Monday, June 25, 2012

Jonnie Jacobs is the author of the Kate Austen suburban mysteries and the Kali O’Brien novels of legal suspense. Her newest book, Paradise Falls, is a stand-alone about the disappearance of a teenage girl. Jonnie is a former practicing attorney, a founding member of SinC Norcal, and the mother of two grown sons.

Jonnie, tell us about Paradise Falls.

With Paradise Falls I wanted to write a suspenseful mystery, but I also wanted to explore the effects of crime on families and the doubts and suspicions that ensue. Grace Whittington is married to her second husband with a happily blended family of teenage children. When Grace's daughter disappears and Grace suspects that her teenage stepson is to blame, the fault lines of a seemingly typical family crack. The investigation also takes a toll on the detective as the case becomes increasingly personal for her.
Why did you decide to leave the legal profession to write full time?

It wasn’t so much an actual decision as something that sort of just happened (like so many things in my life.) I was working at a large, high-pressure firm and I had two very young children. I took a leave of absence to spend time with my family, fully expecting to go back, or to at least go back to the practice of law. At the same time, I started writing (something I’d always wanted to do“someday.”) Initially, I was writing for the sheer pleasure of it, but one thing lead to another and I began to take my efforts seriously. My first Kate Austen book was published, followed by a Kali O’Brien book. I never did go back to practicing law.

How do your Kate Austen and Kali O’Brien series differ?

Kate is an amateur sleuth, a single mother with a cop love interest, and the tone is much lighter in this series. When my first Kate book came out, there wasn’t really a category for this type of book. Now, it fits as well into the “mommy lit” or “chick lit” category as it does into mystery. Kali is a lawyer, never married (although she’s had her share of romances and relationships) and her approach to investigation is much more direct and professionally focused (most often on the defense side, but working with the police and DA’s office in Cold Justice.) I do, however, give Kali some personal stake in each case because I think that adds depth to the story (and this is the sort of book I like reading and writing).

Which do you prefer, writing series or standalone novels and why?

They each have their advantages --- and drawbacks. With a series, you’re working within certain, already established, parameters. Many of the character decisions are already made, and that often limits plot possibilities. But since each book is a chapter in the life of the main character, there’s room to reveal more and dig a bit deeper with each book. With a standalone, it’s a fresh slate. Not only can I create characters from scratch and make them into whatever I need for the plot, I also get to decide about voice and tone and point of view and all the other little considerations that go into crafting a novel. As to which I prefer - I’m usually drawn to whichever I’m not working on at the time. I think I suffer from “grass is always greener” syndrome.

Have you based any of your novels on previous legal cases you’ve handled?

None of my novels sprang from my work professionally. I was a business attorney, not a criminal attorney, so the cases I was involved with were hardly the stuff of drama (which may be why writing fiction has such appeal to me.) That said, there is something in each book, usually something key to the impetus in the story, that is personal to me. That doesn’t mean it’s something I experienced firsthand, but rather an experience or problem that involved someone I know or that I read about in a way that touched me.

How do you promote and market your books?

That has changed greatly over the years. When my first books came out, independent and mystery book stores dotted the country, and many were eager to host author events. I did signings and readings and gave talks, and often travelled with other writers covering several states on a tour. My publisher also sent me on tour. What’s more, newspapers had regular book review sections that brought new books to readers attention. Things are different now. Although I do occasionally do presentations, I find I do most of my promotion online or through “human interest” stories in local newspapers and web sites. I’m not nearly as devoted to this as many other authors, or as I probably should be. I don’t have a blog, but I do guest blog now and then. I contribute to interest group sites and lists, maintain a web site, and reach out to readers whenever I have the opportunity.

What’s the most difficult aspect of writing for you?

It’s all difficult on some level. Probably the hardest for me is getting into a book. I might have a vague idea for a story but working it out to sustain 300 or so pages is pretty daunting. Some authors can plot the entire book from the beginning. I can’t, although I wish I could. I’ve tried and tried over the years, but until I am with the characters, experiencing what they’re experiencing, I have no idea what will happen next. So getting through a rough draft can be quite painful. Once the story is down on paper, I do lots and lots of rewriting, but that involves far less hair-pulling and angst.

You have an advice page for beginning writers on your website. Which of your suggestions do you consider most important?

Oh, gosh. They’re all important, but you asked for the most important. I guess I’d have to say actually writing and writing and then rewriting. And doing so critically. Authors don’t write for themselves (that’s a journal), but to communicate to readers. So you have to examine what you’ve written and how you’ve written it in light of that goal.

Your social media links?

I’m one of the last people on earth without a Facebook or Twitter account. I have a website –, and email – I love to hear from readers and make a real effort to answer every single email (or letter) I receive.

Thanks, Jonnie. You can also visit Jonnie Jacobs at Mysterious Writers:

Saturday, June 9, 2012


The Mystery Writers is a free Kindle download today and Sunday (June 9-10). Sixty writers of twelve subgenres have been interviewed from as far away as South Africa, Brazil, Thailand, England and Canada. Their writing advice is invaluable to not only fledgling writers of any genre but those of us who have been writing for years.

Among those interviewed are Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, Julie Garwood, James Scott Bell, Vickie Hinze and J.A. Jance.

The Mystery Writers may not be offered free again so take advantage of this download:

Excerpts from the book include:

"A writer is someone who has written TODAY! Those are words I clung to when I was a pre-published writer and that still resonate with me today." ~ J. A. Jance

"In the past 30 years I've wired myself with hidden cameras, chased down criminals and confronted  corrupt politicians--and had many a door slammed in my face! But the idea that I can change lives and even change laws is so gratifying." ~ Hank Phillipi Ryan

"Don't follow the crowd. Today's hot ticket will have gone out of favour by the time you finish your effort." Geraldine Evans (England)

"Get yourself established in the 'old-fashioned' way by getting an agent who will find you a 'legacy' publisher. Are the odds against you? Sure.They always were. Can you do it? Yes, you can." Leighton Gage (Brazil)

"What's the best way to become a bestselling author? Produce consistently high-quality work for a targeted, established genre and market it as though your life depended on it." ~ Vickie Hinze

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Conversation with Bestselling Author Craig Johnson

An hour-long television program based on Craig Johnson’s Western contemporary series, Longmire, debuted June 3 on the A&E network. And his eighth novel in the series, As the Crow Flies, was released last month by Viking. from Penguin.

Craig, have you always been a writer?


Nope, my father says I just come from a long line of bullslingers and I’m the first one to be smart enough to write them down… Honestly, I came from a family of readers and I think it’s a short step from there to writing books. I built my ranch myself and finally settled into the life with the thought that I’d always wanted to write a novel. I guess what basically happened was that I ran out of excuses.

When and where did you make your first sale?

Viking/Penguin picked up the first in my Walt Longmire series six years ago, and it’s been off to the races since then. Kathryn Court, the president of Penguin USA shoved a copy of The Cold Dish (a novel I considered to be a stand-alone) across the lunch table in New York and said, “We’d like some more of these…” Do you believe I argued with her? Thank goodness she won. My agent asked me who I wanted to be with and I thought of all those Steinbeck books I’d read as a child (and still do) and chose Viking/Penguin. It’s been pretty wonderful working with a literary press that gives me a lot of leeway. My last two contracts stated that the books had to be mysteries and have Walt in them… That’s a lot of freedom.

What made you decide to settle in Wyoming to write your first book?

I grew up in the Midwest, but my grandparents lived in Kansas and New Mexico, so I wasn’t completely unaware of the American West. When I was eighteen I loaded up an old Army pack, a thousand bucks and lit out for the territories. I think Louis L’Amour would’ve approved. Anyway, in my journeys I was working for a rancher up in Montana and delivered some horses down to Wyoming where I inevitably built my ranch near Ucross.

Your western contemporary mysteries and articles have received quite a few awards. Which means the most to you?

Getting pulled over by a highway patrolman between Basin and Otto in the Red Desert and being told, “I read you books, Mr. Johnson…” He let me off, so I guess he liked them. I get a lot of emails from law enforcement telling me that they think I get it right, and that means a lot to me.

You latest book tour encompassed quite a few towns and events. Do you enjoy meeting readers and talking about your books, or do you prefer to stay at home on the ranch and promote your work via the Internet? And which methods of promoting your books have been the most effective?

Oh, I like living on the ranch and writing or else I wouldn’t have chosen this as a livelihood. I like meeting people and talking about the books though. They say that print ads, commercials, Internet and all that sells books, but I still think the old hand sale buzz of somebody saying, “Hey, have you read..?” Still works the best. Maybe it’s because the nearest town to my ranch has a population of 25, but I genuinely like people and enjoy talking to them about my books. I also think that the book sellers are the best friends an author can have. I do events in every one-horse book store on the High Plains because those people are important not only in the sense of sales, but their ability to tell me where I got it wrong and where I got it right. It’s an occupational hazard in living in a state with only a half-million occupants, that folks recognize characters in the books.

What do you enjoy most about writing and what chaps your hide?

As stated above, I really enjoy the isolation of writing. Heck, in any right-minded country they’d lock me away for sitting in a room by myself and typing about my imaginary friends. Dislikes..? Oh, people who I meet that proudly proclaim, “I don’t read.” That just worries me… Somehow I bet they find time to sit in front of a television for four hours a night. I think reading is a good habit for your mind, it keeps you alert and engaged unlike a lot of other activities.

What’s life like on your ranch near Ucross, Wyoming, and what’s your writing schedule like?

Well, I have a ranch so I get things sorted out at daybreak, make a big pot of coffee, and sit down to write. Sometimes I break for lunch, sometimes I don’t. I came to this wonderful life in my mid-forties, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them find out I shouldn’t be doing it. I attempt to only work six days a week, but I eventually end up in my writing loft with ideas that can’t wait, or trying to fix up mistakes I’ve made.

Tell us about your protagonist, Walt Longmire? And how much of him is autobiographical?

More than I’d be willing to admit. Walt’s probably who I’d like to be in about ten years, but I’m off to an incredibly slow start. In my experiences with law enforcement, I tried to put together my version of an ideal sheriff. Not that Walt’s perfect by any means, but the kind of guy I’d want pulling his cruiser in behind me; kind, patient, tenacious, intelligent and with a sense of humor. He’s no Captain Marvel, but he’s very good at his job. I think the humor is important, anybody that’s ever done the job knows how important a sense of humor is in getting you through the day.

Advice for fledgling western mystery writers?

Keep it real, do your research, and be honest to the place you love. Don’t have your protagonist running around on a cruise ship. One of the things I try to do is pull the seminal information for my novels from local newspapers, which keeps the books grounded in the social and cultural problems my neighbors and I face. I could just come up with wild plots, but I think that’s a disservice to the modern mystery reader, they tend to be looking for something more than just a ‘who dunnit’. There’s so much out there that needs addressing, I don’t think you have to go off looking very far away. That’s the advice I’d give.

Thanks, Craig.

Craig's website:

© 2010 Jean Henry-Mead