Texas Characters – What More Could a Writer Want? Guest Post from Janice Hamrick for Texas Mystery Writers Month

May is Texas Mystery Writers Month, and we’re celebrating with guest posts from Texas authors all month long. Up next, we have one of our favorite Austin mystery writers, Janice Hamrick, whose novels, like her personality, sparkle with dry wit and charming details. We couldn’t celebrate Texas Mystery Writers Month without her.

Texas Characters – What More Could a Writer Want?

Guest Post from Janice Hamrick

Texas is a goldmine of inspiration for writers. Need a setting? Take your pick – coastal fishing village, desert ghost town, hill country honky tonk, or sophisticated metropolis. Need some background? Try crooked politics, ranching dynasties, wild west outlawry, heroic revolution, or high tech scandal. Need characters?  Ah, now that’s where Texas really excels. No people anywhere else on the face of the planet are quite like Texans.

Now don’t get me wrong. Other places have their characters. I’m currently living in Edinburgh, and trust me, you can’t swing a cat on the Royal Mile without taking out someone playing the bagpipes or telling the chilling story of one of the many ghosts who linger in the dark narrow closes of Old Town. But it’s a different kind of character.

“Need characters?  Ah, now that’s where Texas really excels. No people anywhere else on the face of the planet are quite like Texans…”

Texans are as varied as the state itself. Heroes, villains, sneaks, nerds, even ordinary teachers forced to confront a stone cold killer – they are all there, and all just a little extraordinary simply because they are Texan. Something about the grandeur of Texas permeates the atmosphere, makes everyone stand up just a little straighter, live just a little larger, be just a little bit more than they would be in any other location. Spend five minutes talking to the woman serving pie at the Texas Pie Company in Kyle or a minute and a half with the ranch hand holding your horse at Rancho Cortez in Bandera and you have enough inspiration to spark a dozen novels. The very best Texans are open, friendly, and direct – boy, are they direct. But at least they never leave you wondering how they feel about a topic, and if they’ve been Texan for longer than six months, they are proud both of their past and their present (and the more different that is from anything ‘up north,’ the better).

There aren’t many places that inspire such fervent devotion, not many states that people so proudly claim as part of their identity. “I’m a Texan,” is a statement that always draws nods of understanding, even as far away as Europe. I recently met a student from Norway, and in response to my accent, he ventured, “You are from one of the two countries in North America, are you not? I don’t dare guess which.”

I smiled and said, “Yes, I’m from Texas.”

His face lit up, and he said, “Ah, I should have said one of the three countries in North America.”

Damn straight.

You can find Janice Hamrick’s novels on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Look out for more great guest posts for Texas Mystery Writers Month. MysteryPeople is also holding a workshop with three Texas authors, including George Wier, Les Edgerton, and Reavis Wortham, this Saturday, May 23rd, from 10 AM to 5 PM. Come for part or all of the day! The workshop is free and open to the public.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Janice Hamrick

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.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How different was writing your second Jocelyn Shore book compared to the first?

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

MysteryPeople Review: DEATH MAKES THE CUT

MysteryPeople welcomes Janice Hamrick to BookPeople this Friday, July 27 at 7p.

Last year Janice Hamrick debuted with Death On Tour, a book that won the Minotaur/MWA First Novel competition and introduced us to Austin high school teacher Jocelyn Shore who had to solve a murder on her discount tour through Egypt. The book’s mix of Hitchcock style thriller and romantic comedy, infused with Hamrick’s eye for human detail, made a great read for fans of light mysteries as well as winning over some of us hard boiled fans. With her latest, Death Makes The Cut, Janice Hamrick proves that it wasn’t just beginner’s luck.

In the first book, Jocelyn mentions her experiences as a teacher helps her solve the crime. In the new book, Hamrick puts Jocelyn right in her element with the murder of the tennis coach on the first day of school. The plot deals with possible drug dealing, a Twilight-like movie being shot on campus, school politics and angry parents all putting her own life in jeopardy.

Jocelyn also finds herself in a love triangle. She starts to wonder about her feelings for Alan, who she met in Death On Tour, when the investigating detective, Colm Gallagher, makes himself available for her. There is a very funny scene when the two men meet one another with Jocelyn in between them. Even her ex-husband shows up.

Where Hamrick excels is in her use of the school setting. She shows the gossip between Jocelyn and her fellow educators with ease and believability. She depicts them having as many cliques as the students. She weaves the school politics, bureaucracy, and general soap opera atmosphere into the plot, proving that people are most vicious when the stakes are so low. She also  looks at the happiness the job can bring, especially when Jocelyn becomes the defacto tennis coach.

In Jocelyn Shore, Janice Hamrick has given us a character worth following. She is a smart, every day woman dealing with situations that are over her head in a believable way. What makes her even more relatable is the way she becomes frustrated by her own emotions as much as she’s frustrated by the corner criminals back her into. Start reading and before long you’ll see why it’s not just Alan and Detective Gallagher falling for Jocelyn Shore, it’s readers, too.

MysteryPeople welcomes Janice Hamrick to BookPeople to speak about and sign Death Makes the Cut this Friday, July 27 at 7pm.


The latest book from award-winning Austin mystery author Janice Hamrick is on our shelves today. In Death Makes the Cut, single high school teacher Jocelyn Shore has to deal with the murder of a colleague, filling in as the tennis coach, and a homicide detective who is taken with her. We’re big fans of Janice’s first book, Death on Tour, and are thrilled to celebrate this new book with her on Friday, July 27 at 7p. Come out and discover why we’re so taken with Janice both in print and in person.

Congratulations, Janice!