Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Conversation with PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Competition Winner Lynn Chandler Willis

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Lynn Chandler Willis
with Lynn Chandler Willis

We are delighted to welcome author Lynn Chandler Willis to Omnimystery News today.

Lynn's first in series mystery, Wink of an Eye (Minotaur Books; November 2014 hardcover and ebook formats), was the winner of the 2013 PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Competition … and she was the first woman to win the prize in over 10 years.

We recently had the opportunity to talk with her more about her new series.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to your award-winning PI.

Lynn Chandler Willis
Photo provided courtesy of
Lynn Chandler Willis

Lynn Chandler Willis: Michael "Gypsy" Moran is a Private Investigator who has a life-long habit of getting himself into trouble. At his core, he's a really good guy but can be an all out jerk without even knowing it. Gypsy is so much fun to write because he's not perfect, he's flawed, but at the end of the day, he's led by his heart and that tends to often lead him right into trouble.

OMN: How do you see Gypsy developing over the course of a series?

LCW: Fingers crossed my publisher will think Gypsy is series material as much as his fans do! I'd like to see him grow to a certain degree, but I also know that part of what makes the character work is his "boyish charm." I would like to see his and Tatum's relationship develop. I've set the stage for Gypsy to step in as sort of a surrogate father-figure and that opens several doors. Tatum is on the brink of being a teenager and for Gypsy to have to deal with those issues will be interesting.

OMN: Why did you choose to write a male character as your series lead?

LCW: I had the character of Gypsy in mind for years and he was always the charming, boyish rogue. I knew he'd be a guy's guy, but didn't know I'd be telling his story in first person until I started writing it. For reasons beyond my comprehension, I've always had good insight into the way guys think. I "get" it. I enlisted the help of male beta readers to keep Gypsy's voice consistent, and female readers to help make sure he didn't cross the line between charming rogue and total jerk.

OMN: Wink of an Eye is obviously a PI novel, but into what other mystery subgenre would you place it?

LCW: I think Wink of an Eye could be considered suspense, or perhaps even crossover. It's a little too rough to classify as a cozy, not scary bite-your-nails thrilling enough to be a thriller, and Gypsy is definitely not hard-boiled.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in the book?

LCW: I didn't really plan it this way, and didn't even recognize it until after Wink was finished, but I think in a small way Gypsy and his sister Rhonda's childhood mirrored my own two kids' childhoods. My kids' father didn't "abandon" them so-to-say, but he wasn't a factor in much of their childhood. He'd make an appearance every now and then, then it'd be another year before they saw him again. So, my son became the "man of the house" at an early age and my daughter and I took on more tasks normally associated with the male gender. I taught my son to do his own laundry when he was ten and made sure he knew how to cook a meal when he was old enough to use the stove. My daughter and I knew the difference between a wrench and a screwdriver, and how to use them! I think some of that comes through in Wink of an Eye — Gypsy's a little OCD about his laundry (prefers starch) and the women in his family are very strong and self sufficient.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us.

LCW: I'm a reformed "panster." I used to have an idea of the basic plot and how it was going to begin and end, but I'm now an avid fan of outlining. My day job is that of "granny nanny" to eight of my nine grandkids (4 in school, 4 under the age of 4) so I keep my work-in-progress open at all times and grab a sentence or paragraph between fixing snacks and changing diapers. Having an outline lets me not have to ponder where the story is going next.

OMN: How did you go about researching the plot points of your story?

LCW: I used a combination of many tools including the Internet, personal interviews with experts, and first hand experience. I've attended the Writer's Police Academy three times and three times I've had to alter my work-in-progress because I assumed I knew how something was done!

OMN: Tell us a little more about the setting for the book.

LCW: Wink of an Eye is set in the real town of Wink, Texas. It's a tiny little town in west Texas, about forty miles west of Odessa. I did a lot of research on the town itself, primarily the landscape and weather. I did take liberties with the names of streets and local businesses because I didn't want to get into any potential legal situations but the atmosphere of the small town was what I wanted most to capture, and I've been told I did so that's a good thing. In Wink, and all my fiction, the setting is a secondary character. I've been complimented by many people from that area of the country who say the description of west Texas was very accurate. It was as important to me for the reader to feel the oppressive heat as it was to know Gypsy's haircolor.

OMN: If we could send you anywhere in the world to research a setting for a story, where would it be?

LCW: Wink, Texas for obvious reasons! And Galveston and Houston because they both play a role in the next book.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And do any of these play a role in your books?

LCW: I do enjoy a good hike through the mountains and that did carry over in my just-finished manuscript, NoBody's Baby. The main character is a hobby hiker.

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "I am a crime novelist and thus I am also …".

LCW: I am a crime novelist and thus I am also someone with a really weird interest in the many different ways for people to die.

OMN: How did Wink of an Eye come to be titled?

LCW: "Wink" of course comes from the book's setting — Wink, Texas — and the title itself — Wink of an Eye — is used in a line of narrative near the climax of the story.

OMN: What kind of feedback have you received from your readers?

LCW: I think one of the most enjoyable I've received so far was actually an industry review where the reviewer spent several paragraphs "analyzing" Gypsy. They used the line, "It's his simplicity that makes him so complex." I LOVED it! One of the more popular questions is how Gypsy got his name, and, does he ever get back with Claire.

OMN: What kinds of television or film do you enjoy watching?

LCW: Three films and two television shows that still take my breath away are: The Godfather, I and II, anything by the Coen Brothers, Lonesome Dove, and Justified. I really enjoy having the lines between good and bad blurred. When the bad guys can display just enough humanity to make you, for a nono-second, feel sympathy for them — that's when it's working.

OMN: If Wink of an Eye were to be adapted for television or film, who do you see playing the lead role?

LCW: Without hesitation in the least, Gerard Butler. I knew it before I ever put the first word to page.

OMN: What do you look for when selecting books to read for pleasure?

LCW: I really enjoy reading literary fiction. Some of my favorite books are considered very literary. Cold Mountain, Water for Elephants, to me, the way the words work together is pure magic.

OMN: Create a Top 5 list for us on any topic.

LCW: Top 5 movies … The Godfather, The Godfather II, No Country for Old Men, Fargo, and The Hangover (because everyone needs a good laugh now and then).

OMN: What's next for you?

LCW: NoBody's Baby (Mystery/Suspense) is finished and being shopped by my wonderful agent, and I'm working on Wink and a Nod, book two in the Gypsy Moran adventure. Gypsy has many more adventures ahead of him and I can't wait to share them!

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Lynn Chandler Willis has worked in the corporate world, the television news business, and the newspaper industry. She was born, raised, and continues to live in the heart of North Carolina within walking distance of her children and their spouses and her nine grandchildren. She shares her home, and heart, with Sam the cocker spaniel. She lives in Randleman, North Carolina.

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

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Wink of an Eye by Lynn Chandler Willis

Wink of an Eye
Lynn Chandler Willis
A Gypsy Moran Mystery

Winner of the 2013 PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Competition

On the run from a double-cross, Las Vegas private investigator Gypsy Moran shows up unexpectedly at his sister Rhonda's house in Wink, Texas. She introduces Gypsy to one of her former students, 12-year-old Tatum McCallen, who is in need of Gypsy's services. Tatum wants to hire Gypsy to investigate his father Ryce's alleged suicide. His dad was a deputy with the Sheriff's department and was found hanged in their backyard. Tatum believes his father was murdered after he went inquiring after the disappearance of several teenage girls, all undocumented immigrants.

Against his better judgment, Gypsy agrees to snoop around to see what he can find. Between dealing with his now married high school sweetheart, a sexy reporter, and hostile police officers, Gypsy has his work cut out for him.

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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