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:


  1. Welcome to my mountaintop, Jonnie. It's great to have you visit here.

  2. Thanks Jonnie. It was interesting to learn more about you. So much about book promotion has changed, just in the last ten to twenty years. You adapted well, though!

  3. Great interview! And just to let you know, Jonnie, you are not alone in avoiding FB and Twitter. I commend you.