Please welcome Janis Thornton to Cozy Up With Kathy. Janis writes the Elmwood Confidential Cozy Mystery series. The first, Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies, was just released October 15th.
Kathy: Crystal Cropper is a woman of mature years. I, for one, am happy to see protagonists older than the usual 20 and 30 year olds. Why choose an older protagonist? What makes writing about older women fun? Or doesn't age make a difference?
JT: Great questions, Kathy. I chose a “woman of mature years” because I wanted to present a strong, fun, female protagonist that fellow Baby Boomers could identify with and root for.
As a writer, I am used to writing from the perspective of a variety of characters—male and female at any stage of life and background. But who’s more qualified to understand how a “woman of mature years” thinks, acts, feels, and responds to people and situations than another “woman of mature years”?
Kathy: Who better to dig up the dirt on people than their cleaning lady? Have you ever had a cleaning lady? Do you think that most cleaners are discreet or dying to spill your secrets?
JT: I must confess that I do not have, nor have I ever had a cleaning lady, and I’ve got the dust bunnies to prove it. However, I have friends who hire cleaning services, and they tell me they always pre-clean their house before the housekeeper arrives. Generally speaking, reliable cleaning services are discreet, but if they find dead bodies swept under the bed, they’re probably going to be compelled to spill it.
Kathy: In Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies Crystal Cropper looks to solve a decades-old murder and the disappearance of a high school boy. How does working to solve a mystery from the past help and/or impede a current investigation?
JT: In the real world, I can imagine that a newspaper editor who’s trying to solve an old, unsolved crime might be viewed as meddlesome and annoying, particularly if the unsolved crime is related to a current investigation. But in the Elmwoodian world I created, because Crystal’s local informants trump those of the sheriff (in both number and quality), he welcomes her meddling with open arms.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
JT: I read my first Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books about a hundred years ago and loved them. Decades later, “Murder She Wrote” came along, and I never missed an episode. I have a special affinity for cozies because of the small-town setting and the colorful characters that are a staple of the genre. Besides that, living in a town with a population of 6,000 provides me great insight on its people and its behind-the-scenes comings and goings.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
JT: I wrote two local historical nonfiction books (for Arcadia Publishing) prior to Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies. I also have written lots of romance and mystery short stories, and a paranormal romantic-mystery, none of which have been published. But I’m not ruling anything out.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
JT: Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies is the first book in what I intend as the Elmwood Confidential series. All will be set in the small, Indiana town of Elmwood, where Boomer-aged newspaper editor Crystal Cropper never takes “no” for an answer, vigorously rejects her “senior citizen” label, and uses the power of her pen to expose corruption erupting around her.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
JT: As an author, I love all of my characters—the good, the bad, and the redeemable. They’re sort of like children to me, and as their literary “parent,” I can’t favor one over the other. However, there is one I poured more of myself into than any of the others. Crystal Cropper is more than just a one-dimensional character to me. She is, in many ways, the person I would like to be. At times, she exemplifies a facet of my actual life experience; other times she portrays attitudes, actions, courage, and skills that I’m too shy to exhibit.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
JT: Mainly, the story is a product of my imagination, but I would be remiss not to acknowledge the influence of my environment. As previously noted, I live in a small community. In addition, at the time I started writing Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies, I was deeply embedded in another small community as editor and reporter of its daily newspaper. Both scenarios helped add flavor to the story because of the seemingly limitless inspiration they provided for story building and character creation.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
JT: Getting published hasn’t been a do-or-die goal for me, but it was something that was always rolling around in my head. After I finished the Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies manuscript, it did nothing but take up space on my hard drive for the next four years. In late 2013, I vowed that I would polish it, write my query letter and synopsis, and start submitting it to publishers. I gave myself a year. Lucky for me, PageSpring Publishing picked it up last spring, and I will be forever grateful for their faith in me.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
JT: There are so many wonderful authors who I would love to meet, but the following seems like a good mix: Edgar Allan Poe (I mean … who wouldn’t like to dine with Poe?); Louisa May Alcott (not only was she a trailblazer for women writers, she could tell me about her Transcendentalist contemporaries—Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau); Sue Grafton (my favorite mystery author and creator of my favorite series character, Kinsey Millhone); and William Kent Krueger (who not only is an amazing writer, he’s an awesome gentleman who would be a fabulous guest at any dinner party). I hope they don’t mind carry-out.
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
JT: I currently am finishing “December Dread” by Jess Lourey, who I met this summer at the Midwest Writers Conference. Next up are Terence Faherty’s “The Quiet Woman” and D.E. Johnson’s “Detroit Shuffle.”
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
JT: My number one hobby is writing. (You know you’re a lucky girl when your hobby and your work are inseparable.) I am also interested in local history, genealogy, old movies, and art.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
JT: I’m embarrassed to admit that you won’t find anything exotic or nutritious in my fridge or pantry—just your basic jar of peanut butter (crunchy), a box of Ritz crackers, Diet Coke, and a good supply of Milk Bones (for my dog!).
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
JT: There are always lots of story ideas bubbling in my head. At the moment, I am working out the next story in the Elmwood Confidential series, as well as a collection of sensational historic crimes that rocked Central Indiana between 1880 and 1965.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
JT: This … being invited to chat with fellow writers and readers about writing after the writing is done. And truly, it’s wonderful to kick back for a minute to absorb how good it feels being called “author.”
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