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Bestselling mystery author Annette Dashofy shares secrets to her success

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Annette Dashofy - HOLLY TONINI
  • Holly Tonini
  • Annette Dashofy

When Annette Dashofy published her first mystery novel in the spring of 2014, she had no idea what to expect. 

Almost five years and seven books later, she's a USA Today bestselling mystery author and has received three nominations for Agatha Awards, the genre's highest honor. 

“I had dreams and hopes, and met some and haven't met others,” says the Burgettstown, Washington County, resident. “I can't complain. Three Agatha nominations is more than anything I could have hoped for.”

Dashofy's latest novel Cry Wolf is the seventh book featuring paramedic/deputy coroner Zoe Chambers and her counterpart, police chief Pete Adams, who serve a tight-knit rural community.

Dashofy has already finished the eighth book in the series and is working on the ninth. How did she get to this point? Dashofy admits luck plays a role, but good fortune only goes so far. Here are some of the things that she did that contributed to her success.

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Find an original angle.

Dashofy: “In mystery series, there have been a lot of different professions that have been tackled. I don't think anybody else has done a paramedic. The story stood by itself and also led to Zoe having a likability. She's a caregiver, working on an ambulance, she's trying to take care of patients. And then being a deputy coroner, she's trying to find justice for those she can't save.”

You don't have to write about something you know, but you should write about something you want to know about.

Dashofy: “I didn't really know anything about police procedurals, and Pete's a cop. That's something I had to go out and learn.” Dashofy attended writers’ and citizens' police academies to get a feel for law enforcement and how police do their jobs.

Find people willing to talk about their areas of expertise.

Dashofy: “If you are trying to get information from one person in a particular field and they shut the door on you and aren't impressed about you being a writer, there's always somebody else who is. When you do find somebody who is willing to talk, and you say you're a writer, it definitely opens doors.”

Learn from your mistakes.

Dashofy: “The books that didn't get published were definitely learning experiences in craft and what works and what doesn't work and why. Figuring out why an earlier series didn't go anywhere was every bit as important and vital to my career as if it had gone somewhere.”

The devil really is in the details.

Dashofy: “I had no idea how accurate [stories] need to be. Readers expect accuracy and expect it to make sense. People who watch TV, the CSI shows and other programs, are more willing to waive reality. It seems like television shows are given a wider pass on how accurate they are. People who read books expect stories to [reflect] how this really happens. So my first book was really more like a movie script, suspending disbelief.”


Between the Lines

The new year brings a wealth of literary events. Here are five intriguing things to do for book lovers in January.

Jan. 10: Marie Benedict book launch for The Only Woman in the Room. Benedict's new novel is a fictionalized account of the life of actress Hedy Lamarr, who developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes after fleeing Nazi Germany before World War II. 6 p.m. Penguin Bookshop, 417 Beaver St., Sewickley.

Jan. 14: City of Asylum's Indie Press Reading Series presents Iranian-American writer Rabeah Ghaffari, author of To Keep the Sun Alive. 7 p.m. Alphabet City, 40 W. North Ave., North Side.

Jan. 24: An Evening with Terrance Hayes and Rickey Laurentiis. Formerly of Pittsburgh, Hayes won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2014 and the National Book Award for poetry in 2010. Laurentiis is a 2018 Whiting Fellow and the 2016 Levis Reading Prize Winner. 7 p.m. Heinz Memorial Chapel, 326 S. Bellefield Ave., Oakland

Jan. 26: J.D. Barker. Brentwood resident Barker's most recent book, Dracul, is an authorized prequel to Dracula and co-written with Dacre Stoker, the great grand-nephew of Bram Stoker. 7 p.m. City Books, 908 Galveston Ave., North Side.

Jan. 31: Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series presents journalist and novelist Christina Garcia, author of Here In Brooklyn. 7:30 p.m. Frick Fine Arts Building, 650 Schenley Drive, Oakland.

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