This was a very interesting chat with Nancy, and I am delighted that she gave me the priviledge of interviewing her.
The Lady behind the Mystery
Nancy Lynn Jarvis has been a Santa Cruz, California, Realtor® for more than twenty years. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in Behavioral Science from San Jose State University, she worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News. A move to Santa Cruz meant a new job as a librarian and later a stint as the business manager of Shakespeare/Santa Cruz. Nancy’s work history reflects her philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years. Writing is her newest adventure. Details and ideas for Nancy’s Regan McHenry Mysteries come from Nancy’s own experiences.
Tell us about the genre of your work. How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?
I write cozy style mysteries which mean there is a body in the first chapter, no graphic sex or violence, no bad language, and a good resolution. The protagonist is female of a “certain age” and an amateur sleuth, who picks up information the police miss. Often cozies are set in a small community. In my case, the books are set in Santa Cruz in the world of real estate.
Why did you choose this genre? Why and when did you begin writing?
I started writing as a mind game, kind of like doing a giant Sudoku and mystery worked: solving the crime equals solving the Sudoku. Maybe I better back up a bit. My husband and I were, technically still are, Realtors who own a small company in Santa Cruz, California. I have been in the business since 1989 and had seen down markets with all their cruelty before, so when the real estate market tanked in 2008, we decided to hang up our for sale signs, take a time out, and pretend we were retired. I got bored within a couple of weeks and decided, strictly as an entertaining thing to do, I would write a mystery.
I had the beginning and the end, and lots of stories I could use as background if I made the protagonist a real estate agent. I set the books in Santa Cruz since I knew the community so well. The protagonist, Regan McHenry began her life as me, only younger, thinner, and more successful than I was. She became her own person about the time she found a body.
What are some of your books, stories that have been published?
I have three books published: The Death Contingency, Backyard Bones, and Buying Murder. People can read the first chapters of all the books at my website: http://www.goodreadmysteries.com/ if they like.
The books are available on Amazon in both standard size print and large print (large print follows the National Association for the Visually Handicapped standards) and for e-readers like Kindle with apps for other e-readers and smart phones and on Barnes and Noble Pubit!
There is also a Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries page on Facebook if anyone wants to take a look. http://www.facebook.com/ReganMcHenryRealEstateMysteries?ref=ts Sometimes there are contest and free books…
The next book in the series should be out in July, just in time to get a copy for a fun summer read. The title is The Widow’s Walk League. All the books have something in their titles that relates to real estate or houses, but in this instance, a widow’s walk takes on a more sinister aspect than being a house feature.
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?
Coming up with places is simple. Although there is a disclaimer at the beginning of the books that says all people and places are fictitious, many of the places are well known Santa Cruz haunts. The houses, especially if they have a body in them as in Buying Murder, are real houses I’ve been in, but the addresses are manufactured.
I had great fun with a woman who bought The Death Contingency and called me to say she thought the big climactic scene seemed like it took place in her house. I confessed it did. She ordered books for all her family and friends.
Except for the murder victim and the killer, most of the characters in the books start out as people I know and I begin writing using their names. At some point they get renamed; often as I write the character suggests what their name should be. I occasionally have fun playing name games, too. Characters may keep their initials, for example, a termite inspector named Jay Boyd became Jessie Bolton. A real estate company may keep their office location but get a different name. The idea is, for people who are familiar with Santa Cruz, they may be able to figure out where and who: it’s an added mystery for them to solve if they care to try.
How did you develop the character of your protagonist in this book?
There are three characters carried forward in the books: Regan McHenry, her husband Tom Kiley, and their friend Dave Everett who is a police ombudsman forced into that semi-retired position after losing an eye in a shootout. The characters began as me, my husband, and our friend Dave, whose background I stole although he does not live in Santa Cruz and is no longer a police officer in any capacity.
I am a method writer which means I act out what happens in the books, or at least watch my characters as they act out what happens. As I said earlier, me being me worked until “I” had to find a body. The morning I wrote that scene, my husband found me in my office curled up in a ball crying. At that point, I knew the characters could not be real any more.
A curious thing happened once they got renamed: they took on a life of their own. In many ways they write the books for me now.
What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?
No recurring nemesis because cozies are not like that as a rule. There is a character in Buying Murder who is very like Regan, though and the closest thing she has to a nemesis. Think Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty; they are very much alike in many ways.
What’s your favorite thing about your books?
What I enjoy most is the interaction between Regan and Dave. They are close friends but they constantly annoy one another, often on purpose. Regan is not always as clever as she thinks she is, and Dave is smarter than he may seem, which helps.
I enjoy Tom, as well. He is Regan’s logical husband. Regan is logical, but she’s also intuitive, an observer who remembers and puts things together. Their interplay is fun for me to write, as well. Even though Tom is no longer my real husband he still retains many of his traits and it is his blue eyes I see when I mention Tom’s eyes, but I get to make him perfect. Tom doesn’t interrupt or argue and he is always supportive. I tell my husband to read the Tom parts of the books with that in mind.
What is your writing schedule?
I usually write at about the time the events in the books are happening. The Widow’s Walk League has been challenging in that regard because it opens on Halloween night and runs through the following August. Buying Murder is set during the winter but I began it in July. I wrote as much as I could and then had to wait for rainy weather and winter to finish it. I just could not relate to a stormy night when it was 96 degrees outside.
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?
I do not know what will happen after The Widow’s Walk League. I had the first four books in mind when I began writing but I do not have a fifth. We will have to see. I also have a completely different book in mind which I may play with while Regan and Tom take a vacation.
What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write (especially mystery)?
Do it. That may seem like silly advice but any time I give a book talk I open by asking, “How many of you would like to write a book?” Most hands go up. When I follow up with, “How many of you have?” most, if not all, hands go down. I never intended to do anything with The Death Contingency. It was just a game to see if I could do it, but I have had the most amazing adventures since it came out — things have happened I would never have experienced otherwise, and I have met people I would never have met if not for the books. Do it.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I write under a pseudonym. When I am not Nancy Lynn Jarvis, I am a completely different person who is busy with a different life.
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
Life is full of “made it’ moments. The most important thing is to keep your eyes open to see them.