I'd like to welcome Judy Fitzwater to the blog today. Judy writes the Jennifer Marsh Mystery series. Dying Before "I Do" is the latest book in the series.
Kathy: Jennifer Marsh is a mystery writer. How did you decide upon a mystery writer as the protagonist of a murder mystery?
JF: The first Jennifer book, Dying to Get Published, is the third mystery I wrote, but the first I sold. My first book featured a librarian as the sleuth, the second a P.I. husband and wife team. Breaking into publishing is hard, and I wasn't having a lot of luck with my first two books—Too many librarians and P.I.s already out there. So I sat down and wrote thirteen pages of the first Jennifer book, taking out all of my frustrations in a comical way through my heroine—a mystery writer who was also having trouble getting published. I took it to my writers' group, and they loved it. I said, "But I'll never be able to sell it." They told me they didn't care. They wanted to read it, and I had to write it. So I did. And when I sent it to a publisher, it sold immediately and went on to be nominated for an Agatha Award. It's ironic that Jennifer's inability to get published is exactly what got me my first contract.
Kathy: I love humor in my mysteries. What makes murder funny? How can humor improve the mystery?
JF: I don't think murder is funny, but people are. I try very hard not to lose sight of the fact that a "real" person has died in my books, that people are grieving that loss. But the living people can be incredibly funny in their attempts to solve a murder. I especially love Jennifer's crazy writers' group who seem to think what they write on paper might actually work in real life as well as Emma Walker and her buddies at O'Hara's Tara. A paranoid little old lady with a sharp mind is always a hoot to write. So it's Jennifer's interactions with all of these people and her own missteps and rather strange logic that make my books funny, not the murders. As for how humor improves a mystery, I think death makes us appreciate life more, and we all need as much joy in our lives as possible. So laughter, as far as I'm concerned, improves almost everything.
Kathy: In Dying Before "I Do" Jennifer is about to get married. Weddings can be stressful enough, but add murder to the mix...did you draw upon any personal wedding experiences (Stress inducing or not) to color this one?
JF: I didn’t use any personal experiences, but I don't know of a wedding that's ever gone off perfectly. I always say it's the things that go wrong that make a good story later. It was, however, stressful for me to write about Jennifer's wedding because I was taking the journey I'd set for Jennifer and Sam over six books to its logical conclusion. It was time for them to get married—but what would Jennifer's wedding look like? I hope I got it right. I feel like I did. It had to be something unique to them, but nothing crazy or ridiculous. They have a special relationship, and I wanted to honor that.
Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?
JF: I've always loved reading cozy mysteries. I love the puzzles, the whole figuring out whodunit. I also love the quirky characters who solve the crimes. They're nosy, tenacious, and they have a strong sense of humanity and right and wrong. And the mysteries aren't usually too graphic. That makes for a pleasant read.
Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?
JF: I do. I really like writing suspense with strong female characters. I love throwing a heroine into an impossible situation and watching her use her wits and her special talents to push her way through it. I've written two so far, Drowning in Air and No Safe Place. I hope to write more. They're exciting to read and to write—completely different from cozy mysteries. I've also written a paranormal romantic comedy, Vacationing with the Dead, which is just pure fun. Ghosts and mayhem and lots of laughs.
Kathy: Tell us about your series.
JF: The Jennifer Marsh Mysteries are a seven-book cozy mystery series with more to come. Jennifer is an unpublished mystery writer, although she's co-authored a couple of true crime books with her newspaper reporter boyfriend/now husband Sam. I keep the mysteries in my series varied, so neither I nor my readers will get bored. The other characters pop in and out of the books as needed, but I seem to come back to them on a regular basis because I've grown very fond of them. Readers who enjoy the books will find both laugh-out-loud and poignant moments. At the books’ core is Jennifer herself, who is a really good person with a strong sense of right and wrong and decency. I think that's their greatest appeal—that, and the fact she and her friends do some pretty wacky things.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
JF: Jennifer, of course, but Emma Walker is a close second. She's an octogenarian who lives quite comfortably in one of Atlanta's ritziest high rises. She's a tiny, frail, elderly, harmless old lady—on the surface. Beneath the skin she's sly, clever, paranoid, and always up for a little adventure. Bridge and Bingo bore her. Espionage delights her. She's just plain fun and owns a ridiculously ugly pet that may or may not be a dog.
Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?
JF: My own frustration with the publishing industry, as I mentioned earlier, was my inspiration.
Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?
JF: I've never considered writing a hobby. It's my occupation. I want people to read my work, and the only way to do that is to publish it. As many books as I've written, I always feel a thrill when a new one comes out.
Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?
JF: Wow! Now that's just not fair. I'd rather invite the sleuths they created—Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Nero Wolfe, Perry Mason, Sherlock Holmes, and, of course, there'd have to be Lord Peter Wimsey, Harriet Vane, and… Would I really have to limit it to four?
Kathy: What are you currently reading?
JF: I always love a good thriller and a good mystery. I read a lot of non-fiction as well, especially when I'm writing. I don't want to be influenced in any way by another author's style. I just finished reading/editing a book for a fellow mystery writer. So I read a number of books that have not yet been released that are in the final editing stages written by friends of mine.
Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?
JF: Oh, goodness. I have so many "use-to's". I used to sew a lot. I used to cook a lot. I used to…I'm doing more traveling these days and have several trips I hope to make this year. I'm interested in things that some people might find boring, like reading about archeology, history, animal intelligence, how the brain works—pretty off-the-wall, random stuff. And I love doing crossword puzzles, especially the ones with “tricks” in them.
Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.
JF: Milk, eggs, mayo, and ketchup. Try making something out of that!
Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?
JF: Yes. I'm a slow writer, but they'll be coming. I want to explore how marriage will affect Jennifer and Sam in my series, and I have the beginnings of at least 4 suspense novels that I hope someday to finish.
Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?
JF: LOL! Finishing a book! The relief is amazing when I've finally been able to take all of those plot strands and pull them together into a cohesive, interesting story. Writing is hard, but having written is wonderful. I also love hearing from readers who really enjoy my work. That makes all the hard work worth it.