Saturday, March 23, 2013

Jean uses symbol and theme lift the most basic plot

Hi Jean, welcome to Adventures in Authorland. Pull up a chair, get comfortable and tell us about your adventure.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Way back when I first learned C-A-T spelled a word.  Writing’s magic ability to world build has grown in me since then and shows no sign of stopping.  I consider that great good luck!

What books have influenced your life most?   
Jane Eyre with its indomitable heroine and moody masochistic Mr. Rochester had a profound influence on me in my teens.  The fact that Jane was a feminist and resisted Rochester’s attempt to make her his mistress escaped me on first youthful reading.  A good reason to revisit old favorites.

By analyzing fairy tales in The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim provided me with multiple examples of how symbol and theme can hide within the most basic of stories.  Enchantment was both a revelation and an education in how to pack meaning into plot and characters without ever letting the effort be obvious.

For sheer fun, I’m hooked on Nelson DeMille’s sassy character John Corey.  His wit and humor makes DeMille one of my all-time favorites.  I even got to shake his hand at a reading festival last year.  What a thrill!

Can you give us some details about your upcoming release?
Yes and yes!  I am currently writing a contemporary murder mystery series and having a ball with my amateur sleuth, Deva Dunne.  A young widow, she needs a change of scene and moves to sunny Florida.  In Killer Kitchens, the latest book in the series, her interior design business is thriving; she’s even snagged her first commercial design project, the La Cucina Restaurant.  Then disaster strikes, and the kitchen explodes.  As Deva says, “Just because the restaurant had Dynamite Shrimp on the menu is that any reason for the place to blow up?”

When you are not writing, what are your hobbies, passions, etc?
When I’m not writing, I really am writing.  Oh not with pen in hand or fingers on the mouse, but in my mind.  The characters, once released, refuse to go away.  So during
3 a.m. insomnia breaks, or while on the exercise bike, or out driving around town, I find Deva and Rossi and the killer all reappear.  And that’s great, that’s what keeps the plot moving forward.

What historical person would you want to meet and why?
Elizabeth I of England.  What a charismatic, brilliant old girl she was.  Walking through that minefield of intrigue and power grabbing that was the Tudor court of her day and not just surviving but prevailing.  She must have been both fascinating and impossible.

Share three fun facts about you that most people don’t know.
Three fun facts? Oh my gosh.
  1. Well, I’d love to stretch out on top of a piano and belt out a torch song.
  2. I met my husband on a street car.
  3. Just as Australia has elected a woman prime minister, I’d like to see a woman elected president of the USA.

Interior designer Deva Dunne just may have hit the jackpot.  Sure, her new client, Francesco Grandese, talks tough and has strange business connections, but he has the eye of a connoisseur, and a huge, empty mansion he wants her to decorate.

Deva’s boyfriend, police lieutenant Victor Rossi, has misgivings about her promising job—especially when he accompanies her to one of Francesco’s dinner parties.  After Francesco returns a dish to the kitchen untasted, the chauffeur promptly scarfs it down and drops dead from cyanide poisoning.

Has the killer made a terrible mistake and murdered the wrong person?  Or was the dead man the intended victim?  The only thing Deva knows for certain is someone present that night committed murder.  And it seems everyone—from the dinner guests to the kitchen help—has a motive.

   “How about a little Pavarotti while we eat?” Francesco asked.
   “I wouldn’t advise it,” Rossi replied, smiling.
   “Yeah. Don’t want the cops here twice in one night. Just shows what kind of neighbors I got to put up with.”
   I shot a quick glance in Francesco’s direction. Did that mean he wanted to leave, wouldn’t go through with the restoration?
   He caught my glance and read my thought. “Not to worry, Deva. I’m nuts about this place. When Jewels and I are under air, I’ll blast the hell out of the sound system. Get the kids used to good music.”
   Cookie returned from her visit to the powder room and sat down rather gingerly. Then, rigid in her seat as if she feared contamination from some source close by, she sucked on her bourbon and ignored her shrimp.
   “You don’t care for shrimp?” I asked.
   “I’m enjoying my pre-dinner cocktail at the moment.”
   “I see. Well, when you’re ready, they’re delicious.”
   Like the shrimp, I was ignored. The woman sat sipping in silence until Norm whispered something in her ear.
   “You did what?” she asked, slurring her words ever so slightly.
   “You going to eat that shrimp?” Donny asked suddenly. The first full sentence I’d ever heard him utter.
   “Are you speaking to me?” Cookie asked.
   “Yes. You want the shrimp or not?”
   “I beg your pardon.”
   “That a yes or a no?”
   When she didn’t answer him, Donny shrugged. “I guess that’s a no.”
   While Donny found solace in his beer, Norman again whispered in Cookie’s ear. For Brahmins who worshipped correct behavior, wasn’t that rather rude?
   Cookie didn’t say a word but took something Norm handed her and concealed it on her lap. What on earth was that all about?
   Oh well. I turned to my shrimp, enjoying every morsel as well as Rossi’s hand on my knee, caressing me secretly, giving me bad boy glances from under those hooded lids.
   A few minutes later, though he hadn’t even touched his shrimp, Francesco announced,      “Time for the antipasto.”
   “These shrimp are scrumptious,” I said. “You don’t like yours either?”
   “I been eatin’ them all afternoon. I’m ready for some provolone and salami and a couple slices of tomato.” He tore off a chunk of warm bread and dipped it in a saucer of oil.
   What about his delicate stomach? I wondered as Chip and AudreyAnn cleared away the first course dishes. Donny must have taken his boss’s impatience as marching orders, for he stood too and, picking up his dish and Francesco’s, carried them out to the kitchen.
   As we waited for the antipasto to be served, Cookie and Norm sat in glum silence, draining their drinks. She had both hands on the tabletop, so whatever Norm had given her she’d put down somewhere. Her purse probably.
   “The party’s dying,” Francesco declared, jumping up. At the bar, he uncorked a bottle of Chianti, and poured some for everyone.  He returned to his seat and raised his wine on high. “Cin cin!” A ray of late-day sun struck his glass, and the Chianti glowed ruby red in the fading light. “Great color, huh?” he said to me and laughed.
   My glass halfway to my lips, I smiled. There was definitely something about Francesco that—
   A scream straight out of a horror movie rent the air.

Jean's Murder by Design Mystery Series is published in e-book and audio format, and will be due out in paper in July.


  1. I really enjoyed this excerpt and have purchased a copy of the Murder by Design (love the subtext in the title). If you did stretch out on a grand piano and sing, what would be your choise of music?

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