An Interview with J.A. Menzies: Author
Sylvia: Hi J.A., it’s a pleasure to meet you and I am excited to share your story. Please tell us about you and your book.
J.A.: My name is J. A. Menzies and I am the author of the Manziuk and Ryan mysteries, Shaded Light and Glitter of Diamonds, two classic whodunits set in Toronto. Publishers Weekly likened Shaded Light to the Golden Age mysteries of Agatha Christie. The book would “delight fans who appreciate sold, modern detection.” Midwest Book Review said, “Humor, complications, and characters so real that you can just about touch them and smell their sweat.” Library Journal has called me a “master of plotting.”
I am a member of a number of organizations for writers, including Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, and The Writers Union of Canada.
Sylvia: Nice to be compared to Agathe Christie. You are one very busy lady. What inspired you to write your first book?
J.A.: Since I first discovered the Trixie Beldon series when I was about 8 or so, I’ve read a LOT of mysteries. Some years ago, I was sitting in our family room with my husband. He was reading the newspaper and I was reading a mystery from the library. It wasn’t good and I was just skimming to see how it ended. Then I threw it onto the floor at my feet, and said, “I could do better than that!”* My ever-helpful husband looked up and said, “Well, why don’t you then?” * (No books were harmed in the making of this story)
A few years before, I’d had a weird experience. While in a Japanese garden in Vancouver, I’d walked over a little bridge and around a few trees and noticed a beautifully tended bush, and thought, “That would be a good place to find a body!” I mentally saw two well-shod feet sticking out, toes pointed up. Of course, in real life, I never want that to happen. But….
When my husband spoke, that idea flashed through my mind and I immediately began to think about whose feet they were, and who the people in the victim’s life might be, and before the week was gone, I had a notebook filled with hand-written pages. Seventeen years later, it was a published book. J
Sylvia: Wow, how interesting. It took you a long time to finish the book, but you needed to complete it in your time. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
J.A.: We all have little (or big) things we’d rather other people didn’t know about us. And sometimes we get so caught up hiding that part of ourselves that we unnecessarily complicate our lives. So in the book, most of the people are either outright lying or not telling the entire truth. This makes the investigation an untangling process for the police. Of course, that’s not unusual for a mystery. But I think it’s often true in real life. Our lives would be simpler if we’d just be honest—with ourselves as well as others.
Sylvia: Do you have any advice for other writers?
J.A.: Connect with other writers who have more experience. Most of them are more than willing to share what they’ve learned.
- Read lots of books about writing.
- Read whatever it is you want to write.
- Practice writing with articles or short stories and work your way up to a book.
- Learn the rules before you break them.
- Good writing involves a lot of rewriting and editing.
- The best writers have three key things: talent, passion, and hard work.
Sylvia: Very good tips! I am sure new authors will find those tips very useful. What marketing techniques have you used to sell your books and which ones have been most successful?
J.A.: For me, I see each individual book as a unique product that needs to be promoted and sold to its target audience. Even my two Manziuk and Ryan mysteries are different in that the second one is set in the world of professional baseball and its surrounding media, so people who aren’t necessarily fans of mysteries but love baseball might read it. So it has a kind of slightly expanded audience.
My father owned a clothing store in a small town when I was growing up, so I’ve always known what it was like to run your own business. Back in 1992, when my first book (a novel for teens) was published, I was a bit naïve—for about a month. Then I realized I not only had to be involved, but I also had to drive the process. Over the years, I’ve sent out review copies; hired a publicist to get booksignings and radio and TV interviews; been on panels at mystery conventions; done readings alone and with other writers; taught workshops for writers and aspiring writers; joined Twitter, Facebook, etc.; and of course, maintained a website.
Strong reviews in places like Publishers Week and Library Journal have probably sold the most books. The most effective thing I’ve done on my own is speak. Even if I’m not specifically talking about my books, when I speak, I sell books.
Sylvia: You know, speaking is a great way to not only get the word out about your products or services but to establish yourself as an expert. Why should we buy your book?
J.A.: If you like contemporary mysteries that are similar in style to the classic or Golden Age mysteries of people like Georgette Heyer, Ngaio Marsh, and Agatha Christie. They’re not light enough to be deemed a cozy but not hard enough to be deemed a police procedural; somewhere in between, with a complicated plot, a little romance, and, I am told, some humour. Basically, a whodunit with people you care about.
Sylvia: Is there a special place that you prefer when you write?
J.A.: I have an office I’ve developed into my perfect space. It has a desktop computer with two screens, bulletin boards, files, books, a TV, a radio, and a collection of memorabilia that mean something to me.
Sylvia: What a very fun, inviting, colorful and comfy office. I like it! What projects are you currently working on?
J.A.: My 3rd mystery, which has the working title Opaque Rays; a memoir; and a fantasy for children.
Sylvia: How do you create memorable, realistic characters readers care about?
J.A.: For me, it comes down to two things.
1. Before I start writing, and all the time I’m writing, I’m trying to understand what makes each character tick. All of them, including the nasty ones. Where have they lived? What was their family like? What effect did their childhood have? What bad and good things have happened to them? How did those circumstances change them? And finally, how do the events happening during my book affect the inner desires, prejudices, trigger points, or hopes that are in each person?
2. When I write, I essentially become the character whose Point of View I’m in. I think it comes from a combination of acting, which I did a lot of when I was younger, and a degree in psychology. When I’m writing, I’m literally thinking what the character would think, feeling what the character would feel, and it seems to work. I’ve had a lot of reviews indicating that my characters seem real.
Sylvia: Good stuff! What is your POWER WORD? Why this word?
J.A.: Joy. I believe that if you’re primarily doing what you were created to do, you’ll feel a sense of joy. Not a brief happiness or overwhelming excitement, but a quiet contentment that bubbles up from inside, even when you have to do things that aren’t in your comfort zone (like promotion!).
Sylvia: Joy is such an empowering word. You are right, when you are doing what you love… it definitely brings you joy! Please share your social media and book contact information.
J.A.: Sylvia, thanks again for taking the time to learn more about my book. My contact is below:
- Website: http://jamenzies.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JAMenziesAuthor
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/JAMenziesAuthor