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Monday, February 12, 2007

Interview with mystery writer Lorena McCourtney

Tell us where you grew up and some of your background, if you’ve always loved to write?

I grew up in various small towns in eastern Washington. I’d gone to six schools by the time I graduated from high school at Clarkston, Washington. I can’t say that I’ve always loved to write, but I’ve always loved to read. We traveled around a lot, and my mother said that one of the first words I could read was the big yellow “Shell” sign on the gas stations. So I didn’t exactly start out immersed in high-class literature!

I started trying to write while I was in about the fifth grade. Since my mother had done some non-fiction writing, I knew how to go about sending my creative masterpieces to magazines. They were not, unfortunately, impressed by my talent at this young age and sent them right back.

What books would you say have influenced you most in general? In writing?

I would say that everything I’ve ever read has had a smidgen of influence on me, but I don’t think I can point to any specific authors or books that influenced me. As a girl, what I devoured was anything about horses or dogs, and westerns. Since I became a writer, I’ve never written anything about dogs, horses, or a western, so I have to think I wasn’t deeply influenced by what I read back then.

Presently I do more reading of mysteries than anything else, but I may delve into most anything that looks interesting. I just finished a non-fiction book about a year in the Arctic – and I’m now reading a sweet romance. And next in my TBR pile is an Anne George mystery.

In writing, I read Writer’s Digest faithfully for years. I don’t read much about writing technique any more, although I have the feeling it might do me good if I did. One reason I don’t read much in this area is that what I do read generally intimidates me to the point that my writing stalls rather than expands.

You wrote 24 novels in the secular market before switching over to the CBA. What would you say were the challenges in changing markets?

The biggest challenge was that I had to start all over as far as name recognition went. I think what I’d learned while writing all those books stood me in good stead. Writing technique is much the same no matter whether you’re writing for ABA or CBA, and I got a lot of experience in plotting and creating characters. But I’d written those 24 books under my own plus 3 pen names (a requirement of the publishers at the time), so my name wasn’t familiar to much of anyone in CBA. So what I did, rather than try to get a contract on the 3-chapters-and-an-outline basis as I’d been doing it, I wrote a complete book before trying to find a CBA publisher. That way they didn’t have to guess whether or not I could write what they wanted; they could see the entire book right there.

How many books have you published in the Christian market?

I’ve had 13 books published in the Christian market. Six of these were for the now-discontinued Palisades Romances line. One of those books was as much mystery as romance, and I realized I really liked writing mysteries. So my next 3 books, The Julesburg Mysteries for Revell, were more mystery than romance. And the last 4, which are my Ivy Malone Mysteries, also for Revell, have only a smidgen of romance along with the mystery.

At some point, you began writing mysteries instead of romance. What was the reason for this?

As I said above, in doing that one book with as much mystery as romance, I simply enjoyed the mystery part so much that I wanted to do more of it. I like the twists and turns of plot, the red herrings, the feeling that there’s more to the story than there is in a straightforward romance.

Mysteries are much different than romance. What would you say is the most difficult part of mystery writing?

Figuring out who the murderer is! I’ve done a couple in which the murderer changed about halfway through the book.

Another difficult part is getting all the technical details about police and detective work, methods of murder, what clues the killer may leave behind, etc. right. I do quite a lot of research on these details.

Can you share what problems you’ve seen in mystery novels? Any tips to mystery writers?

Basically, study those mystery writers whose books you most enjoy.

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

I’m afraid I’ll have to say it’s writing “The End.” The feeling of accomplishment that comes with wrapping up the details and finishing something.

Other than your own books, what are some of your favorite mysteries?

Among CBA authors, I especially like Pat Rushford, Terri Blackstock and Colleen Coble.

Among secular mystery writers I like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone Mysteries, Alexander McCall Smith’s #1 Ladies Detective Agency books, Anne George, Janet Evanovich, Dean Koontz.

(and probably a lot of others whose names don’t come to me right now.)

Which of your own mysteries would you say is your favorite and why?

I have a certain affection for that first one I did, which started out as a romance, basically, but turned into a mystery. This is Forgotten, in the Palisades Romance line. Among my more recent books, I’m especially fond of the first one in my Ivy Malone Mysteries series, Invisible.

On your website you state that you love to travel in your motor home like your character Ivy Malone. Did your idea for Ivy stem from your travels, in other words, which came first, your character or the idea for a character who travels in a motor home?
Can you tell us about the Ivy Malone series and specifically about your latest book?

Actually, the idea of having Ivy travel in a motor home came after Book #1, Invisible, was written. The catalyst for the entire series was Ivy’s feeling that she had aged into invisibility, a feeling very much based on personal experience. I just kind of grin and bear it, but Ivy (more adventurous than I am!) decides her invisibility can be a handy asset in sleuthing and tracking down a murderer.

I then wanted Ivy to be in different settings, because doing a whole series of murders in one small town can drift into the unbelievable.. Having her on the move in a motor home, while escaping the bad guys, looked like the solution. She’s always in new surroundings and meeting new people, as she does in the latest one Stranded, where she finds herself stuck in the small town of Hello, Colorado. I like bringing in new people – Nutty Norman in this book was fun. As was writing the older ladies dancing up a storm in their 1920’s Revue. And thong panties. Yes, Grandmas do wear thong panties!

Can you share about your future projects? Another Ivy Malone book perhaps?

There won’t, much to my disappointment, be more Ivy books. But I’m now doing a new mystery series for a different publisher. These are the Andi McConnell Mysteries, about an older woman who is surprised to find herself in possession of a limousine – with a dead body in the trunk soon to follow. The title of the first book is Your Chariot Awaits, and it’s scheduled for release in September 2007. Like the Ivy Malone books, these are lighthearted, fun books, Christian but not preachy.

What is the greatest advice you ever received as a writer?

That persistence is more important than talent. Unfortunately, I don’t know where it came from, but it’s carried me through a good many years of writing.

Any parting words to mystery lovers and writers?

One of the greatest joys of writing is hearing from readers. E-mails and letters have encouraged me so much. (And, on occasion, pointed out a mistake or two!) So I hope you’ll visit my website at www.lorenamccourtney.com. There’s an e-mail address on there where you can contact me, and I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for joining me.


Blogger Mirtika said...

So here is where our Beth is. :)

Thanks, Lorena, for stopping by. :)


7:09 AM  
Blogger Lynette Sowell said...

Great interview, Beth. Lorena, I enjoyed hearing about your writing!

12:19 AM  
Blogger Deborah said...

great interview. i've read all of Lorena's books in the CBA market and i love all of them especially the Ivy Malone books. It's a shame there won't be anymore Ivy, but her new series sounds really good. looking forward to it!

2:26 PM  

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