Complementing my interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the three hundred and eighty-fourth, is of mystery novelist Joyce T Strand. If you would like to take part in an author spotlight, take a look at author-spotlights. See below for book giveaway!
Her most recent novel, HILLTOP SUNSET, is the first of a new series featuring protagonist Brynn Bancroft, a financial guru in transition to winemaker from corporate executive. Brynn Bancroft is a minor character in Strand’s novels ON MESSAGE, OPEN MEETINGS, and FAIR DISCLOSURE—three mysteries solved by Jillian Hillcrest, a publicist whose boss was Chief Financial Officer Brynn Bancroft.
Much like her protagonist Jillian Hillcrest, Strand headed corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in California’s Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder in her career. She focused on writing by-lined articles, press releases, white papers, and brochures to publicize her companies and their products.
Strand has been a mystery fan since she read her first Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy stories as a teenager. She admits that in between reading Agatha Christie, Ian Flemming, Erle Stanley Gardner, and John McDonald in her youth, she also checked out Tolstoy, Steinbeck, Faulkner, and Dostoyevsky, but her love of the “puzzle” always drew her back to the latest fictional detective. Today she favors John Grisham, Louise Penney, Linwood Barclay, Michael Connelly, and Stieg Larsson. She has always enjoyed the challenge of following clues to solve the puzzle of a mystery before it is revealed.
Therefore Strand relished the transition from writing marketing copy to creating fictional sleuths.
However, one other confession: her most favorite novel ever is Shogun. Even though the historical James Clavell novel is not a “mystery,” it is full of puzzles inside puzzles in medieval Japan. And the tale is told so well that readers feel like they’re actually there.
Today, in addition to creating mysteries, Strand writes and publishes a blog, Strand’s Simply Tips, is a reporter for a regional wine magazine, and is working on the second Brynn Bancroft mystery, to be published in November 2015, and an historical fictional story about a judge in 1939 California, to be published in June 2015.
Strand lives with her two cats and collection of cow statuary in Southern California, and seeks out and attends as many Broadway musicals and other stage plays as she can locate and drive to, including San Diego’s Old Globe Theater, the Pasadena Playhouse, and the Oregon Film Festival in Ashland.
Strand received her Ph.D. from the George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.
And now from the author herself:
“The difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction has to be believable.” Mark Twain, aka, Samuel Clemens
Readers frequently ask me, “How do you think up your plots?”—a question I’m sure all writers receive often. I know I certainly have wondered where Stephen King’s mind travels to create his unique and usually horrifying stories. Or where do SciFi authors go to answer their ‘What if?’ questions of the future?
And how do these authors make their unlikely stories so credible?
When I first decided to become a writer—at the instigation of my late husband’s annoyance at my constant whining about not having a job following a layoff—I knew that I would write mysteries. Because, as my husband said, “You read enough of them!”
Having made that decision, I next had to confront the realization that I knew little about the world of murder and detectives. How could I create a believable story—one that would hold a reader’s interest trying to solve the puzzle—without challenging credibility and losing readers’ respect and thereby their attention?
John Grisham’s background as a lawyer surely enables him to develop credibility in his legal thrillers. As a reporter covering the crime beat, Michael Connelly learned about cases in which to position his LAPD Detective Harry Bosch and lawyer Mickey Haller. By setting my Jillian Hillcrest series in the San Francisco area at a biotech company, I chose a familiar world—one that I had worked in for more than 25 years. And I opted to make my heroine a publicist for the same reason. With a familiar setting, I could therefore write back story and create characters with some authority.
However, that left the crime. Where would I find a crime that a publicist in a Silicon Valley company might encounter and have the expertise to solve? And how could I assure that it could actually occur? Where do authors like Mary Higgins Clark or Louise Penny grab insight into the world of crime and murder? How could I insert crime and criminals into a world of public relations and marketing?
I had spent my career talking to reporters, which meant that I read newspapers, blogs, anything they wrote. So it was only natural that I would turn to familiar tools to find the solution. I started to read California publications, such as the San Francisco Chronicle and the LA Times to identify some interesting and appropriate crimes, more than to keep up with world news.
Yes, it is accurate. Truth is often superior to fiction.
The first story that caught my attention concerned a retired biotech executive in La Jolla, Calif. killed by a consultant he hired, who stole the executive’s identity, murdered him, and embezzled $7 million—then, for some reason, returned to the murdered man’s apartment, where he’d left the body. Unfortunately for him, the police were actually in the apartment. Friends of the victim had reported him missing and law enforcement officers were following up at the apartment, where the suspect ran into them. I never learned why. He had the money. Why didn’t he just leave?
How could I have envisaged such a plot?
Others followed. Some I used. Some not. For FAIR DISCLOSURE—a mystery set in the backdrop of investor greed—I did not have to look far to find crimes on Wall Street on which to draw.
However, I underestimated one other source of crime cases. As part of my quest to assure that my police procedure descriptions were at least within the realm of reality, I had reached out to friends and colleagues who were retired police, lawyers, and FBI agents. They generously provided information about typical police procedure.
Then one day my retired FBI agent friend suggested a case he’d worked on in the mid-1980s that he thought was similar to the plots of my books. The more I investigated it, the more I liked it. This case inspired the plot for my newest book HILLTOP SUNSET. I am now investigating another one of his suggestions as inspiration for the next Brynn Bancroft mystery. Forgive me for not providing details, but if I tell you too much I will “spoil” the story, and we mystery lovers NEVER want to spoil the ending.
Granted, these leads basically amount to a few paragraphs in newspaper stories, and as the writer I need to embellish them into compelling characters, an intriguing puzzle, and page-turning writing. But that’s the fun. Imagining the story behind a real crime—a murder that actually happened. What kind of impact could it have had on my fictional characters? In HILLTOP SUNSET, I actually went further and asked what kind of impact could such a crime have on the suspect’s family?
In the end, however, fiction, unlike true crime, typically requires no loose ends. To satisfy us mystery readers, authors of fictional mysteries must not only create the puzzle along with compelling characters, they must also solve the case. Sometimes, we can base the solution on reality, but frequently we must make it up—perhaps not quite so neatly as Hercule Poirot announcing in the parlor the killer’s name and mode of murder—but we do strive to assure that the relationships in our mystery are tied together somehow, and that our red herrings make sense.
After all, “fiction has to be believable.”
Thank you, Joyce. It was great to meet you. You can find more about Joyce and her writing via…
- Webpage: http://joycestrand.com
- Blog: http://strandssimplytips.blogspot.com
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JoyceTStrandAuthor
- Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5385246.Joyce_T_Strand
- Twitter: @joycetstrand
- Amazon author link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=joyce+t+strand
- Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/joyce-t-strand?store=allproducts&keyword=joyce+t+strand
- Jillian Hillcrest Mysteries 3-Book-Bundle-ebook Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Jillian-Hillcrest-Mysteries-3-Book-Bundle-ebook/dp/B00LMRHU3K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413055975&sr=8-1&keywords=joyce+t+strand
- Jillian Hillcrest Mysteries 3-Book-Bundle-ebook Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/jillian-hillcrest-mysteries-3-book-bundle-joyce-t-strand/1119930565?ean=2940149733217
- FAIR DISCLOSURE – Kindle and paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Fair-Disclosure-Jillian-Hillcrest-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00GAPDNVM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1413055975&sr=8-2&keywords=joyce+t+strand
- FAIR DISCLOSURE – Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fair-disclosure-joyce-strand/1117273012?ean=2940148839606
- OPEN MEETINGS – Kindle and paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Open-Meetings-Jillian-Hillcrest-Mystery-ebook/dp/B008N04ZD2/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1413055975&sr=8-4&keywords=joyce+t+strand
- OPEN MEETINGS – Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/open-meetings-joyce-strand/1111755223?ean=2940016331454
- ON MESSAGE – Kindle and paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Message-Jillian-Hillcrest-Mystery-ebook/dp/B007ZU2CV8/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1413055975&sr=8-3&keywords=joyce+t+strand
- ON MESSAGE – Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/on-message-joyce-t-strand/1112305205?ean=2940016219691
- 1st prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card plus autographed copy of Hilltop Sunset
- 2nd prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card plus autographed copy of Hilltop Sunset
- 3rd prize: Autographed copy of Hilltop Sunset
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