MLC: Do you remember the first mystery you ever read? If so, what was it, and what pulled you into it?
AUTHOR: The first mysteries I ever read were the Nancy Drew series. Don’t remember what specifically attracted me (perhaps her spiffy roadster?); all I know is that I devoured them eagerly. But the first mystery author who really bowled me over me was Agatha Christie. She is still my mystery idol. Those magnificent plot twists, those surprise endings, this is the kind of plotting I adore.
MLC: When did you first decide you wanted to write a mystery, and what led you to that decision?
AUTHOR: I’d reached the ripe old age of 50 and my sitcom career had come to a screeching halt. (For those of you not familiar with the wacky world of show biz, people in their fifties are considered in the same age bracket as Methuselah). And actually, I was happy to be a free agent. Working till 2 AM in a writers’ room with a bunch of grubby guys and cold smelly pizzas was beginning to take it’s toll. I’d always wanted to write a murder mystery, so I figured I’d give it a try.
MLC: Do you write in any other genres? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: Aside from my mystery novels, I write occasional comedy material for Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”
MLC: Which comes first for you, the plot or the characters?
AUTHOR: The plot, definitely the plot. I work out my story carefully before I begin writing. I’ll make changes as I write, but I never work without a net. And of course, writing a series the way I do, I’ve already got an established set of running characters to work with.
MLC: When you are all wrapped up in the story, do you feel like you could solve the crime, or maybe even solve all the world’s mysteries?
AUTHOR: Are you kidding? Half the time, I can’t even figure out where my car keys are.
MLC: Do you write every day, or what kind of a schedule do you have? Do you write fulltime, or do you have a “day job”?
AUTHOR: In theory, I work every day. Except weekends. And holidays. And Macy’s 15-hour Sale Days. But if truth be told, I’m shamefully undisciplined. Have perfected the fine art of work avoidance. I do a lot of pencil sharpening, especially at the beginning of a book. As the story builds momentum, I put much more time into my writing, often working into the night.
MLC: Other than your writing, what do you enjoy doing? What is the most important thing to you in your day-to-day life?
AUTHOR: I like to swim, read, and do The New York Times crossword puzzle. I’m pretty much a fanatic about my crosswords puzzles. I do them every day of my life, even if my husband and I are vacationing in a spot that doesn’t carry The New York Times. (For those occasions, I take along puzzle books.) I think one of these days I may have to enter a twelve step program.
MLC: Who are your favorite mystery authors? Do you try to emulate them in your own writing?
AUTHOR: My very favorite my author, as I’ve mentioned above, is Agatha Christie. Other authors I enjoy are Sue Grafton, Elaine Viets and Joanne Fluke. My favorite comedy authors, who influence me a great deal, are Joe Keenan and P.G. Wodehouse. And for just plain marvelous writing, I adore Anne Tyler.
MLC: In your present book, is this part of a series, or is it a standalone book?
AUTHOR: KILLER CRUISE, my current book, is the eighth book in my Jaine Austen mystery series.
MLC: If you are doing a series, do you see an end to it sometime, or do you plan to go on for several years with it?
AUTHOR: I’ve got a contract for four more books, so Jaine will be alive and well for several years to come.
MLC: Do your characters ever drive you a bit crazy by going off in their own direction? If so, how do you rein them in, or do you just let them run off on their own?
AUTHOR: I only wish I were like those authors who say their characters tell them what to do. Unfortunately my characters are a lazy lot who loll around in their pajamas all day, eating bonbons and watching Oprah, while I do all the heavy lifting.
MLC: Do you pattern your sleuths after yourself or someone you know? If so, do you let that person know they were your “pattern”?
AUTHOR: Jaine Austen is a braver, younger single version of moi. All my friends say they can hear me talking in Jaine’s voice.
MLC: How long did it take you to get published? How many rejections did you have to suffer through first? Were you ever tempted to give up? What do you think made the difference when it was accepted?
AUTHOR: Because I was an established sitcom writer, it was easier for me than most writers to sell my first mystery. But I could paper my walls (and yours) with my many rejected movie scripts.
MLC: Do you ever attend any conferences? If so, which ones?
AUTHOR: No, I don’t much like to fly, so I haven’t done any conferences. Although I happily participate in the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books each year.
MLC: Do you have to promote your own work, or does your publisher do that for you?
AUTHOR: My publisher does some promotion, but like most authors I know, I do some on my own.
MLC: If you have to do marketing, what methods have worked the best for you?
AUTHOR: I must confess I’m fairly clueless about the business end of things; I don’t keep track of my sales, so I really don’t know what works best for me. I like sponsoring contests, because it’s fun having contact with readers. Ditto for appearing at library events.
MLC: Do you have any idea how your book is selling?
AUTHOR: As I said above, I tend to keep my head in the sand about these things. I generally focus on my writing and just keep my fingers crossed that somebody out there is reading my stuff.
MLC: What has been the best review you have gotten, and why?
AUTHOR: I’ve gotten lots of lovely reviews from some very kind reviewers (Publishers Weekly, Nancy Sapir of the Kingston Observer and Mystery Lovers Corner, to name a few). The ones that got me the most attention were the nice notices from Marilyn Stasio on The New York Times Book Review. But I’m thrilled with any positive review I get, from readers and critics alike.
MLC: Have you won any awards, either as an author or for your books? Please tell us about them.
AUTHOR: I won the Romantic Times Most Humorous Mystery award, for my debut book, THIS PEN FOR HIRE.
MLC: Is there any one certain thing that a reader has written to you that made you just want to jump up and shout “Yes!!!!”?
AUTHOR: I love hearing from my readers; they really are an amazingly wonderful bunch. I get a special kick when I hear from very young readers, or from people who say they haven’t read a book in ages, but that one my books has turned them on to reading again. I treasure the gift of reading and so it warms my heart when I’ve passed it on to someone else.
MLC: What is your next project, and when will it be out?
AUTHOR: The ninth book in the Jaine Austen series, DEATH OF A TROPHY WIFE, will be out in May or June 2010.
MLC: If you could write anything at all, ignoring what editors and publishers say they want, what would it be?
AUTHOR: If and when Jaine goes to that great detective agency in the sky, I’d like to try my hand at a straight humor book.
MLC: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring mystery authors?
AUTHOR: Outline, outline, outline! Know where you’re going. And keep writing! Years ago, when I was first starting out as a sitcom writer, I was given some advice I’ve never forgotten. I was working with an experienced writer who told me, “Everything stinks at the beginning. Don’t let it slow you down. You can always come back and fix it later.” And for me those words have been enormously helpful over the years. At the beginning of a project you’re always filled with doubts. But if you keep writing, the momentum will build, and so will your confidence.
One more tip: I find it very helpful to plot out my stories on index cards, one scene per card. That way, I can lay out my entire story on the dining room table, and get an overall sense of the flow of the book. I can tell if I’ve got too many actions scenes in a row, or too many quiet scenes. This is also very helpful if you’ve got subplots in your story, as I always do.
MLC: Do you have any teasers for your readers and fans about the next book?
AUTHOR: In her upcoming adventure, my heroine Jaine comes to the rescue of her neighbor Lance when he’s accused of killing one of his customers at Neiman-Marcus, a trophy wife from hell. While tracking down the killer, Jaine also fends off the advances of Vladimir Ivan Trotsky, an internet Romeo who shows up on her doorstep all the way from Uzbekistan, hoping to woo her with bad poetry and pictures of his pet goat Svetlana.
MLC: If a genie suddenly appeared and said they would grant you just one wish for your books, what would you wish for?
AUTHOR: For my characters to get off their duffs and start telling me what to write.
MMLC: Please give us your website url and your email address where people can contact you.
AUTHOR: I’m afraid I’m still in the stone ages so I don’t have a website, but readers can always reach me at Jaineausten@aol.com
MLC: Thank you so much for giving us a little glimpse into your books and your life. We look forward to a lot more books from you.