I hope you will all enjoy the interview and maybe even pick up one of Juliet's books. I really like them! Oh and if you want to try your luck...you could a book or two! Just enter the contest at the end of the interview.
Amber - Welcome to Amberkatze's Book Blog! It is great to have you here as a guest! Could start of by telling us a little about your paranormal cozy mystery series?
Juliet - The Witchcraft Mysteries feature Lily Ivory, a misfit witch from a small West Texas town who has wandered the world looking for a safe place to establish a home. She winds up in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury neighborhood, which, for those who aren’t familiar with the area, is famous for its inclusive, non-judgmental atmosphere. For years Lily has had a special relationship with old things like clothing and furniture, even kitchen implements, items that people use on a daily basis. Since she’s been so cut off from friends and family, she has felt connected to other people through these items. So when she arrives in San Francisco, she sets up a vintage clothing store. She hopes to hide her witchy ways, but she soon finds out that not only does she need to use her magic to help unravel a mystery, but she’s surrounded by friends with whom she can finally be herself. As the series continues she develops more confidence in her self, her friends, and in her magic.
Amber - How did you come up with the idea for the Witchcraft Mystery series? Was it a long process or did it just come to you?
Juliet - The idea was easy – I’ve always been attracted by the paranormal, so when my editor at Obsidian asked if I had anything in the genre she could look at, I sat down and wrote a chapter or two based on an idea I’d had brewing for some time. But establishing the character of Lily was a little harder – my previous mystery series featured an artist with a decorative painting studio, and she was easy since her life was basically a direct rip-off of my own! But as I thought about Lily, I came to realize that I’d had a lifelong fascination with alternative systems of healing and beliefs –I used to be an anthropologist—and in fact my favorite aunt read tea leaves and cards and referred to herself as a witch. So I started talking to women –and a couple of men—who call themselves witches, and attended some coven meetings, and did all kinds of historical reading. It was fascinating…and the more I read, the clearer Lily became in my mind as a woman who has been blessed or cursed with a certain genetic ability…one that connected her to a historic tradition, as well as setting her apart from other people.
Amber - What kind of research have you done for the series? Anything interesting or is the research boring?
Juliet – Research is never boring! One of the aspects I most love about being an author is that I get to learn about so many things – I once wrote a character fascinated with bats, and learned about their different habits and lifestyles…who knew? So no, I never find the research tedious especially when it comes to witchcraft and belief systems. As I mentioned above, I’ve spoken with witches and attended coven meetings. I’ve also talked to healers and witches from many different cultures – my closest links are with Mexico, but I’ve met with folks from New Orleans, where my grandmother was from, and from the Caribbean, and with voodoo practitioners, and with Rom (gypsy) witches. There’s never enough time in the day to do all I’d like, and the worst part is that I can never include everything in the books! When all is said and done, they need to present a compelling, fun story, so they can’t read like a non-fiction research tome. Thus I have to leave out all sorts of interesting tidbits, those that I can’t manage to fit in here and there.
Amber - There have been two books in the Witchcraft Mystery so far. When is the next book due out? How many more will there be?
Juliet - The next is called Hexes and Hemlines, and it will be released in June 2011. I just finished the manuscript—Lily’s called in to consult on a case where a man was murdered and found surrounded by bad luck symbols. I enjoyed writing it particularly because we find out a little more about Lily’s background, as well as Oscar’s (her goblin/pot-bellied pig familiar). Then in June 2012 the fourth will be published, and I believe there will be more after that since they’re doing really well, finding their audience.
Amber - You also have a new series coming out in December. It looks really good :) Maybe you could tell us a little about it?
Juliet – The first in the Haunted Home Renovation series is called If Walls Could Talk. The protagonist is Mel Turner, who went through a painful divorce a couple of years previous to the books starting, and wanted to run away and hide -- but when her mother passed away unexpectedly and her dad had a hard time keeping things together, Mel stepped in to help him run his high-end construction business in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mel’s good at construction, but when she opens up the walls, she finds a mystery from the past, and a little more than she bargained for. I’m writing the second in the series right now, and I’m having a lot of fun weaving a spooky historical ghost story based on a real San Francisco legend into a modern day murder mystery.
Amber - Did you always wanted to be an author? Why cozy mysteries with magic and ghosts mixed into them? Has the paranormal always interested you?
Juliet –I think I thought about being an author when I was very young – like a lot of kids, I enjoyed making up stories, and I *loved* to read. But I grew up and went to graduate school in anthropology and the only writing I did for a long time was non-fiction, about immigration and cultural conflict. I also worked as a social worker for a while, then went on to become a professional artist. I became an author almost by mistake – my sister and I sort of dared each other to write a book, and we wound up writing the Art Lovers Mystery books together, which featured Annie Kincaid, an ex-art forger eking out a living in San Francisco by painting murals in rich people’s homes –which is what I was doing at the time. Annie was great fun – the fourth in the series, Arsenic and Old Paint, was just released—and my sister and I both learned a lot about writing and the publishing industry through our experiences. But when I started writing by myself, I wanted to write the sort of thing I really enjoyed reading, and I do love the paranormal. I’ve always been fascinated by it, and envied those who feel the call.
Amber - How do you pick the names for your characters? Do they have any special meanings?
Juliet –That’s an excellent question! Lily Ivory started out as Lilith, becaue I was reading about the legend of Lilith, a powerful woman from the Bible and folklore, and how she was reviled. But then it sort of morphed as the character changed in my mind. Still, the other day a fellow was telling me how Lily Ivory was perfect for a witch (rather “ethereal,” he said), while “Mel Turner” sounds capable and straightforward. So maybe there’s something unconscious at work ;-) Mel actually started out as Sophie, because I love that name, but then I met a friend named Sophie and couldn’t stop thinking of her as I wrote, so I changed it. I like using a rather girlie name, like Melanie, that’s shortened to a common man’s name, Mel—since Mel’s in a traditionally male profession, it seemed to fit. Oscar, on the other hand, was named for my neighbor’s black cat. When my beloved mutt passed away a couple of years ago, Oscar-the-cast started hanging around, trying to love me. I’ve never been a cat person, but he won me over with time and patience and his tricky feline ways. If anyone’s interested in “meeting” Oscar the Cat, he has his own Facebook fan page! There’s a link from my Juliet Blackwell FB page.
Amber - How long on average does it take you to write a book? Do you have a process you follow? or do you just start at page one and see what happens?
Juliet –I usually begin with an overall idea of a mystery or a strange event, and then I just start writing and let it go organically. Of course, that means there’s a lot of re-writing, because after the first rough draft I have to go back and see how everything plays out, place clues, that sort of thing. It’s important to be fair to the reader and give enough clues in case they want to try to figure out the mystery – not everyone does, but it’s best to play fair.
These days, though, when I’m under contract I am required to turn in an outline, so I have to try to think things through ahead of time. Still, when I actually start writing I usually veer off of the outline by about chapter two…I guess it’s just not the way I think! But so far my editor hasn’t had any problem with the books I turn in, so I guess it’s a process that works for us all.
Amber - I am sure that being an author has its ups and downs. What experiences have you had so far?
Juliet –The worst part, by far, is having to promote and “sell” the books. I hate sales, and selling my own work is even harder for me. But it’s difficult to get one’s books into readers’ hands, especially these days when there’s so much competition and zero dollars to be spent on advertising and promotion. That’s why blogs such as yours are so great for authors – we can get the word out to readers who enjoy our kind of book.
The best part is that it’s the best job in the world! Writing can become obsessive – it is SO fun and creative, and exciting to spend a good part of everyday with characters and people in one’s mind. Other authors have become wonderful friends – so much so that if feels a little like high school, except that this time the creative geeks are the cool kids ;-) Connecting with readers is an incredible feeling, as well. How many people get to create something that winds up becoming part of someone’s life for a few hours or days, and might even be something meaningful? I’ve had some amazing letters from readers –people who’ve read my books in the hospital, or after natural disasters, and even though I think of my books as “fun” they’ve given people a respite, taken them to a different world for a little while. That’s just amazing to be a part of that.
Amber - What are you listening and watching lately? Is there any music or other media that influences your writing?
Juliet - I don’t watch television because I just don’t have the time, or don’t want to spend the little time I have on it! Plus, I’m cheap so I don’t have cable ;-) But I do occasionally get into a miniseries like The Wire or Six Feet Under, and then I have to watch all the DVDs one after another, immerse myself in the world for a while. Some of the writing for these shows is incredible, and I try to analyze the plot lines and intersections and threads. Music always influences me – I love all kinds of music, depending on my mood. My teenage son has even helped me learn to appreciate a lot of hip hop and rap, so I try to keep open to everything. But my biggest love is art – I’m a painter, and sometimes I just have to go into my studio and create in an entirely non-linear, non-verbal way. I also love looking at other people’s stuff and try to make time to go to Oakland’s art walk, and the occasional museum or gallery opening. And then there’s dancing and drinking…does that count? I find it’s very inspirational!
Amber - What books do you enjoy reading? Do you have any favourite authors/series?
Juliet –One of my first favorites was Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, who wrote some time ago. In fact, she’s still writing though she’s getting up there in years. She wrote traditional mysteries as Peters, and paranormal as Michaels. It always amuses me that people seem to think paranormal is a new obsession – it’s been around for a loooong time – What about Frankenstein? Dracula? Wuthering Heights? More recently there was Dark Shadows, then Buffy the Vampire Slayer…the market may be bigger than ever, but it’s always been there. I think fiction and paranormal go together so naturally because it’s the perfect place to play with concepts of life and death, morality, mortality, and what it means to be human. I now read mostly outside of my own genre – I’m a big Stephen King fan, and love Nick Hornby, Richard Russo, Barbara Kingsolver, Sherman Alexie, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris. Mario Acevedo and Sophie Littlefield are both good friends and superb mystery writers – I adore their books. Right now I’m reading Nicole Peeler’s first, Tempest Rising.
Amber - A huge thank you for stopping by! I hope you will come back again sometime soon!
Juliet is very kindly giving away a set of her first two Witchcraft Mysteries! That means one lucky winner will get a copy of Secondhand Spirits and A Cast-off coven!
How To Enter
Do you read any cozy mysteries? Which ones do you like and/or want to recommend to us!
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The contest will stay open until Sunday 17th of October 2010 4pm CET and the winner will be picked by a randomizer. Entrants should check back to see if they have won. I do not hunt down winners and will pick new winners for any prizes not claimed within 7 days.