malley mystery series. The series’ first book, Agatha- and Lefty-nominated Protocol, introduces us to Maggie, a pharmaceutical researcher with a new job, a used phone, and a deadly problem. The series’ second book, 39 Winks, releases May 22. When Kathleen isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning advertising copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running. Learn more at www.kathleenvalenti.com.
Readers, have you read any of the nominated books? Did you also envision the character looking like this? Let us know below!
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