Jeanne, welcome. Tell us a bit about yourself and your writer’s journey.
I’m delighted to be here. “Story Matters” is a perfect title for a blog about reading and writing. I’ve been doing both all my life. My first serious work was an autobiography written at the age of eight. It was a bit thin on penetrating insights, but my third grade teacher said it had “flair.” I looked the word up in the dictionary and have been trying to live up to the definition ever since.
A mere half century after I penned that sprightly piece of prose, my first book was published. To quote the Grateful Dead, “What a long strange journey it’s been.” I’ve had the usual run of rejections and a lot of failed efforts that ended up in file drawers, never to see the light of day. My lucky break came when I met an executive VP for Harper Collins at a writing conference in California. He liked my story and volunteered to edit it for me as a labor of love. He subsequently showed the manuscript to Barbara Peters, the chief editor for Poisoned Pen Press, and Poisoned Pen bought it.
You describe your books as “international cozies.” Why did you choose this genre?
In addition to a love of writing, I love to travel. Each of my books has been set in a different country (Australia, Hawaii, and Norway) and the settings have become major characters. I enjoy learning about other cultures and incorporating what I’ve learned into my writing. It makes for a perfect synthesis of interests. My protagonist, Dinah Pelerin, is an amateur cultural anthropologist and wherever she goes, she manages to engage with the indigenous peoples and immerse herself in their mythology, history, and politics. Pelerin means pilgrim in French, and I’ve made travel the central focus of the books.
As for why I chose the mystery genre, I’ll paraphrase one of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood. The best stories are about wolves. Escaping the wolves, fighting the wolves, capturing the wolves, running with the pack, and even becoming werewolves. What I like about traditional murder mysteries is the challenge of discovering the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Another reason I chose to write murder mysteries is the fact that I worked for lawyers for twenty years. Nothing will turn a girl’s mind to murder like working for litigators. The first full-length book I wrote (never published) was littered with the bodies of lawyers. It was a kind of catharsis. I like to feel that I’ve grown since then.
Tell us something about your books.
They’re funny, they’re informative, and they won’t give anybody nightmares. How’s that for braggadocio? The thing I strive for in the books is a strong voice on behalf of indigenous peoples, but without sounding preachy or didactic or sentimental. Dinah is part Native American, which gives her an instinctive empathy with the natives.
In my first book, BONES OF CONTENTION, she confronts the mistreatment of the Aborigines. In my second book, BET YOUR BONES, she gets a taste of the bitterness that lingers among Native Hawaiians because of the U.S. annexation of their islands and degradation of Hawaiian customs and language and culture. And in my third book, BONEREAPERS, she meets a sexy Sami policeman who tells her how his forebears were oppressed by the dominant Norwegians.
I grew up in the deep South during the time when racial prejudice was the zeitgeist and Jim Crow the law of the land. The prejudice directed toward Native Americans was no less ugly than that directed toward black people. My grandmother claimed to be mortified that our family descended from Seminole ancestors. It gives me a particular sense of satisfaction and pride that I’ve made Dinah part Seminole.
What is your writing routine–up at dawn, done by noon? By the light of the moon? Whenever and wherever you can?
I have just finished my fourth book, which is set on the Greek island of Samos, and I have to say that it was a difficult birth. The story deals with a mystery that originated during the Greek junta of the early ‘70s and has repercussions in the turmoil that is shaking modern Greece right now. A friend who has a home on Samos invited me to spend some time there to research the novel. It was an eye-opening experience. When I returned home in September, my publisher’s deadline loomed. I was up writing at dawn, I wrote off and on throughout the day, and more often than is healthy, I got up at 3 a.m. to work. Much as I love writing, it doesn’t come easily to me. Some days I am locked in mortal combat with a single English sentence that won’t come together. I tend to agonize over each and every word. What the cognoscenti say is true: easy reading is hard writing.
Describe your favorite place to write.
I’m a headhunter. Antique milliner’s heads, that is. I have a collection of them lined up on my mantle. I write at my desk and when stumped for inspiration, I glance up at my gallery of faces on the mantle. Some of them are pouty, some poignantly sincere, some vacant-eyed. Some look as if they might reveal the secrets of the universe if only I would listen with my heart.
What’s next on your horizon?
My fourth book, HER BOYFRIEND’S BONES, is scheduled for release in June. I will try to do the usual things writers do to promote their books. After that, the next thing on my horizon is a nice, long rest.
Visit Jeanne online and learn more about her books at jeannematthews.com.