Backyard Bones is a mystery that begins with children unearthing a skeleton in their new back yard. It’s an ancient burial, but they find another body in the same place a few weeks later and it’s murder. My protagonist, Regan McHenry, is the Realtor who sold the house where the murder victim turned up. She gets drawn in to investigating as an amateur sleuth because the police suspect her client. It turns out lots of people in the neighborhood have secrets regarding the murder victim and no one’s relationship with the victim is quite as it seems. Her curiosity gets her in trouble and she has to figure out which suspect is the murderer before she becomes a victim herself.
Tell us something about yourself.
I’ve been a Realtor for the past twenty years in Santa Cruz, California, I still own a small real estate company with my husband, Craig, although we haven’t been actively working for the past couple of years. Before that, my career was checkered. After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, I worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News, as a librarian, and later a stint as the business manager of Shakespeare/Santa Cruz.
My work history reflects my philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years. Writing is my newest adventure.
What inspired you to write this book?
I’d been a Realtor long enough to have worked in really down markets before the 2007 real estate collapse. Markets like that are cruel, painful and frustrating. I decided I wanted to take a time-out rather than working through it. I got bored with my elected break and decided it would be an entertaining puzzle solving exercise to see if I could write a mystery. I took the phrase “write what you know” to heart and started writing using people I knew as the characters and experiences I’d had as background. The writing quickly evolved from that start, but it was really fun to do.
How did you publish this book?
Remember, writing started as a game for me. I never intended to do anything with what I wrote. That changed when a friend who always wanted to write and see her name in print was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Possibly because my husband and I had a long history of being small business owners, we decided to set up a micro publishing company, dedicate the first book to her, and get some copies of the first book, The Death Contingency, out there so she could see her wish fulfilled before she died. Our skills meshed well for editing, design, using technology, and marketing. We found a printer and were ready to go. Our initial investment only involved some minor trademarking and copywriting expense and book printing. Initially we went with a POD printer to keep costs down and only printed 100 books to see what might happen. They sold in a day and the business has been growing ever since.
What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?
Creating unpleasant scenes like finding a body or being in a tight situation with the bad guy are the hardest parts to write. I’m really in the moment and sharing what’s happening to Regan as I write, so I can get upset. I’ve been known to cry while I’m writing.
Except for the murders, details and ideas come from my own experiences. I decided to set my book in Santa Cruz, a location I knew well after living there for many years, and make the protagonist a real estate agent because I’m so familiar with that world. Real estate has its own culture and most people don’t know much about it; I thought readers might get a kick out of “inside information.” Also, I had a stockpile of funny, interesting, unusual, and odd things that had happened during my twenty year career to use as background material.
For the rest of it, I use the internet primarily. There is a real book called Decomposition for Dummies, but you’d be amazed what information is available online. If anyone checked my computer, they might worry about me. Among the ghoulish details they’d find are articles on dying of hypothermia for The Death Contingency, squatting facets for Backyard Bones, and accidental mummification for Buying Murder.
Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?
I’ve learned many things but two things have surprised me the most about writing. The first is how much fun it is. I love all aspects of it: writing, cover design, publicizing, and especially talking to people at book signings. I’ve met many interesting people I would never have known if I hadn’t written the books.
The other surprising thing is that, even though I have a story outline and have created a life history for all the characters so I understand them, sometimes the characters tell me things about themselves I didn’t know. In Backyard Bones I had intended to have a different character be the murderer, but when it came time to write the unveiling, as it were, I knew I had been wrong about the killer’s identity. I thought I could go back and change a few things and add a few clues to make the new killer work since the book presents many suspects, but when I went back to add the needed clues, I discovered they were already in place. Evidently the killer had been telling me about his guilt all along, but, like Regan, I missed it until then. Discoveries like that make writing especially entertaining for me—and hopefully for my readers as well.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?
I read more non-fiction more than fiction, especially anything to do with history or politics. My favorite authors for fiction are Margaret Atwood, Amy Tan, and E.L. Doctorow For mystery I like Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Tony Hillerman.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I just finished writing the third book in the series. It’s called Buying Murder. It’s just off to the editor. It begins with a building inspector finding a partially mummified body. The inspiration for it came from conversations around an odd triangular wall space in a house my clients were buying. They joked with the building inspector that the space seemed like a good place to hide a body and asked him to explain why it was there. He came down from the attic after taking a look at it and, with a perfectly straight face, announced he found Jimmy Hoffa. Now I’m taking it further and using it as the starting point for a book.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Specifically for what I’m doing publishing, I would recommend getting a couple of books, Poytner’s books are great, and then go online to places like Linkedin and Goodreads and talk to some other writers to share experiences. You’ll get some great ideas and meet some terrific people.
For writers: edit, edit, edit. When you think your book is ready for prime-time, edit it again and get a good copy editor to go over it, too. Even if your story is wonderful, your reader won’t think it is if they get distracted by mistakes.
What are you doing to promote your latest book?
In addition to normal things like book signings, getting local newspaper articles, and getting on as many blogs as possible, I’ve gotten national press with had a mention in Costco Magazine and in The National Association of Realtors Magazine. I also belong to Sisters In Crime, a group for mystery writers.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
Your readers can read the first chapters of the books and pick up a recipe for “Mysterious Chocolate Chip Cookies for free at http://www.goodreadmysteries.com. Books can be purchased from the website and on Amazon.com.