Friday, January 23, 2015

A Conversation with Mystery Author Judy Fitzwater

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Judy Fitzwater
with Judy Fitzwater

We are delighted to welcome author Judy Fitzwater to Omnimystery News today, courtesy of Great Escapes Book Tours, which is coordinating her current book tour. We encourage you to visit all of the participating host sites; you can find her schedule here.

Judy's seventh in series mystery, Dying Before "I Do" (April 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats) has Jennifer Marsh planning her wedding and solving a murder as bullets, arrows, and poison threaten to derail it. We recently had the opportunity to talk with her more about her work.

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Omnimystery News: You've written both stand-alone and series novels. When planning a new book, how do you decide which it will be?

Judy Fitzwater
Photo provided courtesy of
Judy Fitzwater

Judy Fitzwater: I think writing in different genres and subgenres keeps a writer's work fresh and offers new challenges, so I'm delighted to get an opportunity to talk about it. I've written seven Jennifer Marsh Mysteries, and I can definitely say that it's important that each plot that becomes a Jennifer book is tailored to her as a character. Jennifer is an intelligent, sympathetic, slightly out-of-touch woman who people are drawn to. She's not self-aware, which makes writing her a lot of fun and creates a lot of the humor. But she has a true moral base with a strong sense of right and wrong. She's a sucker for righting wrongs and helping people in trouble. And, for comic relief, there's always her writers' group and Mrs. Walker. Considering all of that, I have to choose plot lines that mesh with the characters my readers have grown to know and love and that Jennifer would allow herself to become involved in.

My two stand-alone suspense novels each rose out of ideas that I felt I wanted to explore. In No Safe Place, Elizabeth Larocca finds herself in an impossible situation. The life of her dead husband, whose secrecy drove them apart, has now spilled into her own and threatens not only her but her daughter. Elizabeth's story is complete unto itself, and that's why it needed to be a stand-alone.

The same is true for Drowning in Air, a story about a young woman whose life was forever altered by a drive-by shooting spree fifteen years before the start of the book. She's a woman out to solve the mystery that has defined her life. Once she does that, the reader (and I as her creator) hope she'll be able to go forward with a more normal life.
So to answer your question, in a series, plots arise from the established characters, and in stand-alones, characters arise from the plots, at least that's how I write. And, no, I never do plot outlines. I work off of ideas and let the plots unfold as the stories develop.

OMN: Into which genre would you place your books?

JF: The Jennifer Marsh Mysteries are definitely cozies. She's an amateur sleuth, and there's a good dose of humor to lighten the read. A cast of new characters is introduced and one of them is the murderer. An astute reader may well figure out the mystery by correctly interpreting all of the clues. Think Agatha Christie, the queen of the cozies.

I'd classify my stand-alone novels, Drowning in Air and No Safe Place, as Suspense novels. I think of Suspense as "chase" novels because the format involves a character who finds herself or himself in some impossible, life-threatening situation. He or she must find a way to stay alive long enough to figure out who's after him or her and what the heck is going on. The Bourne Identity is an excellent example. They're great fun to write although there's no time for much humor when someone's shooting at you or trying to blow you up.

Vacationing with the Dead is definitely a Paranormal. It has ghosts in it — five of them. It's also a Romantic Comedy, so categorizing gets sort of complicated sometimes with subgenres of genres.

Labeling books helps readers find the sorts of books they like to read, so it's a good thing. The disadvantage is that they may miss a really good book because it's not classified as their preferred genre. My hope is that a reader who likes an author will venture into the other genres she writes in. They may just find something they like there.

OMN: How much of your own experience have you included in your books?

JF: A lot of people assume that Jennifer Marsh is based on me and my own experiences because she's an unpublished mystery writer, which I was before I sold the series that she "stars" in. It's true that my frustrations about the difficulties of getting published were poured into Dying To Get Published, but I can honestly say I've never plotted to murder anyone in real life. I'm not a vegetarian, I'm not an isolated workaholic, and I'm much more in touch with reality than she is. The advice that her mentor Monique offers in the books is advice I tell people wanting to break into the field. I, too, had a wonderful, supportive writing group, but I'm afraid we were far too grounded to get into half as much fun/trouble as Jennifer and her crew does. Without them I'm not sure I would ever have been published. They are one terrific group of women, and all, except for one, are now published authors.

OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author?

JF: Never, ever give up. Learn your craft by listening to every author you get a chance to hear speak, joining writing groups and national associations, and reading everything you can get your hands on about writing. I've put much of my advice and many of my own adventures in writing and publishing into a non-fiction book, The Rocky Road to Publishing: Advice on Writing. It's fun, it's honest, and it's encouraging at a time when the industry itself is rapidly changing and can therefore be very confusing.

OMN: The cover for Dying Before "I Do" differs in style from the previous books in the series. Why is that?

JF: I had no input into the book covers for the paperback originals of the Jennifer Mysteries published by Ballantine Books. When an author works with a New York publisher receiving a copy of a cover design is sort of like opening a Christmas present from your great aunt Hilda. You never know what you're going to get or if you're going to like it. But when I was able to get my rights back for the Jennifer series, I commissioned a commercial artist to design new covers. I told her I wanted a silhouette of a woman with long hair pointing a gun. We went through several revisions before settling on what would become the design of covers 1 through 6.

I wanted something new for the 7th Jennifer book, but something that would blend in well with the other books while standing out. So Dying Before "I Do" continues the silhouette theme, but we've added in Sam, and Jennifer is in a wedding dress. I love the bold yellow of the background highlighting the black of the silhouettes and the title info. That particular cover and those of all my independent releases have been done by my talented daughter, Anastasia Brown, who has her own graphic design business, Digital Blush.

It's a challenge to have creative responsibility, but it's also great — much better than a sweater you'd never pick out for yourself from your great aunt Hilda.

OMN: Here's a fun question. If we could send you anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, to research the setting for a book, where would it be?

JF: Wow! That's a big world out there. I might go to Ireland, the land of more than a few of my ancestors. Or London. Or Rome. Or Bali … Oh, I bet you wanted just one.

I'd like to go back to Hawaii because I lived there as a child for three years when my dad was in the Air Force. It was a very different place from what it is now. I doubt I'd recognize it, but what's not to love? The weather, the ocean, the beaches … Just book me a flight. I'll figure out a book to go with it later. A dead body could wash up on the sand right in the middle of Jennifer and Sam's vacation. Or at a luau. Or … Yeah. Just send me to Hawaii. I'll supply the detective and the mystery.

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Judy Fitzwater Book Tour

Judy Fitzwater hates cold weather, loves chocolate, and enjoys nothing better than a good book. She's never more content than snuggled under a soft throw near a warm fire with a cup of hot chocolate and a mystery, a thriller, or any sort of story that will take her on an adventure she's never experienced before.

Reared an Air Force brat, she discovered early on that home is where your family is, and that family comes in many forms, both through blood and by choice. Her one calling in life, other than keeping her two children well, has been to write. Her first foray into the field was as a freelancer columnist/feature writer for a small town newspaper. Soon she was asked to cover Superior Court proceedings where she learned a lot about human nature and the justice system.

As her family grew so did the manuscript of a mystery novel that, written in bits and pieces, she finally finished. But it wasn't until her husband was transferred to the Washington, D.C., area and she landed in what she describes as "a nest of writers" that she really learned what she needed to know about writing popular fiction and getting it published.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at JudyFitzwater.com and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook.

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Dying Before I Do by Judy Fitzwater

Dying Before "I Do"
Judy Fitzwater
A Jennifer Marsh Mystery

Love and murder: two words that should never go together. But when Jennifer and long-time beau Sam Culpepper finally decide to tie the knot, murder rears its ugly head to intervene. Now Jennifer has more to contend with than choosing colors and flowers for the most important day of her life. She and Sam must thwart whoever is bent on keeping the secrets of an old kidnapping case.

One man is dead, and young reporter Teague McAfee is next in line. Jennifer finds herself embroiled in a twisty tale of love gone wrong, while dodging her friends who are determined to give Jennifer and Sam the perfect wedding.

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