What would you like to tell readers about yourself?
* Jo A. Hiestand knew in grade school that she wanted to be a mystery writer. But life got in the way: singing in a semi-pro folk group, traveling to New Zealand, working as a camp counselor, co-inventing P.I.R.A.T.E.S. (a mystery-solving treasure-hunting game), becoming a tour agent for a Scottish folk singing group, attending a citizen police academy and riding along with police officers… But she needed to immerse herself in All Things British for her books. England beckoned and she responded.
* She bee-lined to Derbyshire, feeling it was the ‘home’ of her books. Derbyshire also bestowed the essential English police contacts and transformed the St. Louisan into an Anglophile.
* She’s returned nearly a dozen times to Derbyshire, researching and photographing for her McLaren cold case detective novels.
* In 1999 Jo returned to Webster University to major in English. She graduated in 2001 with a BA degree and departmental honors.
* Her cat, Tennyson, shares her St. Louis home.
Today Jo A. Hiestand will be talking about how she became a writer and what inspired her in regard to the story she's promoting.
The Journey to become a writer, and what inspired me during the creation of the McLaren mystery novel LAST SEEN...
* It’s kind of weird, when I think of it. The entire path of how sixteen books were written – six published in the McLaren Mystery series – has been a succession of amazing links.
* Call it God-directed or Fate or Luck… It began when I discovered Ngaio Marsh in the late 1970s.
* Now, not to insult anyone’s intelligence, but unless you are a true-blue mystery fan, you might not know of Ngaio Marsh. She was one of the four Queens of the Golden Age mystery, along with Allingham, Sayers and Christie. Marsh is my favorite author. She wrote English mysteries although she was a New Zealander.
* I went to New Zealand in 2006 when I could no longer ignore my
desire to see her home and country. Ngaio Marsh had died in 1984, and a group of volunteers were converting her house in Christchurch into a museum that people could tour. I wanted to do that.
* I’d been corresponding with the chairman of the trust and the house-museum for a year, and when I got to Christchurch I spent the day with him. He not only showed me Ngaio Marsh’s haunts in Christchurch, but I was the first visitor to tour the house-museum, which opened officially two days after my visit. While I was there, he mentioned a newly-forming Ngaio Marsh Society that was headquartered in the States. He gave me the president’s name and address, and on my return home I wrote to the lady.
* As you’ve probably guessed, I joined the Society. I became the newsletter’s contributing editor, and through president Nicole St John (who was a mystery writer, having written nearly 70 books), I learned of the international organization for mystery writers, called Sisters in Crime.
* Nicole had been founding president of the New York chapter of Sisters, and she encouraged and helped me found the St Louis chapter.
* Several people and I formed the group, and through Sisters I met Shirley Kennett.
* This has always been a head-shaker for me. If I hadn’t loved Ngaio Marsh’s writing, I wouldn’t have gone to New Zealand.
* I wouldn’t have met Colin, the curator of the house-museum.
* He wouldn’t have mentioned Nicole and the Marsh Society.
* I wouldn’t have met Nicole or started the Sisters group.
* And I certainly wouldn’t have met Shirley, got her advice, and revamped my manuscript so it was publisher-acceptable. Perhaps I’d still be struggling to be published.
* The other half of how I got published started when I first went to England to research the area in which my books were to be set.
* I’d been to England several times, lived there, but that was in Lancashire. I wanted my series to take place in Derbyshire.
* Since I’d only read about it, I knew I had to go there to see the spot where the book would be.
* I bought a bed-and-breakfast book and chose a place on the strength of its description.
* I’d been at the B-and-B for about four days, walking the countryside, soaking up local color, etc., when the owners asked me why I was staying there for a week – most guests stay one or two nights.
* When I told them of my book aspiration, of wanting to talk to the local bobby, they told me there was no village bobby.
* I could see my entire book crumbing before my eyes. Where was I going to get the police info I needed for my group of fictitious police detectives?
* Well, as God or Fate or Luck had chosen, the man who owned the B-and-B was a water bailiff who patrolled a stretch of the River Dove. And, as water bailiff, he knew and had dealings with some of the local lads in the Derbyshire Constabulary. He rang up the Divisional Office and made an appointment for me to talk to an officer on the following day.
* I not only talked to the officer, Inspector Tony Eyre, but I got a tour of the police station, including the cells, canteen and the communications center. I was there for little over an hour, and as we parted Tony gave me his address and phone number, telling me to write if I had more questions.
* I still marvel at that. If I hadn’t chosen that particular B-and-B in which to stay, I wouldn’t have met the owner, who knew officers from the Derbyshire Constabulary.
* Another God-driven, Luck, or Fateful link came through Tony. We’d been corresponding regularly for two years and my questions were now becoming increasingly more detective-oriented. Tony wasn’t a detective, and he had been asking detectives for the answers.
* When I returned two years later, he introduced me to Detective Rob Church. We spent several hours together at the police station where Rob worked. We, too, became close friends and Rob answered all my questions very honestly.
* When I asked Rob to read my manuscripts to correct any police procedures I might have got wrong, he handed me over to his boss, who had just retired. He said he’d love to help. That’s how I got to know Detective-Superintendent David Doxey of the Constabulary’s CID.
* David’s read every manuscript and caught many of my procedural errors.
* This is part of the path that brought me to where I now am.
* Inspiration for McLaren’s mystery LAST SEEN mainly came from two sources: Tutbury Castle (at which about a quarter of the book occurs) and the Minstrels Court. I felt the history of the place when I walked through the gate, and I could imagine the people who lived there. Everything seemed to speak to me. When I learned about the tradition of the Minstrels Court -- a gathering of minstrels, jugglers, dancers, and other entertainers – I knew that was the murder catalyst; the location was the Castle. Places and events inspire me, especially when they’re tied to tradition.
* Music also stirs my creative thoughts. In LAST SEEN, Kent Harrison, the murdered modern day troubadour, was famous for his rendition of “The Swans’ Song”, so I thought readers might like to hear it performed. I wrote new lyrics to an old folk tune and asked two local musicians to record it on CD. I think they did an outstanding job (the CD’s for sale at www.johiestand.com) and I believe if a reader listens to the song after or while reading the book, it will bring her closer to Kent and the story. What fun to “hear the characters” performing the song you’re reading about!
* I’m glad I visited Tutbury Castle, or McLaren might never have had a murder to investigate in such mystical, medieval surroundings!
* Thanks for the chat, C.R. I hope you’ll have me back again! Jo
ANNOUNCEMENT! Jo A. Hiestand will be awarding a McLaren/"Last Seen" ceramic mug and a CD recording of the song featured in the book to several randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour (International Giveaway)! So be sure to leave a comment AND use the Rafflecopter below. Also, visit the other tour stops for a greater chance of winning!
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