Thursday, February 23, 2006


Ms. Edwards is a firmly established author and creator of the Mali mystery series, including If I Should Die (Anthony Award nomination for Best First Novel), A Toast Before Dying (won the 1999 Fiction Honor Book Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association), and No Time to Die. Film and television rights to the series have been sold.
In the Shadow of the Peacock and The Viaduct are other books by Ms. Edwards. She is a longtime member of the Harlem Writers Guild and currently serves as secretary for the organization. She is busy at work on her next stand-alone novel, and notwithstanding her active schedule, finds time to teach creative writing at Marymount Manhattan College and the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center. Her dedication to the mystery field is well-known and she has graciously consented to this interview.

1. Welcome to the Crime Sistahs blog site. Visitors to the site are probably familar with the books you've written, especially the popular Mali Anderson series. Whose decision was it to include a form of the word "die" in the titles, yours or the publishers? Do you think that helped book sales? Is that an example of "branding" your books? Any comments or suggestions on titling a novel for future or would-be authors?

It was my idea for the first three titles. For the fourth, I wanted to call it "The Wednesday Woman" because it involved the murder of a girl who refused to be the designated woman in a pimp's stable. (I was overruled so "Do or Die" was chosen.) Re: name branding. May be good. It worked for Neeley and her "Blanche on the Lam" series.

I believe titling a novel is not nearly as important as having some control over the art work for the book cover.

2. Your latest novel, The Viaduct, is a departure from the series you established. Why the change of direction? Do you think you'll return to your series or did Mali play out for you?

Departure from the series to "The Viaduct." The pub was no longer interested in the Mali series. As a result I wrote a stand alone which also takes place in Harlem but in a different time frame. I still receive emails asking for another Mali mystery. I plan to write at least two more. I already have the plot outlines.

3. How difficult was it to publish your first novel? Are they more or fewer black female mystery writers today? Do you see any new trends in writing? What are the challenges for the African-American female mystery writer?

Re: a different pub for first novel. "In the Shadow of the Peacock" was published by McGraw-Hill in 1988. Terry McMillan who was in the guild at that time [Harlem Writers Guild], had an agent who heard me read and managed to sell the ms. within three months. I was lucky.
Also, there are definitely more black female mystery writers today including Penny Micklebury, Terry Grimes, Barbara Neeley, Paula Woods, Eleanor Taylor Bland, Valeries Wilson Wesley, and Prof. Bailey, to name a few.
The challenge as I see it is to broaden our base, to ensure that our books are placed in the mystery section of the major chain stores as well as in African American Literature sections.
The new trends in black writing appear to emphasize what is known as "street lit" with plots hastily drawn and poorly edited (if at all). And most with the same baby mama drama theme. But they seem to have a pretty wide readership.
I recently completed "The Blind Alley," book number seven set in Harlem in 1954.
The writing process is so individual. Some writers are at the computer every day. Others write in long hand on legal pads. Still others keep a day journal and when it's full, they transfer it to the compter. a lot of writers need solitude. I grab a seat on the IRT and write until the scene in my head is finished. Sometimes I miss my stop.

5. People always seem interested in the stories of how people got their first agent or sold their first book. What's your story?

Getting my first agent. Pure luck and circumstance. Terry was among the HWG members reading at the Writers Voice. Her agent happened to be in the audience and heard me read. She placed the mss. in a matter of months. I wasn't even looking for an agent.

6. Can you identify what trait or deficiency seems to universally plague beginning writers? What's your advice to them?

Re the trait or deficiency plaguing beginning writers. At times, it's failure to sufficiently develop the main characters. The reader (not to mentin the agent or editor) must be able to identify or connect with the character. Advice: Read the classics. Dickens, Faulkner, Baldwin, Hurston, Morrison, in order to get a sense of style and structure.

7. With your present knowledge and experience, do you regret anything? Any shoulda-woulda-couldas?

Re: shoulda-woulda-coulda
No regrets. Beginning writers should earn gold stars for perserverance. In other words, the day your book hits the shelves is the day your feet hits the bricks. Once the book is available, every writer should visit all the independents and chain stores to meet and greet the managers. Offer to do a reading, sign stock--a signed copy is a sold copy. They are not returned. Contact schools, libraries, fraternities, sororities, reading clubs, literary discussion groups. Smile and be gracious. Book stores are happy to see you.
And if Oprah calls, remain calm.

8. Tell us a little something about the Harlem Writers Guild of which you are a member.

The Harlem Writers Guild was founded in 1950 by Rosa Guy, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, John Oliver Killens, and Henry Moon, among others. It's the oldest continuous black writing group in the U.S. and probably in the world. And we're still going strong. I joined in 1974 in order to complete my masters thesis and was so awed by the big guns that I didn't say a word for years, but everyone seemed happy to read my work for me and that's how "Peacock" was born.
Members were very supportive and the critique constructive. As secretary of the Guild, that's the spirit I'd like to maintain in the group. My goal is to see that HWG members produce work of the highest quality and function in a manner that brings honor to the Guild.

Thanks, Grace, for your time with us today. We look forward to your next book. FYI Readers can contact Grace anytime at


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