Tuesday, February 5, 2013

New Release Feature 2-5 The Trouble With Charlie plus Q&A w/Merry Jones

Q&A with Merry Jones
The Trouble With Charlie

Debbie - Merry, welcome to the Barnes & Noble General Fiction forum.

Please tell us a bit about your new novel, The Trouble With Charlie.
Merry - --First of all, thanks for this opportunity to talk about Charlie, who was a hoot to write about.
THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE Harrison is, first of all, that he’s dead.  His soon-to-be-ex-wife Elle finds his body in her home, her kitchen knife in his back, after she’s been out drinking with her friends. 

But death isn’t Charlie’s only issue; he seems reluctant to pass on.  Despite his demise, Elle senses his presence everywhere.  A kiss on the back of her neck.  His aftershave scent wafting through the house.  A rose showing up in various rooms as if moving by itself.  Ultimately, she begins talking with Charlie, as if he’s still around.

Meantime, Elle has to explain both the kitchen knife in Charlie’s back and the gap in her memory surrounding the time of his death.  Under the advice of her buddy Susan Cummings, a defense attorney, she consults a psychiatrist who diagnoses her with a mild dissociative disorder, which means she spaces out from time to time, especially when under stress—a behavior her friends have long noted and dubbed, “pulling an Elle.” This disorder explains her memory lapse, but it doesn’t provide her with an alibi.

Clearly a suspect in Charlie’s murder, Elle tries to prove her innocence, and her investigation reveals even more of Charlie’s troubles.  She discovers his secrets, each of which put her in danger:  Charlie’s obsessed possible girlfriend, whose body Elle finds.  Charlie’s siblings who bear him bitter grudges.  Charlie’s slimy business partner who’s involved in unsavory and shocking schemes.  And Charlie’s cadre of wealthy clients who share twisted, depraved appetites. 

The deeper Elle digs to discover Charlie’s murderer, the more trouble she finds herself in.  And Charlie’s spirit—whether it’s there in fact or merely in her mind—doesn’t make life easier.
            Most of all, THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE is that it’s hard to put down.  It’s a gripping, fun and fast read.
In your bio it says that what you write now is shadowy mysteries. Can you tell us what that is?
--The phrase “shadowy mysteries” tickles me—I like it because, for me, shadows are places hidden from the light.  Places containing secrets and doubt, indefinite objects and shapes, hidden dangers.  I think that shadows also represent some of the scariest situations in life: not being sure what’s real or what’s imagined.  Not being able to trust your own perceptions.  Not knowing whom you can trust or what you’re facing. 

            Elle Harrison, the protagonist in THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE, is caught in that “shadow” region.  She doesn’t know who her husband was since he’d kept so many secrets.  She doesn’t know how he died, or (because of her dissociative disorder) even if she killed him herself.  She doesn’t know if Charlie is haunting her or if she’s imagining him.  In some points in the story, she isn’t sure of her own sanity.  For me, this psychological tension—the protagonist’s own mind becoming one of her opponents—is what makes for particularly delicious shadows.

You’ve been writing for many years, it says that you’re now writing a genre that you really love. Has your writing career been a progression to find your niche or passion?
Even as a child, I knew that I wanted to write about the dark side of human nature, and I was drawn to suspense.  But when I started writing books, I was told it would be easier to get a publisher for non-fiction.  My first agent, in fact, urged me not to write fiction; she said it was “almost impossible” to sell to publishers.  So I wrote a couple of non-fiction books, then humor books.  Finally, after six books, I got up the nerve to write what I’d always wanted to: a mystery.  I found a new agent who would take it on—That took a few years.  But it ended up being the first Zoe Hayes book, THE NANNY MURDERS, and the series went on from there.  Another series, the Harper Jennings thrillers, began with SUMMER SESSION. So far, I’ve done nine suspense books, including those two series and, now, THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE.

I like how you describe mystery stories “a safe environment to approach the frightening aspects of life.” I find that very eye-opening as I myself love a good thriller but can not watch one on the big screen. Why do you think this is?
--Haha--I picture you in a movie theater, moaning aloud.  Obviously, I can’t explain exactly why thriller movies bother you as an individual.  But for me, yes, books do provide safe environments for exploring and confronting the darkness, the frightening, the underside of life—Part of that is because books allow the audience not just to see events and action, but also to delve deep into the minds of characters and experience their thoughts and emotions.  This internal reality of characters is very difficult to portray in film—especially action-type thrillers.  So thriller movies often focus on the surface of the plot--the car chases and gun battles—while ignoring the deeper, less visual conflicts faced by the characters.   

You belong to some very established writing organizations. What do these groups bring to you personally?
--Writing by its very nature is an isolating activity.  If you’re a writer, it’s important to connect with others who understand the issues you’re facing in your career.  I am fortunate enough to belong to Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, The Authors Guild and the Philadelphia Liars Club.  Online, there are also a number of writing oriented groups I follow.

The human contact with colleagues who share a love of writing and a commitment to this solitary work is in itself a huge benefit.  I’ve been lucky to have made a few dear friends through these organizations.  And there’s been a valuable networking aspect to joining up.  Through these organizations, writers share with and lend support to other writers.  When I needed a new agent, for example, I was able to get references from other mystery writers.  When I was changing publishers, other writers’ shared their experiences with various houses.  Writers share anecdotes about acceptance, rejection, process, craft, self-publishing, marketing, and other aspects of the business.  We invite each other to panel discussions at conferences.  We share sob stories and victories.  We inspire each other, push each other to keep working when it gets tough, celebrate each other’s successes whenever there’s a chance, discuss ideas and opportunities, sometimes collaborate—It’s impossible to list all the benefits of involvement.   

Can you tell us if release day is still as nerve wrecking now as the first time? Or was it ever?
--Not jitters.  Just excitement.  These days, though, books like THE TROUBLE WITH CHARLIE can be pre-ordered, so that, by the actual release date, I’ve already been pushing its promotion for a while.  But the release date marks the start of focused publicity, so I change hats from writing to marketing.  Instead of nerves, I get a sense of, “Here we go—“ as if I’m climbing on board a bookselling/promoting train—ready for the ride. 

How do you feel about the role of social media in book selling and author selling too?
Well, social media provide endless ways to reach readers and stimulate interest, not only in books, but in everything—from politics to puppies, flash-mobs to medicine.   The problem, from my point of view, is that there are SO many options.  A zillion bloggers, broadcasters, websites, organizations, communities….

            As a writer, it’s possible to spend more time building relationships and creating a social media “brand” that actually writing books.  It’s like quicksand, taking more and more of your time.  And you’re never finished—There is always another guest blog to write, another group to join.  And, even if you post and join from dawn to dusk, it’s not clear that your contributions or posts actually correlate with book sales. 

            For me, social media are best considered as community builders.  I don’t look at them the same way I look at advertising or marketing.  I look at them as methods of connecting to others and creating relationships over time. 

Merry thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Good luck with your new novel. Do you have any B&N signings or events planned?
I participate in the Liars Club coffeehouses at the Willow Grove Barnes and Noble, the last Sunday of every month, 12-3 pm.  Authors can sign afterwards, but it’s not a formal signing.  As of now, I haven’t set up other signings, but I’m working on them. 
            Thanks again!  All best, MJ
Buy the book here, visit the author's website here.