Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Interview with Jo Hiestand - The McLaren Mysteries being re-released

Today I welcome a local St. Louis author Jo Hiestand who is here to talk about her Michael McLaren mystery series that she is in the process of re-releasing. Its set in Merry Olde England.
Come have a listen to our conversation.

The McLaren Series Novels



Jo Hi! Welcome to The Reading Frenzy
Thanks, Debbie.  I’m happy to be included in your blog.

I understand you write two mystery series both based in Merry Olde England but right now you're focusing on your Michael McLaren mysteries. He even has his own website-
Tell my readers a little about Michael, what’s his story?
Michael McLaren is an ex-police detective who quit his job over a great injustice done to one of his friends. He has a rough side to him, and he does whatever needs to be done in order to get justice for the victims and their families. Principles, rules and scruples are not in his dictionary; he’s the victim's champion and they love him for it.  The injustice that spurred him into leaving the Force was brought on by a colleague McLaren’s tangled with ever since their police school days.  This guy, Charlie Harvester, has climbed the promotion ladder due to his daddy’s senior rank in the Constabulary, and he’s a brilliant example of the Peter Principle.  The animosity between him and McLaren intensified each year they worked together.  It finally came to head involving McLaren’s friend – and McLaren resigned his job.  At loose ends, angry at the world, and living a near-hermit existence, he turns to the job of repairing dry stonewalls.  It appeals to him, for he can work alone, and the physical shifting of stones releases some of his anger.  His return to detective work, though purely on a private level, happens in the first book, “Cold Revenge,” and emotionally and mentally saves him from a depression his best mate fears will consume him.  The old cases that McLaren investigates come to him in various ways: a friend or relative of the murder victim asks him for help, he innocently stumbles upon “something suspicious” and begins investigating, or he becomes an unwilling suspect in a murder and has to figure out who the real killer is.  Once he solves that first case, he’s hooked: he now investigates cold cases on his own and as a living.  Music is very important to him, providing another outlet for his feelings. He plays guitar in a folk group, and song lyrics are integrated into the stories.  

Speaking of music, Jo, reminds me that there is something special about those books.  Would you tell us about that?
Since music is a central part of McLaren’s life, I thought it should be important to each of the books.  There is a companion song to each mystery, and these songs are recorded by various St Louis musicians and available as single-song CDs. You can buy the CD and book separately or as a combo package (and you get a price deal that way!).  The music ranges from folk songs, blues and torch songs to classic jazz and a Handel aria.  It’s fun to listen to the song that’s significant to the plot and to have a real part of him.

Jo I understand you’re re-releasing the McLaren mystery series.
How many books in all are being re-published?
I hope all of them!  They seem to be coming out every three or four months.  To date, there are six previously published books coming out under new titles, and two brand new ones.  So, eight are in the series so far.

How many are out now?
This is a new publisher for me, and the first came out this past April.  The second mystery came out June 24, so right now two of those previously birthed ones are out.

Are these stories being republished in tact or are you revamping them from their first release?
This publisher wants some additions and deletions from the books’ first printings, which means I’m working with my book editor to delete some characters, rearrange the order of some chapters, edit some dialogue, and insert new scenes.  I must admit all the work’s paid off, because I think the books really shine now.

How would you shelve these books, are they dark, are they cozies or something in between?
Good question!  There’s nothing of the high stakes of the thriller or the overall noir setting in my books, although some scenes in Edinburgh are pretty bleak, but that’s only those few sequences.  And though the books have a cozy quality to them in that the mysteries happen in a village setting where the people know each other, the plots are a little rougher than a cozy.  No explicit violence, however.  I believe the books are more in the classic mystery vein, with ‘who, what, where, and why’ being the driving force of the plot.

Jo, you’re a fellow St. Louisan and yet you write about happenings across the pond.
How do you manage novel research?
And research is nearly as time consuming as writing!  I lived in England for one year, and since then I’ve vacationed extensively in specific areas, so that helps.  I have three English police detectives who answer my questions, and a retired detective-superintendent of CID who reads my manuscripts to catch any Americanisms or procedural problems that may’ve crept in.  I’m lucky in that I’ve toured several English police stations, ridden in a response car (the equivalent of an American squad car), chatted with detectives in their offices, and seen cells and interview rooms -- purely as a visitor, though, so don’t get the wrong idea...  All my questions can’t be answered by these experiences, so I constantly pause in my writing to look things up on the Internet.  Things like moonrise/set times in Cumbria, temperature in winter, height and speed of incoming tides in Morecambe Bay, species of plants in Derbyshire, dates for trout season fishing…  It’s amazing what I don’t know.  And though I can’t catch all my mistakes, I try to eliminate as many as I can by looking things up.  I get that gene from my dad.

Jo I know you’re focusing on the Michael McLaren novels but you do have another series which you co-author with another St. Louisan, Paul Hornung. You in fact teach a writing course for a St. Louis area community college.
Tell us just a bit about this series.
Yes, the Taylor & Graham mysteries.  Like McLaren, Taylor & Graham are based in Derbyshire, but they are working police detectives in the Derbyshire Constabulary’s CID department.  Brenna Taylor is a detective-sergeant working with detective-chief inspector Geoffrey Graham.  Three other officers are part of the main group, so the reader gets to know these five main characters.  These books are more of a cross between a police procedural and a cozy, though I’m not heavy into procedural details.  A British custom serves as the backbone of each plot, which I think is kind of fun – you can learn about a custom like Watching the Church Porch, or rapper sword dancing, or well dressing as you solve the murder with Taylor & Graham.  Paul, by the way, writes chapters from his character’s point of view, and I write the bulk of the story from Brenna’s.  We haven’t collaborated on all of the books in this series, however.  I’ve written the majority of the ten by myself, which may or may not be good news to some readers!

Here are the novels in her Taylor & Graham series

Jo, on your bio it says you knew you wanted to write mysteries from an early age, but what led you to England?
I can’t really explain it, but it may stem from my childhood.  I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes, duMaurier, Dickens and the Brontes.  I loved the atmosphere of those Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce movies and the auras of 1940s/50s movies like Brief Encounter, Night Must Fall, and The Thirty-Nine Steps. The moods of the landscapes mesmerized me, and I realized that scene is as essential as character to tell a story.  I wanted to use the moors, mountains and lakes in my stories and because I felt they were almost living things, I knew the books had to be in Britain. Then I began reading straight history to get more information on the country and people. I love English and Scottish history from around 1200-1750.  From this, I developed a passion for the architecture of villages and castles and great halls. I know all this has colored my writing, so perhaps it’s just this love that is expressing itself in the books.  This May I discovered that I have literally centuries and centuries of English, Scottish and Welsh relatives.  Do genes mean anything?

Jo I know you’re concentrating on getting McLaren’s novels out again. Are you working on anything new?
I’m toying with an idea for a series that is based on one of my ancestors, Cecily Neville.  It will take a while to incubate, as it’s completely different from anything I’ve ever written.  It won’t be a mystery, per se, so I don’t even know if I can write without wanting to reveal whodunit, but I’ll at least give it a shot (no pun intended).

Thanks for the visit, for answering the questions. Good luck with your novels.
Are you signing/author events listed on your website?
Yes.  Dates are added all the time, so if you’re interested in dropping by to chat, please refer to the Tour Dates section of my website. Thanks so much, Debbie – I’ve enjoyed this!

Connect with Jo - Website - Facebook 

Jo A. Hiestand is the author of two British mystery series. While this may not seem so unusual, Jo was born in -- and still lives in -- St. Louis, Missouri.
To get around the technical difficulties dictated by living in one country and writing about another -- especially about police procedures and crime detection, of which she has no personal experience -- she travels to Britain every few years for research.

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  1. That is neat that each mystery has a companion song.

    1. I thought it was fun, too! ;-) Music's such a big part of my life that I thought it would bring the reader into the book if she could hear the song. So that's how it began. jo

    2. Thanks Kim I think it's neat too. So many authors rely on a play list of sorts by Jo actually includes it in the story.

  2. that is exciting, her series getting republished. Also i like the sound of a music Loving detective. I wish you huge success, Jo!

    1. Thank you so much. I like McLaren and I like the music connection. It's also a great way for local musicians not only to become better known through the CDs but also for them to get another recording for their own use. If you read the series, I hope you like it! Jo

    2. I know I'm always happy to see books getting new life, Thanks Braine!

  3. It is always fun when great books get re-released!

    1. I agree Ali, thanks for stopping by!

    2. I don't know if they're "great" books, Kindlemom, but it's nice to fantasize about that, ha ha! ;-) Jo

  4. I'm so glad your books are being re-released and more new stories will be coming out. Your novels are always a delight to read.

    1. Hi Pam, welcome to the blog. I love Sisters in Crime and have many author friends who belong in other cities. Thanks for the comment and the visit.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. Thank you for the gracious thought, Pam. Jo