Welcome, Nancy. Tell us about your latest book, Mags and the AARP Gang.
I’d written three books in the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series and was working on the fourth, but about half way through The Widow’s Walk League, in my mind this pesky old woman started telling me to take a time out and write about her. She and her octogenarian friends decided to rob the bank that was about to foreclose on their mobile home park to pay off the mortgage and things ― well ― things got out of hand. She was funny and quirky. I made her wait until I finished the mystery, but then I gave her free reign and wrote Mags and the AARP Gang.
How fun. I love it when my characters talk to me. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
Much as I loved Mags, I missed Regan, Tom, and Dave. Regan, a Realtor who swears she’s not going to play amateur sleuth again, has a logical husband, Tom Kiley, who tries to explain why her flights of fancy about murder mustn’t be right. I enjoy writing about the way their minds work together, but I especially enjoy writing scenes with Dave, Regan’s long suffering best friend whose official title is Santa Cruz Police Department Ombudsman, and all that her antics put him through. It was time to get back to them. The book I’m working on now, The Murder House, should be out right about now.
I think I already know the answer to this question, but I’ll ask it anyway; when you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?
Oh, what a question. I like to think I am, but then they tell me something I didn’t know. The worst (best) case was the murderer in Backyard Bones. I changed my mind about who the killer was two thirds of the way through the book. No problem, I thought; before continuing, I’ll just go back and put clues about the murderer’s identity in the right places. When I went back, the clues were already there. It felt like the murderer was playing me just like Regan was being played by him.
Like I said, I love it when my characters talk to me but when they start messing with my mind, that’s a little spooky! How long have you been writing?
I began writing in 2008; I never had any aspirations to be a writer before then. Writing began as a time filling game when I took a time-out from selling real estate after the market collapsed; boredom was my motivation for writing. I wrote The Death Contingency, put it on a shelf, and started on Backyard Bones, never intending for the books to be published.
That changed when a friend, a woman who worked at writing every day for years, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Charlotte had always surrounded herself with critique circles, mentors, and writing instructors and groups who sidetracked her enough that she never finished anything she wrote. She said her one remaining desire in life was to see her name in print. You could say she was the biggest influence in my writing career. My first book was dedicated to her and got published so she could see her name in print.
Without a doubt it’s meeting other writers and discovering we have shared experiences. But I’ve had so many adventures I would never have had in life if I didn’t start writing and “met” people from all over the world because of the books which is wonderful, too. It’s also pretty amazing when someone writes a good review, or stops me and says, “I love your books. I’ve read all of them.”
Being a writer is definitely an adventure—with or without the other writers! Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
I was a Realtor for twenty-five years ― all Realtors say they could write a book, I just do. I’m also the sort of person who can’t have dinner in a restaurant without making up stories about all the other patrons.
I watch people and what they do and then steal from them. When I was trying to figure out how Mags and her gang could gently rob a bank, I sat in my bank to think about it. A woman came in and caused such a commotion that everyone in the bank focused on her. She created a perfect diversion and became the distraction Mags used so customers wouldn’t know the bank was being robbed…at least until everything went wrong.
I’m a people-watcher, too, and I’d say most writers are How many hours a day do you write, where, any specific circumstances help or hurt your process?
I am the world’s laziest most undisciplined writer. I have no routine. I only write when the mood moves me. I do, however, think about the plot and dialogue constantly, especially when I’m driving. I hope I never hurt anyone because my mind is elsewhere.
I’m with you. When I try to set up a schedule and stick to it, that’s usually when I can’t accomplish anything so I avoid that at all times, if possible. How do you classify yourself as a writer?
Although the book covers may not suggest it, my books are cozy mysteries. The books are set in a small community, there’s a female amateur sleuth, there’s a body in the first chapter, little graphic violence or sex, and the books have nicely resolved and satisfying conclusions. Even Mags follows that pattern although it’s not exactly a mystery.
Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?
Mysteries were. I read all the Nancy Drew books before I discovered The Hardy Boys, which I liked much better. But I was a good reader at an early age and bored by most age-appropriate books. My grandmother was a lover of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers as well as some pretty dreadful true crime novels. She let me read her books even though my mother would never have approved.
Oh, yeah, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, they were a major part of every child’s life back when I was growing up. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?
I have a love-hate relationship with my Kindle. It’s not a book. I love the way books feel and smell. I love turning real book pages and being able to find and return to a passage I didn’t know I would want to read again, and therefore, didn’t bookmark. I like that when I fall asleep while reading a real book in bed, I won’t suffer a plastic crash injury. But…there’s nothing like the instant gratification of going to the computer at ten o’clock at night, pushing a couple of keys, and having a new book to read.
As a writer, I know significantly more of my books have been read because they are published electronically as well as in print, so I have to be pleased with it.
I love the feel of a book in my hands and I have some favorite “comfort reads” that I refuse to read as an e-book but as you said, the convenience of an e-reader is a big plus. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
My characters usually start out as someone I know. I’m a visual writer: I need to see what, and who, I’m writing. Most characters start out with their own names and mannerisms, too, but in the course of writing them, their names and personalities change to suit the characters in my books.
What’s your attitude toward the standard advice: write what you know?
For me, that’s the only way I can write. I so admire J.K. Rowlings for being able to create the world of Harry Potter. I could never do that. I write about what I know well, and then have fun embellishing like crazy.
Thanks so much for joining the Dames today, Nancy, and for sharing a bit of your writing journey with us. Readers, to find out more about Nancy and her books, visit her website, Good Read Mysteries.
Watch for Nancy’s latest installment in the Regan McHenry Real Estate mystery series, The Murder House. Coming in January!
The Murder House
Every community has a house that people walk by hurriedly, nervously peeking at it out of the corner of their eye. Bonny Doon is no exception. A bloody double homicide occurred in the Murder House almost twenty years ago and the killer has eluded capture ever since. Recently the house was inherited and the new owner wants to sell.
The problem is no one wants to buy a house with a reputation and reports that it’s home to ghosts. The seller thinks Realtor Regan McHenry would make a perfect listing agent ― after all; with her penchant for playing amateur sleuth, she’s no stranger to murder.
This is the perfect book for you to read if you don’t believe in ghosts — and an even better book to read if you do.