Austin’s Janice Hamrick submitted her manuscript for Death On Tour for the Minataur/MWA First Mystery Competion and won herself a publishing deal. Her second book, Death Makes The Cut, is even better. Janice has gotten to be one of our favorite writers both on the page and in person. She was even kind enough to answer a few questions.
JANICE HAMRICK: The writing itself came more easily. Having gone through the process once gave me more confidence when I ran into a snag or couldn’t figure out something. Knowing that I would be able to work through it and having developed some techniques from the first book made it go more smoothly. It was also far more intense. In Death on Tour, the murder victims as well as the group of suspects were all strangers to Jocelyn, which made the deaths and the mystery shocking, but not painful. In Death Makes the Cut, Jocelyn is on home ground. The murder victim was a close friend and mentor. The suspects are all people she knows or thinks she knows. This is a very personal story for Jocelyn…and therefore for me. I admit I actually cried a couple of times while writing. How pathetic is that?
MP: You did a great job of portraying the high school teachers with their gossiping and cliques that rival the students’. As somebody who isn’t a teacher, how did you approach that world?
JH: To some extent, everyone shares a common high school experience. The wonderful but often weird teachers, the underhanded school politics, the intense competition is something everyone knows from their own student days. As far as I can tell nothing has changed at all (unless it has actually intensified) over the years. In addition, I experienced high school life and clubs as a parent volunteer and I also got to hear some pretty hair-raising stories told by my kids and their friends. The astonishing mixture of high ideals and cruelty, of ruthless competition and overwhelming generosity all blend together seamlessly in every high school activity that I witnessed. Honestly, sometimes I felt like a puppy dropped into a shark tank.
MP: You use Austin locales with as much detail as you described Egypt in Death On Tour. What does setting provide for you as a writer?
JH: Setting is reality, and without a solid physical location, a story just isn’t grounded. In some novels (for example, in Death on Tour), the location is almost another character – the story really could not take place anywhere else. Even when the setting isn’t a major player, the overall ambience, the physical distances, even things like the weather, all come together to bring the story to life.
MP: Death On Tour reminded me a bit of the Audrey Hepburn/Carey Grant film, Charade, with the romance between Jocelyn and Alan taking as much precedence as the thriller aspects. In Death Makes The Cut, you put her in the center of a love triangle. Are the romantic comedy aspects of Jocelyn’s life as important as whatever mystery she’s in?
JH: Definitely. Jocelyn is someone who has her professional life together – she loves being a teacher, she’s very good at it, and she has a great deal of confidence. But she’s had really bad luck (or made bad choices if you prefer) in her personal life. She’s already been divorced and her first husband is a real tool. She thinks she’s found love with Alan, but after a super start, their relationship is faltering. I find the contrast between her contained and controlled professional life with her messy personal life fascinating. I also love that whether things are going well or not, she tempers romance with a lot of humor. Her ideal man is also going to have to be her best friend. And now I’m going to go watch Charade – you have me really curious.
MP: You get a little rougher in this book, with Jocelyn getting beat up and packing a gun. Was it fun writing a more hard boiled “light” mystery?
JH: It was both fun and more challenging for me. The somewhat rougher, darker events grew naturally from the personal nature of the events and the characters. I enjoyed having Jocelyn care so deeply about Fred’s death. I also liked making the events both real and somewhat disturbing. The light and humorous side of Jocelyn’s character permeate all aspects of her life, but she got thrown into the deep end in this story, and I wanted to be able to explore what that would mean to her. I think many of us have a flippant, half cynical attitude about daily life, but occasionally reality rips through the deck, and it was really interesting to look at that side of things.
MP: Can you hint at what’s next for Jocelyn?
JH: Murder, romance, and family crises, and not necessarily in that order. The third book in the series will find Jocelyn attended a Thanksgiving family reunion at her uncle’s ranch in central Texas. She and Kyla arrive to find their cousin is missing, the cousin’s husband is dead, and more than one family member is a prime suspect. Add a fixed horse race, a clandestine rendezvous at the rodeo, and a wild-card 95 year old uncle, and Jocelyn just might start contemplating the advantages of changing her name and moving to a deserted island.
Come out Friday, July 27th, 7pm when Janice discusses and signs Death Makes The Cut. Join us for a drink and celebrate a local author who is going places. Copies of Death Makes the Cut are available on our shelves and from www.bookpeople.com.