Monday, April 27, 2009

Author Julie Hyzy

When someone asks you what kind of book do you write? What’s your answer?
(The famous elevator speech)

My usual answer is that I write mysteries. But if someone seems particularly interested, I expand with: I write about a White House chef who feeds the First Family and saves the world in her spare time ;-)

When did you know you were going to be a mystery writer?

I decided to write mysteries when I was about eleven. I started my own series, Mary King mysteries because I reasoned that because “Ma-ry King” has the same syllabic beat as “Nan-cy Drew,” my stories were sure to be a major hit.

Tell us a little bit about your family background.

There are just two in my family me and my younger brother, Paul. My parents were really greeat, lovely people. We had a lot of laughs in our house and nobody was allowed to take themselves too seriously. My brother and I weren’t sports kids, and we found entertainment in weird ways. We found a treehouse (long story) and adopted it. We put on neighborhood shows, tried our hand at songwriting, and sold neighborhood newspapers we wrote ourselves. Our house was on a busy street and Paul (who is an electrical genius) hooked up a speaker so that we could entertain the passing cars. There’s a whole story there I llook back on those years and think about how tolerant my parents were.

What is your educational background?

All Catholic schools. From grammar school through my all-girl high school, through Loyola University. I majored in marketing and graduated with a degree in business administration, but I really wanted to major in English. My family and friends talked me out of it because they insisted I would starve as a writer. That’s true ;-) And the business major was a good thing because I learned a lot about analysis and decision-making. I joined a business fraternity (I was part of the first pledge class of my chapter to admit women) and I met a lot of lifelong friends there. I think the business major has served me well.

Talk a bit about your present family situation.
I’ve been married to Curt (who I met at Loyola and who is one of my fraternity brothers) for 25 years. We have three daughters, Robyn, Sara, and Biz (Elizabeth). Robyn graduated from the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida in 2008 and is pursuing a career as a freelance artist. She’s currently living in NY, but should be returning to Chicago next month. Sara is a sophomore at NIU, studying special education for the visually impaired. Biz is a junior in high school. We’re currently looking at colleges for her. She thinks she would like to be an FBI profiler some day. In the meantime she’ll be studying psychology. At least that’s the current plan. She may also look into becoming an actuary. We have a thirteen-year-old black lab/mix named K’Ehleyr who curls under the desk next to my feet when I’m writing.

We’re into movies big time in our family and Curt and I decided a long time ago to introduce the kids to classic movies. Although we haven’t been able to see as many as we’d like, my kids have seen lots of good ones. They know and appreciate Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Stewart, and Humphrey Bogart. They love Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly, and old TV like the Dick Van Dyke show and I Love Lucy. They’ve seen quite a few of Audrey Hepburn’s movies (Roman Holiday is a huge favorite here) and we make sure to sprinkle in a bunch of great war films. They love The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, and Bridge on the River Kwai. There are lots more we just think it’s important for kids to know somme of the history of films. Biz asked us to Netflix all the “Thin Man” movies. We did. They’re a blast.

My kids are great. The best. I love being with them and so far, they don’t seem to mind being around mom and dad, too

What did you read as a child?

My number one favorite book as a child was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I went through a phase where I read that book three or four times a year. As a very little kid I took out A Fly Went By from the library just about every chance I could. I loved the rhythm of the words on that one. My mom eventually bought me my own copy which I still have today.

I also read Nancy Drew books incessantly. For my eleventh birthday I received five new Nancy Drew books. The party was on a Friday. By Sunday I’d devoured them all.

What’s your daily routine when you aren’t touring?

I get Biz to school by about 7:00 in the morning, then come home and read the paper with a cup of coffee. Some people like to buy their morning coffee. I enjoy the process of making it for myself every day. After the paper, I hit the computer to check e-mail and do any tasks that have been waiting for me. I then start writing. At around 11:00ish, I take a break to do any outside running around (shopping, errands) I need to do, then come home and write until Biz comes home. Her schedule depends a lot on whether it’s marching band season, or whether she’s in rehearsal for one of the plays. I try to have a vegetarian snack ready for her when she arrives. Sometimes we’ll spend some time with Wii Fit. I like the hula hoop and boxing games best and I’m not bad. But I’m a total loser when it comes to heading soccer balls.

When Curt gets home we have dinner, do evening tasks (if any), and then we either read or watch something. We took tennis lessons for a while and we’re thinking about starting up something else soon. I used to write at night too, but I realized how much I was missing family time. When we’re couch potatoes, we prefer movies to regular TV. The only TV shows we watch are LOST and Criminal Minds.

How much touring do you do?
Touring? I don’t really “tour” as much as visit bookstores and libraries when I can. Lately, that hasn’t been much. I plan to do a lot more next January when Eggsecutive Orders comes out.

What surprised you most about the writing community once you became a part of it?
The writing community is exceptionally generous and kind. I remember the first conference I attended, I was panicked about meeting people and terrified that I would be ignored or shunned because I wasn’t part of the in group. You know who scared me a lot? Debbie Brod. Not her fault, of course. She did nothing to frighten me off. It was me thinking that she wouldn’t give me the time of day and that’s what had me nervous. Debbie, of course, was the picture of kindness.

I guess I was surprised to find that I fit in. I was a geek/nerd as a kid. That hasn’t really changed I’m a geek/nerd adult too. And it’s great to find out that so many authors were in that same place as kids. Jeffrey Deaver described his childhood at Love Is Murder. Except for the fact that I’m female, he could have been describing me.

Another big surprise was how everyone is willing to help. Everyone is willing to share. I love this community. Great people.

What’s the hardest thing about being an author?

Time management. I think the hardest thing is knowing I can’t write as many books as I want to. I have a thousand ideas floating around all at once and I can only produce about two books per year. I’d like to try to up that output to three. But not this year. Too much MWA stuff to do.

Let’s talk about promotion and marketing.

Do you blog? How frequently? Is your blog a group or single effort?
I do blog, but it’s infrequent. My site, “Julie Hyzy and her blog” (ooh, clever name, huh?) is a single effort. I don’t believe I have anything particularly fascinating to say on a daily basis, so I use the blog to announce book news. I’ve considered using it to promote other authors interviews, etc. That would be a lot oof fun, but I don’t have the time yet. Maybe next year.

How frequently do you organize or participate in book tours?
“Book tours” sounds so official. It sounds as though there’s a master plan and I’m participating on a schedule. I’m not. I had been doing bookstore signings, but it’s tough when no one shows up. I’ve actually been doing more book discussion groups. Now those are a lot of fun because everyone there has read the book. The questions are the best!

What kind of events or signings do you do?

I’ve done several library book discussion groups, and I’ve done a few library presentations on writing craft. Those are fun. I’ll be at Malice Domestic in May, and I have a couple of appearances scheduled in the coming months at book festivals, including the Kerrytown Book Festival in Michigan. The Tinley Park, IL library is doing a “dinner with the author” late in the year. I’m excited and even though my books are “culinary thrillers,” I don’t have to cook!

The Lifeline Theatre has asked three of us: Sara Paretsky, Sean Chercover, and me, to appear at their annual benefit. We’ve all been given a Dorothy L. Sayers short story for which we’ve written alternate endings. The theatre group will perform these at the event. This will all take place on April 16th at the Chicago Cultural Center, across from Millennium Park in the city. I’m very, very excited about this appearance.

In a typical year, how many times did you appear for your book?
Tough question. If you don’t count conferences, I’d guess about 25 appearances per year. Average once every two weeks sounds about right.

How many fan conferences such as Bouchercon will you typically attend in a year?
I’ll be at Malice, as I mentioned, and Bouchercon this year. Next year Love Is Murder takes a year off, but that one is always on my “definite” list. I used to attend more conferences, but the cost is prohibitive.

Any specific recommendations?

Love Is Murder in 2011. That’s my favorite conference of all time. I just love everybody there.

Do you have a web site and/ or other Internet places you routinely participate in, such as Good Books or Face Book or Twitter?
I’m so happy with my website: Beth at Cincinnati Media helped design it and it looks fabulous. My daughter painted the White House in the corner of the opening page and there’s a link to her website on the site, too.

I had a MySpace account, and it’s still active but I don’t ever visit it. It’s just too hard to make that system work for me. I do Facebook and I enjoy that. The attraction of Twitter eludes me. Maybe I just need to get to know it better.

Do you like to travel?

I love to travel. I’ve never been to Europe, but I hope to get there shortly after Biz starts college. Of course, at that point we’ll have no money left.

What surprised you the most when you became a published author?

I didn’t have an agent when I had my first book published. Nor for my second, third, or fourth novels, even though all were published traditionally. I guess I just assumed that with novel publication came validation. I thought, at that point, agents would be more willing to take a look at me. I thought I’d broken through the barrier. Mind you, I never expected agents to welcome me with open arms and beg for my business, but I guess I thought I’d get shut down less often – or at least receive acknowledgement of my submissions. But that didn’t happen until recently. I must write terrible query letters.

Do you think you’ll change direction or spread out a bit? Write a different kind of crime novel? If so, what kind?
Yes. I have ideas running around through my head for a more serious crime novel. Mind you, my Ollie and Alex books aren’t exactly fluff but I’d like to tryy to stretch my wings and shake things up a bit.

Especially since 9/11, how do you respond to the accusation that you are trying to make money on a phenomenon in society we call murder? Or heinous crime?
First of all… make money??? Let me know when that’s supposed to happen. I put every penny of my advances back into promotion and then some.

But I get your point. Are we making light of murder? Killing characters for entertainment’s sake?

I wrestled with those questions after 9/11 but I came to realize that the stories I write, and the stories I read, are not gratuitously violent. They don’t offer murder for murder’s sake. The stories I write, and read, are about how people deal with the aftermath of death, and how some characters (an amateur sleuth, for example) rises above his/her limitations to make the world right once again. Read any of today’s headlines: There is almost nothing we can do as individuals to make a difference. Can we turn the economy around? Not single-handedly. Can we stop the war in Iraq? Not likely. Collectively, we can do much, but alone we’re limited. Mysteries are good for the soul because we get to see real people, regular people making a difference. I. I think it helps.

If you could be anything else in the world, have any other career, what would it be?
I wouldn’t want to be anything else. But if I could appear in a feature film I’d jump at the chance.

What career would you least like to do, if writing was to become impossible?

I would not want to be one of those workers who stands on the expressway holding a “Slow” sign all day.

Have you ever collaborated on a novel? Would you consider it?

I collaborated with Michael A. Black on our novel, Dead Ringer. This brought his kickboxing private eye, Ron Shade together with my amateur sleuth Alex St. James. We had a lot of fun writing this, but it isn’t something I’d want to do regularly. I prefer flying by the seat of my pants as I write, and when collaborating, there’s less room for improvisation.

Who are the authors who you feel have had the most influence on your writing career?

Mike, for sure. He was a member of the writing group I joined in 2000 and helped me navigate the waters by critiquing my early short stories and advising me on submissions. He also encouraged me to write my first novel. There’s no question that I wouldn’t be as far along I am if it weren’t for him.

Also Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Kris Nelscott). I participated in a two-week master class at their home in Oregon back in 2002 with twelve other writers. Those two weeks were life changing. One of the best investments I’ve ever made in myself.

Tell us one or two authors or books you absolutely universally recommend.
I always recommend Ray Bradbury. Love his short stories. I first discovered him in eighth grade and I’ve loved him ever since.

I also universally recommend the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. If I tell you it’s time travel, and history, and romance, you may roll your eyes. But, wow. Probably the best series of books I’ve ever encountered.

Who is your favorite mystery author?
Sue Grafton. I’ve learned so much by reading her Kinsey Milhone series.

Where do you want your career to go?

I’d like it to continue to move forward. I’d love to have two series going at once and then occasionally take time out to write a standalone. I’d like to be 80 years old and be able to look back on dozens of novels and still be writing.

To what organizations related to your writing career do you belong?

Mystery Writers of America, Sisters In Crime, International Thriller Writers, Southland Scribes.

Who is your publisher? What’s your current book?

I’m published by Berkley Prime Crime. My current book is Hail to the Chef, second in the White House Chef series.

Are you agented?

I am. My agent is Erin C. Niumata of Folio Literary Management.

What’s your take on the rise of electronic publishing?

I think the market for books delivered electronically will continue to grow. By the time I’m at that 80 year old position, I expect I’ll be reading everything electronically.

What’s your favorite word(s)?

So many to choose from. Can I pick more than one?
“Secren” and “obsule” (made up words from childhood)

What’s your least favorite word?

Bucks - and - chores. As in: “I’ll give you ten bucks if you do your chores.” I think “bucks” is so slang-y and crude. I sometimes catch myself using that term, but I don’t like it. And I’ve always hated “chores.” Just a yucky word.

If you could change one thing about the world what would that be?

I would make prosecutors and defense attorneys strive for truth and justice and not just aim to win their cases. Speaking of truth -- I would make it a requirement that those reporting the news tell the truth at all times. So often the news we read or see on TV is manufactured to scare -- or otherwise overwhelm -- viewers. If reporters could only report what was true, I think society would be a lot more cheerful.

Hey, while I’m at it, can I change a couple more things?

Of course.
I would force schools to return to teaching phonics.

And, I would impose a $10 fine on anyone who posts a sign with a misplaced apostrophe!

Do you have any pithy (or other) words of advice for aspiring authors?

I’m not a particularly pithy person. I guess I would just suggest that aspiring authors remember that perseverance makes all the difference. And I would warn all would-be authors to be careful of scams. They’re everywhere.

Tell us about your upcoming book or other project.

My next book is Eggsecutive Orders. This is the third book in Ollie’s White House Chef Mystery series and this time her mom and grandmother visit from Chicago in time for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. Of course, things don’t go according to plan and Ollie finds herself in the middle of trouble when a big shot White House guest doesn’t survive dinner.

After reading your interview responses I have one more question.

Will we ever read more of Alex St. James' adventures?

That's a good question. I guess my answer is: I hope so. Right now, however, I have no plans to write any more Alex novels because my time is being taken up with the chef series and MWA-related tasks. I would like to think that some day I could help Alex find her birth parents and maybe even a love life... But for now, the poor girl's life is on hold.

Thanks a lot, Julie.

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