Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Mystery Writers: an interview with Editor Jean Henry Mead

Today I was fortunate enough to grab Jean Henry Mead away from her busy schedule to visit us and talk about The Mystery Writers.  Jean is a mystery/suspense novelist and a national award-winning photojournalist.  She has 17 fiction and non-fiction books to her credit.  The Mystery Writers is an unusual and unique kind of book which combines interviews with mystery writers in all subgenres of mystery with short essays from each of them. 

Welcome to the blog, Jean.  Tell us how you came up with the idea for the book and the path from conception to publication.

Thank you, Lesley. I’m happy to talk about The Mystery Writers. The interviews were originally published on my blog site: Mysterious Writers and I just couldn’t allow them to disappear into cyber space because they were so revealing and had so much substance.  I had published a similar book with Poisoned Pen Press and wanted to include a print edition this time, so I queried the writers I had interviewed and asked that they write articles about the craft of writing. A lot of them are bestsellers and award winners and their advice is priceless.

You’ve classified writers into subcategories such as Suspense, Humorous Mysteries, Amateur Sleuth, Crime, Western Mysteries. How did you come up with these categories?

Those are the mystery subgenres that the authors I interviewed write in, twelve in all. The writers are from as far away as Brazil, South Africa, Thailand, England and Canada as well as the U.S. So the book is unique.

I’m impressed with how you put together the book.  You could have simply reprinted interviews with these mystery writers and had a book chock full of information and advice, but you also included essays.  How did you talk all these busy people into writing an advice essay? Did you bribe them somehow?

No bribes. Two of them were on tour with a recent release and didn’t have time to meet my deadline, but Sue Grafton and Julie Garwood gave such great, candid interviews that I included them in the book. As for the 58 others who did write articles, I think writers are very generous people who are more than willing to help fledglings with their advice.

I agree with you about the generosity of writers.  Many of us feel we were given a leg up by other writers and feel we want to return that favor. 

Who is the target audience for the book?  Is it meant to have appeal to readers as well as writers?  Is it only for beginning writers and only for those writing mystery?

It’s actually for anyone who likes to read about writers and writing. The book is aimed primarily at struggling authors as well as veteran writers like myself. I wish a book like this one had been available when I began writing back in the dark ages (before computers).

How did each writer decide what aspect of writing to focus on?  Did you give them a topic or did they choose their favorite?

I told most of them what I’d like them to write, but I didn’t tell bestsellers like Lawrence Block, J.A. Jance, James Scott Bell or Vickie Hinze what to write. I knew whatever they wrote would be good.

What do you want the reader of this book to get out of it?

I want them to know what a professional writer’s life is really like, the struggles we go through, the failures and successes as well as the shortcuts the articles they’ve written provide. Writing, after all, is a way of life.

I think one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the range of writers and their areas of writing you chose.  I assume you did this on purpose with an eye to appealing to the novice as well as the experienced writer/reader of the book.

Yes, that’s true. I wanted the book to be as broad-based as possible and to appeal to writers in various levels of success, from beginners to journeymen authors. And in every genre, not just mystery subgenres.

How long did this enterprise take you?

It literally consumed my life for five months. When you’re working with sixty writers, you have emails flying back and forth, interviews sent out for updates, and requests for articles. When they all started coming back to me I felt as though I were buried in an avalanche and was afraid that I would lose some of them or put them in the wrong categories in the book But it thankfully turned out well. .

It did turn out well.  I have my copy on my desk.  I bought it in paper so I could mark it up, but the book is available in eformat as well.

Was there anything that surprised/pleased/shocked you as you put together the work?

I’m pleased with all of them and yes, some of the answers shocked and surprised me. The interview with South African noir writer Roger Smith tells of the terrible conditions in South Africa after Nelson Mandela left office. I was especially shocked by his descriptions of life for women and children in many areas of South Africa. I was also surprised by what Lawrence Block said when I asked him how he would like to be remembered. Larry is very blunt with his answers. Also, Sue Grafton’s comparison of herself with Kinsey Millhone is a real hoot.

I was disappointed to find no essay from you.  What would you like to say to writers about publishing, selling, promotion or writing?  This is your essay time.

The book isn’t about me, Lesley. I’m just the compiler and editor. But if I were to give advice, I’d probably say: Write what you’re passionate about and when you consider your manuscript finished, place it in a drawer for a month or more. When you take it out, read it as though someone else had written it, then edit and polish until it’s the very best you’re capable of writing because you only get one chance to make a first and lasting impression. If you can afford a freelance editor, by all means hire one, especially with a first book. It’s still possible for a first time author to connect with a legacy publisher although only one in 45,000 ever make it. Now that anyone can self-publish, it’s more important than ever to present your best writing because you usually only get one chance with a reader. If she doesn’t like your first book, you can be certain that she won’t pick up the second one you’ve written.

You seem to have a knack for figuring out what the reading public needs and likes.  The Mystery Writers fills a niche other books on writing do not.  One of the series you write features Logan and Cafferty, two feisty women of a certain age, senior sleuths.  Both of these endeavors indicate you have are wise to what’s happening in publishing.  Where do your ideas come from?  Do you have a crystal ball other writers do not?  And what does that crystal ball say about your future work?  Anything else in the pipeline?

Pure luck, Lesley. I knew that there are some 78 million baby boomers getting ready to retire, so I began writing about two 60-year-old women amateur sleuths driving around in a motorhome solving murders (somewhat autobiographical, without the murders). By adding humor and a little romance—yes, there’s a lovesick sheriff in the series who chases lovely 60-year-old Dana Logan throughout the Logan & Cafferty series—I found a niche that hadn’t previously been filled.

As for works in the pipeline, I also write Wyoming historical novels and children’s mysteries as well as history books, one of which surprisingly became a college textbook. I’m currently working on the fourth Logan & Cafferty novel, Gray Wolf Mountain, and an historical, No Escape: The Sweetwater Tragedy. Then I‘ll write another Hamilton Kids’ Mystery. All my books are laced with humor, as yours are. 

Thank you for hosting me, Lesley. I’ve enjoyed our visit and I’m happy that your good interview and article appear in The Mystery Writers.

How honored I felt to be included in the company of writers featured in The Mystery Writers. 

Thanks so much for visiting here and sharing your experiences as a writer as well as the editor of a book packed full of writers’ experiences.  Come back and visit us anytime.


  1. I'm pleased to say, I'm included in Jean's book! She had me write about what makes an acquisition editor reject a book, and I went to town. Oh, you know I made it scathing and funny. What else would you expect????

    Anyone else out there in the book?

  2. Not in the book, but as soon as I started reading Lesley's interview, I knew I need to be in Volume II.

    What a feather in your caps, the two of you, Lesley and Sunny. And a super big feather, like from a giant raptor, to you, Lesley, for also getting this wonderful interview.


  3. Hi Sunny. I thought yours was an excellent interview and an eye opener for fledgling writers.

  4. This is sure to be an interesting book, and one we can all learn from.

  5. I thought it was a terrific book, and not because I was in it, which I am. :) You did a terrific job, Jean! I think there should be a copy in every library, but I'm not donating my own copy.

  6. Thanks, Judith and Marja. I'm glad you're in the book, Marja, and that you're not donating your book. :)

  7. This is one of the best writing resources of the year! I'm so glad Jean thought of the idea, and all the authors made such fine contributions...

  8. Thank you, Jenny. It was definitely a labor of love.

  9. I'm not donating my shop-worn copy either! It's my precious.

  10. I've already printed out Jean's advice -- writing what you're passionate about and putting it away for awhile after it's "finished" and I'll be reading this to my students. Next, I'll have to see the book. It seems like it should be on my shelf.

  11. I'm glad you found the advice helpful, Eileen, and I hope your and your students enjoy The Mystery Writers.