by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of the latest mystery by Julia Buckley, A Dark and Stormy Murder. We also have a fun interview with Julia. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of A Dark and Stormy Murder, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.
A Dark and Stormy Murder: A Writer’s Apprentice Mystery By Julia Buckley
Review by Cynthia Chow
Aspiring writer Lena London was living in Chicago, her life in a bit of a slump, when she received a call with an amazing offer. As a child Lena bonded with her mother over the gothic suspense novels of Camilla Graham, and since then Lena has idolized the woman and found refuge in her books. So Lena can barely control her joy when she learns that Allison, her best friend from college, not only is in a knitting group with Camilla but has succeeded in getting the renowned author interested in hiring Lena as an assistant. It seems that Camilla has stalled with her writing, and she would very much like to have Lena move to Blue Lake, Indiana, to help as a ghost writer, editor, cowriter, and source of inspiration.
Lena doesn’t hesitate at the opportunity to flee the city that only reminds her of a failed relationship, packing up her irritable rescue cat Lestrade for the drive to the tiny town’s historic Graham House. Lena finds that Camilla is everything she had hoped her idol would be, although the rest of Blue Lake is not so welcoming. While the women of the town seem cheerful and peppy, the men are decidedly much crankier. Topping this list is Sam West, Camilla’s reclusive next door neighbor whose wife disappeared over a year ago. Considering that they were in the midst of a divorce when she vanished, police and public opinion jumped to the most likely conclusion and laid blame at his doorstep. Lena can’t help but feel that his declarations and intentions are sincere; at least right up until she and Camilla find a body on the property, someone continues to trespass on the property, and a local law enforcement officer closes in on Sam. Almost-blind-date police officer Doug Heller warns Lena away from Sam, but as someone who has grown up solving (fictional) mysteries full of romance, how could she refrain from getting involved? There are far more dislikable and shadier characters hanging around town to investigate, from the repellant house workers to the restaurant owner who always seems to find reasons to be in the Graham House.
This new series by the author of the Undercover Dish Mystery series delights on so many levels. Massive Lestrade and two adorable but protective German shepherds Heathcliff and Rochester provide the cozy elements, as do the delicious meals provided by Camilla’s enthusiastic live-in cook. Multiple strong mystery plots are developed, involving not just the crimes currently being committed in Blue Lake, but those surrounding Sam West. What really stands out is the depiction of the working process between an author and a cowriter, bouncing ideas back and forth and furthering their creative process. Excerpts of The Salzburg Train, Camilla and Lena’s current project, begin each chapter and more often than not reflect events in Lena’s own life. This debut series celebrates the relationship between authors and their readers, providing a fascinating glimpse into the lives of writers.
Interview with Julia Buckley:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Julia: A long time. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like writing; even when I was in first grade I was writing little poems, which my mother saved in a notebook. One was called “God is in my basket,” which makes sense, because I rode my bike to school each day, and it had a little basket on it, and it was a Catholic school.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?
Julia:I wrote a few novels that were sort of practice pieces, because I never went to school for writing. Every novel was a lesson in itself, and this continues to be true. My first published novel was called The Dark Backward, a standalone suspense novel that I published with Midnight Ink in 2006. The story focused on a cop named Lily Caldwell who survives a shooting and hunts down the corrupt politician she believes is responsible.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not, what else have you written?
Julia: I’ve always leaned toward mystery because that is primarily what I read. However, I have written fiction, YA and romance. I have some titles on kindle that fit into other genres.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Julia: A Dark and Stormy Murder emerged from a chat I had with my agent. I wanted to a write a new cozy series, and she suggested writing about something that was meaningful to me. She looked at my website and saw that I loved the Gothic mysteries, especially those of the mid-20th Century, written by Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, and other greats.
From that emerged the premise of a young woman who has always admired a famous writer named Camilla Graham. Through a series of events, she has the opportunity to meet Graham and to work with her, and it is the two of them–the great writer and her worshipful apprentice–who encounter a dead body and must work to solve a mystery. The story is set in a fictional and mysterious place called Blue Lake, Indiana, but anyone who has ever visited a little resort town will recognize it.
KRL: That sounds like so much fun! Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Julia: The cozy mysteries are written to entertain both me and my readers. I wouldn’t be able to write them if I didn’t have fun with the stories and characters. I have written some things that have more elaborate and ambitious themes but again, those tend to be the books I’ve self-published, at least for now.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Julia: I have a full-time job, so I write when I am not busy with that. Sometimes this is complicated, because as a high school English teacher I bring a LOT of work home. Writing is a second job, but it is also like a nice little vacation from my first job, so this helps me find time, in the cracks, to get chapters written. Generally this happens on weekends, vacations, some evenings.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Julia: I’ve never been a big out-liner. I usually like to come up with a main character and a premise and just sort of set that person free to begin their adventure. However, I do have to outline for my publisher, so sometimes I will start in a very free, unfettered way and then eventually backtrack to outline what I have so far, and then to add the rest of the outline for what I haven’t yet written.
I don’t really have any special way of keeping track except in my head. I’m a linear storyteller, which isn’t always a good thing, and it does mean I have to keep re-reading the novel in progress if I’ve been away from it for a while. It’s amazing how fast one can forget her own details.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Julia: Probably morning, preferably when everyone else is still sleeping. It’s nice and quiet; even the dog doesn’t wake up as early as I do, so I have time to just think and plot and write. I do write in the evening on many occasions because I sometimes get ideas during the day and I don’t want to lose track of them, so I pound them out at night.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Julia: Yes and no. A part of me knew that I had writing talent and that I could eventually find a home for my work, but it took me a while to learn the lesson that one sells better if they study the market and write toward particular niches and trends. Writing the book of your heart is always the goal, but I sent out many a manuscript only to have agents say, “This is a lovely book, but I just don’t know where I’d sell it.”
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Julia: I should have saved all the rejections I got, some of them were quite entertaining and, in a couple of cases, spectacularly rude. One agent wrote back with only the words “Do try someone else.” Another said, “I didn’t find this query well-written at all.” I always wonder if they were in a bad mood when they wrote those things because, in fact, my queries hadn’t been bad and they had been scrupulously polite.
The worst example occurred when I got a rejection with someone else’s name on it. I contacted the agent and said that I was not that person, and she wrote back to apologize and to say, “But you were meant to get a rejection, as well.”
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Julia: I haven’t had too many book signings yet, but I have sat at two different events in which not a soul came to my table. At one of them, the bookstore manager apologized, admitting that the time they gave me for a signing was “usually a pretty dead time in the store.” I did just have a lovely time signing books at Chicago’s Printer’s Row Book Fair.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Julia: I’d love to keep writing cozy mysteries; I’d also like to write humorous YA novels and to try my hand at a thriller. My father has asked me to write the story of my mother, but that is a very emotional project that I don’t feel ready for at this point. It’s for some time in the future.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Julia: As you will read in the dedication page of A Dark and Stormy Murder. Mary Stewart remains my biggest writing influence. Her writing spoke to my heart.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Julia: I’ve been able to do almost all my research online, which is pretty amazing, although I have also had to consult library research desks and, in one case, consult a firearms expert for specific information.
KRL: What do you read?
Julia: I’m an English teacher, so I read a lot of novels for the classes I teach. I read mysteries, of course, because I like them. I read fiction that is recommended to me (I just finished A Man Called Love) and I occasionally like to read humor, especially anything by P.G. Wodehouse. Right now I’m reading short stories by Jorge Luis Borges, some of which I’ll be teaching next year.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Julia: Despite my tight schedule, I still end up watching LOTS of TV, because by evening I don’t have much left in the way of brain cells and I just like to be entertained. I love political satire; I think Jon Stewart and John Oliver are some of the most brilliant and important satirists we have writing and performing today, and we need them ? satire is its own kind of revolution, exposing what is terrible and needs changing.
I like funny shows like Arrested Development, Key and Peele, Silicon Valley, VEEP, 30 Rock. I still like watching re-runs of Friends–it just never stops being funny to me–what a terrific ensemble cast that was. I also enjoy The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. For drama, I’ve enjoyed a lot of the Netflix offerings lately, especially Broadchurch and Happy Valley. My favorite movie series is The Bourne Identity. It’s just brilliant, and I’m looking forward to the new film coming out this summer.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Julia: Work hard at your craft. Join a writing group ? mine helps me a lot. Revise even when you want to believe it’s perfect as is, and once you know it’s good, be persistent. Rejections are no big deal because there are a lot of fish in the agent sea.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Julia: Write because you have fun writing. If it’s painful, it might not be worth it.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Julia: I don’t know if it’s surprising, but I’m an introvert. I can do extroverted things and enjoy doing them, but afterward I need lots of quiet alone time so that I can recover from interacting with lots of people. I’ve always been this way, even when I was a kid. I enjoy being with friends and family, but I also enjoy being alone, and I value silence.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Julia: My website is www.juliabuckley.com
On Twitter I am @juliabucks
Find me on Facebook under Julia Buckley Mystery Novels
I’m also on Instagram and Pinterest as Julia Buckley
I have a blog at www.juliabuckley.blogspot.com
Thanks for the interview! I hope people will enjoy the new book.
To enter to win a copy of A Dark and Stormy Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “stormy,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 23, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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