jd daniels holds a Doctor of Arts degree from Drake University with a dissertation of her poetry. Her award-winning fiction, non-fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, including: The Broad River Review, The Sylvan Echo, The Elkhorn Review, Doorknobs & Bodypaint: An Anthology, The National PEN Woman’s Online Magazine and riverbabble. “Nancy’s Woodcut” won a prize in a contest sponsored by Emerson College, Cambridge University.
Say Yes, a book of poetry, 2013 topped the local bestseller list in Iowa City. The Old Wolf Lady: Wawewa Mepemoa, was awarded a publication grant from The Iowa Arts Council and three research grants from the college where she still teaches writing. Minute of Darkness and Eighteen Flash Fiction Stories debuted January, 2015. Through Pelican Eyes, 2014 is the first of the Jessie Murphy Mystery Series.
The Iowa Arts and Poets & Writers Directories invited her inclusion. She is also a co-founder and an editor for Prairie Wolf Press Review, a literary online journal featuring new and emerging writers and visual artists.
jd maintains a blog, is a member of two critique groups, Mystery Writers of America, and South West Florida PEN Women. She continues to teach writing at the college level. Quick Walk to Murder, the Second Jessie Murphy Mystery, was recently released. Visit her website to find where you can get her book: www.live-from-jd.com
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Quick Walk to Murder. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?
A: Quick Walk to Murder is a mystery, so of course there’s a sleuth trying to nail a murderer. In this case, she’s property manager/artist, Jessie Murphy. The victim is the son of a Matlacha, Florida crab fisherman.
I love my amateur sleuth, Jessie Murphy. She’s my alter ego and has bits and pieces of my creative mother in her as well. I get a high when I get into her skin and brain to solve these murders. As soon as I finished the first book with her as a protagonist, I started writing the second. Plus, Matlacha, Florida, an island I fell in love with, is the perfect setting for this mystery. It’s funky and colorful. A pleasure to describe. So, I guess I would say, both wanting to spend more time with the main character and being surrounded by the sea are big factors in inspiring me to write these mysteries.
Q: What do you think makes a good mystery? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?
A: Hm, hard to narrow down to only three elements, but let me try: 1. Tight, compelling plot and sub-plot. 2. Engaging, unique characters set in a colorful environment 3. Red herrings, subtle clues, surprising twists, a dramatic climax and a believable resolution. Okay, so I cheated. This is far more than three elements isn’t it? I could list more, so I guess it’s impossible to narrow down to just three.
Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?
A: In the first draft I let the story unfold on its own. After this, I do a plot check to see if it follows the classic mystery outline. If it doesn’t I begin to cut and paste. If a writer goes online they can find a very handy tool called “Plotting the Mystery Novel” as defined by contemporary editors and publishers. I beginning check my plot against that on the second draft.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?
A: My character is twenty eight, Irish and a fledgling artist. Her first name is my mother’s middle name. Her last name was my mother’s maiden name. While she is no doubt my alter ego, she was also developed from how I envisioned my creative beloved mother to be at this young age. Thus, each time I write a book with Jessie Murphy in it, I’m also exploring and visiting my mother’s life who passed away several years ago at the age of eight-six. So character interviews and sketches were done over a lifetime of being her daughter.
Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?
A: My antagonist is a compilation of different people I’ve known over the years. Unfortunately, I’ve had personal experience with more than one sociopath. Without giving away who the killer is, I’ll just say that I had to do research to make sure him or her was portrayed realistically.
Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?
A: As you see from my bio, I’ve taught writing for several years. While doing this, I spend much time moving my students away from a passive voice to an active one. I find that when writing a mystery such as mine this is apt advice. Use of first person, active verbs, specific nouns, realistic dialogue, strong metaphors that fit the setting and time, plus the use of similes and minimal background information helps keep the reader engaged and turning the pages. One thing that helps my students understand this concept is to pretend your reader is standing over your shoulder as you create pictures on the page with words, including the five senses in as many scenes as possible. Make sense?
Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?
A: When writing about setting, I use the same “picture-making” tools that are needed to make for an exciting narrative. By considering the five senses, by thinking of the setting as a character while you are writing the book, helps greatly in making it one. This means that once you initially describe the setting, each time after that (like your protagonist or other characters) when you use the setting in a chapter, you must show different aspects of it to develop it into a place the reader can actually identify with and see in their mind. I am happy to tell you that one reader did say I had been successful in doing this in the first book. I hope I’ve succeeded in Quick Walk to Murder too.
Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?
A: My themes for Quick Walk to Murder became evident as the characters and plot developed. This is one thing I love about my process—the creative journey—the constant learning and surprises. At least one of the themes is recurring—action versus apathy—others are unique to the mystery’s situation.
Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
A: Hm, another interesting question. Perhaps this is why I write the first draft before referring to that plot outline—I want my imagination to have freedom before I have to consider my reader. I began as a poet as well as a fiction writer. In fact, I have a doctorate in poetry from Drake University. I don’t think you can create your own path until you understand your craft—the elements that make a fine mystery, novel or poem. I’m a person who free writes in a journal often. I also encourage this activity for my students. But freewriting is only a tool to free the imagination, after this the hard work of being a writer begins.
I believe if writers understand that writing is a complex process, that editing is only one important aspect of that process, their initial creative thrust will not be destroyed. Some fledging writers don’t understand this and they can be adversely effected by editing. It’s a shame, but happens all too often.
Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?
A: 1. One who receives respect for their work. 2. One who honors their passion by making a life as a writer. 3. One who understands the importance of discipline and persistance.
Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?
A: Makes me smile. As a life-time learner, I couldn’t agree with the famous writer more. The difference is that you are your best teacher, a fact I stress with my students probably more than they want to hear.
Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?
A: There are so many. I already mentioned the outline for plotting for mystery writers. With the amazing technology we have today, I’d say just Google what you want and sit back until multi-sites pop up on your screen. But I also recommend The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, Writing the Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maas, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft by Janet Burroway. Again, there are so many more to add to your library.
Writers also have to be readers of their genre. Whatever genre you choose to write, read and study as many books as possible in that area.
Writers Market is always announcing workshops for all sorts of things writers need to know, including insights into the changing publishing world. She Writes does as well, as does Poet & Writers and Mystery Writers of America. There is also an amazing number of workshops and writer’s retreats offered world-wide. Many of these are expensive, but many offer free tuition for those who are accepted as Fellows.
The important thing is to do your research. Take yourself and your decision to become a published author seriously. Read and take workshops that are practical and will help you become the writer you want to be.
It’s an amazing journey. Enjoy.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?
A: I guess I’d just like to emphasize that knowing your craft is essential if you want to earn respect in your field. I recently was chatting with another editor of a respected young adult traditional publishing company. She said something quite wise: “In the mystery editor’s world, anyone can be a fine wordsmith, but if you don’t know how to plot, you don’t know your craft, it makes no difference.”