Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Interview with Jerold Last: Mystery Writer

Jerry and I met through Facebook. He's a mystery writer. And, oh how I wish I could writer better mysteries. 

There is a formula and structure for this type of writing. There are also specific classes and writer's organizations for mystery writers. You can check out your local chapters by typing in Mystery Writers of America or Mystery Writers Conferences. 

Also, do what I did. Ask a mystery writer about his or her work. Learn from how they write and take that to mold your own version. 

Jerry does not write sequels, but he uses characters from all of his book in his other books. It's a great way to allow those characters he loves to grow in new ways, and to allow the reader to go along for the ride. 

Below are the questions I asked him:

Describe your mystery novels in 5 words: 

Complex plots, fast-paced, well researched

Why are you attracted to writing mysteries?  

I’ve been a big fan of mystery novels all my life.  I started reading The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew in grade school.  Erle Stanley Gardner and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came next, before I hit my teens.   

As I moved towards college and nominal adulthood, my favorites became the masters of the private eye genre, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald.   

I like the noir style, the role of the private detective as the hero, and the fast pace of the action as a complex plot unfolds.

What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?  

Breakfast is usually two cups of coffee.  I usually wake up about 7 AM.

Why should readers choose your books?   

Several reasons. 
1. They’re very good.  
2. They’re well written.  
3. They’re well researched and therefore educational. 
4. They’re quite affordable.  
5. They’re different---where else can you learn all about dog shows, Incan history, South American indigenous creation legends, and molecular biology in the same series?  
6.  Finally, even though each book can be read as a stand-alone entry, I use some of the same characters throughout the series.  

It’s a lot easier to take a character I know, put her or him into a specific situation, and ask myself how would they react to the situation than it is to start this process from scratch with a new character in each new story.  The recurring characters grow within the series, so you can keep up with old friends in the new books.  To me, that’s the reason to write in a series format.

How has living in Salta, Argentina, and Montevideo influenced your writing?  

It lets me choose exotic and unusual locales I know from first hand experience as good places to kill people and solve murders.   

Because of minor incidents during my life in these two cities, I’ve had several ideas that became mystery plots.  

For example, “The Ambivalent Corpse” was conceived and written because of our finding two bizarrely different memorials you wouldn’t expect to find together juxtaposed within 100 yards of each other on a beach along the Rio de la Plata in Montevideo.

When do you find the time to write with your scientist day job? 

That’s an excellent question.  I try to carve out an hour each morning (which means getting up an hour earlier than I used to) and time on the weekends to write fiction.  It’s a constant challenge. 

Where is the best place for a cup of Joe/Tea in your hometown?  

Peet’s, a local chain of gourmet coffee/tea shops that began in Berkeley, sells beans and ground coffee as well as coffee/tea by the cup.

Are you self-published or have you gone the traditional route?  

Self-published.  Everything is on Amazon Kindle.

What do you think of self-publishing? Traditional publishing?  

All of my books thus far have been self-published because it’s possible to do with just sweat equity.  If the right agent came along to offer me the choice of traditional publishing, I would certainly consider it as a possibility.

Who has had the most positive influence on your writing? 

Probably Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, and Dashiell Hammett.   

For example, “The Matador Murders”, a hard-boiled, noir, whodunit mystery set mainly in Montevideo, Uruguay, is a reworking and modernization of Dashiell Hammett’s immortal novel, “Red Harvest”.  

How have you marketed your body of work? What seems to be working the best? 

I spend most of my time trying to sell books on Facebook.   For “The Deadly Dog Show” I also sent e-mails to all the dog people whose e-mail addresses I could find on the Internet.

Do you have an agent? 

No, I don’t.  If any of you reading this interview are agents, please let me know and I’ll be glad to send you a copy of “The Deadly Dog Show” as an audition to inspire you to query me.

How do you research for a murder mystery?

I’ve already done the research for the settings by choosing locales I know from first hand experience.  I’ve either lived in the locations or visited them as a tourist.  That’s why South America and California are featured so prominently.  Fact checking is done on the Internet or using the library as a resource.  

The science is based on my career as a biochemist and toxicologist; I keep my character’s expertise, especially Suzanne’s, within the boundaries of my own.  

“The Body in the Parking Structure” was a lot of fun to write because I could draw on my professional skills for much of the background material for this book, which involves a pharmaceutical company and a potential new anti-cancer drug in the plot.

Who/what are you reading right now?  

I’ve downloaded several E-books waiting to be read or in progress written by fellow independent authors that need reviews.  That seems like enough recreational reading to do to keep me out of trouble or the library for the next month or two.  Next on the list for me to read is “Hat Dance” by Carmen Amato.

Are there any great links for research for other mystery writers out there?  

There are a ton of blogs written by mystery writers and chock full of advice on how to write and how best to murder a victim on the Internet.  That’s a good place to start.

What advice do you have for newbie mystery writers?  

You should be able to do a lot of the preliminary planning for the plot of your new mystery in your head.  Or, if it’s easier, draft an outline.  Then sit down at the computer and write.  

It’s the same way I write a scientific manuscript.  Just sit down and write the first draft.  It doesn’t matter how bad it is.  That’s what editing is for.  Just get it down on paper---editing is easier than creating.  And don’t forget to keep a character list as you go along.  That saves a lot of work later.

I like writing.  Remember, most of us learn by doing.  The hard part is selling the books, and all the work that goes with trying to get reviews, get sales, get noticed.

Do you belong to any writer’s associations or groups? If so, which ones and why?  

No.  I don’t tend to be a joiner. There isn’t any time.

Who is your biggest cheerleader? 

My wife Elaine, who doubles as my editor and primary critic, as well as a source for interesting factoids about dog training and places we’ve visited.

What do you think about kickstarter for writers? Have you looked into for your books?  

No, I haven’t.  Publishing on Amazon KDP is free.  Since I am working full time, I could conceivably afford to pay publishing costs if I turned to the traditional model, but why would I want to do this?  Perhaps for others it would be an excellent model.

What are you working on right now?  

Two books, both destined for Amazon Kindle.  

One is a new South American mystery novel set in The Galapagos Islands.  

The other is an anthology of short stories, a novelette, and a novella to pull together several stories I’ve written with my regular series characters that aren’t conveniently available elsewhere.

Give us one word that best describes you.  

Elaine suggests intense, focused, or workaholic. 

How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?  

Buy my books, tell your friends about the ones you enjoy the most and write reviews for them on Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. Jerry,

    A very interesting interview! Wishing you much success.