Bestselling author JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING is the winner of the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, Dilys, Barry, Nero Wolfe, and Gumshoe Awards, and an Edgar and Romantic Times RC Award finalist. She was born at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, spending most of her childhood on the move as an army brat. She studied acting and history at Ithaca College, and received her J.D. from the University of Maine School of Law. She lives outside of Portland, Maine.
Most new mothers are lucky if they manage to fit in a shower and a hot meal immediately after the baby arrives. Julia Spencer-Fleming completed her award-winning first novel, In the Bleak Midwinter. “Virginia was born on August 19th, and I finished the book in a torrent of writing over Labor Day weekend,” she says. “Then I worked on rewrites and editing during the rest of my maternity leave. I’d have the nursing baby under one arm and the manuscript under the other.”
The usual route for a first time author is to secure an interested agent. But Spencer-Fleming was juggling two older children plus the new baby, a 180-year-old farmhouse in the Maine countryside, a dog, a cat, a husband, and a demanding legal practice. She didn’t have time to send out letter after letter to agents. “I found out about the St. Martin’s ‘Best First Novel’ contest a week before the deadline. I shipped out my manuscript on Halloween and told myself I didn’t have to do anything more to try to get published until they announced the winner in early April. I figured at least an editor would take a look at it, and maybe I’d get some good feedback.”
Instead, she got a call from legendary mystery editor Ruth Cavin informing her In the Bleak Midwinter had beaten out over two hundred and thirty other manuscripts to win the 2001 Best First Traditional Mystery Award. St. Martin’s, the country’s largest publisher of mysteries, has since 1989 sponsored “Best First” awards for private eye and traditional mysteries. Previous winners have gone on to collect Edgar, Anthony and Agatha awards and nominations.
Her editor describes the book as “an outstanding addition to our award-winners,” a judgement confirmed by the book’s outstanding reviews in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the L.A. Times, the Washington Post, Publishers Weekly and other major newspapers. As In the Bleak Midwinter’s print runs sold out again and again--it is now in its fifth printing-- St. Martin’s quickly signed the author to a two-book contract for a third and fourth in the series. Now she’s said good-bye to the law office and hello to the life of a full-time author.
Spencer-Fleming’s debut success owes much to its chillingly accurate portrayal of life and death in a small upstate New York town. “Millers Kill is an amalgam of the towns and villages that I knew as a child.” she says. “My family settled in the Adirondack Piedmont in the 1720s and I spent a lot of time tramping around those hills, hearing stories of Indian massacres and Revolutionary battles and eavesdropping on the small-town gossip about who was pregnant and whose dairy was failing. That part of New York, where poor farms and Saratoga money and the mountains all come together, has always held a bone-deep fascination for me.”
Along with the Millers Kill series, she has plans for a thriller involving a stand-off at a snow-bound prison. She says life in upstate New York and Maine has given her an affinity for wintery murder and mayhem. “You realize how snow and ice can rule your life. The weather, like any well-written villain, is both fascinating and deadly.”
“My family settled in the Adirondack Piedmont in the 1720s and I spent a lot of time tramping around those hills, hearing stories of Indian massacres and Revolutionary battles and eavesdropping on the small-town gossip about who was pregnant and whose dairy was failing. That part of New York, where poor farms and Saratoga money and the mountains all come together, has always held a bone-deep fascination for me.”
“Russ decided the best defense was a good offense. “I’m Russell Van Alstyne, Millers Kill chrief of police.” He held out his hand. She shook firm, like a guy.
“Clare Fergusson,” she said. “I’m the new priest at Saint Alban’s. That’s the Episcopal Church. At the corner of Elm and Church.” there was a faint testiness in her voice. Russ relaxed a fraction. A woman priest. If that didn’t beat all.
“I know which it is. There are only four churches in town.” He saw the fog creeping along the edges of his glasses again and snatched them off, fishing for a tissue in his pocket. “Can you tell me what happened, um...” What was he supposed to call her? “Mother?”
“I go by Reverend, Chief. Ms. is fine, too.”
“Oh. Sorry. I never met a woman priest before.”
“We’re just like the men priests, except we’re willing to pull over and ask directions.”