Today, I am pleased to introduce a new feature – “20 Questions.” I ask authors the same 20 single-sentence questions about their writing and post their fabulously different answers.
Today’s star is Merry Jones, author of the Zoe Hayes mystery series (buy the first one here) and, more recently, the Harper Jennings mysteries. Harper is a fascinating protagonist – an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD, who is now teaching at Cornell. In the first book, Summer Session, her worlds collide as a student’s suicide sweeps her up in a maze of theft, murder, and betrayal … and all the victims point to her.
All Merry’s books are also available to UK readers from the Amazon Kindle store.
Merry is published by Severn House – they have an amazing range of work in Crime, Mystery, Romance, Historical Fiction and Thrillers, and I highly recommend a visit to their website. It really is like a candy store of amazing genre fiction. You can follow them on Twitter at @severnhouse .
Anyway, with no further ado, here are Twenty Questions for Merry Jones:
Opening titles on the 20 Questions television panel show (1949–1955) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
1. Where do you do your best thinking?
Hmm. Maybe in bed, falling asleep–I keep a note pad on the night stand to record brilliant ideas that come to me in the night. (Of course, in the morning, they don’t always seem as brilliant.)
2. If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
It’s not so much a “where” as a “how” and “with whom.” Because if I could, I’d live close to family and friends in a way that allowed mobility. But, to pick one specific place, It would have to be near water in a mild climate and energetic city, in a place with a view so I could see far into the open distance and view the sky. Where is that?
3. What are you most scared of?
Man, that’s tough. Because I’m scared of everything. I’m even scared of being scared. Maybe, if I have to pick one thing, losing my family would be first. But losing my memory would be right up there–the disorientation and isolation of that. (Ed. Note: Then don’t read BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP!)
4. Which book do you wish you’d written?
Might as well pick one that sold well. How about GONE WITH THE WIND?
5. How did you find your first agent?
I didn’t find her. She found me. I’d submitted chapters and outlines directly to 40 publishers’ slush piles for my first book, STEPMOTHERS. Months later, I got two offers. When a deal was finalized, I guess it was mentioned in Publishers Weekly–At any rate, she saw that the book deal had been unrepresented. Connie Clausen called and asked if I’d like her to represent my future work. And that was that. She remained my agent for almost a decade, until she died.
6. What is your “guilty pleasure” reading?
Oh, no guilt involved. I read lots of genre suspense and mysteries and thrillers. That’s what I write, so I try to keep up on what else is out there. I especially like historical suspense, even recent 20th century history (like Ken Follett.)
7. What are you most proud of?
I’d say I’m proud of my family, but it’s presumptuous of me to be “proud” of other people, as if who and what they are reflects on me. So I guess I could say that I’m proud to be part of my family.
Aside from that, now that I think about it, being “proud” isn’t part of my emotional repertoire. Rather than feeling proud of what I’ve done or been or said, I tend to focus on upcoming challenges and to prepare for what’s ahead.
8. What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Oh dear. In the days before everyone had laptops, I had a job compiling a marketing mailing list by hand–in other words, by copying names and addresses out of phone books all day, every day. I mean, shoot me.
But even worse than that was being a producer/director at a local television station in the early 70’s. The all male technical crew disapproved of having a female director and tried to embarrass me constantly. They cursed; they harassed; they hung pornographic pictures in the studio; they defied me in every way possible–even by ignoring my cues. The job would have been great, but the hostility and defiance was unbearable. Today, of course, this behavior would not have been tolerated. The men would have been reprimanded or fired; the company could have been sued.
9. Which of your characters would you most like to have a pint with in real life, and why?
Probably Harper Jennings. She’s the protagonist in SUMMER SESSION, BEHIND THE WALLS and the soon to be released WINTER BREAK. Harper is a tough, seasoned Iraq war vet. But underneath, she’s vulnerable. She suffers Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, has a troubled past. But she has generous spirit and big heart, is spirited and energetic, drives a Ninja motorcycle. I think she’d be fun company.
And then, there’s her hunky husband Hank. I’d want to drink with him, but he’s spoken for.
10. Which character of someone else’s would you most like to have a pint with, and why?
Where do I start? Rhett Butler from GONE WITH THE WIND? Sigh–Smooth, debonair, devilish and seductive. No further explanation necessary.
But, if Rhett’s not available, I’d be up for a raucous drink with the impudent rascal Randel Patrick McMurphy of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST–That is, before his lobotomy. McMurphy was irreverent and playful. He was handsome, quick witted, loved to party. Enough said?
11. Who was your first literary crush (author or character) and why?
Hemingway. Seriously–you have to ask why? Just look at the photos. His eyes. His masculinity. The guy was dark. He was moody and deep and broody and daring. Yummy.
12. Which literary romance/friendship do you most wish you were a part of, and why?
One of my favorite books is THE PRINCESS BRIDE. So you might expect that I’d want to be Buttercup in the romance with Westley. But, in fact, I’d prefer to be part of the emerging friendship between the two Dread Pirate Roberts: Inigo Montoya and Westley. The bonds between these men grow from their shared adventures, mutual respect and joy from conquering evil together–Sword-fighting, leaping, laughing and marauding. I’d love to be part of that. In fact, reading the book, I was part of it.
13. What is the first thing you remember writing, and how old were you?
I wrote constantly, story after story. But one I remember was written when I was about ten. It was about an old man who scampered out of his house every morning to sit on a fence and watch the road. His family couldn’t stop him. One winter, during a blizzard, the family was snowed in and couldn’t get out of their home. When they finally managed to dig their way out, they found the old man on the fence, frozen solid.
Sigh. Who knows where that came from?
14. If people like your writing, what other writers would you recommend to them?
I’ve been told Joy Fielding, Mary Higgins Clark. Maybe Susan Miller.
15. What do you hate most about the writing process?
I find that beginning a new book is the most challenging–Defining the characters, establishing the setting and laying the groundwork for the plot. Once all that’s done, the rest just kind of rolls its way out.
16. What do you love most about the writing process?
Getting lost in the characters and their worlds and relationships. I don’t even know what time it is while I’m writing. I love having fictional people take over and speak for themselves, leading me through the plot.
17. Popcorn: salty or sweet?
Light salt. Even no salt, just pop it in olive oil and it’s good.
18. Do your books share your personality? If they’re different, what’s the difference?
My books reflect worlds where danger emerges suddenly from unexpected sources. Where it’s difficult to know who can be trusted. Where survival depends on being cautious, strong, prepared and vigilant. Where women possess rich inner lives and, even if they are in good relationships, they have to be independent and fend for themselves.
Outwardly, since I smile and converse easily, my personality might seem to diverge from this dark and sinister worldview. In actuality, if a sense of humor and love of laughter are added to the mix, it’s pretty spot on.
19. What do you do when you have writer’s block?
I write anyway. I make lists of plot ideas, situations. Or I push my way through a scene/chapter, or polish a section I’ve already written. I might go for a row or a walk. But in general, I simply don’t allow it.
20. What are you working on now?
I just finished the first draft of the fourth Harper Jennings novel, which will follow WINTER BREAK, due out in January. I’m also working a lot on promotion and considering a sequel to another new book, THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE, due out in February. Writing is a job that never gives a day off. My focus is always on the next project, the next plot, the next book.