Five Questions for...Sue Ann Jaffarian
Contributor
Written by
Five Questions
August 2010
Contributor
Written by
Five Questions
August 2010
This week, Rachel Kramer Bussel--senior editor at Penthouse Variations, host of In The Flesh Reading Series, SexisMagazine.com columnist, and editor of over 30 erotic anthologies, most recently, Orgasmic and Fast Girls--asks Sue Ann Jaffarian--author of seven mysteries, most recently Murder in Vein: A Fang-in-Cheek Mystery and Ghost à la Mode, as well as the Odelia Grey series—about cozy mysteries, vampire culture and writing a plus-size heroine. 1. You write three mystery series (Odelia Gray, Ghost of Granny Apples and Fang-in-Cheek) and hold a full-time paralegal job. How do you juggle writing and having a day job, and keep track of so many protagonists? Whether a writer has a day job or not, it’s important to keep a close eye on multiple protagonists--a very close eye. I always joke that when the vampires start snacking on Odelia, it’s time for me to turn in my keyboard. As for juggling writing in general, I try my best to keep to a very rigid writing schedule. Generally, I write each weekday morning for at least an hour, usually two, before going to the office. Often I put in another hour in the evening. On weekends I write at least eight hours, sometimes in one day, but usually spread across the entire weekend. 2. All three series feature amateur, accidental and/or reluctant detectives, and fall under the category of cozy mysteries. What do you like best about writing cozy mysteries and what drew you to this type of mystery? First of all, I’m concerned about folks getting the idea from some reviewers that Murder In Vein, my first vampire mystery, is a cozy like my Granny Apples and Odelia Grey novels. In the true meaning of the “cozy” novel, it’s not, even though the protagonist is an amateur sleuth. After all, it’s about vampires, so there is sex and violence and killing on the page and often coarse language, especially in book two, which I am currently writing. I don’t want people picking up Murder In Vein and feeling they were mislead. It’s a dark book, though probably not as violent as most vampire books. As for writing cozies, I really didn’t plan on it. In fact, when I started writing mysteries, I didn’t even realize they were labeled into distinct groups. I wrote what I wrote and as the Odelia Grey novels emerged, I let the characters guide me in the direction they wanted to go. It wouldn’t fit the type of books they are--amateur sleuth and humorous--to have intense violence between the pages. Some readers have strongly felt that the Odelia books sometimes stray from the gentility of “cozy” with some of the adult topics they have tackled, like online sex and serial infidelity. When I started writing the Ghost of Granny Apples series, taking it in a dark direction wasn’t even a consideration. My publisher specifically requested cozy with that series and the “cozy” moniker truly fits the series. I like to think I write for every taste, except maybe those readers who enjoy intense graphic violence. The Ghost of Granny Apples books are very sweet and cozy (PG). The Odelia Grey books are cozyish to soft-boil in violence and sex (still a PG), and the Fang-In-Cheek vampire mysteries are considered medium-boil and contain sex and violence (M or a soft R). 3. Your latest book, Murder in Vein, finds waitress and student Madison Rose suddenly at the mercy of some kindhearted vampires who take her in after she’s almost murdered. The book also pokes fun at the vampire craze, featuring people who desperately want to become vampires to the point of committing crimes. What do you think of people who call themselves vampires, and did you do any fun research for this book? I did a lot of online research on modern vampire culture, as well as read a couple of non-fiction books on the historical legends of vampires. Although it is a lot of fun to write about, it’s not my personal thing, but people are definitely into it in a big way. Modern vampirism also includes the ability of people to “suck” energy, mental and physical, from other individuals, and exert mind-control. 4. Location is very important to each of your series, whether it’s Los Angeles or Julian, California, for Ghost a La Mode or varying locations, like a corn maze, for Odelia Gray, yet it’s something that can get overlooked, especially with such twisting and turning plots you come up with. How do you see the role of place in your books, and do you have a favorite setting of the ones you’ve written about? As any writer can tell you, location can often become a “character” in a book. Other times, it’s simply a place which hosts the mystery. Good use of location can elevate a book. Bad use can sink a great plot. Writers have to be careful in both their choice and use. And you have to be accurate in your depiction of a location if it’s a real one and not fictional, because people will write you if you get it wrong. Locations are very important in the Ghost of Granny Apples books as it sets the tone for the ghostly cold case murders Granny and Emma come across. As soon as I started developing Ghost à la Mode, I knew placing it in Julian would give it the combination of yesteryear and modern flavor it needed. The second book in that series, Ghost in the Polka Dot Bikini, takes place partially on Catalina Island. The third book will be in Pennsylvania. I am very excited to get started on that one. Moving book locations around is fun, but requires more research, In the Odelia Grey novels, I love making a big chunk of Southern California a focal point in her sleuthing and she travels all over the freeway system in search of clues and witnesses. When I took Odelia out of California and plunked her down in rural Massachusetts for Corpse on the Cob, I was concerned readers might not like the change, but they did. I think sometimes you need to change location to keep a series fresh, but the change also has to have a sensible reason or it seems clunky. The vampire novels will be set mostly in Southern California, but Madison Rose, the protagonist, will be traveling on vampire business from time-to-time. 5. Odelia Gray is a feisty, plus-size amateur sleuth who’s often forging ahead in her investigations even when she’s been warned by those who love her to lay low. You’ve been lauded for her portrayal of women of size by the likes of actress Camryn Manheim and others. How do Odelia’s size and her personality intersect, and do you see Odelia as a role model? I never intended for Odelia to be a role mode. I simply wanted to portray plus size women as normal, with the same dreams, desires and needs as their thinner sisters. I also wanted to shine a light, but not to the point of being obnoxious, on the accepted prejudice and ignorant behavior towards people of size, as well as the unacknowledged prejudice against other “soft minorities,” such as the disabled and people who are deemed different. But that said, I am thrilled by the mail I receive from women telling me how much they love Odelia because she speaks for them and they enjoy seeing a woman in fiction in whom they can identify. I’ve even received e-mails from men who have told me they will never look at fat women the same again because the books opened their eyes to their own prejudices. As for the intersection of Odelia’s size and personality, we are all products of our experiences and Odelia’s personal pain at being treated badly or differently for most of her life has molded how she behaves. In Too Big To Miss, book one in the series, we start out seeing a more compliant Odelia Greysomeone who accepts the fact that she is expected to take whatever life dishes out, fair or not. By the end of the book, we see her emerge from under the burden of self-doubt and insecurities and demand life on her own terms. She is still in the shadow of her past, but is more determined to face her issues head on.

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Comments
  • Zetta Brown

    I'm glad I read this. I've had Too Big to Miss on my list of books to read for a while because I like to write and read about plus-size heroines too. It's nice to know where the author is coming from :)

  • Sue Ann Jaffarian

    Thank you, Rachel, for having me on 5 questions!