This week we sat down with Jess Lourey, the author of one of our longest-running critically-acclaimed series, the Murder-by-Month mysteries. Her latest, February Fever, was released earlier this month!
Midnight Ink: How long have you been writing?
Jess Lourey: My first piece of writing to receive wide acclaim was this poem:
Grandpas are full of love, grandpas are full of tickles, but grandpas are especially full of pickles.
I was five. My poetry skills haven’t improved, but I never lost my love for writing. I completed my first novel in 1996 and wrote two more before I landed my first publishing contract in 2004.
MI: What influence have other authors had on your writing?
JL: My mystery writing is tremendously influenced by William Kent Krueger’s and Janet Evanovich’s writing. My magical realism writing is inspired by Isabel Allende’s and Alice Hoffman’s beautiful prose. For my young adult novels, I turn to the books by Cornelia Funke, Suzanne Collins, and Philip Pullman. I *love* books and learned most of what I know about writing them from being a close reader.
MI: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
MI: If you have a job outside of writing, what is it?
JL: 2014-2015 is my first year as a full-time writer. My plan is to write and sell The Book by July 2015 so I do not need to return to my college teaching job. While I love teaching, turns out I hate grading and office politics.
MI: What is/are your favorite thing/s to do when you’re not writing or working?
|Jess and her boyfriend|
JL: Travel is a passion of mine, as is talking to people and hearing their stories, starting with the people closest to me: my kids, my boyfriend, my wonderful friends. I used to love to garden, but I’ve been too busy the past two summers to dig my fingers into the soil. Eating good food remains a favorite passion, particularly if someone else cooks it, though I also love to bake.
MI: Who is your favorite mystery sleuth and why?
JL: Early Stephanie Plum because she showed me that a sleuth could be funny, smart, and real.
MI: Do you have a favorite murder case from a book (either yours or another author’s)?
JL: Is it terrible that I never remember the specifics of the cases, only the characters? A finely-crafted character sticks with me for a long, long time.
MI: What was your inspiration for this series?
JL: The inspiration for the Murder-by-Month Mysteries was sanity. I was living in rural northern Minnesota with poor TV reception, and I needed to occupy my brain. I was reading a lot of great mysteries at the time—books by Kent Krueger, Sue Grafton, Tony Hillermann, and Janet Evanovich—and when I ran out, I decided to try writing one of my own. Man, am I glad I did.
MI: Tell us about Mira James.
JL: Mira James, when I first conceived her, was loosely based on where I was at in my life in 2004. She grew up in a small Minnesota town and moved to Minneapolis, then found herself back in a small town. She has (had?) bad luck with men, an English degree she doesn’t know what to do with, and an outlook on life that it’s better to laugh first, ask questions later. She and I have since found our lives going different directions, but I still love to check in with her.
MI: You are 10 books into a series! How has your writing process/approach to publishing changed since May Day?
JL: I’m a faster writer, and I hope a better writer, with every book. The process is still essentially the same, though. I come up with a one-sentence concept for a book, I do some freewriting (not more than a page—I hate freewriting) to flesh out the concept, and then I write a working outline. After that, it takes me about three months to finish writing a mystery. As far as publishing, I’m lucky that Midnight Ink keeps offering me contracts! I intend to never take that for granted. It wasn’t so long ago that I couldn’t get so much as an agent, let alone a publisher.
MI: How does this book/series compare to your other works?
JL: I’m proud of the Murder-by-Month Mysteries. I think they’re funny and well-paced, and I love the characters who populate them. I write in different genres, though, and so nothing else I write is quite like them. Even when I stay in the crime fiction genre, what I work on is very different from the MbM Mysteries. Here’s a working synopsis of the thriller I’m working on now:
Salem and Izzy must uncover the connection between the Witch Hunt of the 1600s and the modern disappearance of single mothers all over the globe to stop the assassination of Senator Gina Hayes, the first viable female Presidential candidate in the history of the United States.
JL: I have a dorky boxer named Juni. She’s sweet and loyal and kind of stinky. My daughter just got a hamster named Frank Ocean, too. I can’t tell you a lot about Frank except that he seems to always have someplace he needs to be, which is impressive when you live in a 2’ x 2’ world.
JL: Beer and bread. YUM.
MI: Do you have a favorite recipe?
JL: I come from a family of great cooks (my mom and daughter are the best), and so we try all sorts of different recipes on a regular basis. My current favorite is a shrimp curry soup made with plump shrimp, rich coconut milk, pineapple and hot peppers, and seasoned with fragrant lemongrass and fresh ginger.
MI: What’s your favorite part about being an Inker?
JL: I love the camaraderie at conferences. It’s like being invited to the cool kids’ slumber party. But if I had to pick a single thing, my very favorite part about being an Inker is getting to work with Terri Bischoff. She’s the real deal.
Thank you for having me!