STOUGHTON — A mystery writer’s greatest asset is their ability to hide clues out in the open. For Beth Amos, look no further than the name of her friendly English cream golden retriever Winston for insight into her double life.
Winston is named after Mattie Winston, the central character of the popular Mattie Winston mystery series written by Amos under the pen name Annelise Ryan.
When Amos first met the dog she thought he was fair haired and big boned just like her sleuthing deputy coroner Mattie Winston and so, named him after her.
The E.R. nurse living in Stoughton enjoys moonlighting as a mystery novelist. Being a writer was almost an inevitability for the self proclaimed “word nerd.”
“I’ve always been an avid reader,” Amos said. “Both of my parents were avid readers and we moved around a lot. As the new kid in school all the time it was hard to make friends. A lot of the time I stuck to myself and did a lot of reading. That was my escape.”
So people aren’t all too surprised to learn of Amos’ books.
She used to compete in Scrabble competitively so it can’t be a huge surprise that she likes to write, Amos said with a laugh.
Amos writes in the “cozy mystery” genre although her books don’t technically qualify under the genre.
“Cozy mysteries,” according to Amos, are stories based around an amateur detective who stumbles onto murders. There also isn’t any sex, violence or foul language in them.
However, mysteries written by Amos or her two aliases —Amos’ other nom de plume is Allyson K. Abbott — break a few of those rules on a small scale.
“My books aren’t technical cozies,” Amos said. “I have cuss words in there from time to time. The Annelise Ryan “Mattie Winston” series is about a nurse who works as a coroner so there are a few autopsy scenes. There is a little gore, not too much and there is sexual innuendo. The books are technically in the cozy mode and you see that mentioned in a few reviews of my books.”
The books may not be full cozies, but the Wisconsin Library Association has taken notice of Amos’ work in the genre.
Amos is one of the three 2017 Notable Author Award recipients in the Wisconsin Literary Awards celebration. She will receive her award at the ceremony on Thursday in the Wisconsin Dells.
Librarian Katharine Clark, on behalf of the WLA, said cozy mysteries are among the most read genres in libraries. Though the quality of the books vary widely.
“Beth Amos’ novels are not only well written, but they capture the Wisconsin small town atmosphere in stories that many people love to read,” Clark said via email of Amos’ award recognition. “Her novels have charming characters, funny scenes and quirky plots; perfect for when you want to escape a few hours with a good book.”
While Amos’ double life as a writer isn’t much of a secret, Amos doesn’t make a habit out of telling everyone either.
She’s encountered patients in her nursing that have been reading her books, but she said it might be unnerving to know that the nurse writes about how people die.
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Amos said it does worry her sometimes that it will make people uncomfortable, but if it has no one has expressed that to her as of yet.
“I jokingly tell people that the reason for my pseudonyms is so patients don’t know that I spend my spare time finding fun ways to kill people,” she said.
However the real reason behind the start of Amos’ pen names was more practical. She published her first book in 1995 with HarperCollins and then published two more before her authorship was dropped when the company bought out Avon paperbacks.
She said she tried to self publish two books, which didn’t work as well as she had hoped.
When it came time to publish again nearly a decade after her last book with HarperCollins it was decided to promote the new book series, which later became her Mattie Winston series, using a different name.
Amos said it was a marketing tactic to promote a new book with a new name so readers didn’t associate the books she published previously to her new work.
But when she wrote her Mack’s bar series, a cozy mystery set in a bar complete with drink recipes, Amos put her clever mind to work for the marketing team.
Her third pen name, Allison K. Abbott was not just a clever way to sneak “A.K.A” into her name, but a strategic promotional move.
“I got marketing oriented,” Amos said. “The best place to be on the bookshelf is at eye level. The first books people see, since they are alphabetical, are last names starting with A.”
Constantly putting on different authorial names might seem like a challenge, but Amos sees it as a simple changing of hats. Like changing from “the person you are at work to the person you are when you’re socializing.”
Amos is still working on the 10th book of her Mattie Winston series and while the 62-year-old sees retiring from nursing as an eventual reality, she has no intention of giving up writing.
She even recently announced a Mattie Winston crossover spin-off series about a social worker working in the same hospital as Mattie.
Her first book was published more than 20 years ago and Amos still hangs on to the swath of rejection letters she received for short stories she submitted for publication. She has held on to the rejected stories as well.
Amos said she never really “had a knack” for short story writing.
Paving a way to a writing career was not an easy one for Amos between publishing company buy-ups or the changing literary marketplace. That isn’t stopping this mystery crafting bookworm from letting her imagination run wild.
“I guess I have a vivid imagination,” Amos said. “...My parents called it lying when I was younger, but I prefer to think of it as preparation for my career.”