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.
“Why not?
“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.

Helen, his second wife, was a poet and musician whose father owned beachfront real estate in 1920s Fort Lauderdale. He gave the newlyweds 35 acres to build a Caribbean plantation house, a place of color and sunlight. Helen died young, alas, and then Frederic met Evelyn, another artist and the divorced wife of Eli Lilley (yeah, the drug family). Evelyn and Frederic had an amazing life on the beach, and their house was filled with friends and pets, including a band of Brazilian squirrel monkeys and exotic birds. Frederic died in 1953, but Evelyn lived to be 109 and left her estate to Fort Lauderdale.

          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.



  1. Elaine - thanks for the great interview. I really enjoyed seeing you at Malice and am REALLY excited at your new series - hope it finds a home soon!

  2. I Love the interview. Terri, you did great and Elaine I look forward to reading your new series.

  3. Always fun to talk to you, Terri, in person or virtually. I'll keep you posted on the progress of the new series.

  4. Thanks, Pamela. Good to know that a cozy reader is also interested in the Death Investigator series.

  5. You're a terrific writer, and I'm really looking forward to all your future books. The photos attached are so cool, and the Bonnet House is amazing. Harry and Mystery are beautiful babies!

    1. Next time you're in Fort Lauderdale, please stop by Bonnet House. It's such a fun place to visit. A real look at old Fort Lauderdle and a romantic story.

  6. What a fun interview! I'm definitely anxious to read the new Helen book (what a fascinating house) and the new DI series!

  7. Glad you enjoyed the interview, Jan, but the credit goes to Terri for asking entertaining questions. I'm excited about the new Helen book, THE ART OF MURDER, and the new DI series. They give me the best of the mystery world -- the lighter side with the Dead-End Jobs and the darker, with the death investigator.

  8. I LOVE the Dead End mysteries, but I think the new series sounds wonderful, too. Very fun interview to read with one of my favorite writers! Thanks to both of you.

  9. Thanks, Kaye. I like both series, too. It will be nice to let my dark side loose again.

  10. Hi, Elaine! Nice to see you here. Your new series sounds *fascinating* and I cannot wait to read it!

  11. You've helped prove my theory, Will. I'm convinced my current readers will also want to read the new death investigator series. Everybody likes forensics.

  12. I love everything you write and can hardly wait until your new series comes out! Thanks for the recommendation for Ann Cleeves. You are the second author lately who has recommended her.

    1. Ann has two series, Debbie. I like the Shetland series, set on the remote Scottish islands best. Her Vera Stanhope series is also popular. Both her series are now BBC TV dramas.

  13. Great article and I'm looking forward to reading your new series. I'm happy there's another Dead End book coming next year.

    Have a good summer.

    1. Me, too, Dru Ann. I enjoy the new series but the characters in the Dead-End Job mysteries are real people to me.

  14. I've been looking forward to the next dead end job mystery. Now that I know about Bonnet House, I'm even more anxious.

    1. Bonnet House is such a quirky place it's made for a book setting. Last weekend, the female swan was being chased around the lily pond by her male companion. Nothing like the serene swans you see in the photos.

  15. Elaine, I loved your interview! Your new book involving Bonnet House sounds really interesting as, does your new darker series! By the way, Ann Cleeves's "Raven Black" and a couple other of her books were recently shown on PBS as movies. They were really good and actually set in the Shetlands. Happy writing and kisses to Mystery and Harry!

  16. Ann had two series on TV, Coco -- "Shetland" and "Vera." Both worth watching.


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