Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Conversation with I.J. Parker

Award-winning author Ingird (I. J.) Parker was born in Munich, Germany, and arrived in the U.S. in 1960 to marry her Texan husband while a student at the University of Munich. They met at a  school dance organized by American exchange students. By then she had been exposed to American culture via books and magazines, and was fascinated by all things American. During the 1980s, she was a professor of English and Foreign Languages in Virginia, and started writing as a hobby.

 Ingrid, why did you decide to write mysteries?

 I loved mysteries and had enjoyed the Van Gulik Judge Dee series. Doing the same thing for Japan was a challenge, but at the time no one else was writing historical mysteries about Japan. Rowland’s books came a decade later.
Why did you set your novels during the eleventh and twelfth centuries?

I’ve always had an interest in history and literature. The eleventh century is the time when Japan’s literature blossomed, and there was a good deal of cultural material available. Also, Japanese customs during the time were still heavily influenced by Tang China. There are some obvious similarities between my setting and Van Gulik’s.
Has your independent publishing been successful?

As to the success:  My sales are still modest, but I earn more now than I did when I was traditionally published. As to why: I lost my third publisher over contract negotiations. Their two-book offer was ruinous for me, and I declined. More importantly: I now have control over my books.  That includes their content, cover art, release times, and promotion.  And I have a lot less stress. Also, I can publish other novels and my short stories.  Almost all of my short stories have appeared previously in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and won me a Shamus Award in 2001, but a story is dead as soon as the magazine is off the shelves. Now the stories live again and are selling well, proof that there is interest in short fiction, something publishers have always denied.
How do you promote your books and have you found social media outlets helpful in marketing?

I don’t like social media and do as little as possible in that area. I promote very little, having found that I cannot spare the time from writing more books. It’s to be hoped that the books will eventually pay off. Another aspect of my doing very little promoting is that this usually involves massive giveaways of books or selling novels for less than 3.99. This undervalues my books.  I’d rather settle for fewer sales.
Tell us about your latest release.

The last release was THE EMPEROR’S WOMAN in November of last year. My protagonist Akitada, a nobleman in the ministry of justice with a taste for criminal cases, becomes involved in the apparent suicide of an imperial concubine at the private home of one of the princes. The court suppressed what turned out to be murder in order to cover up a scandalous affair.
How do you research your novels?

I use both primary and secondary sources. The Internet is not useful for my subject matter. By now I’ve been at it for so long and have accumulated so much material that the process is less onerous than it was for the early novels, which took me years to finish.
Advice for fledgling historical mystery novelists?

I believe in doing the research via primary and scholarly sources. That goes also for better known settings and eras than mine.  Nothing looks more amateurish than a novel cobbled together with a smattering of historical events and facts that frequently contain bad errors or lack all local color or cultural details.

I also believe in working hard at one’s chosen profession. Electronic publishing has made it much too easy to publish material that isn’t ready for public consumption. And of course, books should be sufficiently edited to eliminate the more appalling grammar and diction errors.

Your social media links?

I do very little on FaceBook: is a listing of my books on Amazon’s Author page: and this is my web site:

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Chrystle Fiedler's Natural Remedies Mysteries

Chrystle Fiedler is the author of Scent to Kill and Death Drops, both natural remedies mysteries as well as a number of non-fiction titles concerning sugar addiction and natural cures. Her magazine articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Natural Health, Vegetarian Times, Better Homes and Gardens and Remedy.
Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Chrystle. Please tell us how you came to write natural remedy mystery novels.

I’ve been learning, researching and writing about natural remedies for the past decade or so. The more I learn, the more I want to know. Recently when I was researching my newest mystery, I delved into the practice of aromatherapy, which is the practice of using essential oils to improve health and well-being. Aromatherapy can ease stress, insomnia, anxiety, depression, aches and pains, and more.
It’s fascinating to discover how aromatherapy works. You see, plants produce essential oils for a variety of reasons to attract pollinators, to protect against bacterial and/or fungal invasion, to deter pests, and to inhibit other plants from growing near them. Through a process of distillation these essential oils are removed from plants.

Essential oils can be extracted from the leaves (eucalyptus), grass (lemongrass), seeds (fennel), fruit/zest (mandarin), flowers (rose), wood/trunk of tree (cedarwood), roots (ginger), resins (frankincense), and herbs (rosemary). Three of my favorite scents are lavender, jasmine and roses, so I thought I’d share a few simple tips on how to use them today.

Not only does Lavender (the Latin verb lavare means “to wash”) smell terrific, it’s calming and soothing and good for cuts and burns, insomnia, diaper rash, tension headache, PMS and cramps (use with clary sage and Roman chamomile). The phytochemicals (plant-based chemicals linalool and linalyl acetate) in lavender are absorbed in the skin and in the membranes inside your nose, slowing nerve impulses, and reducing stress. An easy way to start using lavender is to put five to ten drops of essential oil in your bath. Add the oil after you have filled the tub so you can enjoy the full benefits of this wonderful aroma.

The aroma of jasmine (Jasminum officinale v. grandiflorum) is intoxicatingly sweet, exotic, and floral. It’s also incredibly therapeutic for a variety of conditions. Jasmine essential oil eases mild depression, anxiety, and tension. It also balances energy and helps you feel more optimistic. It calms coughs and laryngitis, soothes sore muscles, stiffness, and sprains. You can apply it topically, use it on a warm or cool compress, put it in the bath, inhale it from your palm, or put it in an electronic diffuser to disperse small aromatic particles into the air.

I love the rich, sweet floral bouquet of roses and the approximately 275 compounds have a myriad of therapeutic uses. For example, if you apply it topically, rose oil can help banish eczema, wrinkles, and acne. If you feel blue, rose essential oil will naturally lift your mood. If you have painful periods, it helps to balance hormones (just put the oil on a warm compress and apply to your lower abdomen). Rose oil also eases nervousness, anxiety, anger, sadness, and grief and can be helpful if you have respiratory problems such as allergies and hay fever. You also use rose oil to help you sleep better and feel happier. For all these conditions, simply put some on your palm and inhale it or put rose essential oil into a diffuser. Your bedroom will smell like an English garden.
To make an aromatic spritzer with any of these scents, just add 10 to 25 drops of essential oil per 4 ounces of water in a squirt bottle. Be sure to shake it each time before you use it.

The effectiveness of aromatherapy depends on the quality and wholeness of the essential oils you use, so it's important to use the very best essential oils possible. You want to avoid anysynthetics, reconstructions, perfumes, and other adulterated versions. One of my favorite places for essential oilsis Floracopia
Start with one essential oil that appeals to you and see how you feel after using it. The wonderful thing about natural remedies like the practice of aromatherapy is that they are, in most regards, safe and easy to use (don’t take internally though, and keep away from children) and the varieties are endless. Enjoy!

Tell us about your latest release, Scent to Kill: A Natural Remedies Mystery.
Willow McQuade, naturopathic doctor, along with her hunky ex-cop boyfriend Jackson Spade, attend a party for a psychic TV show that is filming on Long Island’s idyllic East End. However, Willow is much more interested in visiting the estate’s lavender farm, seeking inspiration for the new aromatherapy workshops she'll be holding at her store, Nature’s Way Market and CafĂ©. Before the party is over, Roger Bixby one of the producers is dead and the police suspect murder. Roger was working on the show, MJ’s Mind, with Carly Bixby, his ex-wife and the new girlfriend of Willow's ex from L.A., TV writer/producer Simon Lewis.
After Willow leaves the party, she gets a frantic text from Simon asking for her help. Since Simon had a fight with Roger earlier in the evening, and because of his death is now the primary shareholder in Galaxy films, Willow's ex becomes the prime suspect. Simon begs her to crack the case and clear him of the murder. MJ McClellan, the psychic and star of the show also asks Willow for help. She hires Willow to provide natural remedies, including aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture and yoga to soothe the agitated crew of her show.

To find the killer, Willow has to deal with ghosts in a haunted mansion, a truly dysfunctional family, death threats and “accidents,” while trying to untangle a homicide identical to one committed during prohibition. Thankfully, Jackson has been hired to provide security and is there to watch her back and help Willow solve this spooky mystery.
As a bonus, you’ll find dozens of natural aromatherapy cures throughout the book that can improve your health. I think you’ll be surprised as how much they can help you feel better in mind, body and spirit!

Thanks, Chrystle. I'm also into natural remedies and look forward to reading your books.

You can learn more about Chrystle Fielder at and win one of her books by leaving a comment here.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Conversation with Joyce Lavene

Joyce Lavene writes bestselling mysteries with her husband/partner Jim. They  have written and published more than 60 novels for Harlequin, Berkley and  Charter Books along with hundreds of non-fiction articles for national and  regional publications. She lives in rural North Carolina with her family, her  cat, Quincy, and  rescue dog, Rudi.

Joyce, why the pseudonym, J. J. Cook?

We write a lot. It’s sometimes easier to write a lot when you have a pseudonym. We found that out years ago when we had to write romance under a different name from mystery. We are also writing for Gallery Books as Ellie Grant. It’s okay. It’s still us!
Tell us about your latest release, That Old Flame of Mine. Great book cover, by the way.

Thanks. Berkley artists are the best!

That Old Flame of Mine is the first book in the Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mystery Series. It is set in Sweet Pepper, Tennessee, home of the sweetest, hottest peppers in the world. The town of about 5,000 people sits on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Our heroine is Stella Griffin, a ten-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department. She agrees to go to Sweet Pepper for three months to train a group of volunteer firefighters. The county has gone through some budget cuts and that has left Sweet Pepper in need of a fire brigade. Their last group of firefighters disbanded when their chief, Eric Gamlyn, was killed in a suspicious fire more than 40 years ago.

Stella is surprised by many things in Sweet Pepper: the town’s love of hot peppers that they grow and ship all over the world, the rawness of her recruits, and the ghost of Eric Gamlyn haunting the cabin the town has given her to live in.

When a new friend of Stella’s is killed in a fire, she goes all out to catch the person who did it, with the help of Eric Gamlyn!

When did you and your husband Jim begin collaborating on writing novels? And what’s the most difficult aspect of writing together?

We began writing together in the late 1980s. We started with short stories and gradually worked our way up to novels. We’ve written and published more than 60 books together.

Probably the hardest part is always agreeing on what we’re writing. Sometimes the characters aren’t quite working out the way one of us think they should. We have one rule: we have to agree or it doesn’t go into the book. It can make for some long writing sessions!

How does the process work? Does one of you write a rough draft and the other edit and polish? Or do you brainstorm?

We come up with our ideas and create a long synopsis for each. Once we get our ideas set up (character, plot, setting), we sit down at our laptops, which are networked together. We tell each other the story as we go and type it in at the same time to create the rough draft. Then we edit.

Why did the two of you decide to write mysteries?

We started out writing romances, and have gone back into that a little. We were writing romances for Avalon Books in New York when our editor asked if we were interested in writing a new mystery series. They were short on mystery writers.

We agreed and found the genre suited us very well. Our first mystery, Last Dance, written in 1999, was recently re-released in paperback and as an e-book. It was nominated for the Master’s Choice Awards for best first mystery novel that year.

What type of nonfiction articles do you write for magazines? And where have you published your work?

We have written non-fiction for Southern Living, Birds and Blooms, American History Magazine and many others. We’ve also published in the Charlotte Observer and worked for seven years as reporters for our local paper, The Weekly Post, covering everything from ground breakings to town meetings and large sweet potatoes. We’ve also written many articles for various writing magazines.

Other than your black cat Quincy and rescue dog Rudi, which three objects would you save first in the event of a fire, hurricane or other disaster?

Laptop. Cell phone. VISA card. Everything else we can do without. We both hate it when you read that someone died trying to get back into their homes to save some ‘thing’.

Which author most influenced your own writing?

We have different authors we love. Jim’s favorite would be E.E. Doc Smith. Joyce’s would be Barbara Hambly. We have a poster in our office of an ice skater twirling on the ice. Under the  picture it says, PERSISTENCE AND A WILLINGNESS TO FALL DOWN. That has always summed up the writing life for us!