Q & A with J.M. Maison, author of Desired to Death

DesiredToDeath_cover

You might know her by another name. You might see her at another site.

But today she’s J.M. Maison —  and has she got a book for you. DESIRED TO DEATH is a delectable mystery just released on Amazon. Here’s the juicy blurb:

The empty nest can be murder!

Just ask stay-at-home mom Maggie True whose daughter has just left for college—leaving Maggie with a burning question for her husband Joe: “Now what am I going to do with the rest of my life?”

Never in her wildest dreams does small-town Maggie imagine the answer will come in the form of a middle-of-the-night call for help from an estranged friend who has just been arrested for the lurid murder of a much-younger lover: A.J. Traverso, AKA Tattoo Boy—a sexy kickboxing instructor who had captured the fancy of all the women in Halfway Bay, Maine.

But solving this mystery will be no walk in the dog park. For below the surface of her sleepy coastal town, resides a dark world of secret lusts and desires that Maggie has never imagined. And when an anonymous tip to the police suggests that happily-married Maggie was involved with A.J. Traverso, the investigation becomes more than just a curiosity. For Maggie True, the solution to the mystery of what to do with the rest of her life—and the identity of the cold-blooded killer—might be closer than she thinks…

For anyone who has ever faced a life transition and wondered “What next?” Desired to Death answers with an irresistible mix of suspense and intrigue, humor and heart.

Intrigued? Well, here’s more of the inside scoop on this spine-tingling new novel:

LA: From the first page of DESIRED TO DEATH, I fell in love with Maggie True. She’s a three-dimensional mix of quirkiness and strength, obstinacy and loyalty and curiosity, well-blended.

JM: I’m so glad you fell in love with Maggie! Made my day!! 🙂

LA: Of course! I love how Maggie’s determined curiosity often fuels the plot, veering towards compulsion, and getting her into lots of trouble. At the same time, Maggie’s not a busybody or a voyeur. She’s also compelled by a sense of responsibility and by her need to find her own “true” path. I love these complexities.

Can you speak about this aspect of your writing? It’s often difficult to write weaknesses into a protagonist — or virtues in a villain. How did you craft the many facets of Maggie True?

JM: What a huge compliment that Maggie came across as complex! I really strived to do this for Maggie as well as for other characters, most notably A.J. Traverso. It was important to me to present Maggie (and A.J.) not just as pure good or pure evil, strong or weak, but I also didn’t want to make them seem unrealistic by balancing them too much or giving them predictable faults or strengths.

For instance, with Maggie, I knew she had to be curious and loyal but I also knew she had to be a bit hardheaded — I mean how else would she be able to stand up to Frank or be dumb enough follow a loan shark? So I started that way. But I didn’t want her to be too hard, so she gets pretty emotional. At the same time, she balances that with a rather sarcastic attitude.

Same with husband Joe who is clearly well admired by many women — an ideal husband in all external appearances — yet he is a bit overly protective of Maggie and somewhat absent and he is a bit of a hothead. I wanted him to be a good guy but not too good. Otherwise where’s the interest?

And the same could be true of A.J. He’s a bad man in many ways, but he also has a sweet vulnerable side, and I hope I got that across in some of Maggie’s dreams and/or fantasies and interactions with G.G. I need to give a nod to writer friend Dina Santorelli who really helped set a good example for me with this with her “bad guy” character in her book, BABY GRAND.

LA: I’m guessing that Maggie, as a character, was one of the early seeds of this book. Is that correct? Was she the force behind the writing? And, can you share two or three other early images that inspired the book? What got you started?

JM: In the truest and purest sense Maggie was the seed behind the book because she is definitely an aspect of my personality.  I’m curious and observant to a fault, I always have been. These traits bring me great satisfaction but also have gotten me into hot water before (never, NEVER, into investigating a murder, however!).

That said, the real force behind the book began when I started wondering what on earth I was going to do with myself after first my son then my daughter left for college. I (like Maggie) was truly at loose ends. I loved everything about being a stay home mom, and it was really hard for me when my kids left the nest and I didn’t see them every day, was in many ways left without a purpose. I started thinking about what a woman might do if she was drawn in another direction, then what that direction might be. Then I read a book called THE BREAKING POINT by Sue Shellenbarger, about how midlife crises transform women, and that’s what got me thinking about what someone like Maggie (or I) might do if desperate enough when faced by the empty nest crisis.

LA: I always admire your curiosity — and I’m glad you let it take you through those loose ends, that life change. I’m also curious about your setting. DESIRED TO DEATH takes place in small-town Maine, and the setting is never incidental. I loved the intimacy of the place descriptions, the way the middle school, the police station, the Club and other key locations take on a solidity, a physical presence in the story. The setting becomes a character in its own right, as richly wrought as Maggie.

At the same time, Halfway Bay will be familiar to anyone who has ever lived in a small town. It has a broad appeal. What advice do you have for writers who want to strike this same balance between the particular and the universal?

JM: I’m glad Halfway Bay came across as a character — and I’m so glad you thought it was richly wrought (and Maggie too); THANK YOU!

It’s interesting, in almost everything I write, home is a huge presence in the story. So it doesn’t surprise me that Halfway Bay became a presence in the book. It embodied a lot of what I feel about a home base, which is very important to the story of The Empty Nest Can be Murder. Maggie lives in such a small town, a place that has always felt safe and wonderful, and then when her kids leave she feels almost betrayed by the whole town, finds out a lot of what she thought was safe is not and in some ways the whole town feels dangerous.

As for when writing, how to strike this balance of good vs. evil, broad appeal vs. intimacy in a place, I would say that it’s important to look at both the big picture: the description of the location, geography, streets and structure; but also to think of the town as discrete pieces within the whole–for me, as you say, it became the police station, the school, the Club, the donut shop, the dog park, each a physical presence in the story, so the whole town and each individual part played a part.

It’s one of the reasons the cover of the book has the upside down house. It’s a key part of the book and it’s become unsafe, unsettled.

LA: Yes, I definitely got that sense, through Maggie, of being “flipped,” of having to search beneath the surface for the deeper truths. As a reader, I love it when a book takes me by surprise, but with a lot of subtle clues that I can see in hindsight. Your mystery has multiple threads and surprises that all come together in the end. I’m curious about your method of organizing your ideas. Do you outline? Highlight? Hang pages from a line across the living room? Do tell!

JM: Thank you so much for such a lovely compliment! I’m glad it took you by surprise! I’ve been thinking about my writing process a lot lately (because I just finished my third WIP in 2 years and I kind of suddenly realized I was starting to see a pattern to my writing).

I am a pretty compulsive outliner, I have to say. In fact this book I had a detailed outline (of probably 30 pages). I also do all of the above: highlight, hang a line across the living room (wall) AND I use index cards, post its, and a notebook for each project where I keep research and take notes.

BUT, here’s the kind of weird part. Once I start writing, I never look at any of it! It’s like the actual physical act of organizing and writing it impresses it in my brain. Then when I sit down to write, it’s background in my mind, and I just write. After I’m done with the first draft, I’ll go and fact check and see how far off I am. And decide from my original notes and research what I want to add in. It’s also so interesting to see how far off I am from where I thought I’d be in my original outlining.

LA: Okay, now let’s talk intuition. Several characters in the novel think that Maggie has a kind of second-sense or ESP. In reply, Maggie says, “I just pay attention. I observe things. I heed my intuitions, that’s all.” Talk about the role of intuition in this novel — for Maggie, and for you, as its creator.

JM: I am a firm believer in gut reactions and following intuition, and I think for someone like Maggie who decides to get involved in a mystery like this, something so dangerous, it’s pretty critical that she is a good observer and she heeds her intuition. Otherwise how would she ever find out anything? Or protect herself? In my own life, I’m rarely faced with such dangerous circumstances, but I will sometimes do or not do something because of “a feeling.” Of course, it often turns out I had no reason to worry, but then there are those other times . . .

LA: If I had a crystal ball, I’d peek inside Maggie True’s next chapter. DESIRED FOR DEATH ends with the suggestion that Maggie isn’t finished solving mysteries. Have you started on a sequel? What adventures do you see in Maggie’s future?

JM: Yes, a sequel is in the works! I have been collecting notes for about five years and it’s an ongoing investigation. The next mystery is between two possibilities at this point. One involves something overheard at the dentist’s office as well as the dentist’s receptionist (if you’ve read Desired to Death you know Maggie has a special relationship with her!) and one involves someone leaving a baby on Maggie’s doorstep. I haven’t quite decided on which I’ll (I mean Maggie!!) will pursue.

I can honestly say my ideas are seemingly limitless on this one, often revolving around seemingly-innocent conversations with friends and family. I always warn people to be careful what they share with me, and everyone gets a little nervous when they see me take my small notebook out of my bag!

~~~~

I’ll be watching what I say! And waiting for the next installment.

You can find DESIRED TO DEATH on Amazon. Be prepared to stay up late, so you can finish “just one more chapter.”

JMMaison

Want to stay up-to-date on the next installments of The Empty Nest Can Be Murder? Follow J.M. Maison on Twitter or on Facebook. You can also see her earlier post in The Hatchery right here.

 

13 thoughts on “Q & A with J.M. Maison, author of Desired to Death

  1. As someone who lives in a small town, I’m intrigued! Both with the characters and the setting. I’m so excited for you, J.M. (or JuJu, as I like to call you)! I’m just experimenting with a scene by scene breakdown before a rewrite–a first for me (normally a pantser). My history with outlining and notes indicates I’ll be doing as you do: get it on paper, then scarcely look at it. I’m relieved to hear someone else say it. Congrats and best wishes on the book! Thanks for having her, Lisa!

    • Dear Vaughn, I’m so happy that you’re intrigued with the book and the characters. And like you I’m relieved to find another writer who approaches outlining and notes as I do! Love, Juju 🙂

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  3. Good morning, ladies! I too have had the true (pun intended!!) pleasure of reading Maggie’s delicious adventure and I also adored her character and her world. Like Lisa said, she is a very REAL, very rounded, flesh-out character which makes the mystery so wonderfully layered. I have always thought the premise of “Empty Nest Detective” is a brilliant one.

    Thanks for sharing so many great tips about your process, JM–it’s always such a help and an inspiration to hear how another writer pulls it all together!

    • You are much too kind, my dear friend, but I’ll gladly and happily accept your very sweet compliments. I’m so glad you enjoyed the book and I agree it IS always an inspiration to hear the stories of other writers! Thank you, Erika!

  4. I loved Maggie’s character maybe because there was a bit her in me– the *ahem* approaching 50 woman, kids leaving the home, trying to create meaning and purpose in her life. I wouldn’t follow a loan shark or approach a dark house and peer through the window, but I take other risks (writing anyone?!) to fulfill my dreams. I really liked the relationship with Joe and Maggie– it wasn’t perfect, but it was a nice steady note in the midst of all the other turmoil. I’m glad you wrote it that way.

    Finally, living in Small Town, CO, I had to laugh at some of the quirks of Halfway Bay. I was actually kind of impressed by (backspace and eliminate spoilers) some of the secrets that were kept for so long!
    We actually had a little scandal here, several years ago, about a group of married-couples-gone-swingers that emerged with well-known professionals (a local doctor.. dum, dum, dummmm). You may use that for a future book if you like. 🙂

  5. Thank you, Julie! You’re such a supportive friend! As someone who is … ahem… even older than 50, I can tell you that it is hard to figure it all out. And stressful, too. Glad you enjoyed Maggie and Joe’s imperfect marriage (is there any other kind?) as well as the quirks and secrets of Halfway Bay. I’m glad they rang true to another small towner! Glad to hear my…er… Maggie’s town isn’t the only one with scandals 😉

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  7. This is a fantastic interview, Lisa. I learned even more about Julia that makes me adore her AND Maggie even more. First – your response to the question about being a sleuth reminds me of a post you wrote so long about about having breakfast (blueberry-something if I recall) and you inability to focus on your husband as you “eavesdropped” on a conversation at a nearby table. Yes, I got a chuckle out of that since all of us writers do the same thing.

    Secondly, I wanted to comment on the upside down house on the cover. SO clever and ties in so well to the entire “Empty Nest Can Be Murder” series.

    And, third, I LOVE that you kind of walk away from all of your research when you sit down to write. You’ve come up with a method that involves structure but allows the organic nature of the story to bud. SO very interesting. Just like Maggie and AJ and Joe and Smythe (:-)).

  8. Fun hearing a little bit more about your process, Julia!
    Great interview, Lisa. 🙂

  9. Love hearing about your process and seeing you here on Lisa’s blog. I have the book sitting on my Kindle and can’t wait to read it!

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