A Crime Writers’ Interview: Jo Macgregor

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It’s been awhile since we’ve done a Crime Writers’ Interview. 🙂 Today, we’re delighted to introduce you to a great suspense author, Jo Macgregor.

When not writing, Jo Macgregor is a counseling psychologist in private practice in South Africa. She works mainly with victims of crime and trauma, and brings her twenty years of experience as a therapist to her writing, creating deeper characters and realistic psychological scenarios. She started her professional life as a high school English teacher and writes young adult fiction under the name Joanne Macgregor. Her psychological non-fiction (self help) is published under the name J. Macgregor. She writes intelligent novels with all the feels and a twist of humor – fiction that targets your head, heart and funny bone!

Although she lives in the frenetic adrenaline-rush of the big city, Jo has always been in love with nature, and escapes into the wilds whenever possible. She loves reading, is addicted to chilies and bulletproof coffee, and her Hogwarts House is either HuffleClaw or RavenPuff!

Kass Lamb (on behalf of misterio): Let’s start with a somewhat open-ended, “tell us about yourself” question. What two or three things do you feel people need to know in order to understand who you are?

Jo: One, in my day job, I’m a psychologist in private practice. While I keep my therapy work and my writing very separate (I even do it on different days and in different places) and would never “mine” my clients’ experiences for story ideas, I believe my knowledge of psychology — people, personality and pathology — really does inform my writing. I like to think my characterizations are deeper and more real, and certainly my portrayal of psychological problems and how psychologists work in practice are more accurate than I see in lots of fiction.

Two, I think life is more comedy than tragedy, so there is humor in all my books. I can’t read humorless, bleak stories and I certainly won’t write them!

I had to ask my daughter for a third one! According to her, a cornerstone of my character is that I believe it matters how we treat people and that the actions of ordinary people count, and shouldn’t be disregarded or underestimated. She says that informs all my writing. So now you know 😊

Kass: Why crime fiction? What is the appeal of mysteries for you?

Jo: I write romance and dystopian novels, too, but when it comes to reading, crime is hands-down my favorite genre. I think crime stories offer entertaining ways to wrestle with bigger issues facing individuals, cultures and countries. I think we can even grapple with existential issues in crime stories.

In my most recent novel, The First Time I Died, I look at some big questions (Is there an afterlife? What is real? Can romantic love last forever? Should you trust outer “reality” or subjective inner experience more?). But because it’s all wrapped up in a gripping whodunnit, it doesn’t feel like a philosophical lecture.

I also like that crime stories usually end with some kind of resolution — the killer is caught and punished, justice prevails, moral order is restored — and that scratches a deep itch. In real life, this sort of resolution is rare and usually imperfect, so reading crime fiction is a type of satisfying compensatory fantasy. Also, it’s just exciting — it pulls me into a story like no other genre can!

Kass: What type, i.e. subgenre, of mysteries do you write? Why does that subgenre appeal to you?

Jo: I can’t write only one type of story — maybe because I’m a Gemini or maybe because I get bored easily. So, I’ve written a psychological thriller (Dark Whispers) and a mystery with a paranormal twist (The First Time I Died).

Even my Young Adult novels (contemporary romances and dystopians) tend to have a grand mystery or crime at the center of them. In practice, I don’t choose the genre first. What happens is that the idea for a book comes to me, and only then do I pick the genre that would be the best vehicle to explore that idea and the themes that go with it.

Kass: What was your favorite book/author as a child? Why was it your favorite?

Jo: The first books I remember reading — and they remained my favorites for years — were the Famous Five and Secret Seven mysteries by English writer Enid Blyton. Perhaps this is where my love for crime and mystery novels first started! I was fascinated by the mental puzzle of the mysteries and tried to work them out before the child sleuths could, and loved imagining myself solving some grand mysteries!

Kass: Where are you in your writing career? Tell us a little about your stories.

Jo: I have fifteen published books under my belt. Under my full name, Joanne Macgregor, I started with a series for younger YA readers – Turtle Walk, Rock Steady and Faultlines – which have an ecological theme and are set in South Africa.

I have two other books out for younger readers (Jemima Jones and the Great Bear Adventure, Jemima Jones and the Revolving Door of Doom), and half-a-dozen other YA books – three YA contemporary romances (Scarred, Hushed and The Law of Tall Girls) and a YA dystopian trilogy (Recoil, Refuse, Rebel).

And under my pen name for adults, Jo Macgregor, I have two books out – Dark Whispers and my most recent novel, The First Time I Died. I’ve also compiled the therapeutic stories and metaphors I use in my clinical practice into a self- help book called Self Help Stories, which is published under J. Macgregor.

Kass: I do hope there’s a sequel to The First Time I Died. I loved that book! Tell us — what’s the oddest and/or most difficult thing you ever had to research?

Jo: In my dystopian YA series, The Recoil Trilogy, my protagonist is a (reluctant) sniper. I don’t like guns; I see too many victims and relatives of victims of gun violence in my therapy practice. So, I didn’t know much about them.

I had to read a lot, watch a bunch of YouTube videos and watch documentaries on snipers. (One of those documentaries had sparked the original idea for the books!) But I felt that I needed to do more hands-on research — literally.

I found an amazing weapons expert, ran scenes by him to check accuracy, and then went out on the shooting range to shot revolvers, pistols, bolt-action and automatic rifles, and even a monster gun called the elephant rifle, which nearly took my shoulder off with its powerful recoil action.

The shooting was enormous fun and it turned out I was pretty good at it. Although I still don’t like guns and don’t own any, I think getting out and actually doing the shooting was excellent for injecting some real and gritty details into the shooting scenes in the novels.

Kass: In your latest story, what was your favorite (or hardest to write) scene?

Jo: My favorites were the kisses (I love writing kissy scenes, lol) and writing the scenes where the protagonist experiences either flashbacks, hallucinations or psychic visions (it’s up to the reader to decide what they believe!)

The hardest to write was a sex scene which one of my beta readers felt was needed. Although I’ve written smoochy and schmexy scenes before, they usually either stop short of the full Monty or fade to black, so this was the first full sex scene I’d ever written. It made me hysterical with nerves, and I was sweating by the time I finished it. And after all that, I wound up not including it. Other beta-readers and my trusted editor said it wasn’t necessary and felt shoe-horned in, which was how I felt too, so I cut that sucker out!

Kass: Ah, now I want to read that scene!

But seriously, having read The First Time I Died, I can see how a sex scene would have felt forced. It is an excellent book, one of my all-time favorites. Thanks for joining us today, Jo Macgregor, for a great Crime Writers’ Interview!

Jo: Thank you for having me!

Kass: Folks, if you have comments or questions, please jump in below. But keep in mind that Jo is in a very different time zone from the North American continent, so there may be a bit of a delay before she responds.

The First Time I Died
When Garnet McGee returns to her small Vermont hometown for the holidays, she vows to solve the mystery of the murder which shattered her life ten years ago. But after dying in an accident and being brought back to life, she starts hearing voices, seeing visions and experiencing strange sensations. Are these merely symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and an over-active imagination, or is she getting messages from a paranormal presence?

Garnet has always prided herself on being logical and rational, but trying to catch a killer without embracing her shadow self is getting increasingly difficult. And dangerous, because in a town full of secrets, it seems like everybody has a motive for murder.
Fast-paced and riveting,

The First Time I Died is a suspenseful and haunting crime story with a supernatural twist.


Readers can connect with Jo Macgregor on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, PINTEREST, AND INSTAGRAM.

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  • Reply
    shannon esposito
    January 22, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    Great interview, Jo! I love me some paranormal in suspense. 🙂 I did the same thing with my suspense, The Burning- let the reader decide if they believe it was mental illness or paranormal. Your book is already on my tbr list. I can’t wait to get to it.

    ps. I’m impressed with your commitment to research and going shooting.

    • Reply
      Jo Macgregor
      January 22, 2019 at 11:52 pm

      Thanks! Yes, I kept the paranormal element subtle, because as a reader, when that begins taking over the book, I tune out. Then it becomes more like a horror story. I wanted to leave it to the reader to decide. Your book sounds fascinating! 😄

  • Reply
    Vinnie Hansen
    January 22, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    Glad to learn about you and your books, Jo. I noticed that you live in South Africa, but The First Time I Died is set in Vermont. What is the story with that? Are you an ex-pat? Do you set other books in South Africa?

    • Reply
      January 22, 2019 at 11:49 pm

      I live in South Africa but I write books set her but also in the States, where I have family, beta readers, and editors to ensure I get the language, idiom and details correct. For the First Time I Died, I also had a Vermont expert reader. As to why, the book-buying market here is tiny so ifiwant to support myself I have to target my books at bigger markets, like the US. Also, the stories I want to tell sometimes couldn’t realidtaccly happen here (for example my dystopians). 😄

  • Reply
    K.B. Owen
    January 22, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    So cool! I’m amazed by your prolific pace! Best of luck in your multiple genres.

    • Reply
      Jo Macgregor
      January 22, 2019 at 11:54 pm

      Thanks so much! I’m actually a slow writer – The First Time I Died took over a year to write – but I work hard. More tortoise than hare, but I finish what I start 😂

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    January 22, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    Please tell me, Jo, that there will be more Garnet McGee books!

    • Reply
      Jo Macgregor
      January 22, 2019 at 11:59 pm

      Hey Kassandra, thanks for a cool interview and your kind words about The First Time I Died. Yes, indeed, there will be more! I am just shy of 25k words (out of around 90k probably) into book 2. I have the corpse, the subplot (creepy!) and I know whodunnit! I haven’t got a title yet, though!

  • Reply
    January 23, 2019 at 9:03 am

    Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but yay! for not including a sex scene. If the mystery/thriller/crime story is not first and foremost a romance, sex scenes are unnecessary and don’t really advance the plot.

    • Reply
      Jo Macgregor
      January 24, 2019 at 11:01 pm

      Hi Moira,
      There was a strong element of romance in that one, but somehow, finally, I don’t think the second scene was necessary. It didn’t advance the plot really, so it was working hard enough and has to go. (I generally want each scene to advance plot, deepen character and carry theme 😄)

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