MM: What is the best writing advice you have received?
Thursday, July 16, 2015
An Interview with Elaine Viets
MM: Elaine, you have been writing successful series for quite some time now. How have they surprised you over the years as they developed and grew?
I’ve written 27 novels so far. I started writing dark mysteries. My first series, the Francesca Vierling mysteries, was set at a St. Louis newspaper. After four books, that series ended, though the Francesca books are still in print. I wrote the Dead-End Job mysteries next. Those are traditional mysteries. Penguin asked me to write a cozy series, the Josie Marcus mystery shopper mysteries.
I’m now going back to my dark beginnings. I’ve started a new mystery series, the Angela Richman Death Investigator series. A death investigator is a trained civilian who works with the medical examiner’s office. At a murder scene, the DI has charge of the body and the police handle the rest of the crime scene. Janet Rudolph, with Mystery Readers International, says this is the only series featuring a death investigator.
Brain Storm, the first book in the new series, is being shopped around New York right now. Angela will make her debut in the November Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in a short story called, “Gotta Go.”
Don’t worry, Dead-End Job fans. I’m also working on a new Dead-End Job mystery, The Art of Murder.
MM: You certainly create the realism in your Dead End job series by the jobs you take as research. Do you have a favorite one you have taken? A least favorite?
I loved working in a bookstore for Murder Between the Covers. I didn’t consider that a dead-end job at all. I also enjoyed being a volunteer shelver for my local library to research Checked Out, my new Dead-End Job Mystery set at a library. I like being around books and the people who read them.
My least favorite job was working as a telemarketer for Dying to Call You. Everyone, even so-called “nice people,” are rude to telemarketers. Please don’t torment them. Nobody ever says, “I want to be a telemarketer when I grow up.” It’s a job for people down on their luck. Many telemarketers are women in their 40s and 50s who divorced badly and couldn’t find work anywhere else. Others are people trying to stay off welfare.
If you don’t want a telemarketing call, say, “Take me off this list.” The telemarketer is required to remove your name or the company is fined $20,000, and they are strict about this. It takes about 30 to 60 days to get off the list.
MM: As for Josie Marcus, how did you come up with the mystery shopping idea and have you done any of it yourself?
Penguin asked me to write a mystery shopper series. It was supposed to be a two- or three-book series, but last November I turned in the tenth Josie book, A Dog Gone Murder.
I’ve never been a mystery shopper, but my mother was one. She mystery-shopped Kroger stores and also a fried chicken chain. My father was old school and didn’t want my mother working outside the home, but he thought mystery shopping was okay because it was “shopping.” Mom would drive more than a hundred miles a day with her best friend. They would slog through stores and be back by three-thirty, when we kids got home from school, so Mom could fix dinner for the family.
MM: You have also done some paranormal works. Did you get any resistance into branching from what you have been so successful in? Will you be doing more?
The paranormal stories were a break from my usual mystery writing. I enjoyed writing “Vampire Hours” and “The Bedroom Door” for Charlaine Harris’s anthologies, but I’m really a killer at heart. I enjoy crossing over to the other side sometimes.
MM: What makes up a satisfying workday for you?
I get up about eight in the morning, have breakfast with my husband, reporter Don Crinklaw, and my two cats, Harry and Mystery, then settle into my office and work on my latest book. I stop for tea about noon – I like Dragonwell green tea and animal crackers from The Fresh Market. Then I work until about three or so and eat lunch. About six I’ll have a snack – my favorite is dark chocolate and cherries -- and go back to work until eight or so, when I break for the day. At night I usually go for a walk by the water near my home or work out at the condo gym with Don.
MM: How much time do you spend traveling for author events and conventions? What are the parts you enjoy most? Least?
I try to go to Malice Domestic and Bouchercon. I may go to Sleuthfest, given by the Florida chapter of the MWA. When I’m promoting a new hardcover, I usually tour for about two weeks in May. This year, Checked Out, my new Dead-End Job hardcover, debuted at Malice. I got to have breakfast with Dru Ann Love and Terri Parsons.
Then I signed in Baltimore and toured North Carolina with mystery writers Marcia Talley and Frances Brody. From North Carolina, I went to St. Louis, my hometown. After that, I had several signings in South Florida, and signed at the American Library Association in San Francisco in June.
I spend a lot of time alone at a desk, so I enjoy meeting readers, but after a couple of weeks of signings and talks, I’m ready to go back to my writing routine.
MM: What are you reading these days?
I’m enjoying two British authors – Ann Cleeves and Frances Brody. I just finished Frances’s A Woman Unknown, set in 1920s UK. Frances’s detective, Kate Shakleton, lost her husband during World War I. A fascinating period series. I’ve also been reading Ann Cleeves’s Shetland series. Highly recommend Raven Black.
MM: What does the rest of the summer hold for you?
I’ll be working on my May 2016 Dead-End Job mystery, The Art of Murder, set at a wonderfully whimsical museum in Fort Lauderdale called Bonnet House. The mansion was owned by two artists and it’s one of the few rich people’s houses that actually looks fun to live in. More about that later.
MM: What is the best writing advice you have received?
A writer writes. It’s fun to talk about writing, but if you’re serious, you won’t wait for inspiration to strike. You’ll go to your desk and work at writing – and at improving your craft.
MM: Even as an author, you are also a fan of other authors. What was your biggest fan moment?
The time I met Miss Manners, Judith Martin. I’m a big fan of her etiquette books and columns. She’s so witty. My agent, David Hendin, represents her, and we were at David’s daughter’s wedding. “Come on and meet, Judith,” David said.
I was in a panic. “I can’t,” I said.
“I’m wearing a sports watch with an evening dress,” I said. “She just wrote about that.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” David said. “Put your watch in your purse and meet Judith. She’s too polite to say anything.”
She was, too.
MM: If you could have any food prepared just for you at all for a day (with someone else cooking it), what would you have?
I miss my grandma’s cooking. I’d love to have her pork chops again, and her homemade jams and jellies. She made the best grape pie. Her biscuits were like warm, buttery clouds. I wish I could cook like her.
MM: Any great movie, TV, music finds lately?
I loved the new Jurassic World movie. It was fun to watch. I forgot about everything for two and a half hours. But how the heck did the female star, Bryce Dallas Howard, manage to run in high heels – and never get them dirty?
I’ve been listening to classic Rolling Stones lately, especially “Gimme Shelter.”
MM: What are your current projects?
I’m writing my fifteenth Dead-End Job mystery, The Art of Murder, set at a quirky museum in Fort Lauderdale called Bonnet House, owned by artist Frederic Clay Bartlett, who had three wives. The first was an artist who gave up her career to be part of the 19th century Chicago social whirl – and it killed her.
I’m volunteering at the Bonnet House gift shop, and it’s great fun. I’ve met the squirrel monkeys – they come down from the trees to eat cashews the staff feeds them, and a handsome caique parrot named Buddy. Buddy’s colors are beautiful: his head is peach and yellow and his feathers deep green. He lives with Jimmy the caretaker. Buddy and Jimmy ate a Snickers bar at the gift shop. Unfortunately, Buddy also ate a copy of the history of Bonnet House. It’s a delightfully quirky place, and the perfect setting for a novel. The Art of Murder will be published in May, 2016.
Meanwhile, my agent is shopping my new death investigator series around New York.
MM: Lastly, please have Harry share some words of wisdom with us. Since he helps on the books, it is only fair after all!
“Quit playing around on Facebook and go write your novel,” Harry says. “But give me a hug first. There’s always time for hugs.” Harry is a very wise cat.
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