Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Visit with Jean Henry Mead

Today we talk with a writer who is not only an expert at writing mysteries, but also a well-known supporter of other mystery writers.  She's long been a favorite of mine because of her Logan and Cafferty mystery series featuring senior sleuths who are two sixty plus amateur snoops with real insight into human nature and a zest for adventure.  In additon, she compiled a book featuring interviews and advice from some of our best mystery writers about writing and promoting the genre. The Mystery Writers: Interview and Advice is a must have for all mystery and suspense writers and readers.  I've asked her a few questions about her newest mystery based upon actual events.

Jean Henry Mead

Jean Henry Mead is a national award-winning journalist who has served as a news, magazine and small press editor. The author of 19 books, half of them novels, she writes the Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series, Hamilton Kids’ mysteries, Wyoming historical novels and nonfiction history and interview books. She also compiled and edited three interview and writing advice books, The Mystery Writers, Mysterious Writers and Maverick Writers.
Meet Jean Henry Mead
You have a new book out, No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy.   I understand it’s based upon a true life double murder.  What inspired you to take this direction in your writing?
I combined two of the genres I’ve already been writing in— mysteries and historicals. While I was researching a nonfiction centennial history book, I came across microfilmed newspaper articles written in 1889 about a young couple hanged by cattlemen who wanted their homestead land. The lynchers spread lies about them, saying that Ellen and James Averell were running a rural bawdy house and accepting rustled cattle for Ellen’s “services.” A later article said that James was an honest and honorable man who had served until his death as postmaster and justice of the peace in Sweetwater Valley, Wyoming. So I decided then that I would research the murders and write a book about them one day. That was nearly 30 years ago.
Is using a real event something that makes writing the book easier or more difficult?
It’s easier because the plot is already laid out for you. But research can be difficult, as in the case of No Escape, because it took many years to uncover the truth, and I was only able to complete my research after reading a nonfiction book written by George Hufsmith, who had been commissioned to write an opera about the hangings. Hufsmith became so obsessed with the hangings that he spent the next 20 years researching and interviewing residents of Sweetwater Valley, who had accurate knowledge of the Averell murders.
Do you intend to use this approach in future books?
I may write more Wyoming historical novels, including the Johnson County War and the rough and lawless railroad town of Casper, where my husband and I lived for some time.
You have a number of mysteries featuring senior sleuths.  In fact, you are famous for promoting and publicizing other writers who feature seniors as protagonists.  Is there something to favor an older sleuth in a mystery?.  Do you also find there are limitations to what you can do with a senior sleuth?
Not really. My protagonists, Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty, are 60 years old and still active and able to do nearly everything their younger counterparts can accomplish, with the exception of skateboarding and climbing tall buildings. I write about older women because I’m one myself. A couple of reviewers have called my mystery novels old-fashioned because there’s no explicit sex or foul language other than an occasional “damn” or “hell.” But older readers say they like my Logan & Cafferty series for that reason and the fact that Dana and Sarah are out traveling in a motorhome instead sitting around in rocking chairs watching the grass grow.
What is unique in your background that you bring to creating your work?  How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I don’t know if you would consider it unique that I started my writing career as a news reporter while I was editor-in-chief of my college newspaper. I wrote my first novel when I was nine to entertain classmates but got into journalism in high school. I worked for three newspapers in California and Wyoming, then freelanced for magazines domestically as well as abroad. After five of my nonfiction books saw print, I decided to write my first novel. The result was Escape: A Wyoming Historical Novel, which required ten years of research and writing before it was first published. It’s been published by three companies and is still my best selling book.
 Everyone talks about the ebook revolution.  How has it affected your work?
My first novel was published as an ebook in 1999, which, at that time, was on a CD. The first ebook reader was bulky and clumsy and few people were buying them. It wasn’t until about five years ago that ebooks were taken seriously and we all know that they have nearly caused the demise of print books. That’s sad, but my ebook sales have increased dramatically, outselling my print books by at least 20-1.
You’ve been published by a number of small publishers.  What do you like about a small press?
I’ve been published by ten publishers, including Poisoned Pen Press, Pruett and Caxton; small presses and regional publishers. I like the freedom afforded because they consult with authors about book covers and other aspects of publishing and marketing.
How do you think writers can support one another as they vie for attention in this competitive market?
I publicize other authors on my blog site, Mysterious Writers. I’ve interviewed debut novelists as well as bestsellers such as Sue Grafton and Elmore Leonard, who have given advice to fledgling authors. I’ve also taken part in blog tours with other writers and hosted them on my blog sites.
What research do you do for your books?
Whatever’s needed. I usually conduct research in advance and then spoon in additional research as I write. I also write about areas where I’ve lived or traveled. I never write off the top of my head because readers will catch your mistakes if you don’t research and write accurately. I’ve written about horses in two of my novels, which I knew very little about.  But because of my extensive research,  I was rewarded when a horse rancher-reader said that I must have horses of my own. That made my day!
What advice can you give to a new writer?
Never submit a manuscript until it’s the best you’re capable of writing. When you write “the end” to your work, place it in a drawer for a few weeks. Then take it out and read it as though someone else had written it. Edit and polish again before you query a publisher. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
Thanks Jean.  I hope you can come back to visit soon and good luck with your new book.


  1. Thank you, Lesley, for hosting me on your lovely site!

  2. Jean - No Escape sounds so interesting. It must have been an emotional experience for you to research. Good luck with it.

    Great interview ladies!

  3. It's a pleasure to have you back talking about your newest book.

  4. Dixie, you're right. I was emotionally involved in the story while I was writing it, and still feel anger at the men responsible for the murders.

  5. Good questions, Lesley, and fine answers from Jean. I especially applaud Jean's advice not to submit until your manuscript is as good as you can make it. Today's publishing scene, at all levels of the industry, doesn't provide as much critical editing as it did in years gone by. We have to be our own editors, and it's important to be diligent. (I'm on a soapbox now, and I'm probably preaching to the choir!)

  6. Lots of good information in here, Lesley and Jean. I love Jean's advice about making sure your manuscript is edited and polished before submitting and totally agree with John Daniel about this.

  7. I always enjoy what you have to say, Jean. You're a true professional.

  8. Thanks, John and Eileen. I'm glad you agree. I'm also glad that you stopped by.

  9. Thank you for your kind words, Earl. I'm one of your biggest fans.

  10. A wonderful interview ladies. I really enjoyed learning about Jean and her various writing accomplishments. This new book seems very interesting. I'm not normally a historical reader, but mixing mystery with history seems pretty darn smart. Thanks for sharing and good luck with everything.

  11. Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by, C.L. The story haunted me for years before I could write it. I hope you'll get a chance to read it.

  12. Your senior sleuth mysteries sound like books I'd like, and I don't have a problem with what they can do at that age because that's when I took up backpacking. Plus, seniors have lots of life experiences to fall back on.

  13. I couldn't agree with you more, Gloria. Seniors are enjoying life more than at any time in the past.