Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Conversation with Mystery Author Barbara Venkataraman

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Barbara Venkataraman

We are delighted to welcome author Barbara Venkataraman 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.

Barbara is the author of three mysteries featuring attorney Jamie Quinn, and collected these into the appropriately titled Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection (September 2014 audiobook and ebook formats), which also features a preview of the fourth in the series, Engaged in Danger. We recently had the chance to discuss the series with her.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to the lead characters of your Jamie Quinn mysteries.

Barbara Venkataraman
Photo provided courtesy of
Barbara Venkataraman

Barbara Venkataraman: My series has a large cast of characters, but the three main characters in every book are Jamie Quinn, a reluctant family law attorney living in Hollywood, Florida who keeps finding herself in the middle of murder investigations. At the start of the series, Jamie has recently lost her mother to cancer and is in a slump, but is pulled out of it because of a family crisis. She is not overly confident. As she says, "I'll try to help, but I'm hardly the cavalry."

Grace Anderson has been Jamie's best friend since law school and is a corporate attorney at a tony downtown firm. She's funny and smart, but not very good at relationships. Marmaduke Broussard, III, a/k/a Duke, is an alcoholic, womanizing P.I. who works out of a bar called "The Big Easy" and operates right on the edge of the law. He and Jamie form an unusual alliance that somehow works for them.

OMN: How have the characters changed over the course of three books?

BV: My characters are always true to themselves, but they definitely develop throughout the series. In the first book, Death by Didgeridoo, Jamie Quinn is depressed about the death of her mom and barely leaves the house. She is finally forced to snap out of it when her disabled cousin is accused of murder. If she hadn't changed, there wouldn't have been much story — and definitely no second, third or fourth book.

OMN: asdf

BV: I've written books in three genres so far, but all of them incorporate humor. The first genre I tackled was humorous essays. So far, I've written two books in my "Quirky Essays for Quirky People" series and both have won awards. Yay! And, since Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry are my idols, it really makes my day when readers compare my writing to theirs.

I have an alter ego named "Mrs. Grammar Person" and sometimes she takes over. That happened recently when Mrs. G.P. was beside herself with grammar-induced angst and decided to write a book called Teatime with Mrs. Grammar Person. It's short and sweet and teaches grammar in a fun way through little stories.

My third genre is cozy mystery and I have published three books in my Jamie Quinn series to date. The fourth one, Engaged in Danger, will be out later this month.

I think there's an advantage to labeling a series as cozy mystery because it helps potential readers know what they're getting. All cozies are characterized by an amateur sleuth protagonist, a small town setting, and no gore or racy content. To be honest, I didn't know that was what I was writing — I'd never even heard the term "cozy mystery" — until after I'd written Death by Didgeridoo. I was amazed to see how detailed the sub-categories of cozy mystery are: there are crafts and hobbies, animals, and culinary. There are paranormal, witches and ghosts, and the list goes on and on.

OMN: Are any of the characters in your books based on people you know?

BV: Of course! All of them are. For example, Grace, my protagonist Jamie Quinn's best friend, is a combination of several of my friends, especially the smart-aleck ones (you know who you are). I always use the characteristics of people I know or people I've seen as a jumping off point. Once, I saw a guy in a parking lot getting out of his car and I said, "There he is, my private investigator, Duke Broussard!" I just wish I'd taken his picture …

OMN: Tell us a little more about your writing process.

BV: I do start with a loose outline and I often write short bios of my characters (so that I can at least remember what they look like and how old they are, etc.) I like to find pictures in magazines of people that look like my characters; that helps me a lot.

My stories definitely develop as I write and new characters pop up when I least expect them to. Sometimes, my characters make decisions without consulting me, but they're always right and I have to change my plans accordingly.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author? And what might you say to aspiring writers?

BV: The best advice I've received as an author is to write every day. Just keep writing and you'll get better, you'll finish projects and you'll start new ones. I've learned so much from reading how-to books on writing, but there was one explanation that really clicked for me: every story is a series of scenes that connect to each other. That was a Eureka moment for me.

It's hard to give advice to aspiring authors because everyone is different, but what worked for me was reading dozens of books about writing and then giving myself permission to write badly. It's like playing the piano — you can't play Mozart until you've botched up Chopsticks a zillion times. The other piece of advice I would offer is that less is more. Practice paring your sentences down to the barest minimum and then pare them down some more. You'll learn so much about sentence structure and word choice and grammar, you'll be amazed. Oh, and also, the thesaurus and dictionary are your best friends.

And I don't want to talk about the harshest criticism I've received, or I might start sobbing. I'm very sensitive …

OMN: How did you come up with the titles for your mysteries?

BV: Funny story — I was trying to learn how to play a didgeridoo (a large Aborigine wind instrument) when I accidentally dropped it and broke the glass top of a dresser. That's when I realized: You could kill someone with this thing. Later on, my husband found me swinging the didgeridoo around like some weird Ninja warrior and he looked a bit worried, but I assured him I was just doing research. From then on, I couldn't stop thinking about how someone could get killed with a didgeridoo: Who was this person? Why would they even have a didgeridoo? How could the wrong person be blamed for the murder? Why would there be more than one person who wanted the victim dead? Like a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces slowly came together to become my first cozy mystery: Death by Didgeridoo.

The Case of the Killer Divorce was inspired by Ambien and my quest for a good night's sleep. Did you know Ambien looks just like aspirin? Did you know that Ambien and alcohol can kill you? I didn't know that either, but I called the Walgreen's pharmacist to ask. I assume they called the police as soon as I hung up … As a divorce attorney, the idea of a "killer divorce" is familiar territory, but nobody actually dies in my experience like they do in the book.

Peril in the Park was inspired by two true events. Back when I worked for Broward County, a maintenance worker was mad at his boss and mowed the words "BITE ME" into the lawn. That started me thinking about someone vandalizing the parks in a snarky way to get back at their boss. One thing led to another and Jamie's boyfriend Kip became that boss. Also true, a developer wanted to build a high-rise next to a historical site and years of litigation ensued. That seemed worth killing for …

As you can tell by my titles, I'm a fan of alliteration …

OMN: asdf

BV: I love to hear from readers and my favorite feedback is that I made them laugh. I've received many kind words from my wonderful readers, but the best compliment I ever received was from a stranger who left a comment on my book of humorous essays, A Trip to the Hardware Store & Other Calamities. He wrote: "I have enjoyed this book a lot. It cheered me up during some difficult days. Pleasant reading, especially on difficult days."

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?

BV: As a kid, I loved to read every kind of fiction I could get my hands on. I even took a book to a sleepover at a friend's house when I was six! I'm still hearing about that!

When I was ten, I started reading Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain and it terrified me so much that I made my mother hide it in a drawer. I eventually finished it and went on to read thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, and mysteries of every kind. As I got older, I branched out to other genres and read Erma Bombeck, Dave Barry, Garrison Keillor, and silly stuff like Mad Magazine because I loved to laugh. I discovered Vonnegut and read all of his books. Everything I've read has influenced my own writing, but I soon realized I wanted to write light fiction and be entertaining. I tried writing the dark stuff and it just wasn't me.

OMN: When selecting a book to read for pleasure today, what do you look for?

BV: Readability, good writing, interesting characters and an original plot, or at least a new twist on an old plot. If it's funny, it gets extra points. If I don't like the first two pages, I won't buy it. If dialogue doesn't ring true to me, it's like nails on a chalkboard and I'll quit. If there's too much description, I'll hit the road (the dark, dusty, twisting road with tumbleweeds drifting across it and menacing trees, ominous clouds, etc).

I think the most important aspect of a good book (by my definition) (and after passing all of the initial hurdles above) is emotional resonance. Like in The Time Traveler's Wife — the final scene is a musical crescendo which the entire book has been building up to, but it's also a place of peace and beauty. That scene is simple, poignant, and unforgettable.

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Barbara Venkataraman Book Tour

Mystery author Barbara Venkataraman is an attorney and mediator specializing in family law and debt collection.

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

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Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection by Barbara Venkataraman

Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection by Barbara Venkataraman

A Box Set Books 1-3

Publisher: Barbara Venkataraman

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)

Death by Didgeridoo. Reluctant lawyer, Jamie Quinn, still reeling from the death of her mother, is pulled into a game of deception, jealousy, and vengeance when her cousin, Adam, is wrongfully accused of murder. It's up to Jamie to find the real murderer before it's too late. It doesn't help that the victim is a former rock star with more enemies than friends, or that Adam confessed to a murder he didn't commit.

The Case of the Killer Divorce. Reluctant lawyer, Jamie Quinn, has returned to her family law practice after a hiatus due to the death of her mother. It's business as usual until a bitter divorce case turns into a murder investigation, and Jamie's client becomes the prime suspect. When she can't untangle truth from lies, Jamie enlists the help of Duke Broussard, her favorite private investigator, to try to clear her client's name. And she’s hoping that, in his spare time, he can help her find her long-lost father.

Peril in the Park. There's big trouble in the park system. Someone is making life difficult for Jamie Quinn's boyfriend, Kip Simons, the new director of Broward County parks. Was it the angry supervisor passed over for promotion? The disgruntled employee Kip recently fired? Or someone with a bigger ax to grind? If Jamie can't figure it out soon, she may be looking for a new boyfriend because there’s a dead guy in the park and Kip has gone missing! With the help of her favorite P.I., Duke Broussard, Jamie must race the clock to find Kip before it’s too late.

Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection by Barbara Venkataraman

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the opportunity to appear on your wonderful blog, Lance!


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