V.M. Burns was born and raise in the Midwestern United States. She received a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, a Master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Seton Hill University. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dog Writers Association of America, Thriller Writers International and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. She is the secretary of her local chapter of Sisters in Crime (The East Tennessee Smoking Guns) and the Education Grants Coordinator for the national Sisters in Crime. She currently resides in the warmer area of the U.S. with her two poodles. Readers can visit her website at http://www.vmburns.com

1) When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most?

I have always loved reading. I grew up three blocks from our branch library and went several times every week to get more books. Over the years, I had a long list of stories that I wanted to read, but couldn’t find. After more than 30years waiting for someone to write those books, I decided to try my hand. I love the creative process and realized that this is what I wanted to do, even if I didn’t get paid. I didn’t seriously consider a career as a writer until early 2000.

My favorite part about writing is creating something from nothing. I love taking ideas that have floated around inside my head for years and putting them on paper. Character that don’t exist become real when they are put on paper.

2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?

I write cozy mysteries. Cozy mysteries, or “cozies” are mysteries that typically feature an amateur sleuth solving mysteries (like Murder, She Wrote). Cozies are considered clean mysteries. They don’t have graphic violence, sex or bad language. I write 3 series.

Mystery Bookshop Mystery Series (7 books) – After her husband dies, Samantha Washington quits her job as a high school English Teacher to follow her dream of opening a Mystery Bookshop. Sam also dreams of writing a British historic cozy mystery which is set in between World War I and World War II. This series has a story within a story and includes both mysteries in every book. This series is available in trade paperback, eBook, and large print. It is available everywhere books are sold.

Dog Club Mystery Series (5 books) – When her husband of 25 years leaves Lilly Ann Echosby for a younger woman, she decides to go in search of her “happy place.” Lilly reconnects with her best friend from college and plans to relocate to Tennessee, but before she can move, her husband is murdered and Lilly is the police’s prime suspect. This series is available in audio, trade paperback, eBook and large print. It can be ordered from any online book retailer.

RJ Franklin Mystery Series (3 books) – A car accident not only damages Detective RJ Franklin’s vehicle, but it shakes his faith. However, when the choir director of his church is murdered, RJ has to find the killer before someone else he loves becomes the next victim. All of the titles in this series come from Negro Spirituals and include soul food recipes. This series is available in trade paperback and eBook and can be ordered from any online book retailer.

3) What projects are you currently working on?

I recently submitted the 7th book in my Mystery Bookshop Mystery Series. I’m going to take a short break. I’ve been tossing around the idea of trying my hand at a thriller.

4) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?

I think my most significant achievement as a writer happened when my debut novel from my Mystery Bookshop Mystery Series, THE PLOT IS MURDER, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

In five years, I hope that I am still writing mysteries.

5) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career?

I used to joke that I have enough rejections to wallpaper a room. Nevertheless, it is never easy to receive a rejection. However, I have learned that it is part of every writer’s life. I’m not sure that I handle rejections in the best way, but I typically give myself 48 hours to wallow in self-pity. I eat ice cream and allow myself to dwell in my feelings for a maximum of 2 days. After 2 days, then I get back to work. It’s not easy and doubt often creeps into my thoughts (I’m not good enough. No one likes my books/writing). I remind myself that many successful writers were rejected. In fact, I keep a file with a list of the names of writers like JK Rowling, Stephen King, and Agatha Christie who were all rejected. They kept writing and so I can too.

6) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel?

I don’t have a firm schedule, but I try to write every day. I set a weekly word count goal of 7,500-10,000 words. That seems like a big number, but if I break it down, it’s only 1,000-1,500 words per day. Some days, I may be in the zone and write more. Other days, life happens, and I may struggle to write 10 words. Looking at the goal as a weekly goal, I give myself permission to skip a day if the words aren’t flowing. I have a full-time job which takes up my days so I usually write at night and on weekends. Cozy mysteries are usually 60-80k words so I can generally finish a rough draft in 2 months. However, I will spend another month with edits and revisions.

I don’t outline. I am a “pantser.” I write by the seat of my pants. I generally start out with a rough idea of the main characters and an idea of the murderer and victim. However, I prefer to just sit down and write and see where the characters and the story takes me.

7) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?

Absolutely NOT. Each person will need to determine what success means to them, but I believe that anyone can achieve success regardless of when they start. I was 50 before my first book was published. Writing isn’t a physical sport which caters to the young. In fact, sometimes it takes life experience before someone acquires the stories worth telling and the courage to write (and share) them.

8) What’s the first book you ever read that really touched you emotionally and moved you? Who is your favorite author? What book are you currently reading?

I don’t recall the first book that touched my emotions. After all, I’ve been reading for a LONG time. I love books that make me laugh out loud rather than books that make me cry. I have been so frustrated by books that I have literally thrown them across the room, although I always go get them. I think one of the books that touched me emotionally is, The Diary of Anne Frank and I know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.  

It’s hard to pick one favorite author. My favorite mystery author is Agatha Christie, but favorite a favorite author across all genres…I’m going to have to say, Jane Austen. I love Pride & Prejudice and I read it at least once per year. It’s amazing that after more than 200 years, people still read, enjoy, and ‘care about’ these characters.

Currently, I’m reading Double Whammy by Gretchen Archer.

9) So many writers say that they hate reading their own work? Do you ever just sit down and curl up with your own book?

HA! No, I haven’t curled up with my own books. I think part of that is because when I’m writing, I spend so much time working on the books that when I’m done, I really don’t want to read them again. However, the biggest reason that I don’t sit down and read my own books is because I start picking them apart and thinking of things that I could have/should have done differently.

10) What are your thoughts about how the publishing industry is drastically changing?

I’m torn about the changes to the publishing industry. I think self-publishing has opened the doors for many authors, especially authors of color, who may not have been able to get their books published previously. There are a lot more diverse books available, which I think is a good thing. However, I wish that publishers would  

11) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?

Writing definitely helps me cope with problems. In fact, I find it very cathartic. Sound weird for someone who writes murder mysteries? I’m able to work through a lot of frustrations on the pages of my books. In cozy mysteries, wrongs are righted by the end and justice prevails. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t always work out that neatly. I can also live the life that I have always dreamed of living through my characters. In my books, I can create characters who are intelligent, brave and daring. In my Mystery Bookshop Mystery Series, my protagonist, Samantha Washington dreams of owning a mystery bookshop and writing British historic cozy mysteries, because that’s my dream. She is courageous enough to quit her job and take that leap of faith. So far, I’m only able to live half of the dream. Maybe one day, I’ll have the courage to buy a building and open a mystery bookshop just like the characters I write about.