|Left to right - Jane Cleland and Rosemary Harris|
Why is the cat named Hank? Cleland's husband is a musician. He's playing right now for The Lion King. For quite a while, he played with the touring production of Les Mis. When Jane would visit her husband, she would also visit with a cat named Hank who traveled with the show. Steve, an electrician with the company, owned an orange tabby named Hank, and the top of the electrician's trunk would open up with a place for Hank at the top. When the tour moved from city to city, Steve and Hank would board the crew bus together. Well, a new crew member joined the tour, and he was allergic to cats, so Hank got booted from the bus. Hank needed a ride to Fresno, and since Jane was visiting, she and her husband, Joe, were driving a car to Fresno, and Joe said, sure, they'd take Hank. When the day came, Steve, this big teamster, brought Hank in his carrying case, gave him a kiss, and said, "Be a good boy, Hank. It's your only chance." So, now whenever the tour moves on, Hank gets a ride with someone going by car.
Jane got to thinking. Steve's been with the show for eight years, with Hank as his constant companion. And, lonely travelers need someone to keep the lonely buggers at bay. It reminded Jane of her character, Josie Prescott. At the beginning of the series, she's a stranger at a difficult time. She had left New York for the rugged coast of New Hampshire, and she's trying to find a community, trying to fit in. Hank is now part of her community.
Rosemary said she has volunteered at the information booth for the Philadelphia Flower Show for ten years. People bring in samples, and, now, even small pictures on their cell phone, and expect the volunteers to be able to look at those and tell them what happened to their plant. Asking if anyone had seen the movie Best in Show about the dog show world, Harris said people can be just as neurotic at flower shows. She's seen people at 7 a.m. with their misters and cuticle scissors so they can tend their plants.
Slugfest is the fourth book in Harris' series. This time, she takes her amateur sleuth, Paula Holliday, to New York City. It's helpful to take an amateur sleuth out of their small town once in a while. She said she knew the audience all knew about Cabot Cove Syndrome in small towns. It's pushing the envelope to have so many dead bodies in small towns. So Paula helps a friend out at a fictional flower show. That allows Harris to introduce an interesting cast of characters, somewhat edgier than they might be in a small town.
Rosemary said the box of chocolates I gave her from Ceretta's reminded her of the beginning of her story. She had already received the Authors @ The Teague mug on a previous visit, so this time I gave her a box of candy. A box of candy was the trigger for her first book, Pushing Up Daisies. Harris read an article about a mummified body being found, and, just like an amateur sleuth, she snooped. She was lucky enough to have a telephone interview with the doctor who autopsied the body, and he said it wasn't 100% identified. But, he did say it was found with a box of chocolates. That was Rosemary's "what if" moment. She thought that box of chocolates had to be a clue, and she was hooked from that.
Jane told us with the publication of Deadly Threads, she's holding a contest on her website to give away a vintage Pucci purse. No one has to guess the right answer. It's just a random drawing at the end of the month. Her website is www.JaneCleland.net.
Cleland's character, Josie Prescott, is originally from New York. Asking us if we remembered the price fixing scandal involving auction houses a few years ago, Jane said that happened to Josie, and she was the whistleblower
.Cleland once owned a rare book store in Portsmouth when she was in her 20s. She was asked to appraise books once for a woman, and, going to her house, found that every inch of wall was covered in art. Her breath was taken away by a Rembrandt, a self-portrait. And, the woman said, "That's a little something my brother brought back from the war." She didn't think much more about it until twenty years later when stories came out about ill-gotten gains from the Nazis. Elizabeth Taylor was sued over a painting, although she won the case. The Nazis stole 1/3 of all Western art. They knew what they were doing, and boxed it up. But, there are over 100,000 pieces missing yet. All of that came together. Cleland thought, what if Josie discovered art that had been stolen by Nazis. That became her first mystery, Consigned to Death.
Harris remarked that both authors were inspired by news features. Harris' Dead Head came about because of a story she read about a California woman yanked from her Lexus in her driveway. She was a fugitive from the law who had three kids, and an upper middle class lifestyle. But, someone informed on her. She was an escaped convict whose grandfather had helped her flee prison. But, it was easier to create a new life in the 80s. Harris researched how you could disappear yourself. Cleland said she once read a book about how to hide assets and disappear forever.
Going back to the covers, Harris said she would have at least liked a silvery slug trail on the cover of Slugfest, indicating people leave trails wherever we go. She usually has input into the covers.
Harris said she has no input as to the cover. She does a clause saying she's to be consulted about the covers. She likes a more serious, photographic style, as in the latest book. When she received the artwork for Consigned to Death, she wrote the publisher saying she liked the color, but not the cover. It was too cartoony. She heard back from the publisher. "We're glad you liked the color."
Rosemary said they both had ended up with the dreaded pink cover on one of their books. For some reason, publishers want women's books to be pink. But, to her it's a signal that it's girly chick-lit, not as serious as most mysteries are. Rosemary said she's funny, but she takes the investigation of a murder seriously. Jane said she herself is likable, but not funny. Mysteries are serious.
How did they start writing? Cleland wrote four nonfiction books in the field of business communication since she's a trainer. Her last one, Business Writing for Results, included a number of anecdotes, and her agent said maybe you want to try your hand at fiction. Jane only reads murder mysteries. So, she wrote one about a hot male P.I. in New York. She loved it. But, her agent sent it out, and after four or five rejections, she asked her to withdraw it. She kept hearing the same thing. No one was interested in male private investigators in New York in the early 2000s. But, one editor did say, if she wrote about a female amateur, not in New York, he'd like to see it. Jane worked hard on the first twenty pages, and asked the agent to send that because she wasn't going to continue if she wasn't on the right track. The editor said yes. It took her ten months to write it. That book became Consigned to Death.
Rosemary said that article about the mummified body is what inspired her to write. She thought, I'll write a story about that. She had never written anything longer than an email or a thank you note. But, she wanted to write that story and see how it went. She wrote and rewrote it. A friend said she thought it was publishable. At the time, Harris thought that was an insult, but now knows it was a compliment. She had three rejections from agents. Then she went to the public library, and looked in the front of mysteries that seemed similar to hers. She sent letters to ten agents who represented those books telling them why they should represent her.
Cleland told us she and Harris have very different writing styles. Jane writes notes on little pieces of paper or cocktail napkins, but that's the last thing she writes out. Everything else is done on a computer. She's finishing book seven in the Josie Prescott series now, tentatively called Dolled Up for Murder. She has a computer folder called "Extra Stuff," and she can search the folder by keyword search.
On the other hand, Rosemary writes with pencil on a legal pad. She does everything in longhand. She'll write one chapter at a time, and then put it on the computer.
Jane Cleland recently interviewed four bestselling authors for an article about the writing process, Lee Child, Charlaine Harris, Gayle Lynds, and Wendi Corsi Staub. None of them does anything similar in the writing process. Jane writes the plot first, then goes back to write exposition and emotion, and then to tweak it. Rosemary gets the story down. Then she'll go back over it for humor. Then, she does character and description, but Harris doesn't include a lot of description. She has a character, Babe, a former backup singer who now runs the diner where Paula hangs out. At a recent library event, people around the room gave their ideas of Babe's appearance. They described her as looking like Goldie Hawn, Susan Sarandon, and even Pam Greer, a black actress.
Jane said she also goes through her work for timing. You can't mess that up. People will call you on timing and distance - you can't get to that place in that amount of time. Rosemary said a man wrote to her who now lived in North Carolina, but once lived in Connecticut. He took exception to the height of a mountain in one of her books, saying there was no mountain that high in the area. Harris actually hadn't given the height.
Cleland has a funny story about Paul Revere's abacus, and a reader. She's a devoted fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, and she often integrates trivia from the Nero Wolfe books into her stories. In one of the stories, Archie Goodwin has to get in to see a man who won't talk to him, but he knows the man collects silver, so he says he has Paul Revere's abacus. When she used that in one of her books, a man called and told Jane that Paul Revere never made an abacus. Cleland asked him how he knew that. A lively conversation ensued.
What's really in their books? The books feature antiques and gardening, and they're fiction. Rosemary said in one of her books she made a wisecrack, "There is actually a state of Connecticut, and a University of Connecticut, but everything else is fiction." Someone even argued with her about where Springfield, Connecticut is located. There isn't one in Connecticut, although it's the most common city name in the country. She likes it, though, that people read her books so closely. Jane admitted she was called on a time zone problem for Silent Auction, but Harris said that was something an editor should have caught.
The authors were asked if writing mysteries was a lucrative business. They said there are a handful of authors who make a lot. But, most authors pay for their own tours. They get by. They drag their husbands along as chauffeurs. It's not that lucrative.
Jane and Rosemary discussed the economics of the business. Jane said she gets an advance, half when she signs the contract, and then half when the book is delivered. Then, you get royalties. She gets a share when it's picked up by book clubs, or large print. You start with a small advance. You don't want a big advance that doesn't earn out, meaning the publisher loses money on you.
Rosemary said the big authors don't always earn out, though. Her husband is a retired publisher with Random House, and, since he was in the audience, he admitted the publisher can still make a profit. There may a small printing cost, and the publisher gets the difference between the cost of printing, and the sale price. The author might not earn out, but the publisher does OK on the big authors anyways.
Harris told us most mystery authors are not in it for the money. They love writing mysteries, and they love the mystery community. She always wants to write a better book. It's a great gig. She's met wonderful people, and then some like Jane. (Great deal of laughter there.) They've traveled all over together. Jane has family all over the country.
So, the next question was, what makes a big name author successful. That's the $64 million dollar question, the number Rosemary used, saying she thought Janet Evanovich was able to get that figure from HarperCollins. Luck has a great deal to do with it. Something strikes a chord with readers. Some of it is timing.
However, Lee Child set out to write a bestseller. He looked at Greek myths and fairy tales that endured, and saw that many involved the lone man who rides into town, cleans it up, and leaves. So, Jack Reacher was born.
Harris mentioned the never-ending Jane Austen thing. Janet Evanovich writes humorous mysteries. She has a distinct voice, and people responded. But, she said, if writing a bestseller was easy, everyone would do it. Characters resonate with people. Lee Child's Jack Reacher resonates. He says when he's in Germany, people say, Reacher's really German, isn't he. And, when he's in Australia, they say, he's really an Aussie. It's Lee Child's voice. When he was first published it was probably Robert Ludlum's spy novels and Robert B. Parker's Spenser books topping the bestseller lists. Child was fresh.
Cleland went back to the Jane Austen reference, saying she was named after Jane Austen, her mother's favorite author. Rosemary said her mother was a reader of mysteries and Harlequins, because they were inexpensive and quick reads.
Jane said her Deadly Threads has actually been reviewed as a romance, love gained and love lost. She didn't do that on purpose, though. That reminded Rosemary of Malice Domestic, a mystery conference held in the D.C. area with over 100 authors. She and Cleland teamed up for Malice-Go-Round, in which they talk about their books for a minute and a half and move on to the next table. By the end, they know each other's pitches.
The audience knew that Jane Cleland's next book is Dolled Up for Murder, so they wanted to know about Rosemary's next one. She hopes that it will be The Fifth Woman, a standalone mystery set in a neighboring town. Paula Holliday is a secondary character in it. And, there are some other favorite characters. But, it's a different story, and she had to write it. She hopes it's her next one. But, her publisher might disagree. Readers often want the next one in the series, and the publisher has invested in the series. The next Paula Holliday one will be Burning Bush, in which the crime is arson.
Jane has written a murder mystery play, "Back to Jack," about three women who dated a guy named Jack. He disappeared for a while, and now he's back. He also drives them to drink Jack Daniels. He's murdered at the end of Act 1. Cleland has been working on her MFA in playwriting, partially titled, "Women Who Love Men They Hate." Harris' latest project? She hopes to get back to her garden. She tours for 90 to 100 days, usually in the spring, and misses her garden.
For me, the perfect ending of this program was Jane Cleland's signature in my copy of Deadly Threads. That might be a picture of her cat, Louie, on the cover of the book, but it looks just like my beloved Nikki. Jane's note was a perfect Mother's Day weekend signature. "For Nikki's mom, from Louie's mom! Thank you, Lesa."
Jane K. Cleland's website is www.janecleland.net
Deadly Threads by Jane K. Cleland. St. Martin's Minotaur. ©2011. ISBN 9780312586560 (hardcover), 279p.
Rosemary Harris' website is www.rosemaryharris.com
Slugfest by Rosemary Harris. St. Martin's Minotaur. ©2011. ISBN 9780312569969 (hardcover), 275p.