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!
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!