Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dean James (Miranda James), Guest Blogger

How many of you knew that Miranda James, author of Murder Past Due, is actually Dean James, author and librarian?  And, Murder Past Due just made the New York Times extended paperback bestseller list at #26.  It's a pleasure to welcome Dean today as guest blogger.  Thank you, Dean.

Readers are often curious about the origin of a writer’s ideas, so I thought I would talk about the origins of my new “Cat in the Stacks” series and how I developed the characters, the setting, and the plot.

First, a bit of information about me. I’m a librarian (specialty, cataloging) in the Texas Medical Center in Houston. I have two cats, both elderly now. I read a lot of mysteries, along with non-fiction (history, biography) and romance (chiefly historical). I’ve also worked, either part-time or full-time, in a mystery bookstore for the past twenty-six years.

Now, onto the ideas part …. The basic idea for this new series came from my editor at Berkley Prime Crime. She suggested I think about a series with a librarian and a cat. I had actually been thinking for a while about writing a series with a librarian detective, and the addition of a cat to the mix was no hardship. I knew right away that the cat in the series would be a Maine coon, because they’re unusual, and very striking, cats, and I knew I would call him Diesel. The very first Maine coon I ever saw was named Diesel, and he weighed about forty pounds (very large even for a Maine coon) and sounded like a diesel engine when he purred. That Diesel has long since gone to pet heaven, but in tribute to him I created a literary version.

Next came the librarian. I wanted someone older, with some life experience, so I decided to make Charlie Harris, the main character, roughly my age (fifty when the series begins). I also made him a cataloger like me, but also with considerable administrative experience. Without really thinking much about it, I knew Charlie was a widower, with grown children. (It’s just a lot easier for an amateur sleuth to run around and detect without having to check-in with a partner all the time.)

At this point I had my two main characters, Charlie and Diesel. I wanted Diesel to be a prominent character, so I decided he would go almost everywhere with Charlie. That meant a big-city setting for the series probably wouldn’t work. If I were going to use a small town, then, I decided it might as well be in Mississippi. I grew up there and have very deep roots (going back seven generations), and I feel comfortable writing about it. I didn’t want to use a real small town; you have more control when you make one up, and you can arrange the geography of the town however you like without anyone telling you that you put the police station on the wrong street or moved the front door of the library to the wrong side of the building.

With my two main characters and my setting I was ready to go. All I needed now was a plot. Pesky things sometimes, plots. Readers expect them, particularly readers of mystery stories. I really like plots that grow out of the characters, so I started thinking about what would motivate Charlie to stick his nose into a murder investigation. After all, he’s gone through some serious emotional trauma before the book starts, and he’s in a regrouping phase. What would bring him out of this and get him involved in life again?

Well, Charlie is a father, and I figured something that would make his paternal instincts kick in was the key. That’s where the idea about taking in boarders came from. What if Charlie had a young boarder who was accused of murder? How would Charlie react? Particularly if the murder victim was someone Charlie knew? And what if the boarder was the child of an old friend? Up popped Justin Wardlaw, the freshman college student, and son of Julia Wardlaw, an old high school friend.

The victim, well, I like knocking off obnoxious people in my books. Can’t do it in real life, so it’s fun to do it in fiction. Over the years at the bookstore I’ve met many writers, most of them perfectly delightful, well-mannered people. But every once in a while, you meet someone who should never be let loose on the unsuspecting public. Godfrey Priest, the victim in Murder Past Due, isn’t as bad as that, actually, but he’s no prince among men, that’s for sure.

From that point on, the ideas for the plot kept coming, and slowly the book grew into what was published as Murder Past Due. (My original title for the book, by the way, was Cat at the Funeral. The marketing department at Berkley wanted a title with more of a library connection to it, and that’s also why they’ve dubbed it the “Cat in the Stacks” series.)

There you have it – how one simple suggestion “a librarian with a cat” grew into a book and, I sincerely hope, a long-running series of mysteries. I’m about to finish the second book in the series, and I thought, What if Charlie’s son turns up, saying he’s quit his job and wants to stay with Dad for a while? And what if an eccentric wealthy book collector is murdered? Stay tuned….

Thank you, Dean.  And, I think you know, we're all looking forward to the return of Charlie and Diesel.  We'll stay tuned!

Murder Past Due by Miranda James. Berkley Prime Crime, ©2010. ISBN 9780425236031 (paperback), 304p.


Mason Canyon said...

Lesa, thanks for hosting Dean (Miranda James).

Dean, it's always fun to learn about the author behind the great characters. I can't wait to begin reading MURDER PAST DUE (I did read the first chapter as soon as it arrived). Wishing you much success.

Thoughts in Progress

Lesa said...


As a cat person, you'll want to meet Dean's character, Diesel. He's a treat.

Like you, I like to learn about the author behind the story, and it's fun to learn how a story develops.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I love hearing how Dean developed his plot from just that small idea his editor gave him!

Diesel the kitty sounds like a lot of fun, and I love books about librarians. Looking forward to reading this one. :)

Kaye Barley said...

Very much looking forward to reading about Charlie and Diesel.

Great post, Dean & Lesa - thank you!!

Lesa said...

I like to see the plot development, too, Elizabeth. Avery Aames tells an interesting story about The Long Quiche Goodbye, and the original suggestion to write a cheese shop mystery. (I'm sure you've heard it. - smile)

Lesa said...

Thank you, Kaye. Even though you're a dog person, I'm sure you liked Diesel!

Lori's Reading Corner said...

I have this in my mini TBR pile and I can't wait to get to it!

Lesa said...

At least you have a mini TBR pile, Lori! That means you'll be getting to it soon. I'd hate you to see mine.

Janet said...

I loved this book and passed it on to my sister immediately. She loved it too. Books, cats and a southern setting - can't ask for more. I am also a big fan of the Jimmie Ruth Evans books. Thanks for many hours of happy reading.

Earl Staggs said...

Lesa, I'm always interested in how other authors come up with characters and plots, so Dean's story was a treat. He wasn't there when I did a signing at Murder By The Book and I'm sorry I didn't get to meet him. Also enjoyed your post about "Pet Peeves" and covers. Covers are too important and it's all kinds of wrong when a publisher doesn't get it right.

Lesa said...


That's what I said when I did my original review of Murder Past Due, only I said, a librarian, cats & a Southern setting. (grin) I'm glad you and your sister both liked the book!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Earl. It is always interesting to see how plots and characters develop. Someday I hope to meet Dean.

It is wrong when a publisher doesn't get the cover right. And, some of them are worse than the covers I highlighted.

Lori's Reading Corner said...

Unfortunately I keep adding to that mini TBR pile so I am not sure I can continue to call it MINI. OY.

Dean (Miranda) James said...

Janet: big hugs to you and your sister from me and Jimmie Ruth.

Earl: so sorry I missed you at Murder by the Book. Next time!

Lesa, et al.: thanks for all the kind and encouraging words. They're much appreciated!

Kris said...

Thanks for hosting this author spotlight Lesa.

I personally love how Dean said he knocks off obnoxious people in his books because he can't in real life. Dean..I have a story idea for you. It involves somebody who works in IT and isn't very good with their job. I have lots of stories I can give you for research. lol

Ingrid King said...

How nice to learn more about Dean - I tried to find some information about him online when I wrote my review of Murder Past Due for The Conscious Cat (I will post it next week), and for once, Google was not very helpful!

I loved finding out about the original Diesel - and wow, he was huge!

Lesa said...

Thanks, everyone. It was fun to host Dean, and learn the backstory of Murder Past Due. I'm glad he was able to give you a little background.

Definitely my pleasure, Dean!

Anonymous said...

Very first, what sort of boot have you been looking for? can you choose a stylish add-on for uggs clearance sale australia fit on collection? Then decide on via the a lot of diverse custom produced labels. possibly leather-based is the truth that which you are thinking about possessing a terrific large heel? Or, have you been searching for just about any good, durable pair of hiking boots? preparing that hiking trip and get in touch with for a great leading good quality pair of boots that will shield you ankles and toes? could possibly be the winter snow creeping up and also you also just know you are going to have to thoughts on readily available to shovel it up? You contact for a pair of
tough, but waterproofed and cozy boots then. youngsters call for the appropriate boots as well.
Most of individuals like to buy shoes on eBay. I really should say that is extremely a great spot to get uggs boots. EBay is 1 [url=]Ugg Boots cheap[/url]
place exactly where you [url=]Ugg Boots sale[/url]
can find cheap uggs Boots. Back heel overlay employing brand. Moisture-wicking cells lining continues legs dried up along with cozy. Accommodating midsole, molded rubberized traction patterned outsole.
Ugg footwear has verified an pulchritudinous far more proper leverage terms of each backing also elegance, and has remained the append distinctive far more suitable of buyers outright seeing the method due to the fact crowded agedness. Ugg boots are unparalleled frame up of footwear that has not baffled superficial of rear besides workaday by no means leave. arrest the well-heeled further calescent ugg bailey button triplet boots whereas your crowing close friends, your lover, your kids, your obsolete man, also any individual greater..

Anonymous said... JJ Watt Authentic Jersey diquedito Brandon Marshall Pink Jersey diquedito Ray Lewis Youth Jersey diquedito