MCW You’ve set your mysteries in a small, west-central
JL The fictional
I have had a couple Battle Lake-ians ask me how I could get away writing about the former mayor like that, or the police chief, or the guy who lives in the blue house on
On the whole, the people from
MCW Mira James is a woman in search of many things, not the least of which is a normal relationship with a man. Her quest for romance has often gone awry and provided readers with some hilarious moments. Any truth in any of Mira’s escapades? Where do you find inspiration for the mishaps?
JL I see through your flimsy ruse to get me to reveal the pitiful details of my dating experiences. J Mira’s escapades are 34% the product of my wicked imagination, 33% inspiration provided by the relationships of friends and family and other outside influences, and 33% ripped from the headlines of my own life. For example, I force myself to try online dating every spring, and every time I do it, I somehow end up with the guy who thinks it’s okay to pee on the 17th hole of the (mini)golf course, or the man who reveals on our second date that he was actually born a woman, and can he share some hairstyling tips with me? That’s enough to put me in dating hibernation until the next spring, when I try it again.
But straight reality rarely flies in fiction. It’s too unbelievable. So authors tone it down and add creative twists to make it work. That’s why in May Day, the first book in the series, readers see Mira’s “friend” sign her up for an online dating service. Mira winds up on a date with a mild-mannered professor who turns out to be in the midst of a sex change. Because readers have identified with Mira, I hope, and see her as the type of character who has these ridiculous encounters in her life, a toned-down version of what really happened to me works for her.
Of course, anything truly shocking you read in the series is entirely fictional and never happened to anyone I know and especially not to me.
MCWHow much of Mira is a reflection of the author?
JL I was at a signing in
“Everyone says that, but it’s not true. She’s not me,” Jen said, shaking her head.
That’s the answer we all give, right? And it’s true, as far as that goes. Our protagonist is never us, because we would never be that honest, or brave, or passionate, or horrible. The other side of the coin, however, is that our protagonist is more us than we could ever be because s/he is entirely our own creation, with all our fears and hopes amplified for the world to see.
When you write a book, even if it’s a humorous mystery like I write, you lay yourself bare, and it feels necessary sometimes to hide behind the fact that we are not our protagonists, even though that’s not the whole truth. That’s why I like how you phrased this question—I am not my protagonist, but she is a reflection of me. Actually, all the characters in my books are a reflection of me because, if nothing else, I thought they were worth including.
MCW The connection of the titles—all with a relationship to a particular month—is a clever idea. How’d you happen on it?
Thank you. I’m a fan of Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries and was the world’s biggest fan of Janet Evanovich’s number series before she started phoning them in. Those two inspired me to come up with my own schtick, so I took a survey of what was out there—the numbers and the letters were taken, somebody else had the astrological signs, there was a herbal series and a color series, what’s left for me? Months. I had the titles May Day and June Bug chosen before I wrote the first word of either book.
Though I initially chose it because I liked the gimmick, it’s turned out to be a good way to create a plot arc because you’re following the characters through a real-time year, with each book focusing on some mystery they need to solve that month.MCW Of all the kinds of stories you might write, you’ve chosen mysteries. Why?
MCW Tell us a little about your journey to publication.
JL My journey to publication is painful, so I’ll keep it short. May Day was rejected over 400 times before it found an agent, and then another dozen times before it found a publisher. I didn’t give up, and now I’m being interviewed by one of my favorite authors. Life is funny, isn’t it?
MCW You’ve taught writing at the collegiate level. How would you grade yourself on your own writing? And does your sensibility as a teacher spill over into your work as an author?
JL I do make my living teaching English and sociology at a two-year college, and I’m a hard grader. I’d give my early writing a C+ and my mysteries a B+. I’d always like to develop and improve as a writer.
I don’t find my teaching spilling over into my writing as much as I find my writing spilling over into my teaching. My writing makes me more reflective, more able to see the big picture, and more patient with human mistakes. The exception is that I do use my writing as therapy to “fix” bad students. Those who are whiny and entitled often find themselves as awful characters in future novels, but all mystery writers work through their stress that way, right?
JL Initially, I think it was long winters with poor TV reception. You either learned to ice fish, took up quilting, picked up a pen, or started collecting human skulls in the pig barn. Now, I think it’s just peer pressure.You have another book in the series coming out next year called August Moon, then what’s on your agenda writing wise? Do you intend to stay with the Murder by the Month series?
I intend to write twelve books in the Murder by Month series. In fact, I have September Mourn all planned out.
I want a tattoo but don’t have any because I haven’t found anything I’d like as much when I’m 87 with flappy skin as I do when I’m 37 with mostly not-flappy skin. Send any tattoo suggestions and Murder by Month title ideas to me at email@example.com. Thanks for the interview. J
MCW Is there anything you’d like share with readers that’s not general knowledge? Anything you’d like finally to come clean about?