Age 64

Thanks so much for inviting me to visit your terrific blog! I’m delighted to be able to share a bit about myself and my books with your readers.

Fiona: Tell us a little about yourself i.e. your education Family life etc

Life’s an extravaganza—you never know what’s coming next. Surfing is one of my favorite metaphors for trying to capture what my life’s wild ride has been like. Not all that surprising, I suppose, for someone who came of age in San Diego, within biking distance of the beach. And, in the heyday of the Beach Boys and the Beatles, I might add.  I live in the desert, now, near Palm Springs about a 100 miles due east of the blue Pacific Ocean.

It was almost a cliché back in the early 70s that, at 17, I ditched a university education to marry a high school dropout, rock guitarist, in a tiny lawyer’s office in Tijuana; a cab driver our only witness. I had my reasons—‘love is all you need’ among them. Unfortunately, the authorities didn’t agree with me and picked me up as a runaway before I could meet my husband and his rock band in Oahu, Hawaii.

A few months later, soon after I did join my husband, the rock band broke up. Wipe out! It was time to climb back up on the board and try to catch a new wave. What do you do when that happens? Go to Disney World, of course. The new theme park was just opening in Orlando, Florida. My husband and I both had family there. They offered us a place to stay while we took a basic 3-month course in food preparation. Hired as culinary assistants, we started working for ‘the mouse’ under the tutelage of several European chefs. Disney soon launched a chef’s school and my husband and I were each selected to attend. We completed the training and were promoted to prep chef positions at different resort hotels.

The classroom part of that experience convinced my high school dropout husband to get his GED and we both enrolled in a local community college. We hoped a degree would advance our careers at the ‘mouse factory’. But an education changed everything. The next big wave rolled through and we found ourselves in a whole new world as graduate students at the University of Michigan—a cold and challenging place—and I’m not just talking about the weather. Academia is a rarefied environment with an esoteric culture of arcane rituals and rules, not to mention a ton of work.

Hey, but it was the ‘age of Aquarius’ and we were going to become social scientists. I could hear the rock anthems beating in sync with the new waves ripping through our lives. There’s gonna be a revolution, right? We wanted to be part of that—change the world. We hung tight and did our best to surf the waves that came at us, one after another in the hallowed halls of academe, raising a couple children in the process. Beating the odds, we both received PhDs, found tenure track jobs, [at UMs arch rival on the football field, The Ohio State University], earned tenure and retired.  After more than thirty years of teaching and research in social and behavioral science I’m not sure how much we changed the world, but the world certainly has changed us.

I’m still waiting for that wisdom thing to kick in at this stage of life, but I learned a few things. A lot happens over which we have no control. Life comes at you fast and relentlessly, sets of waves pounding away at the shore, each one unique and a bit unpredictable. Fortunately, there are some ‘glassy’ days—days when the surface is smooth and quiet so you can bob around and get a read on where you are.

At this point in my life, I can also say you don’t have to ride every wave. Let some of them go and wait for a good one to come your way. Catching the perfect wave, riding it brilliantly to shore is rare, but exhilarating when it happens. Interspersed are the inevitable ‘wipe outs’ that leave you breathless and struggling to ‘right’ yourself in turbulent waters. Resurfacing, spitting and choking, finding grit and grime in places you never imagined isn’t always easy but it is always an adventure.

“Guess what,” I told my husband after we retired, “I’m going to be a mystery writer.” Here we go again, so hang on. Surf’s up!

Fiona: Tell us your latest news?

This summer brought great news when our SUMMER WHODUNNITS box set hit #51 on the USA Today Bestseller list. I am so happy to have been one of the six cozy mystery authors in this set that has been so well received by readers. It’s an honor to be a USA Today bestselling author.

My book in that box set, Heinous Habits Corsario Cove Cozy Mystery #3 will be released October 1st as a stand-alone eBook in all readers’ favorite eBook stores. This lighthearted, humorous cozy mystery series features the most excellent adventures of Kim Reed and Brien Williams as surf-loving newlywed sleuths.

Both Brien and Kim first appear in my Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery series set out here where I live in the California desert near Palm Springs. A Dead Mother, book 4 in that series is available for pre-order now and for release Oct 28th.

I have a new release planned for fall in the third series I write. Murder of the Maestro Georgie Shaw Cozy Mystery #6 will be released in December, the date still TBD.

Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

I started writing for publication as a graduate student in social work and sociology—my first published piece was a chapter in a 1980 monograph about prisoners in the Michigan criminal justice system. Scintillating, huh? In my academic career, I published more than 40 manuscripts, journal articles, book chapters as well as book length monographs mostly dealing with behavioral health issues like alcohol and drug abuse or mental health problems.

Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

In my second year of graduate school it dawned on me that I had chosen a career that revolved around writing and publication! It wasn’t until I heard someone utter those words “publish or perish” that I realized that in it was write and publish—or else!

Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?

Rebellion against the confining nature of academic writing. My first forays into fiction took place while I was still a professor and research dean at the Ohio State University. Academic writing was stilted, dry, and bounded by strict proscriptions for scientific and technical writing. I began to write fiction for fun and relaxation. It was kind of an “antidote” to the boxed-in style of writing required of an academic—a way to “color outside the lines.” Fiction writing felt freeing. Initially, I wrote in the horror and sci-fi genre, completing a novel, a script, and a short story, plus parts of other novels and stories that remain unfinished. I attended several writers’ conferences and received some encouragement about my writing but it wasn’t until I retired that I published my first mystery—A DEAD HUSBAND, Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery #1, in 2013.


Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?

I’m somewhere in between a “panster” and a plotter. I usually start with a general idea of the mystery and an opening sequence. Then I start writing and when I’m about a third to half way through the story I outline the book. Sometimes I like to wait until near the end to settle on “whodunnit” keeping the possibilities open. I also enjoy the spontaneity of twists and turns often inspired by my characters who sometimes seems to have minds of their own. It’s not unusual for me to add or delete chapters in my outline as I go or even during the editing process.

Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Murder and mayhem are weighty subjects, but. I like to blend mystery, romance and humor. True to the foodie culture here in California, my characters eat well! The tagline I use to capture the common theme in what I write is:

Snooping into life’s mysteries with fun, fiction, & food–California style!

Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Not one, but many writers have mentored me on various topics. The best part about the whole process of becoming an indie writer has been meeting so many othr authors—traditionally published, self-published, and those ‘hybrid’ authors in both camps. The generosity and support has been a high point of the experience of becoming an indie author. There’s a camaraderie that’s hard to find in other lines of work.

Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

The hardest part about the whole enterprise is marketing the books. While the movement from print to eBook is well underway, I think a lot of my potential readers still shop at book stores or find their next read on a library shelf. Those are two places pretty much off limits for self-published authors like me. Of course, the average “shelf-life” of a book, even at a megastore is short. One study I read several years ago said 3 days.

Like most self-published authors I’m relying on social media to get the word out. The amount of time that requires is staggering, and there’s still no clear data about how well various social media strategies work to get the exposure you need to help readers find your books. Since I’m not sure what’s best I try to have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Quora, and a couple dozen other sites targeting authors and readers. That’s in addition to maintaining my website and writing newsletters and blog posts.

Fiona: Who designed the covers?

So far, I’ve designed the covers for my books. The process of coming up with a cover seems to inspire me to write. It’s a visual representation of what I want to produce and makes the book seem more real.

Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write, write, write…edit, edit, edit. But not at the same time or you’ll never get anything done. Write loose, edit tight. Learning to shut the critic up long enough to get words down on a page is vital. Unleashing the critic is important, too, so you don’t fall in love with every word you write.

Read, read, read. Not just in your own genre, but read all sorts of things. There are good books and blogs out there that can really help you improve your writing, book production, and marketing. Reading about the book biz has to be on your TBR list, too.

Research and organize. Even when you make stuff up, like I do, there are plenty of facts you use to add detail and realism to your characters and plot. You want to check them out—could your character really have used Facebook in high school? Was that a snippet from a Bruce Springsteen song your character is quoting? I use timelines and spreadsheets to keep it all organized. The timing and sequencing of key events in the story are set out in a timeline. Key details about characters are stored in a spreadsheet. This is important to me since I’m writing a series with recurring characters. I go back and add things as they are revealed about characters later.

Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?

I paint a little—mostly abstracts and I love hiking in the desert and the surrounding mountains; reading, of course and I still enjoy cooking—mostly healthy, gluten free variants on old favorites or testing recipes that I include in my books.

Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?

I love to read American authors—especially cozy mystery authors, but I love to watch British mysteries on Public Television. The production values are always excellent—good actors, spectacular locations, and musical themes that are beautiful apart from whatever they convey about the series.

Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music

Love salads and fresh, happy, food. Good coffee is vital. Purple is my favorite colors, but just about any jewel tone calls to me…gold, turquoise, ruby red…

Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?

I started my academic career in a genetics lab—at 16 before I ran off with the rock and roll lead guitarist. Knowing what I do now about mental illness and related brain disorders—the way in which genes and environment mutually influence on another, I wish I had pursued research in that arena.

Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?

Yes. You can find me at: New subscribers to my newsletter get an electronic copy of Cowabunga Christmas, Corsario Cove Cozy Mystery #1 free.






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The Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mystery Series on AMAZON