Welcome to the two hundred and sixty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with murder mystery and historical author Jean Harrington. 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. I’ll jump straight in and ask you what you have had published to date, and can you remember where you saw your first book on the shelves?
Jean: I’ve had two historical novels published, both set in 17th century Ireland: The Barefoot Queen and In the Lion’s Mouth, and a recent release, a murder mystery, Designed for Death. I did have the pleasure of seeing the historicals at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, here in Naples, Florida. A related thrill was seeing The Barefoot Queen sitting on my local library’s shelf. Imagine me, there with famous authors. The thrill is still new! My current release, Designed for Death, has been published in e-book and audio format, so I won’t see it on a shelf, so to speak. But other thrills await as the e-book market implodes.
Morgen: As an eBook-only author I can only imagine how exciting it is to see your actual books out, especially if you waited until someone picked them up although I do sit and clap every time I get a ‘review notification’ or ‘purchase notification’ email. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do?
Jean: For the historicals, I’ve done a good deal of public speaking and book signings here in Florida and also in Chicago. For my new Murders by Design Mystery Series, I’m endeavoring to strengthen my social networking persona with blogs such as your own. And with personal on-site marketing. This, I’m finding, is more difficult than writing the book. Other authors have told me the same. I guess the reason maybe we’re imaginers not marketers.
Morgen: Absolutely. I have a friend (married to an American, living in Washington) who’s a brilliant saleswoman and I’ve always said I’m hopeless. I’m of the “oh, you don’t want it? Oh, OK then” camp. It’s finding the thin line between very little (me) and touting (some who shall remain nameless but they know who they are :)). Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Jean: Although I have worked with an agent in the past, at the moment I don’t have one. While an agent isn’t vital to a writing career, having one does make it easier to get editors / publishers to read your work. I’ve been fortunate that Carina Press, the digital arm of Harlequin Publishing, accepted my novels on the basis of my own query.
Morgen: Oh wow, well done. I understand Harlequin are huge Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? Do you have any plan to write any eBook-only stories? And do you read eBooks?
Jean: Aha! Yes, indeed to all of these questions. And I have found it’s easy going green. Here in the States, digital books capture a larger portion of the market each year. Perhaps the secret is that electronic publishing offers instant gratification. No matter where you find yourself—in a car, in a plane, on a beach, virtually any book of any kind is only a click away.
Morgen: Exactly. Even before I bought my Kindle (two weeks ago!) I thought paper books for home and electronic for away. Paper books will never go away, there’ll just be less of them – perhaps quality vs quantity. Did you have any say in the title of your books? How important do you think they are?
Jean: I’m happy to say I’ve named all of my published books. And yes, the title, because it is a sales tool, is very important and should hint at the book’s content. One amusing story—I was asked to suggest names for my murder mystery series which features an interior designer as the amateur sleuth. I suggested The Rooms To Die for Murder Mysteries. That, however, was turned down in favor of The Murders by Design Mystery Series. More dignified for sure!
Morgen: 🙂 Do any of your books have dedications? If so, to whom and why?
Jean: They all do. The first historical I dedicated to my late Irish mother-in-law whose voice is the one I tried to capture in the telling of that tale. The other books are dedicated to family and friends. Dedications are very special and each person chosen is selected with care. I love the opportunity to be able to do so.
Morgen: Who designed your book covers?
Jean: I don’t know specifically. The art departments of the publishers. Each time, at first glimpse of them, my heart pounded. Would they capture the spirit of the novel? I’m pleased to say each one does.
Morgen: It’s so important for the author to like it. I’ve heard of some author (with mainstream publishers) who haven’t liked the covers, and they’re best-placed to know, but have had no say in it. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Jean: Mountains of rejections! Enough to paper a loo. How to deal with them? Ignore the impersonal ones. Learn from the ones that mention a particular weakness or reason for rejecting that manuscript.
Morgen: Good plan. What are you working on at the moment?
Jean: The third in my Murders by Design Mystery Series. I’ve tentatively titled it Killer Kitchens. We’ll see if that name is retained.
Morgen: I like it. Do you write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Jean: Every single day. For one to two hours of new material. Then several hours of revision and editing. I don’t count pages per day, so I can’t give a count. But the old adage holds true: Write one page a day and at the end of a year you have a book.
Morgen: You will. 300 words a day is a 100,000 word novel – astounding but true. Do you write short stories, Jean? If so, apart from the word count, what do you see at the differences between them and novels?
Jean: I have written short stories but prefer the novel form. Short stories might well be termed the “poetry” of fiction in that they distill a single experience into its essence. They present a slice of life not the whole world. Maybe today people want to escape into another universe and leave their daily troubles behind. The novel with its breath allows for that in a way no other literary form does.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Jean: The late Leslie Waller (Dog Day Afternoon, Strange Encounters of the Third Kind) once said to me that first person is the most dynamic. There’s a lot of truth in that statement. But to be dynamic, that character, Waller said, must be charming. And he isn’t the smartest person in the book. Leave that up to another character and then your protagonist will remain sympathetic. In addition, if your protag can exhibit self-deprecating humor, so much the better. This will keep him super likeable.
Third person, of course, offers even wider scope to the writer. What one loses in intimacy with the first person point of view is gained by being able to enter many minds and express multiple viewpoints. So both first and third points of view have different strengths.
Morgen: It’s so important to like the characters… for a reader especially. In one of my recent reads I really struggled to like the main character. I much preferred a minor one and felt that was a shame, as it gave me an excuse to put it down and move on to something else. What do you like to read? Do you have any favourite author?
Jean: Several. For sheer sassiness and wit, Nelson DeMille is tops. And P.D. James also comes to mind. Her voice is so cool, so distinguished, and, may I say? so English.
Morgen: Absolutely, you can.
Jean: She’s a master of nuance, so important to writing a mystery. I can only worship her as I use my American voice in the person of Deva Dunne, the amateur sleuth of Designed for Death. Deva utilizes her interior designer’s eye for detail to discover the identity of the killer—only to discover the killer has designs on her. What fun!
Morgen: It sounds like it. 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Jean: One my husband used during conversation the other day. “All great writers have an Iago.”
Morgen: Thank you, Jean. Lovely to meet you. 🙂
Jean Harrington is the author of two historical romances and the recent e-Book and audio release, Designed for Death. The novel is the first in her Murders by Design Mystery Series featuring an interior designer as the amateur sleuth. A former teacher of college English, Jean talks less these days and writes far, far more. Currently she lives in Naples, Florida with husband John and is enjoying being awash in fictional dead bodies. You can find out more about Jean’s writing at her website: www.jeanharrington.com. She’d also love it if you liked her on Facebook. 🙂
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