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. 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
Gifted college student, Tomas Davis, is the son of a crusty Pine Island crab fisherman and a Hispanic homemaker who often seeks psychic guidance. When the young man is found murdered, they and the locals, fear the law will not place a high priority on solving his death.
It is up to Jessie Murphy to find the killer. Is it another crabber? A rejected lover? His rich girlfriend? Her brother? His roommate? Or, two cagey, sport fishermen?
The ties that bind. The rivalries of the heart. The threat of collapse to an island’s livelihood. As Jessie tries to unravel the mystery of this promising young islander’s murder she finds herself in a heart-stopping race against time in which honesty and love are tested, greed is rampant, and no one—including Jessie herself—is safe.
Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about your writing background?
I’ve been an avid reader since I was five. Won writing contests while in elementary school. Then for years, I lived the life of Super Mom and Wife. When my kids were in junior high, I went back to complete my college degree. I completed my undergraduate degree, then my masters. When I was offered a fellowship to pay for doctoral work, I grabbed it. I began teaching writing. While doing this, I free wrote with my students at the beginning of each class to loosen up their imaginations. That practice changed my life. My muse or demon, whichever you want to call her, broke free and I mean FREE! It was a physical, emotional and mentally painful experience. I’ve been writing ever since. I guess she was in some kind of coma all those early adult years—now she won’t be denied.
Following advice of my mentor at Drake University, I chose not to apply for full-time academic positions. As I travelled and taught and wrote in the following years, I had several poems and short fiction pieces published in small literary journals. After writing my first novel I searched for an agent. I’ve had two. Neither succeeded in finding me a traditional publisher for my books. After spending years trying to land one on my own without success, I met the owner of an independent press. She read my work and invited me into the Savvy Press corral. I’ve published with Savvy Press and their imprints Gowanus Books and SAGA SF ever since.
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
I think that decision was decided by my inner creative demon ( muse?). Once she broke through the walls created by years of ignoring her, she would not be denied. That happened in graduate school and came about because of free write journal activities I was conducting with my students. That, by the way, was a physically, emotionally and mentally painful experience. As time passed, I found I liked the praise I got when readers read my work. When I began writing novels, I knew I wanted to have them published—thus deciding to put the effort into the process of becoming an author.
Do you have another job besides writing?
I’ve taught writing and literature in the college classroom since the late eighties as an adjunct both in the states and abroad. Loved my years at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Taught one summer semester for the University of Pittsburgh’s Semester at Sea program. That was too cool. I now teach exclusively online. I also have rental property that I own and manage.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
I still remember walking to the first day of kindergarten beside my sister with an open book in front of me. I had just turned five. I’ve always read everything I could get my hands on, from Greek myths to literary, to murder mysteries to romances to westerns.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
Quick Walk to Murder—the second in a planned series—is a who-dun-it, so of course there’s a sleuth trying to nail a murderer. In this case, she’s property manager/artist, Jessie Murphy.
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. The protagonist’s first name is my mother’s middle name. Her last was my mother’s maiden name. 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 at the age of eight-six. I get great satisfaction 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 compelling and inspiring me to write these mysteries.
In Quick Walk to Murder the victim is the son of a Florida crab fisherman. A couple of years before starting to write this book, I did some leg work with the idea of compiling the personal histories of crab fisher folk in Matlacha and Pine Island. The crab fishing lifestyle in the area was greatly affected by a net ban and is in danger of disappearing. I thought the story should be told from their point of view. Unfortunately, after only a few interviews, the project fell through. After I wrote my first Jessie Murphy mystery, I realized that I wanted to give the crab fishermen’s stories a voice. So, although the book is about solving a murder, it’s also about the life of crab fisher folk in Pine Island and Matlacha.
The book also explores the issues involved in getting over the mourning of a loved one and moving on.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
I am what other writers call a pantser, which means writing from the seat of your pants with no outline. When I sit down to write I don’t know what is going to happen. I just read the last chapter, place my pen point on the page and begin to write. It’s like reading a book. But, once the first draft is done, I spend copious time and energy revising. I’m a big believer you have to know your writer’s craft.
Did your book require a lot of research?
The research for this book was actually done a year or two previous to its first drafting. I had planned to put together a collection of stories about Pine Island and Matlacha crab fisher folk, but the project failed after only collecting information from three men. I found their stories stayed in my head. I used them as the bases of the book, but fictionalized the details of course.
What was your goal when writing this book?
To write a darn good mystery that would entertain and get a reader to think.
Who is your target audience?
Women and men who like to read mysteries.
What will the reader learn after reading your book?
Some facts about the condition of the crab fisher folk of the islands. That Jessie Murphy is quite a quirky character who is fun to watch as she goes about nabbing a killer. That my books are hard to put down. Oh, dear, no modesty there, right? Sigh.
The book explores the themes of manipulation, corruption and friendship. I guess the reader will see another’s writer’s views on those topics.
What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?
I’d say my writer recipe is this: Measure out three cups of personal experience and toss it in a bowl. Add three-four cup of characteristics from the people you meet. Mix with ingredients in the bowl and stir vigorously. Season with a healthy dose of imagination, metaphors, similes and spicy, realistic dialogue. Layer everything carefully in a pan. Bake at 350. Far longer than you can imagine. Let cool. Top with colorful sugar frosting. Sprinkles can be added for extra zing.
So, I guess experience is a major ingredient in my work, but imagination is an important element in the process.
Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?
Oh, you’d have to ask my muse about that, but I suspect while walking. Walking is definitely my thinking time, especially if it’s by the sea. Why do I think this? Hm. Don’t know. Just happens that way.
Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?
I’m one of those writers who writes obsessively. But if my muse needs a break, I give it to her and treat her right: I walk. I kayak. I play bridge. I play mahjong. I take bubble baths. I talk and laugh with friends. I go out to eat. I daydream. My muse’s process flourishes with this tender loving care.
From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
I completed the book in a year, but the revision process took another six months.
Describe your working environment.
Rattan desk in front of a window with a view of a Bismarck Palm. Stack of books on left hand corner. Book shelf behind my high-backed chair. Laptop. HP printer on table near right elbow. Sand colored walls. Rose floor tiles. Life partner reading or being quiet at his project in other part of house. No TV on. No music. Open windows when I can. Ah, bliss.
What types of scenes give you the most trouble to write?
Love scenes. I want them to be sensual but real. I’m very careful with them.
Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?
I write the first draft first, then edit after. But during the process, I share chapters with my writing groups. Once they give me their feedback, I file them away until it’s time to edit and revise. But their spoken comments become part of my drafting process—no doubt about that.
They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
My ego used to be way too fragile, but my teaching experience and being published has helped me overcome that problem. I remind myself that writing is subjective. That doesn’t mean I won’t feel harsh words. I’ll just have a quicker come back then when I first started writing.
As a writer, what scares you the most?
That someday I’ll sit down, pick up my pencil and nothing will come out. I guess I’d hate it if my demon (or muse) abandoned me or as she had done for years, gone into a coma.
When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
Manipulation. Beating the odds. Corruption. Perseverance.
Are you a disciplined writer?
Absolutely and far too obsessive. My muse is one driven woman.
How do you divide your time between taking care of a home and children, and writing? Do you plan your writing sessions in advance?
My children are now grown and live miles away. My life partner is as obsessive as I am, but he is not a writer. My writing sessions are an almost daily thing.
When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?
Definitely a morning writer, but no one would call me an early bird. I can hear those who know laughing about that. As soon as I put my coffee on, I sit down to write.
Do you have an agent? How was your experience in searching for one?
I’ve had two agents. The first one ended our contract when I told him I wasn’t sure the book I had sent him was a thriller, although it was thrilling to write. I was young and naïve then. I would have dropped me too. The second one dropped me without an explanation in the midst of a project he’d been excited about. I was startled, perplexed, and yes, hurt. It took me quite some time to realize that the book I had written would have put us both in a position to be sued. At that time, I didn’t know the ninety-nine year copyright rule. I had written a book from the viewpoint of Lolita. I guess his assistant uncovered this problem. But, I was never told this, I just figured out myself. Rather rude, don’t you think? Lesson learned here, is to do your research. I spent a long time writing that novel. Since that happened, I rewrote it changing the plot, the characters, the setting and time, but it is still cooling off in my computer files marked Dead Filed. After this happened with that agent, I pretty much stopped searching for one. Oh, maybe I sent out a few more feelers, but finally I just gave up on trying to get another on. Hm, maybe I’m a bit more fragile than I thought.
Do you have any unusual writing quirks?
I write first drafts in a lined notebook. This way, when I go to add it to my word program, I am putting myself through the first revision process. Not sure if this is a quirk.
What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
I strongly believe in critique groups. I’ve been in two for several years. But, like a marriage, it has to be the right mix. Everyone must respect the other and the need for realistic, positive honest feedback. It’s important they not become just a social session. That drives me nuts. One of my pet peeves is writers who don’t take their work seriously. I certainly believe the wrong critique group can crush a fledgling writer. So do visit them as a guest and see what they do before joining one.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
As I said before, I don’t really have writer’s block. But, there may be a reason for that. I believe in freewriting in a journal. By doing this routinely I keep my mind open to creation.
Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you tackle it?
I have a tendency to use the same word too close in proximity. I have to watch this. I also write something and think I’ve written what I was thinking, when in truth, most of it is still in my head. In writing mysteries, I work hard at making sure clues are dropped at the right times and that all plot elements are in place.
How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?
As I said my agents were unable to land me a traditional publisher. I continued the search with no success. I was lucky to meet one of the founders of Savvy Press, an independent publishing company established in 2002, she read my work, liked it and invited me into the Savvy Press corral.
My advice? If you are in search of a traditional publisher, be persistent, develop a tough skin. Make sure when you send your work to one you understand the genre requirements and all copyright laws.
If doors don’t open, search for an Indie publisher who is taking in new writers or self-publish. But if you self-publish, hire a professional editor. That’s a must. And know those copyright laws. Did I already say this?
What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?
I have a launch party and a few readings every year. I also do a press release for the local newspaper and announce the release on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. But my sales are still low, so this year I hired a publicist with the hopes of expanding my readership. Let’s see where her expertise takes my career. My muse insists I write so I don’t spend much time on book promotion.
What is(are) your favorite book/author(s)? Why?
I’m an avid reader of all things in print. My favorite American mystery authors are Carolyn Gold Heilbrun and Carl Hiaasen. I admit, I get a kick out of Janet Evanovich’s work too. She’s so funny! I heard her speak at a conference in Naples, Florida once and she had everyone laughing. British author on the top of my list is Agatha Christie. My favorite American novelist is Toni Morrison. Turkish=Orhan Pamuk.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
To run don’t walk from academia. This advice was given to me from my creative writing mentor in graduate school. He was convinced that academic writing ruined a poet and fiction writer. He was also convinced that getting a full-time academic job would eat up all my time and make my writing stilted. I followed his advice and remained an adjunct. It was and is a financially bumpier road, but one I’m still glad I took. Since I thrive on challenges, risk taking works for me.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Sure do. Thanks for asking. www.live-from-jd.com
Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
The third Jessie Murphy mystery, Mayhem in Matlacha, is being read by a bevy of readers as I write this. It will then be revised and sent to a professional editor. It is slated to be released in January of next year. The launch party is planned to be held at Bert’s Pine Bay Gallery in Matlacha.
As an author, what is your greatest reward
Receiving praise from a reader.
Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?
Only that I love my writer’s life. Every day I get up, raise my head and say “Thank You”. I’m one lucky woman.