*** SPECIAL FEATURE - July'13 ***
Mystery author Joyce T. Strand, much like her fictional character, Jillian Hillcrest, served as head of corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder. Rather, she focused on publicizing her companies and their products. Joyce received her Ph.D. from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA She currently lives in Southern California with her two cats, a collection of cow statuary and art, and her muse, the roadrunner.
We corporate communications types exhibit a comprehensive perspective, oversee many projects in parallel, and experience a lot of interruptions. Relevant to an author’s life: We write and publish articles, press releases, SEC documents, white papers, etc. to reach out to all constituencies of a company. We also talk on the phone—to the extent that today I avoid it as much as possible. We go to too many meetings, give many presentations, conduct interviews with reporters and investors, brief executives, and travel. Oh, and we develop and monitor budgets, manage corporate donations, and offer tours to interested students and community members.
We seldom encounter any murders like my publicist protagonist does, however.
What was your first piece? Yes, that scribbled thing in a notebook that’s somewhere in one of the boxes of memories?
So how do I define my “first” piece? In high school and college, I wrote poetry in addition to the many research papers. My doctoral dissertation was close to 200 pages, so I suppose I could count it as my first book. Then there are the many by-lined articles I’ve written – the first for fulfillment of my job in the 1980s. I started my first mystery novel in 2009, and still have approximately five “first” drafts on my computer. So many “firsts.”
When did you first decide to submit your work and how is being a published author treating you?
I decided to publish my own fictional work after exploring the pros and cons of traditional versus self-publishing at a writer’s conference. Bottom line: I want to control the process. I tend to be impatient. Given my marketing experience, I deluded myself into believing I could manage the process successfully. Of course, I underestimated the amount of work self-publishing involves, but I would make the same choice today. What I still find difficult are the negative reviews. After I get over the initial humiliation, I try to incorporate the feedback to improve the next book and still satisfy my target readers.
Why Mysteries? How did you come up with ideas for your books?
I love reading mysteries, watching mysteries on movies and TV shows, and exploring real-life mysteries. Therefore I progressed to writing mysteries with little hesitation once I decided to write fiction. I especially love creating the puzzles for readers to solve. To come up with the ideas for my series, I looked in the news for relevant California cases that a public relations executive in Silicon Valley might encounter. I have based each of the Jillian Hillcrest mysteries on a fictionalized account of a real California case.
How would you introduce Jillian Hillcrest to the people who haven’t read the series yet?
Publicist Jillian Hillcrest enjoys her career at a small biotech company in Silicon Valley. She is divorced, although her ex-husband Chad is working hard to re-engage her in a relationship. Her mother reared her as a single parent when her father was killed at the end of the Vietnam War and never met her. Unfortunately, Jillian’s routine is interrupted when her best friend is murdered and a San Francisco inspector pulls her into solving it. Thus begins her investigations into solving crimes she encounters through no fault of her own.
What one quirk or characteristic of yours did you give your character? Who was it?
I enjoy drinking red wine and eating at fine restaurants. Jillian and her ex-husband-looking-to-become-current-husband Chad explore both throughout the series.
What's your big distraction or vice while writing?
Since I write on my computer, whenever there’s a ding indicating an e-mail, I HAVE to read it. Then I check out Facebook, and then my blog, and Twitter, and … Of course, I could turn off the ding, but then there’s the little number that appears on the e-mail icon and I can’t stand seeing that number – it calls to me to check out my mail and then Facebook, blog, Twitter… Sigh.
What is the best and worst advice you ever received?
For some reason, I find it difficult to answer this question. Perhaps because I either accept or reject advice and never look back. It is an opportunity, however, to point out that we authors are in this together and should help each other whenever we can. For example, I have learned much valuable information from my participation in the World Literary Café (WLC), an association of authors founded and maintained by best-selling author Melissa Foster. With this caveat, I can say that the best advice I’ve ever received came from my late husband who suggested that I write a mystery novel when it seemed hopeless that I would ever find another job.
If you were a casting director for the film version of Jillian Hillcrest Series, who would play your lead roles?
The easiest character to fill would be Jillian’s next door neighbor, Cynthia Anderson. She is an ex-cop whose demeanor changes from friendly cohort to menacing challenger in seconds, and Dianne Wiest does that morphing better than anyone. For Inspector Loren Sherwood, I would opt for either Mark Valley or David James Elliott. Brynn Bancroft, the shapely blonde with a Mensa IQ who is Chief Financial Officer at Jillian’s company, could best be played by Michelle Pfeiffer. I would choose Matthew Broderick to play Chad, Jillian’s ex-husband whose purpose in life is to make Jillian laugh and win her back. To interpret the role of publicist Jillian herself, I would select Rene Zellweger, who can perform as a professional corporate executive with a sense of wistfulness and openness Jillian possesses.
What three things would you carry to the famous deserted island?
First, I would take a case of red wine, which I’ve decided counts as one item. Second, I would pack my favorite novel, SHOGUN. I know it’s not a mystery, but it is the one I could read over and over given its intricate chess-like moves of the SHOGUN in feudal Japan. Finally, I would bring some kind of writing apparatus for my third choice—a computer if there’s electricity, and pens and paper, if not.
What are top 3 Most played songs on your playlists?
I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to music. I like classical, Broadway, and jazz. My top 3 most played are: Mahler’s 1st, Elton John’s Aida, and Porgy & Bess.
Pizza or Pasta? Pasta
Mocha or iced tea? Neither
Hercule Poirot or Ms. Marple? Both
Drama or Romance? Bit of both! drama
Action or Suspense? Suspense
Besides writing, what else interests you?
I really like Broadway musicals and attend whenever I get near one. My favorites are Elton John’s Aida, Wicked, Les Mis, Man of La Mancha, Phantom – oh, so many more. Actually, I enjoy a variety of live theater productions in addition to musicals. I even dappled in a bit of acting myself in college. There’s nothing like the exhilaration of a good performance on stage!
Oh, and I also enjoy playing the piano. While working at a high-tech company that offered six-week sabbaticals every four years, I used the time to practice eight hours a day and performed recitals at the end of each of them. Great fun, and a break from the routine!
Have you started your next project?
I’m just finishing the final edits of the third Jillian Hillcrest mystery, FAIR DISCLOSURE, which I plan to launch in November. Second, I’m creating a new series starring one of the characters in the Jillian Hillcrest series, Brynn Bancroft, and have started writing it. I’m also excited about an historical mystery I’m researching based on the life of a judge in 1940s California.
Is there a message you would like to send out to your readers?
First, thank you for reading my books and those by other independent authors. Second, if you like our books, please write a review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever you can post one. And thank you to those who do.
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Ms.Strand has offered to giveaway 5 Paperback copies of Open Meetings! Don't worry, they can be read as stand-alones and so even if you have not read book one, you can have a go at this one. The Giveaway is open to the residents of US, Canada, UK, New Zealand or Australia.