Nancy Martin Gets Lost in a Story

Nancy Martin is the author of nearly 50 popular fiction novels including the award-winning Blackbird Sisters mystery series and the Roxy Abruzzo series. She has served on the board of Sisters in Crime and is a founding member of Pennwriters. In 2009 she won the Romantic Times award for career achievement in mystery writing.

The book...

NO WAY TO KILL A LADY is the 8th book in the Blackbird Sisters mystery series and marks the return of Nora Blackbird after a three year hiatus. Set in Philadelphia’s world of high society, the mysteries are about the three Blackbird sisters, Philadelphia heiresses whose parents have run off with their trust funds, leaving them high and dry. Nora gets a job as a newspaper society columnist to keep body and soul together, but it’s not enough. When Nora’s aunt “Madcap Maddy” Blackbird dies in a volcano, she bequeaths her marvelous estate to Nora and her sisters.  Trouble is, all the art and wonderful objects that once graced the estate have disappeared. Trying to find out who stole the goodies leads the Blackbird Sisters on a merry chase . . . that eventually leads to the inkling that maybe Maddy didn’t die the way they first thought.  And things heat up between Nora and Michael Abruzzo, the son of New Jersey’s most notorious mob boss. Staying out of jail isn’t Mick’s most pressing problem. It’s hijinks among the highbrows, fizzy fun for readers.
What they're saying...

“Nancy Martin knows the inner workings of blue-blooded Philadelphia and she lets us in on the fun with style and panache.” New York Times bestselling author Margaret Maron

“Smart intrigue dressed in cool couture.” New York Times bestselling author Susan Andersen
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Let's chat with Nancy...

Susan: Nancy, thank you so much for joining us today here at Get Lost in a Story. What an honor it is to have you here! I’m most familiar with your Blackbird Sisters series. Some of the situations those girls get into are hilarious. I love the memorial party and polo match in lieu of a funeral that Nora covers in book 6, A Crazy Little Thing Called Death. I’m curious, do you take any special supplements to support creative thinking?
Nancy: Chocolate.

Susan: I think I'll increase my daily intake. Do you share any of the Blackbird Sisters’ background—I mean before their high-society parents threw a big party and promptly left the country? Were you a debutante?
Nancy: Not really. My father was a small town lawyer and gentleman farmer who became an executive with a large, international company. He was an amateur pilot and ran a commuter airline in his spare time, so we got to travel for free, which was a wonderful way to grow up. We were shown a lot of the world, and I feel very lucky about that. 

Also, my family has long traditions and great pride in our heritage, and family stories were honed with precision at holiday gatherings. My grandmother was quite a lady, and I think her influence appears in Nora’s fondness for her own grandmother. I had an uncle who lived on the Main Line, and that part of the family was a little more sophisticated, so I steal liberally from them. My parents, occasionally threw glamorous parties, but they would never skip out on their responsibilities. I am luckier than Nora Blackbird! 

Susan: Is Nora Blackbird anything like you?
Nancy: Nora is so much nicer than I am, it’s embarrassing. Also smarter. Recently, my husband and I went to a play, and the woman sitting next to me took off her shoes. Her stinky feet were unbearable! I could barely breathe! But I couldn’t figure out what to do about it either. We couldn’t get up and disturb the actors. There were no other seats to move into. We were stuck. I couldn’t think of anything both polite enough, yet firm enough to say that would end the situation! But . . . Nora would have known what to say. And the woman would have left the theater liking Nora, too. (If anyone can think of what I should have said to get that lady to put her shoes back on, please share!) 

Susan: If you have sisters, how much do you draw on your relationship with her/them?
Nancy: I have a sister with whom I shared a bedroom growing up (nobody shares bedrooms anymore, do they?) and my mother was one of five sisters, so I had plenty of time to observe the sisterly bond. There is nobody on earth who can push your buttons the way a sister can, right? Nobody who can make you furious as fast as a sister. And yet she’s the first person you call when there’s real trouble. Readers understand that, and exploring the various ways sisters interact has been fun for all of us. 

Susan: I can totally relate to the complexities of the sisterly bond--I have one, too. What three things are, at this moment, in Nora Blackbird’s purse?
Nancy: A credit card for emergencies even though she can’t pay the bill when it comes, one of those gigantic old keys to the back door of the old house at Blackbird Farm, and a cell phone programmed with the most recent number Mick Abruzzo is using. (In order to avoid prosecution for whatever crimes he’s got going, he constantly rotates cell phones.) 

Susan: What is Nora’s biggest vice?
Nancy: This isn’t a vice exactly, but she’s very polite. Maybe too polite. Rude people tend to bulldoze over her. But she makes a stand when questions of right and wrong are in the balance. Also, she is an enabler. Her husband was a cocaine addict, and now she’s just learning that maybe she didn’t help him quit but actually enabled his addiction. Now that she’s with Mick, she’s beginning to wonder if she’s enabling his bad behaviors, too. It’s interesting territory for a writer to explore.

Susan: How about Emma and Libby?
Nancy: Well, Libby is hungry for a man. But with five children—including a set of homicidal twins—she’s having a hard time finding anyone who’s interested in a relationship. She’s self-indulgent and enjoys her pleasures. Emma’s the opposite. She had a vibrant, intensely loving marriage with her husband who was killed under mysterious circumstances, and she is constantly on the prowl for sex without intimacy—a habit made even more volatile by her drinking. Both of Nora’s sisters appear to have deep-seated problems—often with funny results, believe it or not. But when Nora needs them, they are instantly at her side. 

Susan: I did not know that you were a founding member of Pennwriters. That’s impressive—and likely quite a lot of work. Can you tell us a little about that?
Nancy: Pennwriters started at my kitchen table. My friend Susan Anderson and I lived in a rural part of Pennsylvania—a long way from any RWA chapter or Sisters in Crime group--and we felt the need for the support and companionship of other writers within our state. We sat in my kitchen to cut and paste the first newsletters that we sent to other writers we thought might join us. Over the last 25 years, the organization has grown and prospered, and we have a substantial membership of writers (600 last I heard) of all stripes. We have an annual conference to which we invite agents and editors from New York, so if you come it’s easy to have a nice lunch with the agent of your dreams. Writers attend from all over the country. There’s a great newsletter, regional workshops, critique groups, plenty of networking. But the biggest perk of members is getting to know the wonderful writers who are your fellow members. It’s all about the people.

Susan: Do you travel much? What is your favorite place you’ve visited so far?
Nancy: I don’t travel as much as I’d like because I’m working. Also, my husband is a college football official (in addition to his day job) so during the fall, we hardly see each other, let alone get a chance to travel. Right now, my favorite trip is to Texas to see my grandchildren! 

But Jeff and I went to Venice a couple of years ago, and it was magical. We also toured a lot of Greece, and the history blew us away. The trip to Olympia, the original site of the Olympics, was very special to us. Jeff ran the Olympic torch a few years ago, so he feels a special bond with the games. It was an amazing experience to see and hear about the original games, to sit on the same stones, to run the same track. Astonishing that it’s all still there.

Susan: What’s your favorite kind of story to get lost in?
Nancy: I want to be instantly seized by the author’s writerly voice. I want language that immediately plunges me into the deeply emotional life of an intriguing character. I don’t care about killing or suspense or a twisty story with a complex mystery to solve. I’d rather have my heart captured by characters who feel real, with wit and intelligence. I love Elinor Lipman and Michael Chabon and Anne Tyler, and I wish they’d all write faster.

Susan: What was the first story you remember writing?
Nancy: In the 4th grade, I wrote a quasi-Nancy Drew story, and my teacher made me read it to the class. After the first couple of paragraphs, the other kids started to laugh at me. I couldn’t figure out why until one particularly snotty brat (did I just say that??) pointed out that I was starting every sentence with the word, “suddenly.” Even today, I’m very careful about deploying that word!

Susan: Bless your heart! That was absolutely a snotty brat. Clearly, you've had the last laugh. Nancy, What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing?
Nancy: The biggest achievement was being able to stay at home to raise my children, yet still have a successful career. That’s very rare, and a blessing. Okay, sometimes my kids hung around outside my office sighing and loudly observing what time it was and how soon the neighborhood pool closed, so I wasn’t a perfect mom, but I was there when it counted. And I think I set a good example to my daughters that a woman sometimes has to be creative if she wants everything. Now, I love the freedom I have to drop what I’m working on and do what catches my fancy. I would like to be able to finance my husband’s early retirement, so that’s a goal still ahead of me. 

Susan: What will always make you smile, even on a bad day?
Nancy: My grandkids.

Susan: What turns you off like nothing else?
Nancy: Rude people. Car alarms. People who can’t be nice to children.

Susan: What is your biggest vice?
Nancy: Chocolate. And probably Pinterest!

Susan: Oh, yes. Pinterest has sucked me in as well. What do you do to unwind and relax?
Nancy: What does “relax” mean? Wait---I bet the answer is chocolate.

Susan: I find that chocolate is the answer to a great many questions. Nancy, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a pleasure! 

Catch up with Nancy online...


Readers, do any of you have an idea of what Nancy should have said to the woman at the play with the stinky feet to get her to put her shoes back on?Tell us in comments!


  1. SO funny! I'm trying to figure out what I would have said..and I fear--I have no idea! Argh. What an unpleasant situation..

    YOu and Pinterest, dear Nancy! I am afraid to even look, for fear I will get hooked.

    (And I search for "suddenly" too. )

    Love to all! xoo

    1. If YOU can't think of a way to get those shoes back on her feet, Hank, nobody can!

  2. I'm afraid I would have suffered in silence as well. I would have imagined asking her to put her shoes bad on, possibly telling her I was overly sensitive to smells and they were a migraine trigger.But I would never have do that.

    I can attest to Pinterest being addictive--Nancy you have SUCH lovely boards. I love "Nora'a Closet" and ""Nora Would Never Wear!"

    I have a short (but growing) list of pet words I search for. (sigh)

    Thanks, Nancy for such a fun interview!

  3. Can I admit that I am STILL stumped about what to say to that woman. I suppose blunt is best. But I couldn't do it!

    Oh, dear, don't let me encourge anybody to get started on Pinterest! It's a HUGE temptation I must resist every day! Okay, except for a few minutes here and there. Very addictive!

  4. The same thing happened to me on a plane, sadly. The woman next to me--on the aisle--slipped her shoes off at the beginning of a five-hour flight! My eyes were watering, and I never did figure out how to ask her to put her shoes back on, either.

    Chocolate is absolutely the answer. Maybe we could have bribed those women to put their shoes on, if we'd had a supply!

  5. I had a businessman next to me in first class who not only took off his shoes, but crossed his legs so I got to spend four hours with his left foot close to my tray table. I too remained silent, but I think now I would have asked him nicely to at least put his foot on the floor...if that failed I would have buzzed the flight attendant and asked for his or her help. And these days, with women wearing shoes w/o hose, I think my tactic might have been to ask her if she knew whose feet had graced the theatre floor before hers...nothing like the threat of athlete's foot or fungus to urge her to put those shoes back on. And I mean... I am trying to be helpful, right?

    1. Maryann, I have to wonder if he was deliberately goading you! His foot next to your tray table definitely tops my theater story. Ye gods.

  6. What a fascinating interview. Well done, Susan, and welcome to Get Lost in a Story, Nancy. I am a huge fan of Pennwriters and many of your members. What a great organization you started. Congratulations on your phenomenal success. I share your goal of wanting to finance a husband's retirement ;) And now to go delete suddenly from my manuscript ;)

    1. Pennwriters has given me more than I've given the rest of the organization, I must say. Writers are a supportive bunch. I belong to several organizations, but it's really nice to have one in your own back yard.

      That said, we're running a program in November to help writers choose between traditional publishing or taking the self-pubbing route. We have Jane Friedman and CJ Lyons speaking. It's November 1oth, reasonably priced and conveniently located near the Pittsburgh airport, which makes it easy access for writers from all over the country. Check it out: http://pennwriters.org/prod/

  7. Susan, what a lovely interview, and Nancy, what great stories!

    I never know what to say in odd situations, either. You would think writers would be better at that. I can't think of a polite way to say "Honey, you need some baby powder in those shoes," so I would probably have held my tongue (and my nose!), too.

    Your comments about being there for your children hit home for me -- my dream is to show my daughters that a woman can do great things and be successful in her own right while still being the full-time mommy. Financing an early retirement for hubs would be a bonus. :)

    Thanks for the great interview, ladies!

    1. LynDee--Powder! Maybe I should start keeping a little cannister of powder in my handbag. I could offer it to anyone stinky enough to need some!

      Good luck with your career. I feel sure your mothering skills need no luck.--You're a thoughtful mom already. It's tricky, and sometimes you don't always perform your best, but those things even out in the end, right?

  8. As soon as I finish my comment I'm going over to Pinterest to peek in Nora's closet (and at Nora's Wouldn't Wear.) I love that!

    I wouldn't be as polite with Ms. Stinky Feet. I would turn to her with a Very Polite smile and say, "Please put your shoes on." If she put up an argument (oh, I can just hear her excuse), I'd counter with "I'm sorry. But your feet smell." I imagine we wouldn't speak for the remainder of the play.

    Wonderful interview! It's so nice to hear your background, Nancy. I'm having so much fun reading No Way to Kill a Lady. Love those sisters!

  9. Wow, Rochelle. Such a simple, direct solution.

    Why didn't I think of that?

  10. See, now, Rochelle, that's exactly what I should have done. But.........I couldn't bring myself to do it!!

    Feel free to exercise your assertive nature during our panel at Bouchercon in a couple of weeks!