22 July, 2013

#SpecialFeature :: #GuestPost - Sleuthing for Suspense By #Author Joyce T. Strand

Now Presenting:
*** SPECIAL FEATURE - July'13 ***

Sleuthing for Suspense
By Joyce T. Strand, Author
Jillian Hillcrest Mysteries

Before I wrote mysteries, I read them—cozy, spy, detective, historical. 

So when it came time to create my protagonist, I pondered how to identify characteristics most likely to intrigue mystery readers. Would someone who reads British puzzle mysteries by Agatha Christie also pick up hard-boiled detective stories by Michael Connelly or Stieg Larsson? Because I enjoyed these authors’ characters, would other mystery aficionados? 

When I conceived Jillian Hillcrest—a publicist and sometimes-amateur sleuth—I checked with readers to comprehend what characteristics and plot they’d prefer in a non-detective solving a crime.  That’s when I realized that I was asking the wrong question.  I had already decided to write a mystery that exploited my public relations background, which dictated that my sleuth would be an amateur. 

Therefore the relevant question is: what do readers relish when the protagonist is an amateur sleuth?   

British author Dick Francis exploited his experience as a jockey, and his non-detective characters encountered criminals and plenty of crimes to solve around the horse racing industry. Mary Higgins Clark creates everyday protagonists, whose crime-fighting varies with her settings, and they certainly find evil-doers. Nora Roberts manages to mix crime and romance and also uses settings to vary the plot. Even Nancy Drew was an amateur who as a teenager managed to uncover crime.

What drew readers to these authors’ books? 

First, they are well-written with a page-turning plot and puzzle to solve. That’s a given.

Second, and more pertinent to the topic at hand, the authors conceive the plots in such a way that their amateur sleuths are compelled to solve the crime.

Third, although the amateur sleuths frequently stumble, they are competent and have the skills to figure out whodunit.

But not everyone likes amateur sleuths. So next I identified those readers who appreciated non-detective or non-procedural mysteries to figure out what they liked. I informally polled 25 such readers and discovered some interesting points.  Most, although not all, want to learn a little something with their mystery—but not too much. Second, they like a little romance, but not graphic sex. Third, they appreciate humor. Fourth, they don’t want gore and violence.

Meeting these criteria has been somewhat of a challenge, because sometimes my characters make me write things I fear are pushing my readers’ envelop.  I base each Jillian Hillcrest mystery on a real California case to assure a credible plot.  Each novel has a public relations theme around which I can inform readers, although I try to minimize back story.  Jillian is definitely an amateur who uses her resourcefulness to help solve crimes that appear on her doorstep.  And we do try to keep the sex to a minimum. But sometimes we get a little violent.

Perhaps my characters know better than I what will help turn pages.  In the end, readers will decide.    

Murder intrudes on PR Executive Jillian Hillcrest's routine as head communications executive at a small Silicon Valley biotechnology company. She is eagerly staying "on message" to inform investors, the media, and the community about her company and its products. First, she receives a peculiar package. Then, a homicide detective calls. Jillian soon discovers that solving a murder is more hazardous than writing press releases.

PR Executive Jillian Hillcrest is having lunch with a reporter colleague when a woman enters and begs him not to print anything she's told him because they will kill her if he does. A few days later, the reporter tells Jillian that the woman was killed in a car crash in his hometown. The police ruled her death an accident caused by driving under the influence of alcohol.
Although Jillian is busy promoting her Silicon Valley biotech company, the reporter draws her into an investigation of his hometown's police department, located in California north of the Napa-Sonoma wine region. Coincidentally, Jillian's neighbor Cynthia Anderson wonders about the untimely death of her policeman husband years earlier as part of the same police department. Meanwhile, Jillian's ex-husband hovers over her to reverse the "ex" status. Unfortunately, none of them anticipates the frightening events that follow.

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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.

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  1. I usually ask questions about the characters, but you gave me plenty of info, so I will ask you something a little more personal. What do you do to relax when you need a break from writing?

    1. The best tool I've discovered for needing a break from writing is to, er, gulp, watch TV. There I've said it. Of course, I typically watch whodunits like Castle, NCIS, or Suits so I don't stray too far from my genre! I also read -- mysteries, of course. And despite myself, I have found that exercise, like walking for a mile, also helps.
      Thanks for asking.