THIS WEEK WE are visiting with my good friend Julie Hyzy. I first met Julie several years ago at a mystery conference just after her first book had been published. Julie was on a panel for new authors and I was fortunate enough to serve as panel moderator. Since then she has gone on to become a prolific writer; she is the author of the new Manor House Mystery series, as well as the White House Chef Mystery series. Her latest novel, GRACE UNDER PRESSURE is the first in her Manor House Mystery series. Set in a mansion/museum/tourist attraction in the Carolinas, it just came out this June. Julie is hard at work on book #2 in that series and is about to start on the next White House Chef mystery featuring Olivia Paras, who feeds the First Family and saves the world in her spare time. Julie is an award winning writer, having won Anthony, Barry, Lovey, and Derringer Awards for her novels and short stories. She lives with her family in a suburb of Chicago.
Mike: Thank you for taking your time with us today. As I count you are now working on your third mystery series and have at least one stand alone. How did you ever find the time to become such a prolific writer? And if you can, would you share with us you daily writing schedule.
Julie: I am so lucky to be able to write all day if I need to. Although I have three daughters who still require Mom's time occasionally, they're all mostly self-sufficient at this point and they understand when I'm under deadline and need to lock myself in my "cave." I try to write every single weekday and on weekends when I'm tight under deadline. I'm currently producing two books per year, but once my youngest is off to college (this fall) I have no doubt I can up that number to three per year. I really don't mind being a hermit during the day and that helps a lot.
Most mornings I read the paper, check email, and then get started on whatever project(s) I have going by about 8:00 AM. I write for about 45 minutes, then take a break for breakfast or a snack, then about 45 more minutes, then snack... repeating all day as needed. Food is my reward, can you tell? See why I gain 10 pounds with every novel?
M: The first book of your new Manor of Murder Series, Grace under Pressure, is just out. Can you give us a little peek at the setting and tell us a little about Grace Wheaton and Jack Embers?
J: Thanks so much for asking, Mike! First of all, there's been a change. I had originally subtitled this series "Manor of Murder Mystery" but the publisher changed it to "Manor House Mystery" ... the only problem is that they forgot to tell me! I'd been trying to promote the new title before it came out and it wasn't until I received my author copies (a few days before the official release) that I discovered the subtitle change. I wrote a panicked email to my editor "THE BOOK COVER HAS A TYPO!!" and that's when I found out the series name had been changed. Yikes!
But all is well that ends well. It's a great series title and I think it makes the focus clearer too. Grace is the assistant curator at Marshfield Manor, a 150 room palatial estate in the Carolinas. It's a tourist attraction and museum, and it's also home to reclusive owner Bennett Marshfield. When Abe, Grace's boss, is murdered, it's up to Grace to step into his role, solve his murder, all the while keeping Bennett Marshfield safe. Along the way she discovers a few skeletons in her own family's closet and she meets handsome Jack Embers, the gardener with a few secrets of his own.
I'm having fun exploring some of the questions posed in Grace Under Pressure now as I write Book #2. I'm tentatively calling it MURDER MOST CIVIL (hey, Mike ... I wonder where I got the inspiration for that one? Murder Most Holy, perhaps? Love that title of yours!). No idea if the publisher will let me keep that one, but I have GRACE UNDER FIRE as an option too.
M: One of my favorite characters is Olivia (Ollie) Paras, the White House Chef. How was she developed and have you actually visited the White House kitchens?
J: I've visited the White House several times, but haven't yet made it into the kitchens myself. I have read every book I can get my hands on and I've watched every DVD and video on the subject. Did you know there's a site online that rates movies as to how accurate they depict the White House? The West Wing (TV show) was supposedly not terribly far off. Neither was The American President.
Anyway, we currently have our first-ever female executive chef in the White House, Cristeta Comerford. What a great situation to be in to overhear secrets, huh? We mystery writers are always trying to come up with unique protagonists who have a *reason* to get into trouble. What better place to overhear secrets and conspiracies than in the White House.
M: Did you run into any problems in researching the design of the White House for that series?
J: I thought I might, but I've been surprised by how open people are. There are so many people who worked (or still work) in the White House who were willing to share stories with me. Secret Service agents have been great... they've shared lots of information (none of it classified, of course) about what it would be like for a staffer to come and go... where the kitchens are... where the people congregate and commute from... it's been great.
I've learned a lot through books, DVDs, and online too. There's so much information. Sometimes I think all I need to do is read the headlines for a few days to get inspiration for the next book!
M: Is Ollie finished, or will we hear more from her?
J: Ollie's next adventure, Buffalo West Wing, comes out January 4, 2011. I'm currently contracted for a total of six White House Chef Mysteries, so there are at least two more left to write.
M: Dead Ringer was an interesting bit of writing. You wrote it by alternating chapters with your friend and co-writer Michael Black using your series character Alex St. James and his character Ron Shade. I’ve never read a mystery written in that format. How did that come about, and how difficult was it writing alternating chapters with a co-writer?
J: Mike and I had written a short story together as a lark and it was kinda fun so we thought... why not try writing a novel together? We tied our characters together by having them "meet" at the end of my second Alex novel (Deadly Interest) and his third Ron Shade (A Final Judgment) and decided at that point that it might be fun. We weren't quite sure what to expect. It was fun, but there were a few tense moments. Mike is a very straight-forward plotter. I kinda like to weave and change and invent new characters as I go. I'm sure I gave him fits. But I'm happy with how the story turned out. Although both Alex and Ron are written in first person, I think we managed to keep things from being confusing. And because the reader "hears" both Ron's and Alex's stories, the reader knows more than either protagonist does. That helped up the tension, too. At least that time it was tension for the reader, not tension between the writers LOL.
M: You’ve had several great characters, Ollie, Alex, Annie Callaghan, and now Grace Wheaton. Do you pattern you characters after real people? What was your inspiration for each?
J: Ollie, Alex, Annie, and Grace are all completely invented characters. They all share some traits with me, but they're all braver, smarter, prettier, and younger than I am, LOL.
But a number of other characters have been based on real people, or a combination of people. For instance, Frances in GRACE UNDER PRESSURE is a combination of people I've known in my life. And from the email I receive it seems *everyone* has a Frances in his or her life too! She's great. Annoying as all get out, but she is so much fun to write. I pictured Hurley from LOST in the opening scene of Grace Under Pressure (Percy) and there are a number of family issues in that book that I've faced myself.
M: Writing, of course, is only a small part of a writer’s job. How much time do you spend on marketing and promotion of your books?
J: A lot!! During my email check in the morning, I try to answer any reader letters that have come in, and then later, in the afternoon when my imagination starts to wane, I work on newsletters, stuff I need to snail mail, write blogs, contact bookstores, reviewers, and online sites, and basically try to determine what I'm *not* doing yet and figure out a way to get it done.
M: Finally, what’s next after the Manor House series?
J: I hope the Manor House series goes for a long time. I've been hearing that cozy mysteries are overtaking thrillers in popularity and this is a great time to be a cozy writer. I'm really enjoying learning about Grace and the gang at Marshfield. From what I hear from readers, they like Grace too and that's the best news of all.
Once I get myself settled (2011) and push myself to write three books a year, I hope to shake things up a bit by writing something a little bit more gritty. At that point, however, I'd use a pseudonym because I wouldn't want one of my cozy readers to pick it up and be disappointed because the style and content is so vastly different from what I've written before. Plus I'd like to get back to writing short stories more often. I really miss doing that.
M: Thank you so much, Julie, for taking this time with us today. I hope you’ll hear from a bunch of new readers!
Julie can be reached through her website: http://juliehyzy.blogspot.com/. In addition, she writes a weekly column every Tuesday for the blog “Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen.” She does that in conjunction with five other mystery authors: Krista Davis (Domestic Diva Mysteries), Avery Aames (Cheese Shop Mysteries), Cleo Coyle (Coffee House Mysteries), Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery Mysteries), Elizabeth Spann Craig (Memphis Barbecue Mysteries), where they share recipes and stories about themselves and their books. You can check out that blog at http://www.mysteryloverskitchen.com/.
Let us know what you think and post a comment here.