Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Conversation with Mystery Author jd daniels

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with jd daniels

We are delighted to welcome author jd daniels to Omnimystery News today.

jd's second mystery to feature amateur sleuth Jessie Murphy is Quick Walk to Murder (Savvy Press; March 2016 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the chance to catch up with her to talk more about her work.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to your series characters. What is is about them that appeal to you as a writer?

jd daniels
Photo provided courtesy of
jd daniels

jd daniels: Ah, my series characters, they're a motley lot.

First, there's the amateur sleuth, Jessie Murphy. She's twenty-eight and a fledging artist who pays her bills by managing property in Cambridge, MA. But, why is she in Matlacha, FL where the murder occurs in Quick Walk to Murder? Simple. It's a place where a local gallery owner and the magic of the sea and island environment reawakened her desire to paint — it's a place that compelled her to return after solving the mystery of her boyfriend's death last winter in Through Pelican Eyes. Lucky for her, Jessie is able to get tenants with year-long leases in place before she leaves. Also, although it doesn't leave her much to live on, she earns enough money to hire a handyman for the months she heads south to be inspired and to paint and to hang her work in a Matlacha gallery.

Why would an artist be asked to solve a crime? Well, as I mentioned, last season she proved to the locals that she was a crackerjack detective in the first Jessie Murphy Mystery. In this second book in the series, Quick Walk to Murder — the one we are talking about — when the son of a crab fisherman and a Mexican housewife is found murdered, they fear the cops won't put the case high on their priority list. They hire Jessie — a woman who earned their respect and trust in just one season.

To her credit, Jessie does have detective experience. She apprenticed under a PI in Boston named Hawk. She also took a few criminology courses. She's organized, smart, driven, creative, and honors her Irish intuition. The fact she has a plaster of Paris gargoyle as her constant companion doesn't dissuade the locals from having faith in her. In fact, only proves to them that she is one of them.

The next characters of note are Redneck Zen and Gator. Zen is a transplanted northerner two years older than Jessie and has lived on the islands since she was eighteen. She's five-two to Jessie's five-eight and carries at least forty more pounds than is considered healthy. Fun-loving. Loyal. Willing to do anything for anyone in need, Zen depicts the Buddha-nature of being there for others. More redneck than Buddhist, Zen's form of meditating is done with a beer bottle in her hand and a joke on her lips. At first meeting, she and Jessie became instant friends. It's Zen, along with Gator, who Jessie turns to when she needs a sidekick to help solve a murder.

You got to love the curmudgeon Gator. He's a sixty-some-year- old salt — a retired army sergeant. And like Zen — very non PC. More often than not, Gator smells like human sweat, cigarette smoke, fish guts and acrid kelp or a dead bloated carcass of an iguana more often than not. He's tough and smart as a — no, I'm not going to say "whip" — no way! Just trust me, Gator is a guy you want watching your back; that is, if you can get him off his boat where he's either fishing or pulling in his crab traps.

I already mentioned Hawk, Jessie's ex-boss. He's never on the scene, but his advice and his services are often sought by Jessie. He's married with a child who had a stroke at age two.

Other regulars in Quick Walk to Murder who also appeared in Through Pelican Eyes and who will be active in the third mystery Mayhem in Matlacha include:

Luke Abbot, the handsome gallery owner who encourages Jessie's painting and shows her work in his gallery.

Jay Mann, a sensual sculptor more interested in than Jessie is in having a long-term relationship. Hm, do they take a tumble? Guess you'll have to read the book to know.

Chris Efron, the owner of CW Fudge appears for the first time in this book and serves as a source of valuable local information and light-hearted humor.

And I cannot leave out Grandma Murphy. While she is never physically present at the scene, she is most definitely a recurring character in the books. Jessie brings her alive through an occasional in-her-head dialogue with her and references to Grandma Murphy's words of wisdom while giving the reader various details of her life. Oh, yeah. She's a character in the book all right.

 I've worked hard to develop a sense of place — in this case — Matlacha, so that it seems like a lively character as well. This is a tricky thing to do and I hope I've been successful.

What appeals to me about these characters?

Their quirkiness. Their warmth. Their down-home humor. Their intelligent, laid-back island-time philosophy of life that makes you confident when they are needed, they will be there for you. I admire that they are not PC. That they never bought into the system; or if they did, they now live outside it. I love their spunk and their ability to be who they are with no apologies. Sometimes I walk around funky, off-the-grid Matlacha, or sit at Bert's and swear I'm seeing one of them striding toward me right in front of those leaping dolphins in the background. Got to love that!

OMN: How do you expect these characters to develop over the course of the series?

jdd: Ah, hah, you might think this strange, but for me, these characters are alive on the page, so much so, that they seem like friends. So, just like humans they have natural traits that a reader notices at first, then with each situation the characters become fuller and more complex. How they react in a scene, to another character, to a situation — these are clues to who they are. So, as the mystery series explores different themes, so does it explore the recurring characters — what makes them tick, their worst traits — their best, etc.

What is exciting for me is that when life is blown into a character on a page and they stand up and shake their fist at you in triumph, I'm never sure how they are going to act in any given situation. They surprise me, make me chuckle or laugh, and sometimes frustrate. One of the enjoyable aspects about writing a series where you like and relate to your recurring characters is the since of evolution and exploration that's involved, or maybe I should say, that exists. Way cool in my estimation. This is one factor that compels me, I assume after one book is finished, to immediately start a new journey.

I've had people ask me if I know how many books will be in the Jessie Murphy Series. I shrug and say, "Nah, I don't know." They probably think that's odd. The truth is, I don't. It will be my muse, and the characters who insist they have more murders to solve and more stories to tell, who will make that decision. I often just feel like their obsessive worker. They're the bosses — the Hawks soaring overhead.

I think I told you the third Jessie Murphy Mystery is written and in the hands of readers. And, yes, another mystery has already begun. Oh my!

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

jdd: I owned a house in the setting of the book, Matlacha, for several years. So, when I describe the quaint fishing village, it's from personal experience. I also use some of my own quirks and those of my mother as traits of Jessie, the sleuth. To those who know me, this is obvious.

Hm, and you asked if any characters in the book are based on people I know? I was afraid you would ask that. Absolutely not. I assure you. Don't believe me? I thought you wouldn't. Any writer who thinks their characters don't come from bits and people they know or have come in contact are kidding themselves. Eww, was that too strongly stated? I mean, let's just say I don't believe them. I've taught writing for years, had so many students I can't count, not one thing they wrote didn't somehow have slices of the writer's life intertwined. Even science fiction writers are included in this. I have a wild imagination. I really do. But, whenever I write, whatever character I create, I know — or realize at some point — has qualities of those I've met or known through the years.

Let's take Jessie, for instance. She's so much what I think my beloved mother would have been at her age, it's scary. I have this notion that when I write these mysteries, I'm also exploring her life, maybe even giving her the life she would have had if she hadn't started having children as a teenager. She had ten, by the way. Jessie's first name was my mother's first name. Jessie's last name was my mother's maiden name. See what I mean? My mother was creative and feisty. So, on some level, while I am writing these mysteries, I'm thinking about and interacting with my mother who passed away a few years back at the age of eighty-six.

And Zen? This is a secret. So, don't tell anyone. Zen has many qualities (I won't say which) of  …  Sorry, something for me to know and readers to figure out — or not.

Gator? Let's just say, I (maybe a little bit) he's drawn from the characteristics of a man very dear to me. Love them like I do Gator. His physical description comes from a compilation of various men I've seen around Matlacha.

Are any of the situations in Quick Walk to Murder are based on real events. I'd say no. I do have a published novella out that was based on a true event in Turkey, but that is not the case with my mysteries. However, in this book, I did explore the state of crab fishermen in the area. This information was gathered from interviews with crab fishermen and from reading about the subject. The murder, the victim's characteristics, the situations leading up to the capture of the killer, are figments of my imagination and controlled by my muse.

OMN: How true are you to the settings in the series?

jdd: I definitely try to be true to Matlacha and its environment. I am lucky to have such a beautiful, quaint, quirky place to use as my setting, and its particular brand of island living is a large part of who the characters are and how the plot unfolds. As I said earlier, I work hard at making place be a character. For the most part, I also use actual names of establishments and attempt to describe them as succinctly as possible i.e. Bert's, The Perfect Cup, CW Fudge, Micelli's — all these businesses are found in Matlacha and my description is pretty apt. Don't get me wrong, some of the places in the books are not real — like the art gallery, for instance. I actually take bits of pieces of several galleries in the area to create the one in the series.

I guess I'd add, that since I think of my setting as a character, and I try to develop setting as one, then that makes it quite important for a reader's pleasure as they see how human characters relate to the setting. For instance, it's largely because of the magic ambience that surrounds and makes up the fabric of Matlacha that compels Jessie to write again. For Jessie, Matlacha becomes a needed, trusted friend and a source of inspiration. Matlacha's off-the-grid character trait welcomes a bevy of like-minded friends, including Jessie. What type of characters that appear in the book are the type of characters the reader would expect to be there. You don't see many men and women in suits. Very little high-end haircuts. You do see lots of T-shirts, flip flops and cut-off shorts, tanned skin and short shorts.

Also the character traits of Matlacha allows for off-the-wall, humorous types of reactions to situations. So you see, Matlacha as setting, as a character, also influences the plot. For example, you can't have someone fall out of a skyscraper as there certainly are no such things in Matlacha. You can have them crawl through brackish water surrounded by mangrove and vermin. You can have them walk into Bert's, scrape their toe on a sliver from the unfinished plywood floor, swear out loud, order a draft, and listen to calypso music while a woman dressed like a mermaid climbs up onto the pool table for a photo op. All these plot details are accepted by this ever-present, God-like, living and breathing epic character called Matlacha.

Exaggeration? No way!! Would I exaggerate? Smile.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these made in appearance in your books?

jdd: My hobbies include: bicycling, walking, yoga, tennis, kayaking finding treasures at yard and estate sales and restoring them, some gardening and reading of course. I also play an occasional game of bridge and play a casual game of mahjong once a week six-months out of the year.

Jessie Murphy is a power walker. I don't power walk, but like me, her best thinking time is when she is walking. Other than an occasional kayak trip, none of these hobbies have shown up in the mysteries.

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jd daniels holds a Doctor of Arts degree from Drake University with a creative dissertation. She co-founded and co-edits Prairie Wolf Press Review and is a member of Mystery Writers of America while serving as Letters Chair for PEN Women of South West, Florida. Dividing her time between South West Florida and Iowa City, Iowa, she continues to teach writing at the college level. Bicycling, kayaking, tennis, yoga, mahjong and an occasional game of party bridge brings balance to her writing life.

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

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Quick Walk to Murder by jd daniels

Quick Walk to Murder by jd daniels

A Jessie Murphy Mystery

Publisher: Savvy Press

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)

Gifted college student Tomas Moore is the son of a crusty Pine Island crab fisherman and a Mexican homemaker who often seeks psychic guidance. When the young man is found murdered, his parents and the locals, fear the law will not place a high priority on solving his death.

It is up to Jessie Murphy to find the killer. Is it another crabber? A rejected lover? His rich girlfriend? Her brother? His roommate? Or, two cagey, sport fishermen?

The ties that bind. The rivalries of the heart. The threat of collapse to an island's livelihood. As Jessie tries to unravel the mystery of this promising young islander's murder she finds herself in a heart-stopping race against time in which honesty and love are tested, greed is rampant, and no one — including Jessie herself — is safe.

Quick Walk to Murder by jd daniels. Click here to take a Look Inside the book.

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