Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Q&A with Sue Ann Jaffarian - Part 1

*Welcome, Cozy Murder Mysteries readers, to a wonderful Q&A with cozy murder mystery author Sue Ann Jaffarian, author of the Odelia Grey and Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series... as well as a new one she will announce here. Make her welcome, and after Part 2, on Friday, I'll provide an email link to sign up for her newsletter!

CMM - First, Sue Ann, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I very much appreciate it!

Tell us a little about your Odelia Grey and Ghost of Granny Apples series?

Odelia Grey is a plus size, middle-aged paralegal living and working in Newport Beach, CA, with a penchant for getting into trouble. She quirky, funny, and often cranky with a very big heart. No matter how often she says she’ll never get involved with another murder, she just can’t say no when people ask for her help. She’s also surrounded by a colorful and nutty cast of characters that include her husband Greg, who is in a wheelchair, best friends Zee and Seth Washington, and boss Mike Steele, an arrogant SOB of an attorney. They have dubbed her “the corpse magnet” but love sticking their noses into trouble right along with Odelia. Rounding out the group is detective Dev Frye who is constantly trying to keep Odelia and her posse out of trouble. The 5th Odelia Grey novel, Corpse on the Cob, will be out February 2010.

The Ghost of Granny Apples mysteries feature the living/dead sleuthing duo of Emma Whitecastle, a divorced mom living in Pasadena who has recently discovered she can hear and see ghosts, and Granny Apples, the 100+ year old pioneer ghost of Emma’s cantankerous great-great-great grandmother. In the first book in the series, Ghost a la Mode, Emma meets Granny for the first time, and sets out to prove that Granny did not kill her husband, for which Granny was hanged. Most of Ghost a la Mode takes place in the town of Julian, CA, a real former gold rush town in Southern California. In subsequent books, Granny and Emma look into the long-forgotten murders of other ghosts. You might say The Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series is a cross between Ghost Whisperer/Cold Case/Topper.

Ghost a la Mode was released September 2009 and the 2nd book in the series will be out September 2010. Unfortunately, the title for book #2 is still up in the air with my publisher, but it opens on Catalina Island.

And the big news is I am working on a third mystery series. It is scheduled for release in the fall of 2011 and will involve the sleuthing team of Doug and Dodi Dedham, a retired couple who just happen to be vampires. The working title for this book is I Could Bite You Forever.

CMM - How do you create characters that can/will sustain a series of books? Do you know everything about them going in, or does that come bit by bit as you write the books?

It’s a combination of knowing and learning as you go. To sustain a series, the characters have to come alive on the page, both the good guys and the bad guys, and grow with each book. Unless, of course, you kill them off! I usually start with an idea for a character and jot down a few paragraphs about their back story that include their age, physical appearance, occupation, education level, family background, specific quirks, and general outlook on life. After the foundation is set and I’m weaving them into the book, they start talking to me and I learn who they really are, warts and all. As I discover new things about the characters, I update my character list so I have it as a reference for later books. As nutty as it sounds, the characters do talk to me, and they are stubborn and won’t always behave as I’d like, but I’ve learned that if I let them lead, the book is the better for it.

CMM - I just love your writing advice, “Don't let anyone, I mean anyone, pee on your parade!” Any other words of wisdom for would-be writers?

Keep your butt in the chair and keep plugging. Writing takes a lot of persistence and commitment, and going through the publishing process requires a lot of patience. Don’t be discouraged, but also be realistic. If you have dreams of making it big with your first novel, you will be very disappointed. It’s a tough business and it takes time and several successful books under your belt to establish a solid writing career. Also, be open to criticism. Know that when agents or editors are giving you advice on your work, it’s to help you, not to hurt you. A writer who cannot take constructive criticism of his/her work is doomed.

CMM - Do you have a favorite place to write: office, library, under the stars? Under the stairs?

My best place to write is at my desk at home. It’s very messy and usually has a cat draped across it. The other cat likes to sleep on my feet while I work. It’s not fancy and doesn’t come with designer coffee, but I can work in my jammies and clean my bathroom or vacuum during breaks in the writing. When on the road, I travel with an Alpha Smart, a portable word processor. It’s very lightweight and low-tech and I love it. I can work anywhere with it without needing to plug it in or worry about the batteries going dead. It’s perfect for writing on long plane rides. But I find when I try to work anywhere but at home, my attention wanders too much and I’m not as productive.

CMM - You have created a plus-sized heroine for your Odelia Grey series; how does her size impact how she sees/experiences the world? Are you plus-sized? BTW, One thing that’s always irritated me is that people perceive plus-sized people as being not only unfit, but lazy. Is Odelia intended to combat the image, or is being plus-sized just one small aspect to her character?

I am a fat, middle-aged paralegal just like Odelia, but without the arrogant boss (mine’s lovely) and a nose for corpses. And, yes, being big does influence how Odelia sees the world as she has been molded by her experiences, both positive and negative, as we all are. In the first Odelia Grey novel, the reader is introduced to an Odelia who hasn’t been beaten down by the negativity towards her size, but isn’t as self-assured as she is in later books. As the story in Too Big To Miss develops, we see her gain confidence and step up to take her place in the world, but with no apologies. I didn’t create Odelia to combat the negative image of fat people, but to shine a light on the positive. And, as the books go on, there is less of a need for Odelia to prove herself in all her plus size glory, and the people around her (and the readers) accept her for who she is – bright, funny and accomplished. And isn’t that really what we all want?

*Editor's note... That's all for now, but Part 2 of Sue Ann's wonderful Q and A is coming up on Friday! Check back!


  1. Interesting characters. It's good to see that all female sleuths don't have to be in their 20s with an hourglass figure. As a reader, that's just hard for me to associate with. Thanks Sue Ann for giving us real-life characters and thanks Donna Lea for introducing us to this interesting author.

  2. Love Sue Ann!!!

    Check her out on FaceBook to read her blog, too.

  3. Absolutely love this and Odelia sounds wonderful as a heroine. (I love the fact that she's married too.)

    As a writer now beginning my own mystery/detective series ("Dear Winifred"), all of this is relevant information that I absolutely MUST have!

  4. Very interesting, uplifting, and down to earth suggestions. Thank for inviting me over. Thanks for the opportunity to meet Sue Ann closer, she is a great lady.
    Anna del C.
    Author of "The Silent Warrior Trilogy"

  5. Cool characters, and great interview. Thanks!

  6. great blog! I promise to visit often.

  7. Great interview, Sue Ann and Donna! Congratulations on your new series, Sue Ann..that's terrific! Can't wait to find out more about your vampires.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  8. Thanks for stopping by, folks. In spite of what it says above, I just found out that my vampire mystery series will be debuting September of 2010 not 2011. Yikes, I'd better get writing!

  9. Sue Ann... 2010! But that's even better, right??

    Get writing!

  10. Glad to find out about this author. Always looking for new cozies to read.

  11. These sound like fun mysteries! Sorry I didn't see the invite until today. Nice to see a heroine who is not the svelte beauty but a beauty at heart!

  12. Great interview!! Sue Ann is a real inspiration!

  13. great advice! great blog! thanx!