Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Interview with author Jean Henry Mead

Katie: Jean, you have quite a varied writing background. Please share some of the details with our readers today.

Jean: I started writing professionally as a news reporter while editor-in-chief of my college newspaper. I worked 35 hours a week and then drove 25 miles to school in another town to college and carried 15 units. I didn’t get much sleep but learned a lot about managing my time.

Twelve years later I began freelancing for newspapers and magazines and served as editor of In Wyoming Magazine while freelancing for the Denver Post. My first book was published in 1981. I wrote seven nonfiction books, edited two more and ghostwrote another before I wrote my first novel, Escape on the Wind.

Katie: Your eleventh book, “A Village Shattered” was released in December. Can you share a synopsis?

Jean: Village is the first in my Logan & Cafferty senior sleuth mystery/suspense series. It features two widows living in a central California retirement village who discover their club members are dying alphabetically. When the newly-elected sheriff bungles the investigation, Dana Logan, a mystery novel buff, and Sarah Cafferty, a private investigator’s widow, decide to discover the serial killer themselves, who incidentally, is hiding in the San Joaquin Valley fog. They soon learn that their club roster has been stolen by the killer and their own names are on the list. Dana’s beautiful daughter, Kerrie, shows up on her doorstep unannounced and finds herself in danger as well. The plot is generously sprinkled with humor as well as a little romance.

Katie: You have another book to be released this spring, “Diary of Murder,” the second novel in your Logan & Cafferty series. Was doing a series an idea that flowed naturally from the characters? Tell us more about what inspired these particular characters.

Jean: When I’m writing, my characters live with me 24/7, and I like Dana and Sarah so much that I couldn’t give them up, so a series was the answer. I have a good friend in California who insists that the characters stem from our long term friendship, so maybe that’s the answer.

Katie: The upcoming “Diary of Murder” is your twelfth book. In looking back to your first book until now, what things do you do differently now in your writing than you did then? Do you find it easier to write now? How long does it take you to complete a book?

Jean: I was trained as a journalist and it’s difficult to make the transition from nonfiction to fiction. Nonfiction is objective and on the surface while fiction delves beneath the surface and is based on conflict and emotion. And yes, I find it much easier to write now. My first novel took me years to research and write. My last book, Diary, took six months and I enjoyed writing it more than any other book because I’ve finally learned the language of fiction.

Katie: With your varied background, have you thought about going into publishing, or is writing your first love?

Jean: Writing will always be my first love, but I have been in publishing. My husband and I owned and operated our own small press for four years and I was relieved when we decided to close it down because I didn’t have time to write my own books. I did enjoy editing and helping young writers get a start in the business, but the longing to write took over and overshadowed my desire to publish others’ books.

Katie: Several of your books are Western historical novels. What inspired you to write in this genre? Do you plan to do more of these type books?

Jean: I’m a native southern Californian who married a Wyomingite. When we moved here in 1971, I was enchanted with the region’s rich history. I live a few miles from the Oregon Trail where you can still see wagon ruts made by emigrants during the second half of the 19th century as they made their way West. The Pony Express riders rode through here and the first intercontinental telegraph line was strung nearby. Also, Western Writers of America held their convention here and I was asked to help with the publicity. I joined the organization and wrote my third book, Maverick Writers, which includes interviews with Louis L’Amour, A.B. Guthrie, Jr., Janet Dailey and a host of Western writers as well as Hollywood screenwriters.

Katie: Since this is pretty close to the first of 2009, I’m interested in whether you have a “plan” for your writing for this year? Do you set short, medium, and long term goals? If so, what are they? If not, why not?

Jean: I plan to continue writing my Logan & Cafferty series as well as getting back to my “Cattle Kate” historical novel (an innocent woman hanged by cattlemen to take over her land). When I first read about the hanging, I was so angry that I knew I had to write about it someday. I’m also writing a children’s novel titled, The Mystery of Spider Mountain. That’s about all I can handle for the year, along with my blog articles.

Katie: To what do you attribute to your success in getting so many books written and then published? Do you find you still have to query agents/editors/publishers with each new book, or do you have a steady agent/publisher?

Jean: I’ve been fortunate to have had all my books published. Success in this business is only achieved by hard work and determination. You can’t allow rejections to depress you so much that you quit. I’m glad that I began my career as a journalist because it taught me persistence and brevity. I still tend to write too briefly in some scenes, and my novels have been reviewed as fast paced. I once had an agent, whom I fired, and have sold the rest of my books myself. My third book is coming out from the same publisher, so I’ll probably stay put for a while, especially in this publishing downturn with large publishers closing their doors to new submissions.

Katie: Many new writers find it difficult to get over the “I’m now published” hump. What advice do you have for them?

Jean: Hang in there, study the markets and never submit to a publisher whose work you haven’t read. Learn the editor’s name of your particular genre and look for the publisher online for guidelines. If the editor’s name isn’t there, either email the publisher or call to ask for the name. But NEVER ask to speak to the editor. They’re too busy to take calls. Editors also tend to change publishers frequently so you can’t rely on information from Writer’s Market shortly after it’s published. And don’t submit blindly without investigating.

Learn more about Jean at her website here, and on her blog here.


Anonymous said...

Good interview - I always enjoy reading more about Jean, such an interesting person and good writer. I thoroughly enjoyed "Shattered" and am looking forward to the next book in the series.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you, Marvin. You know I'm a fan of your "Free Spirit" blog. I'm still dancing with all those people from yesterday's video. :)

Unknown said...

Great interview. I really enjoyed reading the behind the scenes on Jean's work and methods.

Anonymous said...

As always, I'm intrigued by your story, Jean. Like you've said before, our backgrounds are similar.
Nice interview, Katie. Thanks.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Thank you, Lea and Heidi, for your kind comments. I'm glad you stopped by.

Joyce Anthony said...

What a wonderful interview, Katie--you did well.

Jean, no matter how much I learn about you, there is always something new :-) I have a different issue with going betwen non-fiction and fiction--I tend to right direct, litle in the way of excess-and that doesn't work as well in fiction.

Jean Henry Mead said...

That's was one of my worst problems, Joyce. Journalism taught me brevity and I have to really work to fill in the descriptive passages during the final draft. I'd be perfectly happy just writing dialogue. :)