Emerson faculty Julie Hennrikus's first novel, Just Killing Time, was nominated for an Agatha Award.
Ten years ago, Emerson College faculty member Julie Hennrikus made a “vision board” of the things she wanted to do with her life: Run a half-marathon, finish her thesis, write a novel.
She managed to accomplish all three things, plus one more: This week, Hennrikus’s mystery, Just Killing Time, published under the pen name Julianne Holmes, was nominated for a 2015 Agatha Award for Best First Novel.
“I can’t tell you what this nomination means to me,” said Hennrikus, who teaches arts management at Emerson and is executive director of StageSource. “It’s just a dream come true.”
Just Killing Time (Berkley, 2015) is the story of a divorcée who inherits a clock shop from her estranged grandfather after he is found dead and believed murdered. She sets out to find his killer while running the shop and dealing with her step-grandmother.
The book belongs to the “cozy mystery” genre (small town, amateur detective, little to no graphic violence), and is the first in a three-part series called the Clock Shop Mysteries. The second in the series, Clock and Dagger, is due out this August; Hennrikus is busy writing the third. Cozies may seem like they belong to another era, but they’re very popular with contemporary readers because they offer an escape from a “chaotic world,” Hennrikus said.
The idea for the series actually began with an Emerson alumna, Hennrikus’s publisher Allison Janice ’11. She pitched it in a brainstorming session, got the green light, and set out to find an author who could make the idea a reality. Hennrikus got the job.
It was Janice’s first acquisition.
“I love that I got to share [the award] with Julie as our first book we did together,” Janice said.
The Agathas, named for famed British mystery writer Agatha Christie, are awarded by Malice Domestic, an annual cozy mystery convention being held this year in Bethesda, Maryland, April 29–May 1. Winning one is special, Janice said.
“I mean, there are so many cozies that come out every year. It’s not that they can be written more quickly than other stuff, but people who read cozies just read them ravenously,” Janice said. “Nearly every book that comes out gets sent to the [Agatha Awards] committee; [Just Killing Time] is probably just one of hundreds that arrived.”
Hennrikus has written in the mystery genre before and is a fan of “cozies.”
“I like the justice prevailing and I like order being restored. I like the concept and conceit of the genre a lot. I enjoy the puzzles and having readers figure them out,” she said.
Hennrikus said her work in the theater has taught her skills and attitudes that carry over into publishing. Both are tough professions to do well in, and big “hits” are rare in both. Plays and mysteries use many of the same “kinetic structures,” she said, and because of her theater experience, “personal appearances and [book] readings don’t freak me out.”
And both fields create an incredible sense of community, she said.
“That’s something Emerson fosters, as well,” Hennrikus said. “People are going out of their way to say congratulations, and it’s incredibly moving.”
So she envisioned running a half-marathon and she did it. She saw herself publishing a novel, and she published one that got nominated for a prestigious award. And the thesis?
It was about Agatha Christie and her use of point-of-view.