Welcome to the two hundred and tenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with mystery / suspense, children’s and non-fiction author Jean Henry Mead. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Jean. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Jean: I wrote my first novel at age nine, a chapter a day to entertain classmates but it was many years before I published my first novel, Escape on the Wind, in 1999. I wrote for my high school newspaper and served as editor-in-chief of my college newspaper in California at age 27 while working part time as a cub reporter for my local daily. I was, at that time, a divorced mother of four young daughters and often had to take my youngest to classes with me. (She now teaches school.) Then, after publishing five nonfiction books, I decided to use my research to write my first novel, an historical western. It’s been my best selling book and has been released by three publishers. The fourth edition was just released as Escape, a Wyoming Historical novel. I then began writing mystery novels for both adults and children.
Morgen: My goodness, you were certainly destined to be a writer. 🙂 What genre do you generally write?
Jean: I’ve published three novels in my Logan and Cafferty mystery / suspense series as well as two Hamilton Kids’ mysteries for the 9-12 age group. My eight nonfiction books have seen print, four of them celebrity / author interview collections as well as a history book, Casper Country, which served as a college textbook, with over 200 photos.
Morgen: You’ve listed a few already but what have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Jean: I’ve published 15 books to date as well as some that I edited and ghostwrote for other people. I remember my first book in 1982, a who’s who of Wyoming, which included interviews with United States senators, governors, writers, artists, and ordinary people who had accomplished extraordinary things. It was a thrill seeing my book prominently displayed as well as on the shelves.
Morgen: Have you ever seen a member of the public reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Jean: No, but I spotted one of my books in Louis L’Amour’s extensive library while I was interviewing him.
Morgen: Oh wow. I know little about westerns but even I’ve heard of Louis. That’s some honour. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Jean: My first signing party was in a small town where I sold 40 books. It went downhill from there and I rarely do in-person appearances anymore. I prefer to promote my books online. For the past decade, I’ve done most of the marketing myself. I’m a native southern Californian now living on a ranch in Wyoming’s Laramie Mountains, so traveling the great distances here isn’t practical.
Morgen: And that’s the great thing about eBooks, you don’t have to move from your chair, and you get to speak to your readers directly. 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Jean: I’ve won a number of national, regional and state competitions as a photojournalist and a few fiction awards, although I rarely enter my books anymore. Whether they help with sales is debatable.
Morgen: But good for an author’s CV and boost for the self-confidence. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Jean: I added my mother’s maiden name to my own because there is more than one Jean Mead who writes, so I became Jean Henry Mead. In France and Quebec, they think I’m John Henry Mead. I’m not sure it makes a difference whether readers think the author is male or female, but there are quite a few women writers who use their initials for that reason.
Morgen: JK Rowling being one of the most memorable. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Jean: I’ve had two agents but wound up selling my books myself. Now that the ebook revolution has drastically changed the publishing market, I don’t think agents are necessary, especially if the author is getting on in age and doesn’t have much time left to wait for years to see her book(s) in print.
Morgen: Mary Wesley (Camomile Lawn etc) had her first book published when she was 74 and there was a lady locally who was touching 100! We’ve mentioned eBooks, are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Jean: Yes, I own a Kindle, Nook and ancient e-reader. My last seven books are on Kindle and Nook. Four of my novels were recently orphaned when my publisher died, and I decided to try my luck as an independent publisher by uploading them to Nook and Kindle as well as print. It’s a bit of work and hopefully they’ll be selling well soon. I’ve sold a few so far in the UK and hope that readers from my ancestral homeland will soon become acquainted with my work.
Morgen: And let’s hope this helps a little too. With your traditionally published books, did you have any say in the title of your books? How important do you think they are?
Jean: Titles are very important and I’ve never had any of them changed, unless I suggested the title change myself.
Morgen: Do any of your books have dedications?
Jean: Yes, they all have dedications, mostly to family and friends. My latest children’s book, Ghost of Crimson Dawn, is dedicated to the ghost, herself, who is said to haunt a homesteaded area on top of Casper Mountain in Wyoming – now a museum. Before her death in 1977, she founded the annual Summer Solstice Festival on June 21, featuring witches, warlocks and elves (people in costumes), with a bonfire and refreshments. My husband and I attended this year and I decided to incorporate the festival into my juvenile mystery.
Morgen: That sounds like fun! Who designed your books’ covers?
Jean: My husband and I designed the book covers for my orphaned books this year using my photographs of the books settings and Photoshop software for the lettering. We’re quite pleased with the results.
Morgen: I love the house on the cover you’ve provided today – a writer’s hideaway. 🙂 What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Jean: I’ve been very fortunate that all my manuscripts have been accepted for publication. My first book was Wyoming in Profile, a book of interviews with the state’s well-known people. Pruett Publishing brought it out as well as the following nonfiction book, Casper Country: Wyoming’s Heartland. And, yes, it’s always a thrill to be accepted and hold your latest book for the first time.
Morgen: Annie Proulx’s base too. As you say, you’ve been “fortunate” (a good writer, I’d say), does this mean you’ve had no rejections?
Jean: I had some short stories rejected early in my career and found that I was better at writing books, so I haven’t written short fiction since.
Morgen: I’ve done the opposite of you, by the sound of it; started with short stories then written four novels (three of which I’ll be eBooking next year) then gone back to shorts as they really are my favourite format. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Jean: I usually have two or three writing projects going at once. I’m working on another historical western novel titled: No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy. It’s the true story of a young woman and her husband who were hanged by cattlemen in Wyoming in 1889, because they wanted their homesteaded land. They then spread nasty rumors about Ellen Waton-Averell, saying she took rustled cattle for her “favors”. When I read about it while researching another book, I was angry and decided to write a true story of what actually happened. I’ve also started my fourth Logan & Cafferty mystery novel and another children’s mystery.
Morgen: I like writing different things, although that’s easier with shorts, and it certainly avoids writer’s block. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Jean: Yes, every day unless something serious happens. I think the most I’ve ever written at one sitting was close to 5,000 unedited words. Writing is, after all, a way of life.
Morgen: It is (I love it). I mentioned writer’s block a moment ago, do you ever suffer from it?
Jean: I’ve come close to suffering a block, but I usually just pull up one my other manuscripts and work on them.
Morgen: A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Jean: Some of my mysteries came from reading newspapers. As a former news reporter / editor, I like to keep up on current events.
Morgen: I have a dozen 40-page display books full of newspaper cuttings although, from memory I’ve only used two articles so far… I have so many other ideas to work on – maybe next year when I have more time.
Jean: And my characters are bits and pieces of people I’ve known, although some of my quirky characters are pure fiction.
Morgen: I love ‘quirky’. 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Jean: When I sit down at my computer I have no idea what’s going to happen or what my characters are going to say. I just tune in to what’s going on and type as fast as I can to keep up with them.
Morgen: I love that! Probably my favourite aspect of writing. Do you write poetry?
Jean: I’ve written free verse and have been told by a couple of psychics that I was a well-known Egyptian poet in a former life. I had a few poems published years ago in anthologies. (And I’ve always been fascinated by Egyptology.)
Morgen: I went to a psychic with some girlfriends this summer and was told that I had a connection with hieroglyphics (although she didn’t know what they were) which didn’t mean anything but maybe it’s you. 🙂 Who do you first show your work to?
Jean: My husband, who reads more than I do.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Jean: I do some editing in my second draft, but find that my work is nearly ready when I finish the first. I’ve been writing a long time and have learned the ‘tricks of the trade’.
Morgen: I’m getting there. 🙂 I’ve gone from four drafts to two or three, although knowing it’ll then go to my editor helps because she pulls it apart anyway. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Jean: I do considerable research, especially for my historical westerns. And yes, I’ve received quite a bit of feedback from readers, which I enjoy. And I try to answer all my email.
Morgen: I have to keep on top of my Inbox or it can take a whole weekend just dealing with emails – plus I don’t like to keep people waiting. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Jean: I began writing on a manual typewriter as a news reporter, then progressed to an electric and word processor. I’ve been using a computer since 1979.
Morgen: Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Jean: I prefer silence but I can write in the middle of a traffic jam, if necessary. As a news reporter, I wrote in a very noisy press room while keeping an eye on a TV set for breaking news.
Morgen: That’s true, great training. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Jean: I prefer third person although I’ve tried first and second.
Morgen: Third does seem to be the most popular with readers (and certainly agents!). Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Jean: The only epilogue I’ve ever written was for my first novel, Escape. It’s a ten-page history that details the actual fates of Butch Cassidy’s Wild bunch members. It also answers the question: did Butch and Sundance die in South America or return to the U.S.?
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Jean: Being interrupted while I’m writing is my least favourite and writing through a long muse that allows me to spoon in my research is my favorite.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Jean: Develop a thick skin and learn to take constructive criticism. And never give up if writing is in your DNA. Also, after you’ve completed your manuscript, put it away for a few weeks. Then take it out and read it as though someone else had written it. Go through it again and edit until it’s the very best you can write. Never send it out before that happens because you’ll never get another chance to make a good first impression.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Jean: I enjoy reading, photography, travel, oil painting, coin collecting, dogs, friends, tennis, bowling (although I rarely have time to go to the lanes) and I collect porcelain dolls.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites you would recommend?
Morgen: I chatted with John last month, great guy. 🙂 Do you have any writing guides that you find useful?
Jean: Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron, How to Writer Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat, Don’t Murder Your Mystery and Don’t Sabatogue Your Submission by Chris Roerden. They’re all available on the Internet.
Morgen: I have loads but not heard of those, thank you. 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Jean: Lots of networking sites: Facebook, Twitter, Murder Must Advertise, SeniorSleuthsForum, Western Writers Forum, Western Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, She Writes, to name a few. They’re invaluable for networking but cut deeply into your writing time.
Morgen: They can indeed, I can’t resist the ping of new emails / messages <note to self: must try harder>. Where can we find out about you and your work?
My books are available at Amazon.UK as well as Barnes and Noble, eBay, used online bookstores…
Morgen: I think you know you’ve made it when you have a Wikipedia page. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Jean: The ebook revolution has dramatically changed the publishing landscape and it’s difficult to forecast the future. Now that anyone can publish a book, the market is glutted with choices, many of them in dire need of editing and not worth spending your hard-earned dollars on. There are also real gems from authors who have decided to publish on their own, although they’re in the minority.
Morgen: This is often a topic of conversation online, especially with LinkedIn but I still maintain that reviews will be the deciding factor for a book buyer – an author can only have so many friends. 🙂 If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Jean: I would have started writing novels sooner.
Morgen: I’ve had so many authors say that… me too. Thank you so much Jean.
I then invited Jean to include an extract of her writing and the following is from (A Village Shattered, first novel, Logan & Cafferty series):
“Nola killed? But how?”
“Six car pileup, ma’am. It could have been worse.”
“She’s dead. How could it be worse?”
“More people killed in the fog.”
“Are you sure it was Nola?”
“A dentist identified her dentures.”
Micki gasped as she clapped a hand to her mouth.
“Did Nola leave here with Bub Wilson?”
“No long after you did, Sheriff. She got a phone call and ran out without saying goodbye.”
They couldn’t wait to escape, he thought, slapping his hat against his thigh. He was still not convinced that Nola Champlain was innocent.
“Poor Nola,” she said, wiping shimmering eyes. “She finally found her a man.”
Uncomfortable, the sheriff shifted his weight. “They both died instantly, if that’s any comfort.”
“Then their souls will always be together.” Her gaze rested on the ceiling.
He nodded agreement but wondered in which direction the couple actually departed. He couldn’t quite picture them wearing halos.
Her large bosoms heaved in a heavy sigh. “I’m all alone again. I feel like I’ve been running a boarding house.”
When he promised another companion, she gazed at him wistfully. “Why not stay for supper, Sheriff? I’m a very good cook.”
Surprised, he shuffled backward. “I’m sure you are, ma’am but I–uh-have a dinner date.”
“Who’s your date?” She sounded like his mother.
“My wife,” he lied.
“I heard she divorced you.”
“Women change their minds,” he said as he wrenched the door open and escaped to his patrol car.
Update August 2012: I’ve since published The Mystery Writers: interviews and advice from 60 mystery novelists such as Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, Julie Garwood, Geraldine Evans, Martin Edwards and Roger Smith.
My latest novel is out this week in ebook form (and print in two weeks).
Gray Wolf Mountain is the fourth novel in my Logan & Cafferty mystery / suspense series and takes place on a Wyoming mountain where someone’s not only killing wolves, but people.
Gus Blake, an 85-year-old man has been trying to save the wounded wolves until he’s kidnapped and hogtied in a cabin along with his neighbor, whom Logan & Cafferty discover has been killed along with a 19-year-old female college student and a deputy sheriff.
I’m very proud of the cover that my husband designed for the book.
Morgen: It is great. 🙂
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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