Jennifer Di Camillo (aka Crys Weldon) and I had an interesting visit at the OWFI writing conference the first full weekend of May. Meeting fellow authors face to fact is fun, and learning more about them builds a stronger friendship. Therefore, hosting her as part of the Mystery We Write Blog Tour became a conversation with a friend.
Let’s pretend that we’re all sitting in my room at the hotel as Jennifer and I visit. Be sure to have your favorite drink in hand (limited to tea, coffee, or soda, please).
Jennifer, how did/does your history and home background affect your writing?
The church I grew up in has a strong social program for youth, and we were involved in the idea process for planning the activities on the calendar. I think that really had me thinking ahead at an early age, as well as teaching me brainstorming. We had to plan three months ahead, plan a variety of activities including joint activities, family activities, and community service projects. We learned arts and crafts as well as homemaking skills. I really think the combination was just what I needed to get the juices of creativity flowing early.
Tell us something about your educational background that has made you a better, or more caring, writer.
Well, I haven’t gone to college, and I was one of those stay at home mothers. I have five kids, in case you didn’t know. I have what you’d call a degree from life. I ran a preschool for 8 years and a beauty pageant for 6. I also organized monthly parties for my church family every month for seven years. Please don’t think I’m preachy because I’ve brought up religion twice already. I have to give credit where credit is due. I learned a lot about party planning, and idea organizing from those churchy experiences.
Next question, authors are often asked when they started writing or what triggered their interest in writing. I like to know that, also, but I would especially like to know what keeps you writing.
In first grade, my teacher required us to copy, pictures and words both, a book we liked. I did as I was told but kept telling the teacher I knew it was wrong to copy somebody else’s work and I had stories of my own that I could tell. Didn’t matter to her. But that was probably the first inkling that I wanted to write a book of my own some day.
What keeps me writing is probably the fact that I write, first, to entertain myself. I love creating characters and letting them lead me through an adventure.
Tell us, Jennifer, what is your most recent book, and what inspired you to write it?
I actually have a couple of mysteries coming out in 2011: a mystery anthology titled MENTALLY UNSTABLE (Under the Moon Press), a romantic suspense titled FOUR DEAD (Mojocastle Press).
The anthology came about because I have been an on again off again member of a local mystery writers group called Sleuths Ink. They started having short story contests. I also enter contests at writing conferences a lot. So, the collection just sort of came together that way. It has a vast array of mystery shorts. Some funny, some hardboiled, some cozy. And every murderer in it is MENTALLY UNSTABLE.
FOUR DEAD is the type of mystery I like to write best, romantic suspense. I started it one afternoon when I needed five pages of typed manuscript to take to my weekly writer’s workshop, up in Springfield, Missouri. I wanted to write about a serial killer, but I also wanted romance. It is not your typical romantic suspense, though.
Sounds interesting, both of them. How did you manage to come up with the idea for your novel?
I saw something on the news about a body being recovered from a dumpster and the premise for my novel was born.
Jennifer, do you have a particular writing process or technique that you use, if so, what?
I get up early, go straight to the computer, put on the headphones, crank up some music, and let the characters create the story and their reactions on their own.
I know how I’m relieved and drained when I complete a book, even though the characters stay around for a while, still alive. How do you feel when you complete a book?
Almost bereft. I hate to leave characters at the end of a story. That’s why I often write endings that allow me to do a sequel.
Ahh, now I know why I do that. So what are your writing achievements and goals?
Achievements? I’ve written 32 published books (23 under a pseudonym because they are very graphic) in about 7 years, and have a few more that aren’t yet under contract, and I’ve won over 180 writing awards.
Goals: Maybe write one of those Great American Novels you’ve heard tell of. I can tell you one thing, it WILL have murder and mystery in it. How can it be great if it doesn’t have those?
Are you a member of a writing group? If so, how do any writing groups benefit you and your writing?
I am active in a group called the Ozarks Writer’s League (OWLS for short). We meet quarterly for a conference. I learned a lot from local writing groups when I first got started and I’m grateful for those who participated in teaching me writing mechanics/basics. But my first novel, which is still available and has quite a bit of mystery, murder, suspense, and some romance, THE PRICE OF PEACE, was completed before I ever went to a group.
Does writing help better you as a person? How?
Hm. Better me as a person? By writing a vast array of characters, I think I learn a little bit about people with every story I write. I mean, I have to build characters from people I meet, so I have to study people and try to understand what makes them tick.
What advice would you have for a new author?
There are writing groups and writing conferences all over. Hook up. They’ll keep you motivated, teach you the craft of writing, and you’ll find some writing buddies.
Would you please give a brief excerpt from your book and/or a review about it?
Excerpt from FOUR DEAD:
The Headline that Tuesday morning read: FOUR DEAD: WHO’S NEXT?
Below that, the article asked, “What do we know about the serial killer stalking our streets?” Bannered beneath the question were pictures of the four dead women that had been linked to one m.o., HE LIKES REDHEADS centered as a secondary headline.
Next, the article announced local sales of hair dye were up. Movie tickets were down. It went on to make a blaring statement that local businesses were suffering. That people should not be afraid. It compared fatality statistics from driving and accidents in the home to the possibility of being killed by the stalker.
Detective Beth Thompson mumbled, “What is this? Worry about the local economy spurs the media to send women to their death?” She grunted indelicately and tossed the paper aside without reading further. “Go ahead, girls, walk the streets, end up in a dumpster, but by all means, let’s not let theater sales go down.” Her hand sliced through the air, accentuating her grievances in choppy motions.
Her partner, Mike Barber, glanced sideways at her.
She didn’t notice. “I’ll bet Chinese take-out and pizza deliveries aren’t complaining.” Moving files around her desk, she grumbled some more, “Probably somebody that can’t hold a conversation…” She reached for the paper again, frowning, while looking for a byline. “Yep. A man. I knew it!”
Mike’s eyebrow went up, but he wisely kept his lips shut.
Beth’s irritation picked up momentum when she tossed the paper into the trash can. “Heaven forbid men have to hold a conversation with you on a date now. What?” She mimicked, “She won’t go out in the dark? She expects you to communicate…?” Slamming a forensic report closed, dropping it on the top of her piled folders, she added, “There’s a foreign concept… assuming you can get a date in the first place.”
A little surprised, Mike asked carefully, “You looking for one?”
An odd noise came from somewhere deep in Beth’s chest. Looking up from her work-cluttered desk at the cork-board on the wall, she asked, “What?’ She had to backtrack through her ramblings.
“Did it sound like I was asking for one?” She winced inwardly.
She breathed a sigh of relief that she hadn’t come off needy.
He prompted, “So… what? You need someone to talk to?”
She stared at the information posted on the board, unseeing, really, the map on it— marked at four points with thumbtacks, where bodies had been found over that many months. Pictures of the victims stared at her, like they had in the paper. Same photo’s. Same line-up, in order of their deaths. Their names in black ink were attached with index cards. Murder dates blared in bold red lettering beneath.
As always, the information stole her train of thought. Vaguely, she said, “I don’t need anybody else, thanks.” She thought, If he offers to set me up— I might commit justifiable homicide. She willed him, Don’t do it, Mike. Don’t break my heart. I’d hate to have to shoot you.
Thanks for visiting with me, Jennifer. I enjoyed meeting you virtually and in real life.
Thanks, Vivian, for having me stop by. I hope your fans will swing by my blog to see what your interview for me looks like. http://jenndicamillo.wordpress.com/
*hugs* Jennifer DiCamillo
To learn more about Jennifer, go to any of the following links: