Jill, would you introduce yourself to the readers?
My name is Jill Orr and I am the author of The Good Byline, the first book in the Riley Ellison mysteries. Undoubtedly, the most interesting thing about me is that when I was 13 years old, I spent a weekend in Lake Geneva, WI, at the same summerhouse as Oprah and Stedman. That has nothing to do with my book or with me as an author, but I like to work it into as many conversations as possible.
Tell us about Riley Ellison.
Twenty-four year old Riley Ellison lives in the small town of Tuttle Corner, VA, where everybody knows your name— and your business. This hasn’t worked out especially well for Riley. Her odd preoccupation with obituaries combined with a very public meltdown over her grandfather’s suspicious death and her inability to pick up the pieces after being dumped by her longtime boyfriend have caused the residents of Tuttle Corner to unofficially change her name from Riley Ellison to Riley Bless Her Heart.
When the book opens, Riley learns her childhood best friend, Jordan James, has just committed suicide. So when Jordan’s family asks Riley to help write the obituary for the local newspaper, Riley agrees as a way to learn why this dynamic young woman would suddenly opt out. Riley eventually becomes convinced that Jordan’s death was no suicide. She teams up with Will Holman, an oddball reporter with a penchant for conspiracy theories, to find out what really happened to her friend. Their investigation leads down a dangerous path toward organized crime, secret lovers, and suspicious taco trucks!
Because this is the first in a series, can you tell us anything about the second book?
The second book finds Riley officially working for the Tuttle Times as a reporter and obituary writer. The first obit she is asked to write is for beloved local cardiologist, Dr. Arthur Davenport who is found with a knife sticking out of his chest by his soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Tabitha. Things get really complicated when Tabitha’s fiancé is arrested for his father’s murder and, with the desperation that comes from facing a conjugal visit honeymoon, Tabitha begs Riley to prove Thad didn’t do it. Holman is away on an undercover assignment, so Riley has only her instincts (and the guidance from a virtual life coach courtesy of a 30 day free trial from Click.com’s sister company) to guide her as she discovers the good doctor may not have been so good after all...
What were you doing when you learned The Good Byline had been accepted for publication? Who did you tell first?
It felt completely surreal. I equate it to getting married because it’s one of those things you think about and dream about forever and then when it finally happens you don’t really know how you should feel. One minute you’re single, the next you’re married; one minute you’re an aspiring writer, the next you’re a published one. I was thrilled, of course, but I probably spent more time than I should have thinking, “Is this how I’m supposed to feel?” But after I got off the phone with my agent, I immediately told my husband and then called my best author friend, Laura McHugh. That night Jimmy and I planned to take the kids out and surprise them with the good news, but they were both highly suspicious about why we were going out to dinner on a Monday night and they ended up guessing before we even got to the restaurant. But by the time we sat down to dinner, the happy news started to sink in and the night concluded, of course, with champagne!
As a wife, mother, blogger, writer, tell us about juggling your schedule to find time to write.
My kids are both in school so I write when they’re out of the house. The hours between 2:30 and 8pm are reserved for driving them around town to their various activities (and listening to podcasts and audiobooks!) but after that I’ll often end up working for another couple of hours. I write when I can, so sometimes I have long stretches and sometimes I have twenty-minutes here and there. I take the time where I can get it!
If someone comes to visit, where do you take them to show off Columbia, Missouri?
Oh, I love this question! Shakespeare’s Pizza is a must, as is Booches for the best burgers you’ve ever had served on little slips of wax paper. I like to take people for a walk through the quad on Mizzou’s campus (where I went to undergrad and graduate school), and if it’s football season I love to take friends to tailgate and cheer on the Missouri Tigers! Columbia also has a super cool downtown and it’s always fun to walk around the little shops and restaurants down there. In addition, Columbia is a town of great festivals, so depending on the time of year, there is always the possibility of a fab festival happening around town!
What authors have inspired you?
There are so many, but the ones that top my list are authors who are able to combine humor and heart like Maria Semple, Janet Evanovich, Darynda Jones, Lisa Lutz, Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, and Alan Bradley. I also love essayists Lisa Kogan and Colin Nissan when I want some non-fiction humor.
What’s on your TBR pile right now?
So many good books! I’m reading Lady Kopp Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart and have book three in Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries queued up and ready to go. Next up on my list after those are Karen Katchur’s The Sisters of Blue Mountain, Gina Sorell’s Mothers and Other Strangers, and Emily Carpenter’s The Weight of Lies. I could go on and on! One of the very best parts about writing mysteries is getting to meet so many other writers through social media and conferences and discovering all these new authors I might not have found otherwise!
As a librarian, I always end my interviews with this. Please tell us a story about libraries or librarians.
I really believe that my love of books and reading is due in large part to the library at Ravinia Elementary School, where I attended first through fifth grade (just outside Chicago in Highland Park, IL). The school was in an old brick Tudor style building and at the top of the A-frame peak, was the library. But it wasn’t called the library. It was called the Treehouse, and it was magnificent. It was a sun-filled space lined with multi-paned windows and loads of odd angles that created the perfect cozy nooks in which to curl up and read a book. It was always warm in there and the librarians always knew just what book the day called for. It was there I discovered that Frog and Toad were friends, Ramona was a pest, and bawled like a baby as I read Where the Red Fern Grows while Mrs. Lovey handed me tissues from the box on her desk. I’ve since been to many an amazing library, but the Treehouse will forever have a special place in my heart as the place where my love of books really took root.
Thank you, Jill! Jill's website is https://jillorrauthor.com/
The Good Byline by Jill Orr. Prospect Park Books, 2017. ISBN 9781938849916 (paperback), 280p.