Friday, April 24, 2009

An Intimate Chat with Jane Cleland

Jane Cleland is the creator of the IMBA Best Selling Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series, a cozy series described as the Antiques Roadshow of mystery novels. Josie was introduced in Consigned to Death, which was followed by Deadly Appraisal and Antiques to Die For. This month, the fourth book in the series, Killer Keepsakes, has been released. Jane was gracious enough to take time out of her busy schedule and chat a little with me. I was so humbled to share some great conversation with the woman who breathed life into one of my favorite female protagonists. And I am excited to share that chat with you. So here she is - Jane Cleland!

Q. You’ve mentioned that your mother was a mystery writer and you wrote your first mystery when you were 7 – a Nancy Drew story about a cow? Did you aspire to be a mystery writer even then or did you have other plans growing up?

Jane: I wanted to be a forensic anthropologist, an actress, a psychologist, a teacher, and a writer. I think the common thread is that I like figuring out things that I’m then able to communicate effectively.

Q. Obviously your mother must have been one of your influences, are there others who have influenced your writing? Your style?

Jane: In addition to my mother and several wonderful teachers, my favorite authors have had an enormous effect on my desire to write well.

Q. You live in New York City now, but prior to that you owned a rare books store in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. What led you to be a rare book store owner? And then what led you away to the “Big City”? You’ve said you’re not leaving New York now, but what’s one thing you miss about New Hampshire?

Jane: I love books! I like Portsmouth a lot, and it seemed a very suitable location for a rare book store—and it was. I miss many things about New Hampshire, but if I had to pick just one, it would be the lilacs in spring.

Q. And you live a double life now, working in the business world – publishing in the business world – and then writing crime fiction. So, can you give us an idea of what an “instructional designer and corporate trainer” does on a day-to-day basis?

Jane: To paraphrase my answer to question one, I figure out how to communicate procedures, facts, protocols, and other content people need to know so that lasting learning occurs.

Q. Josie Prescott is your series heroine, and she has some similarities to you, but you’ve also mentioned that she has some distinct personality differences from you as well. Can you talk a little about how Josie came to be? It was recommended to you that you should create a female, amateur sleuth who didn’t live in NYC, but what influenced your choices when you were putting her character together and making her come alive?

Jane: I needed to pick an occupation where the detective had an organic reason to do research, to be a curious person, and to interact with a variety of people—an antiques appraiser fit the bill; I knew the rare book market (and thus I was a bit familiar with the antiques world); I knew Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and at the time I began the series, I was enduring a tough time in my life: My mother died, my brother died, my cat died—and I was getting divorced after a 20-year marriage. I think I brought some of that angst to Josie.

Q. When you first tried your hand at fiction, you were going to write about a male P.I. And I find that absolutely fascinating because the element that stands out the strongest for me in the Josie Prescott novels are your amazing female characters: Josie, of course, Gretchen, Zoe. They’re smart, they’re independent – not infallible, we’re not talking about Superwomen here; they have their emotional times when everything is just overwhelming. But overall they are so dynamic, so dimensional. And their interactions with each other only add to that depth. Does that character development come naturally? Are there people who have been models for these women?

Jane: Wow, what a nice comment. Thank you. My mother was like that—strong, way ahead of her time, a feminist to her toenails, but also a girly girl who liked strong men. Maybe that’s where it came from.

Q. Josie’s father had many “wise sayings” Josie recalls throughout the books, and he obviously heavily impacted her life. Was her wise father based on any real person? (Can you tell I’m a fan of character?)

Jane: I’m a fan of character, too. My mother said a lot of those things... and a lot I’ve picked up myself through the school of hard knocks. I have an MBA and some of the business “wisdom” comes from my college professors.

Q. Killer Keepsakes is the newest Josie Prescott novel. And in this installment, Josie’s assistant Gretchen plays a key role. I know the first three books have mentioned that Gretchen’s past is rather vague. Josie doesn’t know anything about Gretchen before she walked through her doors looking for a job. Personally, I thought “now there’s a future story line.” So, do we find out about Gretchen’s past in this book?

Jane: Yes!

Q. Let me make sure I have this correct, in Antiques to Die For and Killer Keepsakes, you wrote a proposal or a broad summary of each story line before you started the actual writing of the books? So does that mean your plots drive your story more so than the characters? Do you stick to that original plan or do you find that the characters kind of take you away from it? Has a character ever surprised you while you were writing?

Jane: Having a broad understanding of the plot allows me to focus on the characters as I’m writing. Characters do take me off on side trips, and sometimes I have to negotiate with them about how far they’re allowed to go. Characters surprise me all the time. All the time.

Q. Killer Keepsakes is the fourth book in the Josie Prescott series. Is there more in the works for Josie? I know you’ve mentioned an idea for a stand alone novel; is that still a possibility for the near future?

Jane: I’m currently writing Josie #5, tentatively titled Marked for Murder. I have just finished a young adult novel, a kidnapping, called The Mask. My agent has it right now. I have an interest in writing a stand alone about three women in their 40s... we’ll see.

Q. Not only do you work as an instructional designer and corporate trainer AND write mystery novels, but you also are very actively involved with the Wolfe Pack and the New York Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. So when exactly do you fit in the snorkeling, gardening and cooking? And you obviously must fit it in because the plants in your apartment are stunning. I’m especially fond of those Christmas cacti I believe I noticed in your NY Times article.

Jane: I only snorkel when my husband and I go on vacation, so while I love it, it’s periodic. I do cook a fair amount. I find it relaxing as all get out! As to the gardening, I can’t take much credit... I have great northern light.

Q. You and your husband are cat people – four cats, correct? I, too, have cats. I also have a cat that, like your Louis, carts socks around the house. But what I want to know is how you can keep the cereal under your wing chair and the cats don’t bother it? Mine would never in a million years be able to leave it alone! No really, what I was going to ask is are there any thoughts about cats in Josie’s future?

Jane: I would never in a million years leave anything OPEN under the wing chair! No, Josie doesn’t think she’s home enough to have a pet.

Q. Do you find much time for pleasure reading in that busy schedule? Anything you’ve read recently that you would recommend to fans of Josie’s?

Jane: I don’t have much time for reading. Currently I’m reading In the Best Families, by Rex Stout, for a book discussion coming up later this month.

Q. O.k., a question just for fun. I know you’re very happily married to your husband Joe, but we’re going into the land of the imaginary. If you could go on a date a any fictional literary character, who would it be?

Jane: Spenser and Travis McGee.

Q. I promise this is my last question, but it’s the question every author hears from me. There is a book out called Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. What would be YOUR six-word memoir?

Jane: Striving for clarity changed my life.

Thanks so much to Jane for this great interview. I certainly hope to see more of both she and Josie here at Jen's Book Thoughts!

Don't forget to stop by Jane's website where you can learn more about Jane, try your hand at appraisals, check out some of Mom's recipes, and even read "Killing Time", Jane's short story from the Alfred Hitchcock November 2008 Magazine that has been nominated for an Agatha Award.


Corey Wilde April 24, 2009 at 12:13 PM  

Nice work, as always, Jen.

le0pard13 April 24, 2009 at 12:19 PM  

Great interview, Jen.

hua April 25, 2009 at 11:10 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jen April 28, 2009 at 11:49 AM  

Thanks guys! Jane is such a fun person. I always enjoy chatting with her.

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