By Jess Lourey
The year is 2015. I am fresh off moderating Left Coast Crime’s Writing and Sex panel featuring Chelsea Cain, when this gorgeous, funny, and a-little-bit-quiet writer walks up and introduces herself. She charms everyone, and it’s not just because of her wine knowledge. Turns out Nadine is one of those rare birds who makes everyone feel comfortable and engaged.
That’s why I was so delighted to discover that, a few months later, she signed on with my publisher, Midnight Ink. Decanting a Murder, her debut mystery, was released in May, and people are loving it. RT Book Reviews gave it four stars, writing, “Filled with amusing characters, snappy dialogue and delicious wine pairings, this mystery delivers a fast, sophisticated ride with just enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing until the final confrontation.” Nadine’s editor, Terri Bischoff, says she loves the book. “Katie Stillwell is quirky and fun, defiant and sweet. Much like Nadine, I’d say. I am hoping this series is around for a very long time.”
I think the series, and Nadine, is on the writing scene to stay. In honor of that, let’s get to know her, possibly more than she’d like.
Thanks for making the time to answer my crazy questions, Nadine! First, let’s get this out of the way. I can’t tell if you and I are the biggest winners or the biggest losers when it comes to landing an agent. I was rejected 423 times before I signed with my first agent (who also sold healing crystals part-time). What’s your publication story?
I love that we’re only two away from each other. I had 421 rejections, all of them logged in a spreadsheet. When I started querying in 2005, I had the hopeful image of an agent replicating that scene from A Christmas Story where Ralphie turned in his paper and the teacher, or agent in my mind, exclaimed it was the one she had been waiting for. It wasn’t that I actually believed this was going to be the case, but there were times when I secretly hoped it would be. Clearly it didn’t happen with my first book. Or my second. Or my third… you get the point. But I didn’t give up. I continued to write and ten years after I queried my first book, my fifth book landed me an amazing agent. When Danielle Burby emailed that she wanted to talk, I didn’t let myself celebrate at first. I thought I was reading it wrong and it was another rejection. After talking with her, the Ralphie scene turned around and I was the one saying, “This is the agent I’ve been waiting for!” And she definitely was.
Yay! Your tenacity and subsequent publication is reason for all of us to celebrate. You are a Certified Sommelier, a path that sprouted organically from your love of wine but also accidentally through standing up at the wrong time (no good deed and all that). Care to share that story?
Ah, that moment of serendipity which changed my life. I was at a wine and food festival and stood up to change seats so a couple could sit together. As I did this, Master Sommelier Fred Dame took my hand, in what I thought was helping me to the next seat. Instead he led me to the stage and seated me on the wine panel next to Master Sommeliers and winemakers. I was terrified. Although I enjoyed wine, I knew very little about it and I was staring out at a sea of attendees eager to learn. I managed to get through the panel without embarrassing myself too much, but it sparked a desire to learn as much as I could about wine. I began studying and passed Level 1, then passed Level 2 and became a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers in 2011. I saw Fred at an event last year and thanked him for changing my life.
That is so cool! OK, let’s talk the book. Decanting a Murder fuses together secrets, wine, and murder. How did you come up with this clever combination? Specifically, in what order did these pieces come together, and what was the inspiration for each: wanting to write a book, wanting to write a traditional mystery, and wanting a sommelier-in-training as a protagonist?
I’ve wanted to be a writer my entire life and always dreamed of walking into a bookstore and seeing my name on a book. Well, one that I wrote, not some scandalous tell-all. Mysteries have always been my go-to genre and I’ve loved reading them since I was little. I knew they were the type of books I wanted to write. After wine became such a big part of my life in 2011, I decided to add wine into my next book. I’m a huge fan of Sue Grafton’s work as well as Murder, She Wrote and I started to think about a character like Kinsey Millhone or Jessica Fletcher in the wine world. I thought it would be fun to have a sommelier as my protagonist who applied her wine knowledge to solve the mysteries and Decanting a Murder was born. My early drafts had Katie as a Certified Sommelier, but I changed her to still in training because I wanted her to overcome obstacles like the rest of us.
Makes sense. Next I’m going to ask the question that you should never ask a writer: everyone knows that we write fiction, and that we are not our protagonists. That said, you’re totally Katie Stillwell, the heroine of Decanting a Murder, right?
Definitely, I just finished solving another murder in Napa. 🙂 No, but seriously, there is a fair amount of myself in Katie’s character. When I wrote Decanting a Murder, I decided I wouldn’t tell anyone if I was Katie, but I’ll be honest with you, Jess. Though Katie and I aren’t carbon copies and there is a lot fictionalized, we are very similar in many ways. It was the best way for me to really get inside my character. Friends who have read the book have noticed the similarities, but there are still big differences between us.
What has surprised you the most about the writing and publication process?
How fast everything moves once you sign that contract. Suddenly it’s edits, then more edits, then marketing, promotion, working on the next book, etc. Once the contract is set, there is no downtime.
So true. Now to the important question: an ogre has you trapped in a cave, and you have to drink a gallon of one of these to be released: Arbor Mist Cherry Red Moscato, Boone’s Farm Blue Hawaiian, or Bud Light Lime. Which do you choose and why?
This is a super tough question, but I’m going to have to go with Bud Light Lime. It’s light and lime flavored and from what I hear, the perfect secret weapon to fight ogres.
Fair enough. What’s your favorite thing about the crime fiction community (besides Jess Lourey)?
Everyone has been so welcoming. I’m actually quite shy — hard for some to believe, but it’s true — and it’s difficult for me to approach people or basically meet people in general. Everyone I’ve met in the crime fiction community has welcomed me with open arms and been so helpful with advice and opportunities. And of course, Jess Lourey.
Thank you. And this leads naturally to my next question. You are too beautiful to be so kind, talented, and smart. Tell me something embarrassing about yourself that will allow me to feel equal to you for a moment.
I’m incredibly clumsy. I fall down stairs, walk into tables, knock things over, trip on invisible pebbles, you name it. As for embarrassing moments, there was the time in grade school when I was supposed to lead the whole school in the Pledge of Allegiance at an assembly but got stage fright and froze, not able to remember the first words (I pledge) until a teacher finally jumped in and started it for me.
That still sounds impossibly cute. Fine. I tried. Let’s talk language. My grammar Achilles Heel is further vs. farther and the devil’s own left hand: lie vs. lay. What’s yours?
I always write towards instead of toward (I blame my British upbringing), I struggle with commas whether it’s too many or too little, and I definitely fall into the lie vs lay struggle. So basically I have two feet and three Achilles Heels.
Ha! Circus freak. Let’s end on a positive note. If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Be patient, be kind, and don’t give up. It only takes one yes and it could be the next query you send.
Thank you, Nadine, for letting us get to know you better! And thank you for writing Decanting a Murder. Booklist writes, “This debut mystery has a sympathetic main character with secrets in her past, well-drawn secondary characters, a possible love interest, and fascinating detail on wine, wineries, and wine making skillfully woven through the story.” Check it out now!
Nadine Nettmann, a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, is always on the lookout for great wines and the stories behind them. She has visited wine regions around the world including Chile, South Africa, Spain, Germany, and every region in France. When she’s not visiting wine regions or dreaming up new mysteries, her travel articles have appeared in AAA Hawaii, New Mexico Journey, Modern Luxury Hawaii, and Inspirato. Nadine is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. She lives in California with her husband.
To learn more about DECANTING A MURDER, click on the cover below:
Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journaland Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” Jessica also writes sword and sorcery fantasy as Albert Lea and edge-of-your-seat YA adventure as J.H. Lourey, and is branching out into magical realism, literary fiction, and thrillers under her given name. She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology at a Minnesota college and a recipient of The Loft’s 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship. When not teaching, reading, traveling, writing, or raising her two wonderful kids, you can find her dreaming of her next story. SALEM’S CIPHER, the first book in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016.
To learn more about SALEM’S CIPHER, click on the cover below: