An Interview with NANCY LYNN JARVIS
Author of the Regan McHenry Mystery Series
Interview by Cathy B Stucker
Nancy Lynn Jarvis has been a Santa Cruz, California, Realtor for twenty years. She owns a real estate company with her husband, Craig.
After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, she worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News. A move to Santa Cruz meant a new job as a librarian and later a stint as the business manager of Shakespeare/Santa Cruz.
Nancy's work history reflects her philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years. Writing is her newest adventure.
She invites you to take a peek into the real estate world through the stories that form the backdrop of her Regan McHenry mysteries. Details and ideas come from Nancy's own experiences.
If you're one of her clients or colleagues, read carefully - you may find characters in her books who seem familiar. You may know the people who inspired them - you may even see yourself in print.
Stucker: What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.
Jarvis: Backyard Bones is a mystery that begins with children unearthing a skeleton in their new back yard. Itís an ancient burial, but they find another body in the same place a few weeks later and itís murder. My protagonist, Regan McHenry, is the Realtor who sold the house where the murder victim turned up. She gets drawn in to investigating as an amateur sleuth because the police suspect her client. It turns out lots of people in the neighborhood have secrets regarding the murder victim and no oneís relationship with the victim is quite as it seems. Her curiosity gets her in trouble and she has to figure out which suspect is the murderer before she becomes a victim herself.
Stucker: Tell us something about yourself.
Jarvis: Iíve been a Realtor for the past twenty years in Santa Cruz, California, I still own a small real estate company with my husband, Craig, although we havenít been actively working for the past couple of years. Before that, my career was checkered. After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, I worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News, as a librarian, and later a stint as the business manager of Shakespeare/Santa Cruz.
My work history reflects my philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years. Writing is my newest adventure.
Stucker: What inspired you to write this book?
Jarvis: Iíd been a Realtor long enough to have worked in really down markets before the 2007 real estate collapse. Markets like that are cruel, painful and frustrating. I decided I wanted to take a time-out rather than working through it. I got bored with my elected break and decided it would be an entertaining puzzle solving exercise to see if I could write a mystery. I took the phrase ďwrite what you knowĒ to heart and started writing using people I knew as the characters and experiences Iíd had as background. The writing quickly evolved from that start, but it was really fun to do.
Stucker: How did you publish this book?
Jarvis: Remember, writing started as a game for me. I never intended to do anything with what I wrote. That changed when a friend who always wanted to write and see her name in print was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Possibly because my husband and I had a long history of being small business owners, we decided to set up a micro publishing company, dedicate the first book to her, and get some copies of the first book, The Death Contingency, out there so she could see her wish fulfilled before she died. Our skills meshed well for editing, design, using technology, and marketing. We found a printer and were ready to go. Our initial investment only involved some minor trademarking and copywriting expense and book printing. Initially we went with a POD printer to keep costs down and only printed 100 books to see what might happen. They sold in a day and the business has been growing ever since.
Stucker: What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?
Jarvis: Creating unpleasant scenes like finding a body or being in a tight situation with the bad guy are the hardest parts to write. Iím really in the moment and sharing whatís happening to Regan as I write, so I can get upset. Iíve been known to cry while Iím writing.
Stucker: How do you do research for your books?
Jarvis: Except for the murders, details and ideas come from my own experiences. I decided to set my book in Santa Cruz, a location I knew well after living there for many years, and make the protagonist a real estate agent because Iím so familiar with that world. Real estate has its own culture and most people donít know much about it; I thought readers might get a kick out of ďinside information.Ē Also, I had a stockpile of funny, interesting, unusual, and odd things that had happened during my twenty year career to use as background material.
For the rest of it, I use the internet primarily. There is a real book called Decomposition for Dummies, but youíd be amazed what information is available online. If anyone checked my computer, they might worry about me. Among the ghoulish details theyíd find are articles on dying of hypothermia for The Death Contingency, squatting facets for Backyard Bones, and accidental mummification for Buying Murder.
Stucker: Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?
Jarvis: Iíve learned many things but two things have surprised me the most about writing. The first is how much fun it is. I love all aspects of it: writing, cover design, publicizing, and especially talking to people at book signings. Iíve met many interesting people I would never have known if I hadnít written the books.
The other surprising thing is that, even though I have a story outline and have created a life history for all the characters so I understand them, sometimes the characters tell me things about themselves I didnít know. In Backyard Bones I had intended to have a different character be the murderer, but when it came time to write the unveiling, as it were, I knew I had been wrong about the killerís identity. I thought I could go back and change a few things and add a few clues to make the new killer work since the book presents many suspects, but when I went back to add the needed clues, I discovered they were already in place. Evidently the killer had been telling me about his guilt all along, but, like Regan, I missed it until then. Discoveries like that make writing especially entertaining for meóand hopefully for my readers as well.
Stucker: What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?
Jarvis: I read more non-fiction more than fiction, especially anything to do with history or politics. My favorite authors for fiction are Margaret Atwood, Amy Tan, and E.L. Doctorow For mystery I like Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Tony Hillerman.
Stucker: Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
Jarvis: I just finished writing the third book in the series. Itís called Buying Murder. Itís just off to the editor. It begins with a building inspector finding a partially mummified body. The inspiration for it came from conversations around an odd triangular wall space in a house my clients were buying. They joked with the building inspector that the space seemed like a good place to hide a body and asked him to explain why it was there. He came down from the attic after taking a look at it and, with a perfectly straight face, announced he found Jimmy Hoffa. Now Iím taking it further and using it as the starting point for a book.
Stucker: What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Jarvis: Specifically for what Iím doing publishing, I would recommend getting a couple of books, Poytnerís books are great, and then go online to places like Linkedin and Goodreads and talk to some other writers to share experiences. Youíll get some great ideas and meet some terrific people.
For writers: edit, edit, edit. When you think your book is ready for prime-time, edit it again and get a good copy editor to go over it, too. Even if your story is wonderful, your reader wonít think it is if they get distracted by mistakes.
Stucker: What are you doing to promote your latest book?
Jarvis: In addition to normal things like book signings, getting local newspaper articles, and getting on as many blogs as possible, Iíve gotten national press with had a mention in Costco Magazine and in The National Association of Realtors Magazine. I also belong to Sisters In Crime, a group for mystery writers.
Stucker: Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
Jarvis: Your readers can read the first chapters of the books and pick up a recipe for ďMysterious Chocolate Chip Cookies for free at http://www.goodreadmysteries.com. Books can be purchased from the website and on Amazon.com.
1st IN THE SERIES:
Author of the Yellow Rose Mysteries and the Cats in Trouble Mysteries
By Victoria L. Webb, copyright 2010
Leann Sweeney was born and raised in Niagara Falls and educated at St. Joseph's Hospital and Lemoyne College in Syracuse, NY. She also has a degree from the University of Houston in behavioral science and worked for many years in psychiatry and as a school nurse; she has retired to write full-time.
She began writing in 1980, fulfilling her lifelong dream. After perfecting her writing skills with classes and a small fortune in writing books, she joined MWA and Sisters in Crime. Now she's in love with both her NAL/Obsidian mystery series: The Yellow Rose Mysteries and the Cats in Trouble Mysteries, and it shows--The Cat, The Quilt and The Corpse was the #1 bestseller on the Independent Mystery Bookseller's List when it debuted and made several top twenty lists for 2009 at bookstores across the country.
Leann is married with two fabulous grown children, a wonderful son-in-law and a beautiful daughter-in-law--not to mention grandaughter Maddison Grace (Maddie). She has lived in Texas since 1974 and resides in Friendswood, Texas with husband Mike, her three cats, and Rosie--the smart, retrieving, golf-ball chasing, busy-busy-busy mini-labradoodle.
Read more about Leann's cats:
Vickie: Where were you/what were you doing when you heard your book was going to be published?
Leann: I was at my day job when I got the call. I was a school nurse for 20 years and I was in my clinic, probably stopping a nosebleed or helping someone through an asthma attack. Then I nearly had an asthma attack. I was stunned and then I cried.
Vickie: How long did it take you to complete your first book?
Leann: It took me nine months to write that first book, Pick Your Poison.
Vickie: How long did it take to get your first book published?
Leann: ELEVEN YEARS!
Vickie: When you wrote your first book, did you know it would become a series?
Leann: Yes because I'd written 2 more books in the series in those eleven years. Turns out, they didn't want those 2 other books and I ended up writing 4 more in that series that were published. The last one came out in 2008.
Vickie: How did you come up with the "theme" of your series?
Leann: For my first series, I came up with the theme (adoption mysteries) because there was an adoption secret in our family and I read a newspaper article about a corrupt family court judge. The book took off from there. The Cats in Trouble idea came from a B&N sales rep, believe it or not. My editor asked me to write the series and since I am huge cat lover, I jumped at the idea. it's turned out very well!
Vickie: How long after your first book, did you start the next one in the series?
Leann: I started it right away while sending out the first manuscript to agents and editors. I have been writing continuously for the last twenty years now. Writers write. Once you figure out that's who you are, you couldn't stop if you wanted to.
Vickie: When you wrote your first book, did you know the title before, during or after you wrote it?
Leann: It had several titles, but my editor liked Pick Your Poison the best. Seems like my first books always had title changes.
Vickie: When you wrote your first book, was the term "Cozy Mystery" being used yet?
Leann: I think that term had been around since Agatha Christie. I knew that's what I was writing. But "cozy" fell out of favor on the marketing side and so my Yellow Rose books were marketed as "chick lit." But they're cozies. And now that the term cozy is popular again, my cat series proudly wears that brand!
Vickie: How do you feel about being included in the phenomenon of the extremely popular "Cozy Mystery" genre?
Leann: I love it. As I said, I always knew what I was writing and have adored the genre since I was a kid. Both my "first in a series" are very dear to my heart and I feel so fortunate to be doing what I love.