Wednesday, July 15, 2015
An Interview with Jeri Westerson
MM2: Jeri, tell us the backstory on how you began your writing career?
It began by necessity. I was never interested in a writing career prior to 1992. The novels I wrote were just for fun and no one knew I even wrote historical and fantasy novels. I was a graphic designer doing pretty darned well freelancing in Los Angeles. When I semi-retired to have a baby, I thought that when he became a toddler I’d get back into the biz. But it those brief two years in the very earl 90s, the entire graphics industry had turned to computers, whereas I had not! So I began to think of possible careers where I could still stay home and raise my son. That’s when I got it in my head to become a novelist. How hard could it be?
Yes, after you finished laughing…
I did my research and discovered there were quite a few steps and none of them guaranteed publication though I felt my stories could find some modest success. But even after some ten years of writing, getting three agents, and piles of rejections, I began to see that editors just didn’t seem to want to publish the kind of historical novels I liked to write: ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Other authors were writing about the court life of the nobles and I thought it was more interesting in the trenches.
But as the years past (and I supplemented this writing addiction of mine with various jobs, including working in a winery as a tasting host and tour guide, theology teacher, choir director, and finally journalist) I decided to take the advice of one of my former agents and try to write a medieval mystery.
Mysteries are a big market what with some publishing houses devoted strictly to producing them, with some independent bookstores selling them exclusively, and numerous mystery fan conventions to attend and sell directly to readers. So I sat down and learned to write a mystery and decided that I wanted my own unique protagonist, someone who was a cross between the hardboiled detective and your standard Brother Cadfael-type medieval mystery. And that’s how my ex-knight-turned-detective Crispin Guest was born. After I wrote one novel after the other with this character and after a mere three years I finally got my contract.
So far, the series has been nominated twelve times for various industry awards.
MM2: How many books have you written?
All told, I’ve written 30 novels. Only fifteen of those have been published so far, with an upcoming Crispin book to be published by the end of the year. Some of the books on that list—including the first novel I ever wrote way back when I was sixteen—will never see the light of day. But some of them I have been pulling out, reworking them, and self-publishing them. The first true Crispin book, CUP OF BLOOD, and two historical novels THOUGH HEAVEN FALL and ROSES IN THE TEMPEST have been the first with only a few more to come. I also publish with MLR Press an LGBT mystery series, the Skyler Foxe Mysteries, under the name Haley Walsh.
MM2: Where is your favorite place to write?
Right in my home office. My husband is skilled with building, and he custom built my desk and shelves. It’s my little sanctuary as I write full time now.
MM2: Do you ever re-read your favorite books?
Yes! I’ve read the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries loads of times, the Lord of the Rings books, and a few others, including Mr. Shakespeare. It’s always inspiring reading wonderful prose.
MM2: Do you watch any television or movie series regularly?
I have a very eclectic interest in television and films. I like action adventure, mysteries, sci fi, fantasy… as long as it grabs me and has interesting characters with depth. Though my husband says as long as anyone on the show has an English accent I’ll be watching it. I’m afraid more often than not he’s right.
MM2: What is the favorite writing advice you ever heard?
Most writing advice is pretty general and is made up of good working practices, like write every day, be consistent, take the advice of professionals like one’s editor and agent. And concrete advice about writing craft and technique can be tailored to the individual (write by the seat of your pants or outline everything or some combination of both), and usually there are never hard fast rules etched in stone.
But there is one piece of craft advice that I suggest that could very well be etched in stone: Never end your chapter with your characters going to sleep. That’s a sure-fire cue for the reader to close the book and go to bed themselves. No, you want your books to be un-put-downable. “I stayed up all night because I couldn’t put it down.” Don’t give the reader an excuse. Always end the chapters on another high, another climax and they will have to keep reading.
MM2: What would your characters have to tell us about you?
Crispin might tell you how arrogant I am, how much of a know-it-all I think I am. But Jack might tell you that I’ve still got a playful side. The rest is just whole cloth.
MM2: Where is your favorite place to vacation, your favorite meal, your favorite movie, your favorite song and favorite time of day?
We’ve always done a lot of camping because we’ve never had much by way of funds, so Mammoth mountain camping by a creek is one of our favorite places. He fishes and I read.
A favorite meal could be something as simple as fried chicken, and something as elaborate as lobster.
Favorite movie hands down—and I believe the best ever made is Casablanca, but I like the Indiana Jones movies as well as Ghostbusters. I am a huge old movie fan.
I don’t think I have a favorite song though I do like music, from classical to contemporary, but whenever I hear “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles, it always cheers me.
And favorite time of day has always been the late afternoon when the sun is at a nice angle. Though when my hubby walks through the door and says, “Honey, I’m home,” I have to say, that that is my most favorite time of day.
MM2: Tell us about where you live and why you like living there?
I’ve lived all my life in Southern California. I was born in Los Angeles and have lived all over the southland. Where we currently live and most likely will retire is called the Inland Empire, a little too far away from the ocean. We moved here for my husband’s job and I’m afraid what I always considered a temporary stay has become permanent. But we’ll be high and dry when the arctic ice melts completely so it isn’t all bad.
MM2: Is there someone you would like to thank ?
My husband, Craig. My first critic, my supporter, my knight in shining armor. When I told him that I couldn’t go back to design but thought I’d like to try my hand at being a novelist, like the trouper he is he said, “Sure, honey. I’ll support you in anything you want to do. But, uh, do you write novels?”
MM2: Lastly, is there something you would like to say to your readers?
I appreciate every last one of you guys. That’s why it’s so fun interacting with you on Facebook (you can find me at https://www.facebook.com/crispin.guest) I love to come to local book clubs and have done quite a few by Skype, so don’t be afraid to contact me. And lastly, authors desperately need reviews, particularly on Amazon where the algorithms make it possible for well-reviewed books to be seen by more people. But in the end, I’m just grateful for all my readers, whether they buy the books for themselves or check them out from their local libraries. Please support your libraries! Librarians are, of course, readers, too, and I am grateful for their constant support as well.
Please take a look at my website where there are book excerpts, discussion guides for you book clubs, a book trailer of the series, and all sorts of other interesting things. http://www.jeriwesterson.com
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