Jenna St. James is the author of 2 amazing books in the Ryli Sinclair cozy mystery series. I have had the pleasure of reading both books, Picture Perfect Murder and Gilr's Night Out Murder and I LOVED them !!! You can see both of my reviews on my blog. I was very fortunate that she was able to fit into her schedule of writing and relaxing to grant me an interview. If you have read the books or plan to, you will totally understand why I needed to know more about "Aunt Shirley".
How and when did you start writing books?
For me, reading and writing go hand in hand. My earliest memory of this was the summer of my 4th grade year. My mother took my sister (who also loves to read and write) and me to a second-hand bookstore, and we came out with trash bags full of books to read for the summer. After reading a lot of books, I thought maybe I’d try my hand at writing. It was the early ‘80s, so I just had a notebook and pen…but I would write all day. I’ve never stopped. The best thing I ever did was go into court reporting years ago. My job as a stenographer really helped me hone my skills in proofing and editing.
Was it a challenge?
Scheduling. Juggling my real life as a reading and writing teacher and the responsibilities that go along with it, then also juggling a family life, is a challenge to dedicate the time and effort it takes to keep up with reading and writing.
How long does it take to write 1 book?
Right now, since I’ve only written two and working on a third, it’s taking me about five months. And that’s from start to finish. My sister and I go over the design of the cover, I pretty much do the writing, proofing, editing…then I send it out to my sister and two other girls and they help me proofread.
Do you have a writing schedule?
Yes. I try as hard as I can to fit in writing between seven and nine in the evening, and then I get up at two thirty to read for thirty minutes. I go downstairs and write from three to five. I get the rest of the house up at five, and I get ready for my day. I do keep this schedule up even on the weekends. Of course, life does happen and sometimes the schedule isn’t kept…but this is what I strive for daily.
Did anyone help you?
The two biggest helps I have are my mom for moral and financial support (she insisted I start out publishing in paperback and not just in Kindle format, so she supplied my upfront costs so I could promote locally), and my sister who not only designs my covers but also helps me proofread and edit. I am known as the teacher that, “Has books will travel.”
Who is your mentor?
My fiancee helps with with the murder scenes. We will act them out to make sure they are plausible and everything from body positions to words spoken sound natural. My step-daughter loves to record these enactments on her phone. He also gives me ideas on unique ways to kill.
How do you come up with the characters? Especially Aunt Shirley?
My character for Aunt Shirley is very loosely based off my grandmother. My eighty-nine-year-old grandma is intelligent and still enjoys life. However, she’s very “proper” (so much so she still calls me to chastise me for using curse words in my books)…but if I could take the smarts and fun and combine it with a crazy, never-thought-of career for her like private investigator, well, I like to think my grandma could be an Aunt Shirley. I take a little of the truth, and I flip it one hundred and eighty degrees and I get exactly what I want.
I have a new series I’m currently writing, the Sullivan Sisters Mystery, wherein I give my grandpa his turn. My grandfather served in WWII and was always larger than life to me. He could have a mouth on him (which would send my grandmother into fits), but he was always so loving and generous. He also loved John Wayne. There isn’t a John Wayne movie my sister and I can’t quote. So in my new series, I have a retired military “Gramps” who loves John Wayne and is currently dating a former trapeze artists and contortionist. Again, small truth, flip it one hundred and eighty degrees.
Does your family read your books?
Yes. I’m very lucky that I come from a large family, and they are my biggest financial supporters...haha.
What do you like to do when you aren't writing?
I also have a side business where I repurpose glassware. I can make chandeliers, lamps, “adult” nightlights, and hummingbird feeders out of wine and other bottles. I also love to paint wineglasses. I have a “craft” room dedicated to general crafts, hundreds of stamps, and papers of every kind…unfortunately they don’t get used as much as they should with the writing I’m currently doing.
Do you like to read? If so what kind of books?
I love to read. I tell my students one of the best ways to be a better writer is to be an avid reader. It used to be I’d read anything I could get my hands on…but now that I’m focusing on a certain genre, I do tend to read other cozy or cozy-like books…mainly to look at other writing styles. However, growing up, I loved LaVyrle Spencer, Nora Roberts, Jude Deveraux, and Johanna Lindsey.
What, if any, books are you currently reading?
I just finished the latest Jana DeLeon (absolutely LOVE her Miss Fortune series). I say the latest because I read her Miss Fortune series over and over. I also have Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet E. still to read. It’s sitting on my bedside table ready to go with me on vacation.
What question do you wish someone would ask you about your books that nobody has?
Do you plan on only writing murder mysteries?
And my answer would be no. I’d like to branch out in a couple years and maybe write a tween or young adult series. I already have ideas formulating.
Thank you Jenna for taking the time to chat. I cannot wait for your next book...whatever that may be ! ! !
Interview by Missi S.