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Thursday, April 29, 2010
Joan Maze author interview on April 30 to discuss Murder for Kicks
Hi, Joan. Thank you for coming to Handbags, Books...Whatever.
Tell us about yourself. How long have you been writing?
I grew up in Chicago and a suburb of Chicago, Barrington, then attended Northwestern University’s School of Music for 3 years. This actually turned out to be a miracle. I was born almost deaf and, though I didn’t know it, faced total deafness. While at Northwestern I was directed to a surgeon who had designed a new operation. When it was over, he informed me the intense vibration from the singing had saved my nerve and made for complete success.
Following my time at Northwestern, I devoted myself to my family and then finished my degree at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, choosing a program tailored for the arts, including, of course, writing. I’ve been writing over 20 years, but wasn’t able to devote much time to it until I retired from my job as a dispatcher/customer service person at the bus company that provided rides for the disabled and seniors. This, by the way, gave me the background for my first published mystery, Murder By Mistake, as my protagonist is a part time bus driver, even though she’s directionally challenged.
How did you get from an office career to writing romance?
Most of my working life was spent as either a legal or medical secretary, but my favorite job was at DARTS, the bus company. However, any job pales in comparison to the arts, whether it be music (singing), art, or writing. I’ve always done some writing, starting when I was 8 years old, learning on my mother’s ancient typewriter. I’d originally wanted to be an artist, but when I discovered I could sing, I devoted myself to that, but spent every available moment reading. I’d been working on a mystery when one of my instructors at Metropolitan State University invited me to his writer’s group. While it disbanded, one of the members started her own group nearby and I was a member of that group for about 12-13 years, until the facilitator died. About the time I joined the local group, I began art lessons, and enjoy doing landscapes and wildlife paintings in oil and pastels. This activity sneaks into my writing, as my character, Mollie Fenwick, is also an artist, who uses her ability to help solve a crime.
When I realized the local writer’s group wasn’t giving me what I needed, I joined RWA, and then KOD, the mystery-suspense chapter. That was in 2005 and since then I’ve joined a host of other groups. I credit RWA with my success in getting contracts with Red Rose Publishing. I also spend a lot of time taking classes, and love doing that. Since I retired in 2007, I have gone from spending an hour or so a day writing to more than eight hours.
Who is your favorite author(s) and why? That is a most difficult question; however, at the top of the list is Janet Evanovich. I also love Stephanie Bond, Linda Howard, Clive Cussler, most of the romantic suspense writers, and have recently discovered a cozy series I love – Alice Kimberly’s Haunted Bookshop Mysteries in which a bookshop partner works with the ghost of a dead P.I. from 1949 to solve mysteries.
Tell us about your new book. Murder For Kicks is book 2 in the Mollie Fenwick Mystery Series. In this, she has a vision showing a woman being forced into a car. Desperate to find this woman and prevent the tragedy, and knowing Detective Bartholomew (hunk #1) can’t investigate without any facts, she sets out on her own. As in Murder By Mistake, she gets into loads of trouble, starting with when she takes kickboxing lessons because the woman was kidnapped in front of that facility.
Hunk #2, Wolf, an American Indian who is ex-special forces, an artist, and is involved in something he won’t talk about, turns out to be the kickboxing instructor. I also introduce another handsome male in this book, Jackson, who makes it all the harder for Mollie to decide which one she is most attracted to.
In this excerpt, Mollie and her neighbor are at their first kickboxing lesson, when she discovers Jack Wolf, the Native American Indian who helped her the previous summer when she was in danger from a killer, is the instructor.
“I’m scared, Henrietta. Do you think we made a mistake?”
“Absolutely not. Are you chicken, or what?”
Her eyes sparkled. She was enjoying this.
I made a noise like a hen.
She laughed and got out of my car, and I dragged myself after her. We were plenty early as Henrietta had said she wanted to scope out the place. I had her all figured out. If she determined it was too much for her, it would give her time to come up with a way to escape.
We were shown to a room where we could stash our outer gear, and then to the women’s locker room, where we were each given a locker complete with a key. I wanted to put myself in the locker, only it was too small. When we’d locked everything up tight, we went to the classroom listed on the schedule. Room 110B was at the far end of the corridor, and as we got near, I heard a lot of noise: giggling, oohs and ahs, and then a SSSH.
We entered a room resembling a gym more than I liked, just in time to see a leg going through a door, out of the class. There had to be other parts attached to that leg, but we weren’t in time to see them. We heard plenty of moans, though, and then a man came into the room and stood at the front. He wore one of those white jobs I’d seen the other day, and looked formidable. His eyebrows practically met, his mouth was set in a grim line, and he stood at attention like an Army sergeant. In other words, scary. He held up a hand and everybody quieted down.
“Our usual instructor had to leave for a few minutes. In the meantime, I will get you started. Don’t worry, he’ll be back. But if you think he’s going to be easier on you, forget it. Let’s begin.”
The man was somewhere around five foot ten, had muscles on top of muscles. His face, frozen in a don’t mess with me attitude, implied he could kick every one of us in the arse.
I stood as tall as possible and ordered myself to get serious and not even think about smiling while in his presence.
He described something he called the Jab, a punch leading with your palm down, and then a Cross, which he said was a punch off the rear arm. Whatever he said afterwards got lost while I tried to figure out what he meant. Saying rear arm implied having one in front. Telling myself I’d figure that out later, I tried to copy his action. It looked simple, but it took several tries before I got it.
Next, he had us go through a warm-up using all the body parts. Not one for exercise, I considered the warm-up darn hard.
When he got to the actual workout, and had finished the Jab, the Cross, and the Hook, which was a motion across the body, I’d already started to think there wasn’t much to this.
The introduction of the Roundhouse changed my thinking. I had to kick off with the back leg—I’d never thought of my legs as front and back—no higher than my knee. Next was the front kick which was off the rear leg. What got me mixed up was when he said the Roundhouse was off the back leg.
Back leg, rear leg, isn’t that the same? Anyway, right when I was thinking about having two rear legs, I kicked off, unbalanced myself, and fell on my butt. I must’ve kicked with the wrong one, which is when I remembered my mom saying, put your best foot forward. The only problem was, I did not know which one was my best one.
We got a couple minutes rest after that. I scrambled back to an upright position, peered around to see if anyone had noticed my gaffe, and saw a bunch of people breathing hard. When I gazed at Henrietta, she appeared happy. She wasn’t panting, as I would have expected of a slightly overweight older woman, and she really looked quite nice in her bright purple outfit. I’d gotten a couple glimpses at her doing the routines, seeing her curls bounce all over the place as she did the kicks.
The instructor got us going again, this time combining the jabs and kicks. I ended up jabbing when I should have kicked, kicking when I should have jabbed, and started wondering how come my coordination could be so terrible.
Since he’d said if we got tired we could take a little break, I did that, and watched the others.
Half of them stood in place, their expressions saying they’d like nothing better than to find a bed and sack out. I saw clothing awry, hair looking as if combed with a blender, and sweat pouring down faces.
In a weird sort of way, the others looking anything but perfect made me feel less like a fool, so I got right back into the lesson, and actually did a little better. Just when I decided I was ready to drop, the instructor said we’d take a quick break, but not to go anywhere. He was going to show us a very short film which would give us a clue as to what we would be expected to learn.
The film, which had me shaking from head to foot, came to an end, and the instructor announced our regular teacher would be here in a minute.
He walked out, and Jack Wolf, dressed the same as the first instructor, walked in.
Henrietta glanced at me, and I shot her a stare. She coughed to cover a laugh, but I wasn’t anywhere near thinking this was funny. When I got hold of Wolf, he would be begging for mercy. All I had to do was remember which way to jab, what leg to use to kick.
Mmm hmm. The only way I could ever beat him was with words, and I had some doubts about that. Right now, he wasn’t saying anything. What he was doing was staring at me and, even though I’d gotten to know him over the past few months, and a lot more of him on Friday night, I had no clue as to what he was thinking. His expression was blank.
Then I looked into his eyes.
He had something planned.
He began giving instructions to the class, easy ones at first, but then they got harder and harder until I was ready to cry uncle. But I couldn’t do that. How could I let him think I was a sissy? Humiliation was not an option.
At least he was big enough to carry me out of here if my body decided to go on strike.
“Okay, I’m going to try a little demonstration,” Wolf said, looking nonchalant. He beckoned to me. “Mollie, come on up here.”
I stood there, my mouth open.
“Ms. Fenwick, did you hear me?”
Oh well, I lived through the self-defense lessons he’d given me last summer. How hard could this demo be? So, when I had myself convinced there’d be nothing I couldn’t handle, I walked up to the front of the room and glared at him.
“I want to show you ladies a move that could save your life some day,” he said. “It’s not part of this beginning kickboxing class, but I think it’s a worthwhile thing to know. You don’t have to try it if you don’t want to.”
He then went and opened the door behind him and a woman around my age walked in. She was dressed in the same kind of uniform as Wolf, and was almost as short as my five foot two. And she weighed less than I did, doggone it.
“This is Colleen. She’ll demonstrate what to do if a man did this,” he said, and with that, he walked behind her and wrapped his arm around her throat. She did something with her elbows and he yelled and staggered back. Next, and this was too fast to see, she threw him over her shoulder. The way she did it made it look easy, but I suspected it was anything but.
“Okay, Ms. Fenwick, I’m going to do the same to you and I want you to try to copy what Colleen did.”
I’d been standing a few feet from him, looking at Colleen toss him around as if he were weightless. I crossed the room to him, trying at the same time to remember the steps the woman had gone through. I thought I could do the elbow part, but I had no clue about the rest.
“I didn’t catch what she did to throw you over her shoulder,” I said, unhappy my voice had transformed itself into the cackle of a ninety-nine year old woman.
I could only describe his expression as sardonic.
“Okay,” he said. “Colleen, one more time.”
I paid attention, really glued my eyes to them this time, but again it all happened so fast the only part I got was – nothing.
I looked up at him and nodded.
I didn’t even see him move, but all of a sudden his arm was around my throat and his body was pressed against mine. Not a comfortable feeling, even if he was a darned good looking guy. Elbows, I thought. Do it.
I did it. I was so surprised I didn’t do anything else, just stood there gaping. He’d grunted something and stepped back, but now he was back with his arm around me again and I had to do it all over again.
I was so proud of myself for doing it so fast, I forgot to take the next step – and found myself sailing through the air. I landed on the mat, out of breath, darn near dying. I heard him talking, asking me if I could get up. I knew I could, but I wasn’t altogether sure I could do it gracefully.
“Later,” I said, and closed my eyes.
He pulled me up and started checking my various parts. “You hurt anywhere?”
“No, but I’m mad at you,” I said, giving him my best glare.
“Sorry, but you gave the other ladies the best demo of what could happen. It was perfect,” he said, his lips twitching as if trying not to laugh.
He signaled I could go back to my place in the group, but I was having none of it. I faced him with my hands on my hips and, I hoped, a mean expression on my face. I wanted to take him apart. Being it wasn’t likely I could do that, I would have to yell at him.
“Ladies,” he said, before I could think of what to say, “shall we have a hand for this student?”
Every one of them roared YEAH, which of course meant I couldn’t lambaste him like I wanted. “I’ll see you later,” I said, gave him my most menacing stare, and then said “thanks” to the rest of the class.
His voice was whisper soft when he leaned close and said, “You’re hot, babe.”
What is the appeal of writing romantic suspense and mysteries? I like the combination of a dangerous mystery, along with a romance to enhance it, and, figuring out what the mystery is all about. There are so many facets to writing mysteries and all of them intrigue me. I’ve taken quite a number of classes to help me in this endeavor, including Homicide Investigation, among others. Bringing romance into a cozy like Murder By Mistake and Murder For Kicks allows for adding a lot of fun problems for my character. I’m also working on a thriller/police procedural right now and, despite what I’d planned, I seem to be unable to resist putting romance in it. I think with mysteries it’s that I love figuring things out and even though I made up the mystery, that element still exists. I have to trace the clues and red herrings from beginning to end.
What kind of writings turns you off? What stops you from writing? I have a hard time reading present tense fiction; however, I’ve recently come across one author that handles it in such a way that it doesn’t bother me. Other than that, I guess I don’t like books with little character development. I want to be able to see and feel the characters as if they were real.
Nothing stops me from writing except for necessities like sleeping (which I do little of) and nasty things like housework. Other than that, when I get a rejection, I “quit” writing for all time, but that last ten minutes and I’m back at my computer. Rejections, for some odd reason, actually spur me on – and I’m never telling that to a shrink.
How have you shocked your readers? I don’t know that I have, except, perhaps, my family, who now look at me quite differently. I don’t think my daughter expected to like Murder By Mistake so much.
How do you get your ideas? What is your writing day like? I get my ideas from everywhere. My next Mollie Fenwick mystery, for example, will be Murder By Spook. I got that idea from watching a commercial about ghosts for Halloween. Murder By Spook has nothing to do with ghosts or Halloween, but is actually about spies, as in CIA, since they’re called spooks.
Can you share three writing tips?
1. Never give up. I once saw a sign on the wall in the copy room at a hospital, which said the successful person is the one who gets up one more time than he falls down. Don’t let anyone discourage you.
2. Read, read, read. Particularly in the genre or genres you like and would like to write in.
3. Study. With RWA’s vast number of classes, this is certainly easy to accomplish.
Fill in this blank: Your ideal fictional hero would think you gorgeous if you looked at him with adoring eyes.
How much do you love cake? I like it a lot when there’s ice cream on top of it, especially chocolate.