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Interview with Art Lover’s Mystery Author Juliet Blackwell

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Under the pseudonym of Hailey Lind, Juliet penned the Art Lover’s Mystery Series with her sister Carolyn, about an ex-art forger trying to go straight by working as a muralist and faux finisher in San Francisco. The first of these, Feint of Art, was nominated for an Agatha Award; Shooting Gallery and Brush with Death were both IMBA bestsellers, and Arsenic and Old Paint is now available from Perseverance Press.

Juliet’s Witchcraft Mystery series, about a witch who finally finds a place to fit in when she opens a vintage clothes shop on Haight Street in San Francisco, allows Juliet to indulge yet another interest—the world of witchcraft and the supernatural. Ever since her favorite aunt taught her about reading cards and tea leaves, Juliet has been fascinated with seers, conjurers, and covens from many different cultures and historic traditions. As an anthropologist, the author studied and taught about systems of spirituality, magic, and medicine throughout the world, especially in Latin America. Halloween is by far her favorite holiday.

We’re not done yet. The lovely Juliet also pens the Haunted Home Renovation Series.

Juliet was gracious enough to dish with me. Grab some tantalizing treats, a steaming cup of tea or piping mug of cocoa… or tumbler of b0urbon and relax.

Enjoy!

What was the most memorable research trip you’ve made?

I went to talk to a witch who was visiting from Mexico.  She was very serious about her craft, and met me in the dark, dusty back room of a botanica, or herbal shop, in San Jose.  She was very charismatic and answered my questions, but then asked whether she could hold one of my gloves while doing so.  She was so serious, and the surroundings so spooky, it gave me chills.

Another time, friends of a friend asked me to come to their house to communicate with a ghost.  I explained to them that I write fiction, that I’m not a ghostbuster, but they still wanted me to come.  While I was there lights flickered, and there were noises from the next room as we talked. I told them how to “cleanse” their house, but also recommended they have a “limpia” done by a professional.  They had a baby, and there was something decidedly creepy about their cute little house.

Please share with us the most interesting stories law enforcement professionals have told you?

A homicide detective told me about following a false trail on a murder, because they had DNA and witness evidence pointing to a man who lived in the apartment building near the victim.  But when they got him in custody, he claimed he hadn’t killed her, but since he found her body and she was already dead, he figured he’d “do her.” If you know what I mean.  The authorities wound up tracking down the actual killer, with this guy’s help.  

Are there any stories that have made you cry, laugh, stunned you or rendered you speechless when you heard it, that you had to incorporate them in your fiction?

When I was writing the Art Lover’s Mystery Series, I read about an artist who became so despondent that he hung himself.  The problem was that he hung himself in a courtyard where he had set up his art show, which opened the following day.  Everyone who arrived assumed the hanging body was one of the art installations.  It took three days for people to notice that it was a real corpse. My book Shooting Gallery starts with a similar scenario, in which only the protagonist recognizes the fact that the hanging “sculpture” is a dead man.

 What is the most disgusting fact you’ve woven a story around?

Oh, wow… I’d have to say the above story would fit that bill!  Also, there are a lot of witchcraft items and descriptions that are pretty disgusting, especially the bits about animal sacrifice.  One story I love is that of the Hand of Glory.  This is the left hand of a hanged man, which is preserved and then used as a candleholder.  It is said that if you hold the hand in yours, all locks will open to you and the room will be lit as though in broad daylight.  A very useful tool!

How would you say you have evolved as a writer over time?

I’d say I’m much more confident in my writing, so that even when it feels as though things aren’t going well, I keep at it.  I have learned to trust in my own voice.  Sooner or later, if I work hard enough, I know it will all come together. Because of that confidence, I write faster and more assuredly overall.  The other details of how I write – the first draft, the revisions, etc—might change a bit with each book, so that process keeps evolving.

When you’re not writing, what are your favorite ways to relax and have some fun?

Because writing is so sedentary, I favor active things – I like to hike, and garden, and spend time with friends.  I’m also a fan of nightlife –  Ilove dive bars and dancing and staying out too late.  Of course, that wreaks havoc on getting up early to write, so I have to be careful!  My other love is oil painting – I was trained in the classical method, and I adore working with paint. I paint portraits and the human figure.

I have found that some authors listen to music while they write. Do you listen to music or is it something that is distracting to you?

I’m always amazed when I see my friends put their earplugs in while they write! I get very distracted by music.  The exception to this is when I go to write in coffeehouses, when the background noise actually helps me to concentrate. But I can only do that in the later sections of a novel – at the beginning of a story, I tend to work very early in the morning (before anyone else gets up) and need stillness and silence to work most effectively.  Now that I’m traveling so much, though, I’m trying to be more flexible.

Do you ever fear writer’s block or that you’ll let your audience down?

Always.  For me, there’s no such thing as writing without fear. Like most worthwhile things in life, you’re putting part of your heart and soul on the line, each and every time.  That’s what makes it scary, but that’s also what makes it so fulfilling, and therefore so worth doing. Of course, you can’t let the fear paralyze you – that’s when true “writer’s block” happens. I have good friends who listen to me whine, but I take my writing seriously, so no matter how hard it is I sit down and push through –whether I think what I’m writing is total dreck or total genius. And then I work on it, revise it, and mold it until it takes shape. 

Do you belong to any writers groups and what do you feel you have gained from the social sites?

I belong to a couple of professional organizations, Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and Sisters in Crime (SinC).  They provide great opportunities to make connections with other authors locally as well as nationally.  But my most important writer buddies have formed an informal support system, just as any group of friends would.  As an author I think it’s essential to make friends with other authors, so you have someone to whine to and celebrate with, rather than boring your friends and family.  However patient your non-writer friends and family may be, they can’t understand the ins and outs of this business the way other authors do.

Are there any characters in your books that represent you?

The protagonist of my Haunted Home Renovation books, Mel Turner, is a bit like me.  Not in all ways, of course, but she’s fascinated by history and architecture, and always wants to fix things. That’s all me! Also, she’s been through some hard times, so she’s a bit jaded about things like romance.  I like that she’s a more mature character, though one reviewer called her “too independent”, which made me laugh.  Is there such a thing?

How much of the characters and story lines come from people you know and your own experiences versus your imagination?

It’s all mixed up.  I never base a character entirely on someone I know, but I’ll take bits and pieces of folks and apply them to a fictional character.  I think it’s good to ground characters in reality, as it makes them relatable and adds veracity.  But even if a character starts out like someone I know, the demands of the story usually end up changing them significantly as the plot spins itself out.

Similarly, I often take ideas “ripped from the headlines” to begin plotting a novel – newspapers are highly inspirational when you’re looking for criminal behavior, though truth is often too crazy to be believed in fiction! But again, once I’m actually finished writing the story, the true story has usually morphed beyond recognition.

How do you keep your characters fresh and the plot exciting?

Oh, that’s a tough one!  If only there was a recipe for doing so.  As I mentioned above, I read extensively, both news and history, and often am inspired by true stories that are wilder and more original than anything I could think up.  They serve as inspiration.  I like to mix an original sort of crime with my characters and sit back and watch them react. Also, since I write series I try to keep the overall character arc going – I like characters to grow and change over the course of several books. I think those themes of personal growth and redemption always keep things exciting. Finally, I bounce ideas off of friends – especially non-writer friends—over drinks or dinner, and see how they react.  When they get excited about an idea, I take notes. They’re used to it by now ;-)

Can you tell us one thing about yourself that most of your fans don’t already know?

I’m an introvert.  I tend to be friendly and outgoing at conferences and book signings, so I don’t think I *seem* like an introvert, but I really am.  I need a lot of time to myself, which probably helps explain why I’m a writer – by necessity, we have to spend a lot of time alone! As much as I adore meeting readers and other writers face-to-face, after a while I find it difficult to deal with crowds. Part of me would like to hide away in a stone turret somewhere and write and day and night, only emerging a few times a year…but then I suppose I would get lonely for company!

What do you feel are the benefits of the new electronic readers to the environment?

I haven’t really kept up with this whole debate.  I know that it would be great to kill fewer trees, but I have to admit that I *love* reading paper books.  I’m old school that way —  I’d rather make my contribution to the trees by using cloth napkins and canvas totes for my groceries.  And meanwhile, I’ve heard that some of the materials and batteries used for the e-readers are extremely harmful to the environment, so I don’t know where I stand on that, exactly.

What impact do electronic readers create on the bottom line for authors in the end?

Personally, I receive a slightly higher rate of royalties for the e-versions of my books, so I have no argument against them in terms of author remuneration. Unfortunately, there are pirated copies floating around out there, but I think most readers are cognizant of the fact that authors need to make a living, and pay for their copies. 

Do you feel they have a negative impact or positive, or no impact at all that you can see?

I’m all for reading, however it’s accomplished.  Whether a novel’s printed on paper, or delivered by e-reader or IPod, as long as it keeps people reading, then I’m in favor of it! 

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Follow Juliet’s Website/Facebook/Art website.

 

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About Diane Morasco

  • http://www.noraadrienne.wordpress.com Nora-Adrienne Deret

    Will there be any more of the Art Lover’s Mysteries?