MM2: Jo, tell us about bringing Angie and the gang back?
After 15 years of writing the Angie Amalfi mysteries, I took a break to write other types of stories. The break lasted six years, and in that time I've published six books that aren't even mysteries.
That done, I've now not only returned to Angie, but have begun a new mystery series with "spin-off" characters from the Angie stories.
Going back to writing about Angie in COOKING SPIRITS (April 2013), and then in a Christmas novella, COOK'S CURIOUS CHRISTMAS (December 2013), was like reacquainting myself with a very dear old friend. Once again, I am finding it fun to write about the entire Amalfi clan, as well as Paavo and his co-workers in Homicide.
Let me add that I'm very grateful to the many people who wrote to me over the years when I wasn't publishing an Angie book and saying that they missed reading about her and the many people who fill her life.
MM2: What are some of the favorite characters that you have written into your books?
Besides Angie and Paavo (of course), I enjoy Angie's best friend, Connie, who's a little older, a lot wiser about life, and yet finds herself going along with some fairly outrageous Angie shenanigans in the name of friendship. I usually chuckle to myself when Angie's neighbor, Stanfield Bonnette, shows up in a story. Also, the three ex-cons who run The Wings of an Angel restaurant, Vinnie, Butch and Earl are great fun, not to mention Angie's mother, and sisters…and the unforgettable Inspector Pamela James, who works in the Missing Persons bureau. Paavo seeks her help in BELL, COOK, AND CANDLE and TWO COOKS A-KILLING
Some years ago, I thought it would be fun to write a novella pairing two characters from the Angie stories who should hate each other on sight…but don't. I matched Homicide Inspector Rebecca Mayfield (who has always had a huge crush on Paavo, and who everyone in Homicide says is much more "right" for Paavo than is Angie) with Angie's Cousin Richie. Rebecca is a straight arrow, by-the-book cop. Richie Amalfi is said to be "connected," and knows lots of shady characters…but no one really knows if he just knows those people, or is more deeply involved with them. Rebecca wants to suspect the worse about him, but can't. He wants to have nothing to do with a cop, but can't seem to stay away from her. The two of them have a chemistry that's great fun to write about. The novella is THE THIRTEENTH SANTA.
I've also wanted, for some time, to give Rebecca and Richie their own full-length mystery, and this month ONE O'CLOCK HUSTLE was released. I'll be quite curious to see if readers enjoy their strange relationship as much as I've enjoyed writing about it. I hope to come out with the next book, TWO O'CLOCK HEIST, this summer. (There's a definite theme in the titles, which should make the books easy to identify.)
MM2: Let's talk about your writing schedule.
My two sons are grown and on their own, the oldest is married, and I now have three grandchildren. My husband is retired, so other than when family or friends come to visit us here in Idaho, my house is nicely quiet (except for 2 dogs, 3 indoor cats, 1 outdoor cat who refuses to come into the house, and 1 peahen [female peacock] who showed up one day last summer and refuses to leave).
In any case, I can write pretty much whenever I want to. I tend to write in the afternoons, usually sitting on an easy chair in my sun room with a netbook on my lap and a cat by my side. I find it much more comfortable than sitting at a desk.
MM2: Do you ever reread some of your favorite books? If so which ones?
Since I've been published (over twenty years now), I have less and less time for reading, let alone rereading. Much of my reading is either for research, for friends, or simply to know what people are talking about when they discuss a new writer. I enjoy research, and did it for nearly 3 years when writing ANCIENT ECHOES, the longest, most complex story I've ever written. I'm now working on a sequel, ANCIENT SHADOWS, which I've been researching in my spare time for over a year.
MM2: What advice do you have for new mystery authors or beginning authors who want to write a mystery series?
The biggest surprise for me was that many people read mysteries NOT for the mystery itself, but to enter the world the author has created with his or her characters—a world made more interesting because of the mysteries that happen around them.
I had thought what was most important was the "whodunit"—how clever, how hard to "solve," and how many clues and red herrings I used. I was wrong. When people talk to me about my books, they want to know about Angie and about Paavo. People have enjoyed the mysteries, and that they couldn’t guess who did it, but my main recommendation is to make your characters and their world (friends, family, cohorts, setting) so real and so rich that the reader feels as if the characters could be, and perhaps should be, alive.
MM@: I know that you have written books in other genres. Tell us about those and what you like or found hard about writing those books?
In the 6 year hiatus between Angie books, I've put out 6 others. One, ANCIENT ECHOES, is a supernatural suspense and won a Best Idaho Fiction award for 2013. DANCE WITH A GUNFIGHTER was a finalist for the Willa Cather Literary Award in the Best Historical category, two of the books have reached Kindle Top 100 bestseller status, a romance, SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, and a romantic fantasy, GHOST OF SQUIRE HOUSE.
I enjoy reading a good, emotional love story that will bring me to tears, and that's what I've tried to give readers in my romances. They have little sex (or none, as in THE GHOST OF SQUIRE HOUSE, which is a true ghost story), but lots of feeling. They purposefully move slowly as the feelings build (is that terribly old-fashioned of me?). That's the hardest part about writing that type of book—to take it slow but still keep the reader involved enough in the characters to want to keep going with the story. They're very nuanced. Sometimes a slight turn of the head, or a single step, will mean a tremendous amount to a reader (and the writer).
I've written one book that is different from all the others, a suspense with supernatural elements, ANCIENT ECHOES. It is one of my best-selling books, month after month, as more and more readers discover it. I would have called it a thriller except that these days, people think of thrillers as being nearly all action and gun-battles. This book has to do with a secret expedition that followed Lewis and Clark across the US. When they reached Idaho, they disappeared. Now, 200 years later, a group of anthropology students and their professor go to the same spot in the central, roadless wilderness of Idaho, and they disappear. Why? What's going on there? The reason has to do with an ancient secret that men have pursued for millennia.
The complexity of ANCIENT ECHOES, combining 200 year old events with those of today, and all the research involved (the story goes from Mongolia to Jerusalem to Idaho), plus writing it as a suspense and not a mystery, were all enormous learning experiences for me. I gave the book its own website to explain and show pictures about some of the research that went into it: www.ancientechoes.info.
MM2: Time to promote your favorite convention or workshop?
The Idaho Writers and Readers Rendezvous, of course! It takes place May 1-3 this year in Boise. It's small enough that participants can talk with all the presenters and get to know them, but large enough to bring in some top talent. This year's Keynote address will be by Ron Powers, author of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. Last year's was C.J. Box—one of my favorite mystery writers with his fish and game warden series.
MM2: Besides writing...what is new in your life?
Fortunately, outside of writing, my life has been quiet and only growing deeper in love for family, friends, and my faith.
MM2: What do you like about living in Idaho? I know it has to be a far different lifestyle than California.
I truly love Idaho. I've been here 14 years now, and it still seems fresh, new, and beautiful. It is a gorgeous state. The people are friendly and kind. One thing I enjoy is that the pace of life is much, much slower than in the San Francisco Bay Area where I lived most of my life, and everything here is closer to nature. I live on over five acres in the foothills north of Boise, with cattle and horses as my neighbors, and antelope, coyotes, foxes, and mule deer as occasional visitors. Yes, it is definitely different from San Francisco.
MM2: Now I know you used my name as a character in your book (many books years ago) what are the chances I will see my name in your book again? LOL
Very, very high
. Inspector Pamela
James is an important character!
MM2: Okay for more fun questions. Where are you signing books this year?
So much is being done on the Internet these days, that I rarely venture out to do bookstore tours the way I used to. I'll be doing signings in Boise, and perhaps in Lincoln City, Oregon, where I'll be for a workshop with other multi-published authors given by Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Kristine Katherine Rusch (who writes mystery and romance along with sci fi and fantasy). They offer a number of workshops both online and on the Oregon coast—a beautiful spot if you've never seen it. They are fantastic instructors and writers (learn more about their classes, both online and in person, at www.deanwesleysmith.com).
MM2: What is your favorite movie/s, meal, dessert and way to distress?
Favorite movies—that's tough because there are so many! I can tell you the type I never pass up (and no, I'm not really as old as they make me sound), but they're old movies, such as the "screwball comedies" of the 1930's—movies like It Happened One Night, My Man Godfrey, The Bride Came C.O.D.; anything with Fred and Ginger; and any good, atmospheric love story (such as Jane Eyre and Rebecca). In fact, my supernatural suspense has a touch of the old film, Lost Horizon in it, and my ghost story was definitely influenced by The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, another favorite movie. People have told me that ONE O'CLOCK HUSTLE has a touch of the old comedic mysteries like the William Powell-Myrna Loy Thin Man movies. I hope so! I would consider that a compliment and a plus.
Favorite meal—anything Italian. Favorite dessert—where to start? I make a great chocolate-walnut torte, with mocha frosting and almost no flour in the torte. Talk about rich! And delicious!
Way to distress—I go for a walk through the foothills where I live, or I will simply sit out on the deck and look at the foothills, with (much like Angie), a cup of Italian roast coffee and a biscotti (or two).
My website is www.joannepence.com. You'll find a blog about my new Rebecca and Richie mystery series that includes an offer of a free copy of THE THIRTEENTH SANTA. The blog is at www.joannepence.com/wordpress.
Thank you, Pamela, for inviting me to talk about my books. I truly appreciate it. Anyone who would like to contact me can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.