Do you love cozy mysteries with some violence and darkness included as well? If so, Vanessa Westermann is an author to keep an eye on! I recently read her novel, An Excuse for Murder, and absolutely loved it. I cannot wait to read more from her!
I’m so excited to be hosting an interview with Vanessa today to learn more about her as an individual and to get some insight into how her novel came to be.
Let’s dive into the interview!
Interview with Vanessa Westermann, author of An Excuse for Murder
Who is Vanessa Westermann?
An avid reader of mysteries, Vanessa Westermann is a former Arthur Ellis Awards judge, holds an M.A. in English Literature, as well as a Bachelor of Education, and has taught creative writing. Her debut mystery, An Excuse for Murder, was published in 2019. Her short story, “Medicine“, was included in Carrick Publishing’s 2020 crime anthology, titled A Grave Diagnosis. At the heart of all of Westermann’s stories are strong female protagonists inspired by the heroines in her own life.
What is your first memory of writing for fun (ex. A fun project in school, your first novel draft, et cetera)?
When I was six years old, my mom gave one of my older cousins a Disney Princess Diary. The diary had a lock on it. That was the first time I realized writing could be done just for fun, for the writer. The idea of locking away words was fascinating. Treasures have locks. Did that mean words could be valuable, or maybe even dangerous? I had to have one. Luckily, my mom encouraged my enthusiasm and gave me my very own Disney Diary. Since then, I’ve filled many more notebooks, with and without locks.
How many books and/or short stories have you written?
I think most authors have a few unpublished manuscripts tucked away in a bottom drawer that will never see the light of day. The book I’m working on now is my 6th manuscript and I’ve written countless short stories. When I was starting out, I worked my way through The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to liberate your writing. Writing prompts can be a fun way to hone your craft, before tackling a bigger project.
What are some of your other interests outside of writing?
I love anything to do with art. I wish I was more skilled at painting myself, but I enjoy going to art galleries, artisan events, and studio tours. I can also happily browse flea markets and thrift stores for hours. Vintage finds always spark my curiosity. The echoes of past lives often end up inspiring stories or characters — Oops! This was supposed to be about one of my interests outside of writing…
Are you also a reader?
I’m a voracious reader. One of the first pieces of advice I got from a literary agent was to read as many books in the genre as possible, and to consider which plot elements are fresh and leave the reader wanting more. I took that advice to heart and studied English Literature. I also wrote book reviews for Sleuth of Baker Street, a mystery-specialty bookstore in Toronto, Canada. I later developed that review column into a blog, which now features reviews and interviews with fellow crime writers. I think one of the best approaches to writing is to write what you love to read. And to read, a lot.
What genres do you reach for the most?
Mysteries mostly, but I also enjoy reading romance, especially romantic-comedies. This comes through in my own writing, as I love combining my mysteries with romance. When I want to read a Happy Ever After ending, some of my go-to authors are Jenn McKinlay, Nora Roberts and Jill Mansell.
Do you have an all time favorite book or author?
Can I pick three favorite authors? Louise Penny, Susanna Kearsely and Tana French.
Book Related Questions
In An Excuse for Murder, I loved that you merged a tense crime mystery with uplifting and cozy fairytale-like elements. To me it seemed that Gary’s storyline was focused on the crime, Kate’s was focused on the mystery, and with those two together, we got the heartwarming romance. Was this planned, or did it just happen to come out in the writing process?
You’re right — Gary’s storyline is focused on the crime and Kate’s is on the mystery. I knew I wanted to write a traditional village mystery, with its puzzles and quirky characters, but include the forward momentum of a thriller. In order to do this, I decided to tell the story from two points of view: from the perspective of Gary, a haunted former bodyguard who commits murder and then has to live with the consequences, and from the perspective of Kate, a bookstore owner who discovers the body. The romance between them links the two narratives and adds an extra layer of conflict. What happens when the sleuth falls for the murderer?
I loved the cozy town feeling that the setting of An Excuse for Murder gave off. It felt like it was a town that I would be happy to move to with it’s bookshop, restaurants, and coffee shop! Was this town based on somewhere you have been, or was it totally fictional?
I love visiting small towns, in real life and in fiction. The setting in An Excuse For Murder is fictional but it was inspired by boroughs in London, England, such as Greenwich and Blackheath. Kate’s bookshop combines elements from my favorite independent Canadian bookstores, including Sleuth of Baker Street and Lighthouse Books. I shamelessly stole the exposed brick walls and fireman’s pole in the Old Firehall Café from a sporting goods store in Unionville, Ontario, called Old Firehall Sports. I find settings become three-dimensional when I weave in a little bit of reality.
Your characters really pop right out of the pages! They truly seem like people readers know in the real world with how realistic they are. Can you give us words of advice about developing characters or walk us through your personal process?
Thank you! I’m a plotter and when I outline a new project, I always start with the characters. An Excuse For Murder actually began as a character sketch of Kate’s great-aunt Roselyn. For my protagonists and suspects, I brainstorm their physiology (what they look like), sociology (backstory), and psychology (personality traits, flaws and fears). I give each character a ruling passion – something that they desperately want. Since I write mysteries, I also give each character a secret, to make things interesting. Before drafting, I have an idea of what my protagonists’ character arcs might be, but I often find that I discover the lesson they need to learn along with them, as I’m writing.
If you’d like to find out more about how I developed Kate’s character into a female protagonist that crime writer Barbara Fradkin described as “the perfect heroine for our times”, I go into detail about the process in my essay titled “Perfect Heroines” on Women Writers, Women’s Books online literary magazine: http://booksbywomen.org/perfect-heroines/
You’re working on your next mystery now that will be coming out next year. Can you give us any hints about what we can look forward to from this one?
In my next cozy mystery, an artist and — a far too charming — chocolatier have to work together to investigate a murder in Canada’s cottage country. Readers can look forward to a summer pop-up art gallery, a lakeside village, romance, a legacy of deception and bars of artisan chocolate.
Just one last question; Where can readers find you?
Readers can find me at:
Thanks for reading!
And thank you again to Vanessa for diving into this interview!