My guest this week is author Jacklyn Brady!
Jacklyn Brady grew up in the cold climate of Montana but now spends her days on the white sand beaches of Florida. She is the national bestselling author of the Piece of Cake mystery series from Penguin Random House. A career writer for more than 20 years, Jacklyn also authored the Fred Vickery mystery series as Sherry Lewis and the Candy Shop mystery series as Sammi Carter. She’s a devoted mom and grandmom, and takes her marching orders from two cats, Tinkerbell and Aramis.
- Welcome Jacklyn! Tell us a little about your background
Thanks ROCCO! I’m a mom, a grandma, and an avid reader. I grew up in Montana, spent a long time in Utah, and moved to the Gulf Coast area six years ago. I’ve held a number of different jobs, including (but not limited to) Christmas tree decorator, manager of a 7-Eleven, singer/keyboardist in a local band, and judicial assistant for a federal judge. It’s all great fodder for writing.
- Tell us a bit about your “Piece of Cake” mysteries. How did that idea come about?
My publisher had decided to discontinue my previous series, but they wanted me to write another series for them. My editor and I brainstormed a few ideas and locations and came up with the idea for a series about a cake decorator (shades of Ace of Cakes) and the New Orleans setting. After that, I set about trying to get a handle on just who this cake decorator might be. It took a little while to find Rita and her family and friends, but once she walked onto the page, I knew she was the character I’d been looking for.
- Tell us about the other series that you write.
I started with the Fred Vickery mystery series, written as Sherry Lewis and published by Berkley Prime Crime in the 1990s. Fred is a 70-something man who started life as a walk-on character in the very first book I wrote. I had another protagonist in mind, but Fred refused to get shot as I had planned. He completely took over that book and the series that came after.
When that series ended, I wrote five books in the Candy Shop mystery series as Sammi Carter, also published by Berkley Prime Crime. The protagonist in that series is Abby Shaw, an attorney who returns to Paradise, CO after losing her husband and her job to make candy at Divinity, the candy shop she inherited after her great-aunt died. From there, I moved to Zydeco Cakes with Rita and the crew.
- How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
I spend a lot of time getting to know my characters. I have forms I can fill out and questions on them I can ask the characters, but ultimately I get to know them by writing about them. I write an awful lot of garbage about who the character isn’t before I figure out who the character is.
- How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
A little of both, actually. I like to have a rough roadmap to follow when I start out—an idea of where I think the book is going to go—but once the characters walk on stage and come to life, I just hang on and see what happens. If I write myself into a corner or wonder why I thought the plot would be a good idea in the first place, I go back to my original notes and see if they spark anything that will work.
- Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
They’re both important to a good story, but I think a fabulous plot will fall to pieces without strong characters, so character wins by a hair.
- What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
The biggest challenges have come from personal issues. At one point in my career, I thought I had it all figured out, that writing through tough times was just mind over matter (laughs hysterically.) All I had to do was stay focused and I could write.
And then one day in 2005 my youngest daughter attempted to take her own life and I found out just how wrong I was. My whole world imploded that day. I couldn’t string two words together for a long time, nor did I want to. It took a long time for the voices in my head to come back. I thought for a while that my writing career was over.
The second time I thought my career might be over was quite recently. I was fighting extreme fatigue and depression of my own. I barely had the energy to get up in the morning, much less to be creative. All the thoughts in my head were mush and writing was nearly impossible. I was extremely frustrated, assuming that I was still struggling with the aftermath of the suicide attempt, and wondering why I couldn’t get it together. It had been a while, after all. It was so bad, in fact, that I told my then-editor I couldn’t write The Cakes of Monte Cristo. She disagreed and I tried again. If not for her belief in me and her continual support and encouragement, we wouldn’t be talking about the book or my career today.
Then just a few months ago I was diagnosed with Type-2 Diabetes which had apparently been affecting me for quite a while. I don’t remember a lot of what the doctor said to me that day. It sounded a lot like the teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoons, but I do remember that he said the word “coma” quite frequently and expressed a lot of concern that I was heading quickly in that direction (and perhaps some surprise that I hadn’t already arrived.) I made some abrupt changes to my lifestyle and my energy levels are on the rise. Most importantly, I can think clearly again most of the time.
- Do you have an “How I got my agent” story you want to share?
I’m currently between agents, so no.
- What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
At the moment, I’m working on getting several books from my backlist released in Kindle format. They include all six books in the Fred Vickery mystery series and four time-travel romances which were also written as Sherry Lewis. Once those are ready, I’ll be finishing the first book in a new series that I plan to indie-publish, featuring small-town policewoman Katie Scarlett O’Malley. The working title is Dead on Arrival.
Readers have been asking for more books in the Fred Vickery series for a long time, so I think I’ll write another one of those next—unless something else (like a new publishing contract) comes along to throw my plans into disarray.
- What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
A typical workday for me starts at around 8:00 and goes until around 5:00. I usually try to write new pages in the mornings and then tend to all the other work (blogging, social media, promotion, etc.,) in the afternoons. That’s a typical workday. If I’m facing a looming deadline, everything is very different.
- If you could take only three books with your for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?
Ooh! Great question! They’d have to be very long books that would take me a while to read, so with that in mind:
Centennial by James A. Michener, Penmarric by Susan Howatch, and John Adams by David McCullough
- What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Don’t expect to get rich quick, and never make the mistake of thinking you know everything you need to know about writing. Life changes, and so will you. What works for you today might not work for you tomorrow, so be open to new ideas and methods. Try everything. Keep what works and remember the rest for later in case you need it.
- What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Oh. Goodness. I don’t know. You should probably ask my kids that question. I got kicked out of a federal penitentiary once, does that count?
- What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
Hmmm. I don’t know. I’m a pretty open book.
- What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
That’s a hard one. You’re all pretty thorough!
- Where can we learn more about you and your books?
To learn more about the Piece of Cake mystery series, go to www.jacklynbrady.com
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Day
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Both; however, I currently have two cats and no dogs, if that says anything at all.
Beach or Pool? Beach
Steak or salad? Steak
Favorite Drink? Sprite Zero with lime and blackberry
Favorite Book? Impossible to say.
Favorite TV Series? Longmire. I may be obsessed with it.
Favorite Movie? I don’t think I have one.
Favorite Actor: I don’t have one, but several rank up there.
Favorite Actress: Ditto.
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada? Make mine a margarita, please.
Hawaii or Alaska? Alaska in the spring.
Finish this sentence: If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be John Adams.
If I had just one wish, it would be to live near my family again.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be nobody. I like where I am.
Thanks Jacklyn! Folks you can find out more about her here:
Jacklyn Brady: website/blog: www.jacklynbrady.com
Killer Characters Blog on the 14th of every month www.killercharacters.com
Sherry Lewis: website/blog: www.sherrylewisbooks.com
You can find excerpts and where-to-buy info on Sammi Carter’s books at www.sammicarter.blogspot.com