Welcome to another Crime Writers Interview!
We try to draw out what is unique and special about each author we interview. There are some real gems tucked away in this chat I had with Jenna Harte, especially at the end when I asked what question she wished interviewers would ask her. I just loved her answer!
Please give a warm welcome to Jenna Harte!
Jenna is a total romantic who also loves a good mystery. The first of her Valentine Mysteries, Deadly Valentine, reached the quarter-finals in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award in 2013. She’s also the author of the Southern Heat contemporary romance series, and is working on a new cozy mystery series involving coupons, fairy tales and airplane repos.
She’s a member of the Virginia Writers Club and Sisters In Crime and works by day as a freelance writer and online entrepreneur. An empty-nester, she lives in central Virginia with her husband and a fat cat.
Kass Lamb (on behalf of misterio press): Let’s start with a “tell us about yourself” question. What two or three things do you feel people need to know in order to understand who you are?
Jenna Harte: I’m a die-hard romantic who especially enjoys mysteries involving committed couples, such as Nick and Nora Charles, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, etc. I also enjoy a good passionate romance, but it’s difficult to find a mystery series that has the romantic bits, and romantic mysteries rarely involve a series. That’s why I write the Valentine Mysteries and the Delecoeur novellas.
Another tidbit is that I never set out to be a writer, and in fact, if someone told me in high school I’d be a writer, I’d have cried. I fell into writing non-fiction by accident. I became interested in fiction when I discovered fan fiction, and found all these stories around TV/movie couples I enjoyed. I started writing them too, and after one of my stories was stolen—twice—I wondered if maybe I had something. Of course, I had a lot to learn, but an online mystery writing course instructor told me I “had the goods” so I kept at it.
Now I can’t imagine not writing because I have characters prattling on in my brain all the time.
Kass: What type, i.e. subgenre, of crime fiction do you write? Why does that subgenre appeal to you as a writer and do you also prefer it as a reader?
Jenna: I write a romantic mystery series that is similar to cozy, except I break the rule about no intimate bits. I also have a three-book contemporary romance series (one of which includes suspense). My most recent work is a traditional cozy mystery series that is currently in the editing process with my publisher.
I tend to write what I’d like to read. I’ve read every JD Robb book (passionate couple solving a crime), and I also enjoy the Stephanie Plum and the O’Hare and Fox books by Janet Evanovich (O’Hare and Fox are co-written with Lee Goldberg). I read romantic suspense as well, such as Nora Roberts and Sandra Brown.
Kass: JD Robb and Janet Evanovich are at the top of my list too. But tell me, why do you write crime fiction? What is the appeal?
Jenna: I enjoy other genres such as romance and some science fiction, but the ones I enjoy the most have a mystery involved. It might not always be a crime, but there is a mystery about something. I’ve never thought much about why I like mysteries in books, except that they give a story structure and a satisfying resolution. There is a purpose or a quest that keeps the story moving. The puzzle is fun too.
Kass: Yes, I agree! So where are you in your writing career? Tell us a little more about your stories.
Jenna: I have eight novels and three novellas published. I’m currently revising book six of the Valentine mysteries, and in edits for the first book, Death of a Debtor, in my cozy mystery series. The Valentine novels and Delecoeur novellas are all mysteries solved by a passionate couple.
The closest couple to compare to would be the Harts from the Hart to Hart TV show (1979-1984). They are light mysteries that don’t have graphic violence or bad language, but they do have intimate scenes similar to those found in contemporary romance.
Death of a Debtor is a cozy mystery that involves a smart but unworldly young woman, who loves folklore and fairy tales, and who is forced to return to her rural, mountain Virginia hometown after her father and brother are put in jail for running a Ponzi scheme. Once living in luxury, she is now caring for a cantankerous great-aunt, and learning how to coupon to make ends meet. Things go from bad to worse when she’s accused of being involved in the murder of the man who turned her father into the F.B.I.
Once I finish the sixth Valentine book, I plan to write a novella about them that takes place on the train during their return trip from San Francisco to Virginia (the male lead is afraid to fly). I’m also in the middle of writing the second book of the coupon cozy mystery, Death of a Coupon Queen.
My brain seems to always have stories rattling around. I’m currently plotting a new cozy that will take place in the Outer Banks and involve pirates. I also have a paranormal story that I’ve begun taking notes on.
Kass: I love the premise of Death of a Debtor. Can’t wait to read it. Tell us what was your favorite book/author as a child?
Jenna: To be honest, I wasn’t much of a reader as a child. As a teen, I read a lot of Stephen King, although I wouldn’t say I’m a horror fan. In fact, my favorite story of his is an obscure one most people have never heard of called Eyes of the Dragon, which is a dark fantasy. I also liked To Kill a Mockingbird, which was the only book I was forced to read in school that I actually enjoyed.
Kass: What do you find to be the most difficult part of the writing process—first draft, editing, researching?
Jenna: I’m mostly a pantser, so for me, the most challenging part of the writing process is when I get stuck. In the past, I’d start writing as soon as I had an idea, which means I’ve started mysteries without knowing why or how the victim was killed. More recently, I’ve tried to let stories percolate, taking notes on the ideas that come, and then writing, but I still usually get stuck at some point.
Since I’ll write whatever scenes I happened to have, I usually write out of order. I have many manuscripts with the first three, and the last chapters written. As difficult as writing is when I’m not sure what I’m doing, I have a goal to write 1000 words every morning, and somehow, I’m usually able to achieve that.
Kass: What’s the oddest and/or most difficult thing you ever had to research?
Jenna: The most recent thing I’ve researched is I asked my uncle, who is a doctor, how many Lorazepam mixed in a scotch and water would it take to make someone loopy without killing him (the answer was “about 50,” which is more than I have in the story).
For With This Ring, I Thee Kill (Valentine #3), I researched the French Blue Diamond, which had recently been linked to the Hope Diamond. That history was fascinating.
Kass: What question do you wish interviewers would ask you that they usually don’t?
Jenna: Is it hard to keep the romance alive in an ongoing romantic mystery series?
Kass: What a great question. So what is your answer?
Jenna: So often, TV shows and books titillate readers with “will they, won’t they” chemistry, but put off having the couple make a commitment because they fear the chemistry will disappear. This is a real concern, as we’ve all seen shows or read books where this happens. However, I don’t find it hard to keep the love alive in the Valentine and Delecoeur stories.
There’s an idea that because stories need conflict, that the couple needs to experience trouble in the relationship. And of course, the higher the stakes (the relationship can end), the better. But the conflict doesn’t have to be between the couple in a mystery series. Instead, the couple can be in conflict with someone or something else.
Take Hart to Hart, a TV show about a happily married couple who solve crimes. What made that show work was that the couple wasn’t just committed, but also, they were passionate towards each other.
Second, in a series, the characters and their relationship need to grow, and often this comes from conflict. That doesn’t mean it has to be the type that can end a relationship though. I view it as growing pains. In the Valentine series, the couple has some bumps (including a break up) early on, but they learn about themselves and each other through these struggles, and because they’re committed to each other, they’re resolved to fix things between them.
I think the question is really about the chemistry…can a love story continue to be sexy and titillating in a series? To that I say, yes. While I do have intimate bits between the Valentines and Delecoeurs, that’s not really what highlights their magic. Instead, it’s how they talk and interact with, and think about each other. Instead of letting them settle into ho-hum domestic life, I continue to show their love, affection, and desire for each other.
Kass: Wow, I love what you’re saying. I feel the same way about the romantic suspense stories I write. There is some conflict between the couple, because that’s realistic, especially in the early stages of a relationship. But the main story conflict comes from the mystery part.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Jenna. I really enjoyed chatting with you.
And folks, Jenna now has the first three books in the Valentine series out in a boxed set for just $5.99. That’s half the regular price for these books. Check it out!
If you have any questions for Jenna, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.
Tess Madison walked away from her two-timing fiancé, a multi-million dollar trust fund and a cushy corporate law job to pursue the single life indulging in chocolate and fancy French underwear. But her newly reordered life comes unraveled when she reluctantly accepts an invitation to a dinner party and stumbles upon the host’s dead body and into the arms of the sexy, blue-green eyed Jack Valentine. As romance grows, so too does Tess and Jack’s propensity to get into trouble.
If you like romance mixed with your mystery, the Valentine Mysteries are for you. In this collection, you’ll get books 1 through 3.
Boxed Set available on AMAZON now!
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