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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Rules for a Mystery: Author Interview with Joan Hetzler

You’ve now published 4 different books, but what inspired you to write that first one? How many rewrites did you do on it?

I grew up with a love of writing and of mysteries. One quiet summer, I decided to write a mystery novel I had in my mind. Writing was easy. Editing was hard. Although I had a background in English literature and worked as a technical writer, writing genre fiction required different skills. I started attending a yearly writer's conference in Georgia in St. Simons Island where I could learn and network with other writers. Leaving out the times I had to set it aside for various reasons, it was about ten years before the book was published. I had dozens of rewrites but I don't remember a specific number.

 I see that you changed out your original covers to ones that pop more with color. How do you go about finding a new cover designer?

The colorful designs with the bloody dagger and gun wielding man were created by my publisher. I just recently took back my copyrights and re-published with the beige covers. My books have suspense and drama but also humor and friendship in solving mysteries. I wanted covers that reflect that lighter tone rather than a thriller. Most of the cover designers I talked to were on a waiting list, and I wanted to move forward so I did the covers myself. I may redo them again later. I'm looking for feedback so appreciate comments and ideas. The first book in my new series, A Cold Case in July: A Megan and Derek Mystery, has a more traditional cover with colors.

How do you go about plotting your mystery? Do you pick the victim or the murderer first? What do you think makes for a perfect murder mystery?

I usually start with a setting and characters who can interact in a way that could lead to murder. To me a good mystery is all about who is "involved" and not just the physical activity of a chase scene, although that is important for keeping interest. During the Golden Age of mysteries (1930s) a group of popular authors formed a club and decided on the "rules" for a mystery. One rule is that there must be clues scattered throughout the story that the reader can figure out who did it on their own. I try to include those clues without giving away the ending. To me the perfect mystery is to get to the last page and say, "Of course he (or she) did it. That makes perfect sense given the characters and motivation, but why didn't I figure it out myself?"

 What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?

Keep writing. If it's God's will, it will work out. I think praying before writing and taking time to listen to God's direction is important. Although it's not a Christian book, The Artist's Way by Julie Cameron was very helpful for me when I first thought of publishing. She has some practical tips on how to take away our inner critic that says writing is not a real job and we are wasting our time. She has exercises on journaling and other activities to be more creative. 

Marketing is the biggest key to getting sales. What is the best marketing source you've used that has produces more sales rather than just clicks?

My previous publisher chose to make books only available through Kindle Unlimited so I'm just now opening up to all retailers for my books. It's hard to compare. I have found mailer lists such as Book Cave and the Fussy Librarian the most helpful. I had the least success with Amazon ads.

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?

Editing is as important as the writing to really look professional. I always knew editing was important, but in fiction it can be the difference between keeping a reader's interest or not.  Poor editing can result in wordy and redundant sentences that slow down a reader. Misspellings can jar us out of the story into the real world if we notice them.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?

 For fiction, it's the often repeated, "show don't tell." Taking a reader through the same experiences as the hero or heroine is more engrossing that just a long description of what happened.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?

I try to remember that my readers interpret my writing through their own experiences. They may not have lived in the same city as my character or had the same type of job. So, I try to include extra background in a few words or paint a word picture of what my characters see to make the story clearer. Also, I limit slang because that changes from generation to generation and also areas of the country. And as a Christian, I try to make sure my characters act as a Christian would even during stressful times.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?

Two books are now re-published. One is a mystery that starts a new series after the Megan books. It is A Cold Case in July: A Megan and Derek Mystery.  Derek has left his job as a homicide detective to go to law school and during his summer break, a sheriff in a small North Georgia town hires him to find out who killed a well-known citizen four years earlier. Derek interviews the usual suspects only to find out that the case is more complicated than anyone thought. Megan and her computer savvy friends also lend a hand.

The other book is a poetry chapbook called Water Ways and God's Ways on St. Simons Island. For ten years, I lived on Saint Simons Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia. I printed and sold this chapbook in the local bookstores. Many people liked it and made positive comments as the poems are soothing and reveal God's grace in the island scenery and activities. For those who can't go to the beach this summer, they may enjoy these poems that take them for a soothing stroll along the quaint village streets or sit in an Adirondack chair on the shore's edge. From warm sandy beaches to shady oak trees with branches draped in hanging grey moss, the poems speak of God's gift of peace and beauty. 

That's all for today's interview. Hope you'll check out Joan's books. I just signed up for her newsltter to get her poetry book. I visited St. Simons years ago and still remember the peace and serenity I discovered there. Here are the links to learn more about her other books.


Amazon author page: 

Book Cave:

And here's a special bonus... Click on her website and sign up for her newsletter. In return you'll get a PDF of Water Ways and God's Ways on St. Simons Island

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