MEOW! My guest today is author Jessie Chandler!
Jessie is the award-winning author of the Shay O'Hanlon Caper series. She lives in Minneapolis, MN with her partner and two mutts, Fozzy Bear and Ollie. In the fall and winter, Jessie writes her heart out, and spends her summers selling unique, artsy T-shirts and other assorted trinkets to unsuspecting conference and festival goers.The first book in Jessie's series, Bingo Barge Murder, won the Golden Crown Literary Society's Ann Bannon Popular Choice Award. Her second novel, Hide and Snake Murder, won an IPPY and a GCLS Goldie in the mystery/thriller category.
R: Welcome Jessie! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.
Thanks for having me, ROCCO! I’m originally from a small town in Wisconsin called Siren, which comes from Syren, a word that means lilac one of the Scandahoovian languages. Anyway, I left the lilac village and am now in a suburb of Minneapolis, where I currently live with my partner Betty Ann and our two scrungy mutts.
Initially, in school, I was not at all interested in writing. Paper after paper, essays on this and that… I could sum it up in one word. Yuck. However, I’ve always been a rabid reader, thanks in part to a school librarian mother who was always bringing me home books to read. I loved mysteries especially, and cut my teeth on Encyclopedia Brown and The Three Investigators.
Many, many, yes, many years passed. In 2003, I read a series by an author and absolutely fell in love with the characters. Head over heels. After four books, the series came to a screeching halt, and the characters, all of whom had become my best friends, had poof! Disappeared. I was bereft. Left to my own devices, stewing and sad, I did what all depressed people do. I mindlessly surfed the Internet. In my random wanderings, I stumbled across a website called NaNoWriMo, which was a nickname for National Novel Writing Month. The goal of the site was to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. 30 glorious days of composing and typing 1,667 words every twenty-four hours. Huh. I thought about that. Thought, jeez, if I wrote my own books, my characters would never have to end. Unless I wanted them to, of course. And now, here we are, with four published books under my belt, and two new series on the horizon.
R: Is there a writer you credit with having the most influence on your own writing?
Oh man. One single writer? That’s rough. I would have to say that it would have to be the author of the series that I loved so much and was so angry with. JM Redmann and her Micky Knight Mystery Series. Really, writing a novel involves a village. I would never be where I am now without the influence and help of a host of authors. Influences would include Patricia Cornwell, E.E. Doc Smith, Clive Cussler, and Janet Evanovich.
Ellen Hart, the author of the award-winning Jane Lawless mystery series, has and continues to be a champion and an amazing teacher. In fact she was the person who told me I should consider publishing my work. Another incredible teacher and writer is Lori L. Lake, author of many novels, including the Gun Series set in the Twin Cities. Without these two, I would absolutely not be right here, talking to you today, Rocco!
R: Tell us about your Shay O’Hanlon series. Your plots are so delightfully quirky, where do they come from? (And we won’t hold it against you that Shay has a dog in this series, meow!)
“Hey Rocco! Dawg here. Hijacked the keyboard from Jessie! We—me and that drooling, crotch-sniffing, K9 police flunky mutt Bogey—want to let you know that not all dogs are anti-cat. Hey Bogey, don’t let Jessie up yet, okay? Anyhoo, after a refreshing bout of Dog and Cat, which is a little like Cat and Mouse, we’d all be the best of frien—YIP!” (There’s some clunks and thunks in the background, followed by a shout of, “BAD dog!”)
Whoa, sorry about that, Rocco. I’m back. Sometimes Dawg is a little overzealous. Now, where were we? Oh yeah. My delightfully quirky plots. That’s enough to make any writer beam. Those simply stellar plots come from a number of places, with newspapers and news articles ranking right up there at the top. I love the absurd, and if I can turn it into something halfway feasible and all the way humorous, I will. Brainstorming with other writer friends is another invaluable way I come up with zany situations. Sometimes real life offers up some of the very best fodder ever. In my first book, I have a scene with a really wacky fish market owner. She’s a caricature of someone I had a run-in with a long while back.
R: Tell us about your latest, Chip off the Ice Block Murder.
Chip off the Ice Block Murder started out with the thought that I needed to write a winter-centered story. My first book, Bingo Barge Murder, took place in the fall. The events of Hide and Snake Murder, the second in my series, happened in the spring. Pickle in the Middle Murder was set in late summer. What’s left? Winter. What happens in winter in Minnesota? Cold. Snow. More snow. More cold. Lots of ice.
Okay. Now I needed a dead body in a strange and somewhat funny situation, since it’s a mystery caper and all. So, I brainstormed with my peeps. What if a corpse was found frozen in a block of ice along with the gun that killed him? What if that weapon belongs to Shay’s dad Pete, a bar owner with a mean penchant for vodka and taste for gambling? Then, what if Shay’s father is absolutely nowhere to be found? For fun, I decided to make it New Year’s Eve, and Pete’s bar is loaded with rowdy, intoxicated partygoers. The bartender walks out, leaving the keys, a soggy apron, and a boatload of customers demanding adult beverages faster than Shay can make them up. Add in a St. Paul cop who pops into the bar just minutes before midnight asking for Pete and the whereabouts of a gun registered to him, and things hit the fan pretty fast after that.
R: You also write poetry. Which is easier, poetry or crime fiction?
Wow. I haven’t been asked about my poetry in a very long time. I have to admit I haven’t written any poetry for probably fifteen or twenty years. At the time I would have said poetry, hands down. I think it had something to do with the angst of youth. I would’ve thought you were nuts if you had suggested I would be writing books now, which I find to be much easier at this point in the game.
R: Do you have an “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share?
I’m actually unagented, which basically means I have to pitch my own work and I don’t have to share 15% of the pittance I get for the sales of my books LOL Seriously, I kind of fell into publishing, having written for the love of doing it and not with the intent to bring any books out. I just so happened to have someone nudge me in the right direction, and one thing led to another.
How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?
That’s a funny story. I was managing an independent bookstore at the time, and I actually received an email with the offer. I was alone in the store, nary a customer to be found. After rereading that email about a thousand times, I remember calling my partner and trying to tell her. I was out of breath and pretty much unintelligible. She panicked and thought I was being held up. (The store owner and I had truly been held up at gunpoint not long before.) It was a complete and total rush.
R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?
Must haves. When I am first creating my outline, I have got to have a college-rule notebook and colored pens. When I actually start writing, for the most part, I need to be away from home. Maybe in a coffee shop, a library, somewhere I won’t be interrupted with real life. I have two non-fictional dogs, Fozzy Bear and Ollie, and while I love them to death, they are hell on concentration. Not to mention there’s always dishes that need to be washed, laundry that needs to be folded, floors that need to be swept, dusting that’s been neglected for years that suddenly needs to be done NOW. I think you catch my drift J
R: If you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?
As a kid, I always wanted to live in the wild west. Now that I’ve grown up, I think it would be fascinating to pop up at a spot at King Arthur’s Round Table.
R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
One thing my readers would be surprised to know about me. Hmm. I think it would be that at heart I’m a very introverted person. I’m much happier alone with my computer and my fictional friends than I am at a party or with a large number of people. However, if you were to meet me I doubt you’d ever know.
R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done?
I’ve done some goofy/scary things in my time. I’d have to say that one of the craziest was going into a seedy restaurant in Roatan, Honduras and ordering something “local.” They brought out iguana with the skin still attached. My friends and I gave it a whirl since you only live once, right? It kind of tasted like chicken. Yes, I’m kidding. It didn’t. At all. Betty stood far away and watched, hoping she wasn’t going to have to call in the coast guard to do an emergency evacuation. Happily we all survived to tell the tale. However, I don’t think it’s one taste sensation I plan on repeating.
R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
There’s a couple of things I hope readers will take away. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is the fact that the main character is unapologetically lesbian, and yet that really has so serious bearing on the stories themselves. It’s just something that happens to be, a fact of life. I want someone to pick up my books, read them, and realize that LGBT people are just like everyone else. We are simply people trying to navigate this game called life. We love, we laugh, and we get mad. We tease, play practical jokes, and smile when we want to cry. We are no better or no worse than 99% of humanity.
Secondly, I want to amuse people. I want to take them out of the challenges of their day-to-day existence and give them ten minutes to smile, maybe even laugh out loud. Life is too short not to.
R: What are you working on at the moment / next?
I’m currently working on revising an older book I wrote called Operation Stop Hate. It’s about bullying, a school shooting, and a hate group distributing death metal music on school grounds in an attempt to lure kids into the fold.
After that, I’m going to start on the first book of what I’m calling my Art Thief series. It’s about a woman who hunts down looted WWII and other art, steals it back, and returns it to the rightful owners. I’m really excited about this series. Can’t wait to get going on it.
R: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a no-holds-barred plotter. I’ve always wanted to be a pantser, but if I tried to simply sit down and write without a plan, I’d end up in retrograde.
R: What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
When I’m not writing, I’m working on making custom shirts for festivals and assorted organizations as well as making and selling decals and other various items online. Betty and I also love to travel, and we do so when we can. Oh, and I read in between everything, too.
R: Where can we find out more about you and your work?
You can check out my website at www.jessiechandler.com, and I always love to hear from my readers at firstname.lastname@example.org
R: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Follow your heart. Write what you feel. Write what you want to write. When you try to write something you think someone wants or what you think might sell well instead of what moves you, if just doesn’t work. Also, learn about revising and editing. Find someone who’s not a family member or a friend to go over your work. Expect to revise a number of versions of your manuscript. Accept that you will make many, many mistakes. As long as you learn from those mistakes and keep at it, you have a good shot at success. If you turn away from advice and don’t seek people who will be honest with you, you will not succeed. That hurdle is one of the hardest for new writers. Either they get over the hump and continue learning the craft, or they give up all together.
R: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
That’s a question I’d really like the answer to. In a perfect world, I’d love pursue my art. I do paint, and draw some. When I went to college, I toyed with the idea of majoring in art, but I was a realist and knew a living was next to impossible to make in that field, so I did something I thought was sensible. (No, not writing!) Now look where I am…doing art after all, just using a different medium. I’m not exactly making money, but I am following my dream.
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Night
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Both!!!
Beach or Pool? Beach
Steak or salad? Steak
Favorite Drink? Grape pop
Favorite Book? And Playing the Role of Herself by KE Lane
Favorite TV Series? Remington Steele then and Rizzoli and Isles now
Favorite Movie? Shrek!
Favorite Actor: Shemar Moore
Favorite Actress: Angie Harmon
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Pina Colada, baby!
Hawaii or Alaska? How about a half and halfer?
Finish this sentence: If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be my father.
If I had just one wish, it would be that all food that’s bad for you was actually good for you! I have plenty of deeper wishes, but none that would be as fun!
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be no one. I’m very happy to be living the adventure that is my life, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
· Thanks for a great interview, Jessie!
· Folks, Jessie will give away a copy of CHIP OFF THE ICE BLOCK MURDER to one lucky commenter!
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Winner will be chosen at random using random.org. Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Good luck! Contest ends midnight, May 11.