by Cynthia Chow
This week we have the head of Breakthrough Promotions, P.J. Nunn, with us not as a publicist but as a first time mystery author. We have a review of PJ’s first published novel Private Spies and an interview with P.J. At the end of this post are details on how to win a copy of Private Spies.
Private Spies: A Jesse Morgan Mystery By P.J. Nunn
When Jesse Morgan joined her childhood friend Joey Catronio at Private Spies, she hired on for the private parking space, a business card, and the mostly legal duties of tracking down anyone through her computer skills while wearing jeans and cowboy boots. After Joey’s death, Jesse inherited the private investigation business. Even though she feels she’s drowning in inexperience, Jesse takes on Beverly Gafford, who wants to locate her ex-husband Lawrence, who she claims has stolen their daughter. Not all of the details her client provides add up. Jesse investigates only to discover that Lawrence is not the man she was asked to find, Beverly is not her client, and the man she believed was her target is now lying dead in her bathtub.
Her profession, if not her emotional well-being, is salvaged by Byron Montgomery, a former Houston undercover and narcotics police officer Joey had hired. Byron has the skills Jesse needs to keep Private Spies afloat. While Byron is more than willing to pass on his knowledge, he’s also emitting enough pheromones to drive Jesse to distraction and cause her to lose whatever sensibilities she retains. Jesse needs all of her abilities if she hopes to figure out the labyrinth of lies connected to her pseudo-client and the body in her bathtub. With a cat named Elvis Cole, Jesse’s detective skills are more fictional based than actual. She enlists the aid of a bored court clerk, an interested police officer, and has an extremely competent secretary.
Jesse speaks before thinking, acts on impulse, and is spurred more by emotions than by rational thought. Jesse puts herself in jeopardy by twice assaulting a man she suspects is following her, failing to charge her cellphone, and meeting a witness without informing anyone.
What redeems Jesse in the eyes of the reader is that she is all too aware of her flaws and struggles, sometimes reluctantly, to improve herself and become a better investigator. Jesse manages to make Stephanie Plum look like a Special Forces Op Agent. The humor is pervasive as Jesse comments on the impossibility of sexy bed hair, her loathing of morning people, and her complete awareness that a gun license would probably result in her shooting herself.
In what will hopefully be the first in a series, the author has created a contrast to the typical super-competent detective with stellar self-defense skills. Her emotions override her thoughts, but it’s charming that she grows and learns from her mistakes. Humor remains central to the core of this very complex and well-written mystery. Readers will enjoy a heroine who manages to defy the odds and survive, often despite her best attempts to get herself killed. It’s impossible not to somehow fall in love with this character who both exasperates and delights readers with her impetuous but always well-intentioned behavior.
Interview with P.J. Nunn
KRL: Private Spies is very much a comedic mystery while your Shari Markham series has a more serious, darker tone. Why did you decide to go in a different direction and what was the experience like? Was it difficult to change gears?
PJ: I started out writing Angel Killer, and that came from the job I held at the time. I was a high school teacher and administrator, but finishing my Masters degree in Psychology with a specialization in criminology. I worked almost exclusively with trauma and abuse victims, most of whom were under 18. That’s a dark world to inhabit and after a point, you need some way to release the stress. For me, I used the character and ultimately the world I created for Shari to take situations similar to what I saw every day, but with the ability to have some control over the outcome.
It wasn’t until several years later that I “discovered” the work of Robert Crais and Janet Evanovich and others who lean heavily on humor. I suppose the birth of Jesse and her posse in Private Spies was a natural progression. I love both series and thoroughly enjoy writing them, but they’re very different and probably will find completely different audiences. I’m curious to know if any readers will really like both series.
KRL: The relationship between Jesse and Byron in Private Spies was a delight to follow. Did you have anyone (celebrity or personal) in mind when you created Byron?
PJ: Actually Byron is very loosely based on the man who married one of my nieces.
KRL: Did you write parts of yourself into the character of Jesse Morgan?
PJ: I’m sure there’s some of me in there somewhere, but she’s definitely her own person.
KRL: What are your future plans for Jesse, Byron, and Private Spies?
PJ: I’m right in the middle of the sequel for Private Spies and I hope they’re with us for a long time to come.
KRL: I noticed that both this book and your book with Oak Tree Press, Angel Killer (review coming here soon) came out about the same time–how did that all come about?
PJ:I was planning to self publish both but was in conversation with the acquisitions editor, she heard that and asked to see Angel Killer before I proceeded. I went ahead and published Private Spies myself thinking there was about two months between the two, but delays slowed the release of Angel Killer and they both ended up coming out about two weeks apart. Turned out OK though.
KRL: You continue to work as a trauma counselor and consultant for law enforcement. How do you keep from burning out, and what are your avenues of escape?
PJ: Writing has become a serious means of escape in that light, but over the years I’ve had to learn balance. And as you know, I no longer do that type of work full time. I’m always happy to lend my knowledge and experience to help victims, and often the law enforcement officers that work with them. What a waste it would be if I shut those years up and never used any of that to help someone! I work as a consultant and still do freelance writing on those topics, but I do my best to keep time for myself and for my family on my regular schedule.
KRL: Have you ever put real-life events stemming from your counseling work into your books?
PJ: Yes, often, but with enough alteration that privacy is protected.
KRL: Writing can be a very solitary career. Do you find support from other writers to help you navigate the ups and downs in the world of publishing?
PJ: I’m a rather introspective person in general, so I fit the writing lifestyle but I do deeply appreciate the close friends I’ve developed relationships with over the years and cherish the input they bring to my life.
KRL: Breakthrough Promotions is your public relations firm that specifically promotes authors. Has there ever been a time when you thought an author’s book would be a huge success and for some reason just failed to gain an audience?
PJ: Oh my goodness! If I’ve learned one thing in years of PR work, it’s never say never. The very thing you think will take off like a rocket, might hit the ground with a thud and the one book you think no one will want to read might suddenly launch like the space shuttle. I have been amazed often and just shake my head. Of course, after years of experience, I can usually predict things in the industry fairly well, but the surer I become about something, the more I realize that nothing in this industry is ever sure.
KRL: Does success sometimes just take much longer than expected?
PJ: It all depends on who’s doing the expecting. I don’t think success ever really comes quickly. Slow and steady wins the race.
KRL: Do you feel that running a PR firm has helped you know better how to promote your own books?
PJ: Absolutely. When I first started trying to capture the attention of an agent or publisher back in the 90s, I didn’t have a clue what promotion was about. Today at least I know enough to be able to make informed decisions.
KRL: The world of publishing seems to be changing at lightning speed. What do you see as the future of publishing and what do you think will be the biggest challenge as an author and as a public relations representative?
PJ: It’s an interesting world isn’t it? Ten years ago I’d never have believed we’d be where we are today, yet here we are. I’m excited to see where we’ll be in ten more! I don’t think publishing will change a lot because the industry is desperately resistant to change overall, but I do believe that cream will rise to the top and that those who are enjoying some self-publishing success better work hard to sharpen their skills and refine their craft. I also believe that there’s more opportunity than ever to manage your own promotion, but I see a lot of laziness out there. The wise ones will always be learning and practicing. Time will tell.
KRL: Do you find that sometimes authors must spend as much time promoting their books as actually writing them?
PJ: I think it’s easy to do, but primarily because most are not smart about how they do their promotion. It can be a real time suck if you don’t carefully plan and manage your time.
KRL: Who are your favorite authors and what do you read for pleasure?
PJ: That’s always such a hard question. Robert Crais is my favorite if I have to pick one, but there are so many. What do I read? I read a lot, although not always for pleasure. Still I love to browse, to discover new authors. Mystery and suspense will probably always be my favorites but I love to wander and try new things. I wish I had more time.
KRL: How long have you been writing?
PJ: All my life. I believe the first story I wrote was about a smiling sunflower in my 2nd grade science class. And there it began.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
PJ: I started writing mental health papers and articles and went on from there. I tried my hand at a gothic style ala Victoria Holt many years ago, but don’t think I ever even finished a manuscript.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
PJ: I try to stay on schedule, but at this point it’s not that easy. Fortunately, I love it enough that it always draws me to make sure there’s time and I usually spend time writing at least 2 – 3 days a week.
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?
PJ: I don’t outline. I used to try but ended up changing it so often it became frustrating. I lay down a basic story idea, come up with a good start, and then plunge ahead. Often I’m halfway through the mss before I know whodunit or where it’s going. That’s part of the fun I think.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
PJ: Late at night when the house is quiet, that Midnight to 2 or 3 am time. I’m definitely a night person.
KRL Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
PJ: Yes. I got an agent fairly early with Angel Killer, but he spent about 2 years not selling it. I parted ways with him and submitted it myself to a few publishers with no luck. Then I submitted to another agent and while waiting for a response from her, I got an offer from the small press I’d queried. How exciting was that?? But the new agent said she was sure she could get a better deal from a bigger publisher, so I declined the contract offer and let her have it. Alas after much rewriting, dickering and such, the editor resigned and we were left with a manuscript no one wanted. That was enough to make me rethink the whole thing and I set out to build BreakThrough Promotions and not worry about getting published.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
PJ: Apparently a lot of people are surprised that I’ve written a book.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
KRL: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
PJ: Honestly at this point, I’m happy. I’m delighted to see some of my work in print, and even more thrilled at the number of people who are telling me how much they like it. My husband and my kids are proud and it gives me a sense of accomplishment to be able to write at the end of a hard day. So I don’t see it as competing. I’m just doing something that I love to do.
To enter to win a copy of Private Spies, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Spies,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 7, 2013. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.