Today I have the pleasure of speaking with debut novelist Jayne Ormerod about her cozy mystery The Blond Leading the Blond. (Avalon Books, October 2011)
When the chief of police accuses Ellery Tinsdale of killing her aunt, Ellery wishes she’d taken the rap; at least in jail she’d be assured of three meals a day. Instead Ellery is trussed up like an oven-ready turkey and left in a remote cabin to die of starvation. Her partner in crime solving, small-town socialite Samantha Greene, made it sound simple—and safe—to ask a few innocent questions of the good citizens of Braddocks Beach, Ohio in order to help the police track down the killer and thus restore honor to the Tinsdale name. But their questions have them making more enemies than friends, one of whom is a cold-blooded killer.
Welcome, Jayne! Your debut novel, The Blond Leading the Blond, sounds like fun from the title alone, and the book excerpt on your website confirms it. Tell us in your own voice what it’s about.
I was fed a steady reading diet of Nancy Drew as a young girl. I really really really wanted to be her when I grew up. She had a snazzy convertible, a cute boyfriend, and exciting adventures which had her poking around haunted attics and being chased by counterfeiters along dark, critter-infested tunnels. How fun is that! But my life doesn’t’ resemble Nancy’s in the least, so the next best thing was to live vicariously through my character. I sat down one day to write my first mystery and I had in mind a woman that would be a middle-aged Nancy Drew. Guess what? When I cast Ellery in the role, she turned out to be a big chicken! So The Blond Leading the Blond is about two women who are better at teaching science or arranging social functions than flushing out murderers. The results are what I like to call “a cozy mystery with a comedic adventurous flavor.”
Hovering near six feet and over 200 pounds and teaching third grade when not being attacked by small dogs, Ellery Tinsdale is not your cliché heiress. What makes her tick?
Ellery’s not an heiress…yet. There are strings attached to the bequest and she won’t inherit a cent if she’s convicted of her aunt’s murder. So her focus in this book is to clear the Tinsdale name, accept her role as the leader of society, and wrap her head around the fact she has roots that stretch back over a hundred years to a town she never knew existed.
Does Ellery do her amateur sleuthing alone, or does she have a sidekick?
Ellery does indeed have a sidekick, Samantha Rose Greene, who in Ellery’s words, “is the bossiest busy body to ever walk the earth.” They are complete opposites on any character spectrum you put them on: Ellery is large/Sam is petite; Ellery dresses for comfort/Sam dresses for fashion; Ellery flunked out of Etiquette School/Sam is Chief of the Manners Police, etc. Somehow their differences make them a great crime-solving team.
Writing a mystery must take some careful planning to weave all the pieces together to a satisfying outcome. Do your characters ever surprise you by taking a wild turn of their own?
Yes, indeed! In fact, it totally knocked my socks off when the culprit revealed them self! I had plotted a completely different solution but then those voices in my head took over. I think (and I hate to admit this publicly) I squealed when real killer popped up. I hope the reader does too!
Location seems to play a big part in your stories. What draws you to the beach as a favorite setting?
The first thing they tell you as a newbie writer is to “Write what you know.” Except for a tour in Memphis, TN, my husband’s career in the Navy has always had us living within a flip-flops throw of the ocean. So I combined the lifestyle of living near the shore with my childhood spent in a small Ohio town and the result is the setting of a fictional lakeside resort in Ohio.
Your sense of humor is evident everywhere in your online presence. What scene in The Blonde Leading the Blonde did you most enjoy writing?
My personal favorite is when Ellery goes to the watchtower where her aunt died. That was the first time I tested Ellery’s “Nancy Drew genes”, and she failed miserably. I probably shouldn’t admit this in a public forum, but I may have put a little bit too much of myself in Ellery. I like to think I’m as brave and adventurous as Nancy Drew, but, well, when things get scary, I’m the first to run home and hide.
Authors play a big part in book promotion, maybe now more than ever. You clearly understand this as you have both a Social Media and Press-Kit section on your website. What sort of self-promotion have you found to be more effective for you?
With the ability for writers to self-publish on e-reading platforms and price things at a very low price (and I totally understand the business side of doing that) the competition for reader’s book-buying dollars is more intense than ever before. Social media is the key to getting their attention. I’m still learning the promotional ropes and get a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I post “what’s on my mind” on facebook (I’m basically a shy person and letting so many strangers know about me is way outside my comfort zone!) but I’m trying to be more outgoing. I think the most important thing I have done (since I the first to admit I am social media-ly challenged) is cull a few (younger) friends who have a great online presence and they re-tweet and re-post and somehow, the word spreads.
How do you spend your time when you’re not writing?
I start every morning (and I mean EVERY morning regardless of fog/rain/hurricane/sleet/snow) walking my dog Jamaica down around the marina and contemplate life. Usually that’s the last peaceful moment I have for the rest of the day. With my husband active duty in the military, I volunteer a lot in the military spouse community. In his job we also host parties about once a week, so I’m cooking and cleaning. A lot! Last party we had was for 30 International Students and they are so eager to sample American Food that I couldn’t just order out Pizza (they can do that themselves.) So we did a good old-fashioned Mid-Ohio Backyard Picnic. With our son living on an island about 12 miles off shore, he comes home regularly so I get to be a “mom for a day” and do his laundry and cook him his favorite foods. When I have time I like to play Mahjongg (the real game, not the computer matching game) and Bunco. And of course, I read. Every chance I get.
What can your readers look forward to next?
I’ve finished a second book with the continuing escapades of Ellery and Sam called Blonde Faith, and I’m waiting to hear a decision from the publisher on that. I’m currently working on a third in the series with the working title Blonde Judgment. Also in the back of my mind is a mystery series with a navy spouse as the amateur sleuth, but I think I’ll have to wait until my husband retires before I can get away with that one. I also blog regularly at my Life’s a Beach blog, where I post short stories, book reviews and recommendations of good stuff to have if you’re going to/living at/decorating in the style of the beach. You can find me at http://www.jayneormerod.blogspot.com
Okay, ready? Five seconds getting to know you:
· Favorite season? Fall. And it’s not just about the foliage. My favorite day of the year is when I get to put on my favorite jeans, thick sweatshirt and knee socks! I love the feel of thick, cozy knee socks!
· Favorite comfort food: Ruffles potato chips!
· “I can’t live without…” Diet Coke! I don’t drink coffee or tea, so I start each morning with the sound of cola fizzing and crackling over ice cubes.
· “I would love to try….” Living in a mansion by the sea. Providing it comes with a maid, of course.
· One word to describe you: Jubilicious (One of the perks of being a writer is the authority to make up words. The origin of this word comes from the base word, Jubilee, which was the name of our happy-go-lucky beagle/border collie mix. So to be “Jublicious” means “to be full of Jubilee’s sunshiny spirit and life-is-great attitude.”)
Thanks for your time today, Jane! To learn more about Jane’s writing or to read an excerpt of The Blonde Leading the Blonde, please visit her website: http://www.jayneormerod.com
About the Author
Jayne Ormerod writes what she knows--small towns (influenced by her childhood growing up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio) and beach settings (a result of 28 years as a navy spouse, always living within a flip-flop’s throw of the ocean.) Thanks to a youth spent reading Nancy Drew and an adulthood devouring the words of Janet Evanovich, Mary Daheim, Lillian Jackson Braun and others, she can now write about amateur sleuths, exploding cars and dead bodies with a modicum of authority.