A FEW YEARS ago I had the pleasure to meet this week’s guest at the Love Is Murder mystery conference in Chicago. Jackie Vick was a transplanted Illini who was currently living in Los Angeles and working on getting her first mysteries published. Since then she has published a dozen short stories (including one in The Every Day Fiction, Two anthology), several articles, a children’s book, and three mystery novels.
Jackie has an interesting background: she once worked as a telemarketer at a funeral home, phoning people to offer free plots in exchange for a meeting with sales rep. But she finally realized that she was a mystery writer when it seemed perfectly natural to roll over in bed and ask her husband, “If I chopped your head off in your sleep, do you think it would stay on the pillow or roll onto the floor?” While she focuses on mystery novels, she also writes children's books, short stories, the occasional non-fiction piece, and screenplays. She’s even turned a short story into a play, Streetcar Named Death, which she secretly hopes to see produced by community theaters around the world.
Her mission, she says, is to bring you a good story, make you laugh, and leave you with increased endorphins and a warm fuzzy feeling and she writes as she reads--for enjoyment. Don’t forget to check the end note at the end of the interview to find out how to win a copy of Jackie’s book.
Mike: Jackie, thank you for joining us today. For those who don’t know you, can you tell me a bit about your writing background.
Jackie: When I was much younger, I loved to write, but somewhere along the line I lost track of that joy and experimented with other things like music and…selling insurance. (Everybody has to make a living!) I followed my father’s footsteps and worked with Architects and Engineers--very interesting people. When I moved to Los Angeles, I played around with screenplays. Surprise! I’m still a reader for Scriptwriters Network (both TV and film) and I served on the committee for the Carl Sautter Memorial Competition. How I wound up writing mysteries is, well, a mystery.
M: Don’t you think questioning your husband about what would happen to his head might have given you a hint that writing about murder might be in your future?
J: Marriage doesn’t come with a manual. I thought it might be a normal phase.
M: How did he react to that question?
J: He steered me toward venting my murderous imagination on paper--a purely defensive move.
M: By the way, is he still with us?
J. Alive and kicking. Strange thing. When he gets home from work, the first thing he does is ask me if I’ve vented, er, written anything that day. When I say yes, he looks relieved. If I haven’t, he locks himself in the TV room and doesn’t come to bed until I’m sound asleep.
M: You’re ebook novella, The Groom’s Cake, was recently published. (http://www.wickedinkpress.com/ ). Mosts of the authors I visit with are published in paper. What’s it like working with ebook publishers?
J: Ebooks are wonderful. They provide an opportunity to release something unusual such as a novella. On the other hand, the finished product is difficult to market. One marketing suggestion I heard was to burn novella’s to a CD with a nice cover and label so you have something tangible to take to book fairs etc. I like that idea. I’ll be keeping track of my attempts on my blog, A Writer’s Jumble.
I have a children’s book. Logical Larry, and I plan to burn the ebook version to disc and include a free teacher’s guide. I’ll let you know how that works out.
The ebook publisher let me have input on the cover, and the edits went back and forth several times. They kept me involved in the process. You would know better than I, Mike, if this is how it is with traditional publishers.
M: Yes, it pretty much is. I remember my first editor wanted my main characters to…well, “get it on” as they say. But he did respect my vision and didn’t insist too much. Did your editors suggest anything more than normal editing changes or did they make suggestions on the plot or sub-plot?
J: They didn’t make any plot suggestions. I’m grateful, because when I looked at the other releases from Wicked Ink Press, they all had sexy covers. Mine is purely humorous. It’s like the Electric Company song says: “One of these books is not like the others.”
My love scenes might involve a kiss right before something funny happens, because my grandmother might read them. I met Charlaine Harris at that first Love is Murder convention. She’s a sweet lady. Then I read her sexy vampire series. The next time I meet her, I’m going to be mildly embarrassed.
I think if there is a scene where the characters are cavorting on the chandelier, readers are going to think the author must have experienced something similar. That’s too humiliating for me. Some thoughts should remain private.
M: How was Logical Larry published? Traditional or e-book?
J: Logical Larry is in paperback and ebook format. I also uploaded to Kindle, and I’m going to upload to the Nook.
If you sign with an ebook publisher (or any publisher) you should be aware of which rights they want. With my enovella, Keith Publications owns all the electronic rights. That means I can’t upload to Kindle. Since they aren’t going to either, I’m limited in where I can sell the product.
M: I noticed that you’ve done some school presentations with Logical Larry. What is the suggested age-range for the book and how do you use it when speaking to children?
J: The Reading Tub puts the level at 6.3. They recommend it as a read aloud for ages 7-10 and a read alone for ages 11-13. I’ve known advanced first graders to read it alone, so it all depends on the reading level of the child. One cool thing: I made the vocabulary section funny, so the kids seem to remember the definitions.
I would recommend that anyone writing children’s books put on a school presentation. It is a learning experience. I discovered that you have to warm the audience up with questions, you need to explain exactly what you want from the kids as far as their participation, and you need to include some do-alone exercises that they can read aloud when they’re done, because kids are used to getting assignments and are comfortable with it.
M: You also write mysteries. Who is your protagonist and what type of mysteries are they; ie. cozy, humorous, suspense? Are they novels, novellas or short stories?
J: My main focus is my mysteries. I thought I was writing cozies--no blood, limited environment, amateur sleuth--but my editor said they were humorous traditional. Think Janet Evanovich. (I wish.)
I have several protagonists. I figured I would write what I liked and then, if something took with an agent, I could focus on that series. That might be a mistake. If an agent does pick up a series, I have several manuscripts finished but with different protagonists! Family Matters, a Wilder Women mystery, was a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition. (A great contest to enter. It’s free, and you get feedback from actual readers!) I also have The Body Guy, an Evan Miller crime reporter mystery; Civility Rules, a mystery with two British brothers, one who secretly writes the Aunt Civility column; and now a Frankie Chandler, pet psychic, mystery.
M: Psychic pet mystery? Why in the world did you jump from traditional humorous mysteries to paranormal pet psychic mysteries?
J: I have a mutt, Buster, who came to me with issues. I tried various training methods and none of them worked for his particular problems. He’s 80 lbs, so problems with his behavior means torn muscles for me. I heard from both a neighbor and another author that a pet psychic worked wonders for their animals. I tried two, and I got a tongue-in-cheek article out of it for Fido Friendly Magazine. Someone suggested a pet psychic as a sleuth. I thought, “What a dorky idea.” And then I thought, “Why not?” After all, look at what’s selling.
M: I have a dog named Buster, too. It must run in the name! You’ve had a bit of experience with short story writing. Do you think that short stories are a good way for a writer to start?
J: Unless short stories are your focus, they are sort of a necessary evil. I love reading shorts and know some brilliant short story writers--Gay Degani, Kate Thornton. Writing them is very good practice and it builds a resume and gets your name out there. But they take time away from the novels, especially marketing them.
I find that most writing involves time management choices. Short stories are worth it. My goofy mystery, The Membership Drive, is in The Every Day Fiction Two Anthology, an actual paperback book! That gets my name out there, and anything you can do to advertise your writing helps.
M: Do you have any other mysteries in the works?
J: I would like to write a sort of Father Brown mystery. My priest is a Desert Storm vet who gets into trouble while he’s acting as police chaplain (he’s a bit forceful with a criminal) and he winds up transferred to teach at an all-girl school. I know a lot of priests, and they are all wonderful men. I wanted to show that side of the Fathers and at the same time show that they are human enough to lose their tempers and vulnerable enough to be thrown off by a school filled with teenage girls. I was one, once. We can be pretty horrible--a trial for even a decorated war veteran.
M: Do you have any final advice to new writers?
J: Pay an editor to look at your manuscript. I thought Family Matters was great. After all, it was a semi-finalist in the ABNC, right? I heard about an editor, sent it to her, and learned what a mess it was. I’m pretty good at pitching, and at the last Love is Murder I attended, several publishers requested the manuscript. None wanted it. Now I know why!
Also, get involved in Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and Public Safety Writers Association, or whatever groups are out there for your genre. I’ve heard Romance Writers of America is a great group. You can’t be a hermit and have a successful career.
And hang in there. Success doesn’t happen overnight. You toil and submit and then, one day, the ball starts rolling. (But only if you’ve done the ground work and networked, set up a platform, and gotten your name out there!)
M: Jackie, thank you for taking the time to visit today.
J: Thanks for the opportunity to appear on your site, Mike!
M: Here are some of the links Jackie has suggested for aspiring writers. Check them out and leave a comment.
http://www.kiethpublications.com/ They are looking for all sorts of manuscripts--from shorts to long novels.
http://www.jacquelinevick.com/ My web site, which includes a link to my blog, A Writer’s Jumble.
http://www.amazon.com/Breakthrough-Novel-Award-Books/b?ie=UTF8&node=332264011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award
http://www.kristenweber.com/ That fabulous editor I mentioned.
Please Note: You can win a copy of Jackie's book!
Jacqueline Vick, my interviewee for today, learned the hard way (by selling funeral plots) that people love bribes, er, incentives. Comment on this blog the week of October 11th - 15th and your name will be entered in a drawing for a free copy of The Groom's Cake. Winner will be announced on Monday, October 18th.