J.D. Allen. There is so much to say about this multi-talented, amazing woman, but I'm going to let her tell you about herself and her writing in the answers to my questions below. I first met J.D. at the St. Pete Bouchercon, and before I loved her writing, I coveted her beautiful red hair. She is, as you will see, an incredibly interesting person.
Reading Room: J.D., as you well know, there are crucial elements that have to work to together to result in a successfully written novel. On your web site, it mentions that you teach “the basics of crime scene investigations, pacing, voice, and POV.” In my review of Body Zoo, your third Jim Bean book, my last sentence reads, “Reading this book was an opportunity to see how an artist deftly combines elements to create a successful work and how there’s nothing better than a story well told.” I have a couple of questions about those elements, for which I think you must be an excellent teacher.
Reading Room: How do you chose when to use different POV’s?
J.D.: It’s one of my favorite subjects, so I should do a panel/class on that. I cross over the thriller/mystery line between books because of this too.
In 19 Souls, I wanted the reader to be in the head of the female serial killer. They always say there are no women who are serials. I say they just aren’t as flamboyant and sexual about it and don’t get caught! But there are plenty of them. I wanted to show the depth of Sophie’s obsessions and the lengths she went to get what she wanted. It was a lifelong journey of anger and justification. I feel like the reader would have felt left out of all that if I had written that one as a traditional hardboiled mystery.
Skin Game, the primary conflict is with Jim and a person from his past that did him significant harm. So that was the most interesting thing for the reader to get to follow for the story. A traditional one POV mystery story structure made sense.
Body Zoo, we’re back to having a situation where the 2 POV scenario is really going to be a bang for the reader. I have, and probably will again, start a book and change it after about a 75 to 100 pages so to avoid depriving readers of the juicy bits of a character in my head.
Flat Black Ford is a revenge and escape story for the antagonist, Stella DeSoto. This one is definitely a dual POV. I got to live out some personal revenge fantasies with Stella.
J.D.: Pacing is not one of my strong suits and I pay particular attention to work the middle of the book to keep the pages turning. It’s often something you giggle at the end if you’re not a front end plotter.
J.D.: Maybe teachable is not the right term. You can practice paying attention to the voice of authors and stories you love. Reading aloud will help with that. You’re picking up on subtle things like sentence structure, word usage, even the arrangement of paragraphs and chapters. Then the author has to figure how that fits into their stories and process.
I think you can mimic a voice until you can twist it into your own, yes.
Reading Room: I’m sure you get this question quite often, but I think it’s something major about you that readers are interested in if they know your background or will be interested in if they are just learning it. So, writing romance novels. Why the switch to crime/mystery? What initiated this change? And, what helped you and/or hindered you the most from your romance writing to your smashing success as a crime writer? And, how did you have to change how you wrote, or did you?
J.D.: Well, I fell into writing romance. And that’s a long story. So I’ll start with the change over. I was getting paid to write! Who turns that down? But I wanted to write crime fiction. (I have a few King type books in my head and under the bed, but that’s for a different conversation) And changing genres was super difficult. Who knew?
I had to find a new agent, new publishers, new everything. It was like starting all over. Since my romances ran on the steamy side, I wasn’t taken seriously by many of my mystery/thriller peers, especially men when I was trying to get Jim’s books out there. I did exactly what I tell all new authors struggling to get published. Just keep writing. Go to conferences, and network. Work on your craft. It took me ten years to be a so called overnight success.
Reading Room: I know that writers sometimes tire of being asked whether they write with an outline or some sort of plan, or if they write by the seat of their pants. I have a specific area to ask about in this quagmire of planning/not planning. Do you write knowing, even if it’s just a general sense, how the story will end?
J.D.: I used to be a big plotter. I had all the scenes and outlines plastered on the wall. As time passed (I’m starting my 15th novel) I find I do better when I have good idea about the story and let it roll. I did a 7-page synp for my editor. I can tighten it up on the second pass. #Sorry to those who have taken plotting classes from me in the past. But we evolve.
Reading Room: What was the first story you remember writing, whether it was as a kid or an adult?
J.D.: I wrote my mom a book at about 9. I still have it. There were cats and a vampire. I admit it needs some editing.
Reading Room: When did you know for sure that you wanted to be a writer, and how did that journey then begin?
J.D.: I always wanted to be a storyteller. I also always had a horrible time in school. It seemed an impossible dream to be a writer when I couldn’t pass a simple spelling test. I got good marks for creativity and admonished for bad grammar. I thought I was stupid. Was told that a few times. My father made sure I worked really hard to just pass and supported me.
It wasn’t until I was attending classes at Ohio State University that someone suggested I be tested for dyslexia. That changed my life. I was able to get some tools and understand my issues. Reading got easier and it rekindled my love of story. I started writing again. But it was when my late husband was ill, that I got the fire in my belly to write with the intention of earning.
Reading Room: I’m always impressed how supportive mystery/crime writers are to each other. Are you or have you been in a writers’ group with other authors who read and critique each other’s work. And do you have any authors who have played an especially pivotal role in your becoming a published author in the mystery/crime genre?
J.D.: I have met the best people from going to readers' conventions and writers' conferences and networking. There have been so many great people in my corner, from way back in my romance days. We’d be here all day, but I have to mention my friend and conference buddy, Cheryl Hollon and my agent Jill Marr for keeping me sane these last few years. And Jeff Deaver for supporting me and helping with my first mystery/thriller release. Our tribe is amazing.J.D.: I’m in my first crit group now. I’ve been hesitant about joining one. Going back to the dyslexia, I usually don’t let anyone read first drafts. But this group seems to be working. We had all planned to be at Bouchercon. So, when that fell apart, we all met at up at a lake house and had an intensive writing weekend. This year was so isolating, it was great being around my peeps!
Reading Room: Let’s talk some now about Jim Bean in your Sin City crime series. I’m quite taken with him, but I have to say that I’m quite taken with his whole crew. In fact, it’s hard to imagine him without them. How did you come up with Bean? Is he modeled on anyone in real life?
J.D.: He’s based on several people really. A friend who was falsely accused of rape and his life was all but destroyed. My teenage heartthrob PI, Brett Maverick. And there’s a little bit of my late husband, Allen. Different situations bring differing attributes of each of those guys.
The team came about as they were needed. Most PI’s have to interact with an assortment of law enforcement, attorneys, and such to get the job done. Ely, was the only one that is based on a real person. Gary was a friend who helped with the PI stuff. He not the crazy tech guru, but he was a walking character himself. Most of Ely’s background came from him. Sadly, we lost him to cancer this year. It was heartbreaking. FBF is dedicated to him.
J.D.: In the first book we get some of Jim’s background. He had an entirely different life planned for himself. The life threw him a hand grenade. He left his home in Ohio and needed to run and hide and change his name. Vegas seemed the perfect place to do that. And I love going to Vegas. So much to get into there. If I need something strange to happen in a book, I’m able to find a way to make that happen just by searching around the city and the area.
Reading Room: It's no secret that you have some dastardly characters in Body Zoo. How much do you like writing the “bad uns”?
J.D.: That’s my favorite. I always start a book thinking I need to pull back on that. And somehow, the bad uns get badder as the book comes together.
Reading Room: Another character comment and question. I love how even your characters who are on the side of “good” have their obvious flaws. Any comment on those flaws?
J.D.: I’m not telling you mine, but don’t we all! The best people, like all the best characters, are forged in fire.
Reading Room: With the Jim Bean books, how have you kept track of the details from book to book? Do you use a spreadsheet or a notebook or any such tool to keep it all straight as you’ve progressed with the series?
Reading Room: What sort of research do you do for the Jim Bean books? What kind of resources?
J.D.: I go to Vegas, Baby! But, in general, I use all kinds of things for research. The internet, Google Earth is such a great tool when you can’t leave the house. I call people, do police ride-a-longs, read books and blogs. Attend for-writer-cons like Writer’s Police Academy. You know I spent some time with a taxidermist for Body Zoo!
Not sure I intended it that way. But again, the crimes and those who commit them, determine the creep level. There is some grit. But I think I needed a little lighter while seeing so many people dying on the news all of last year.
J.D.: I’m starting the fifth right now. The title was just approved – Brick and Bones! This time we’ll learn a little more about Ely and delve into some Vegas mob history. I’ll try to get the gritty/bloody/ dark back for the fans of that.
J.D.: I still read slower than most. And usually that means I read mostly in my genre, and I read my friend’s books. I just started to get hooked on memoirs, too. Right now, I’m about to crack the spine of the latest Jess Lowery.
I enjoy a variety of crime fiction so it’s hard to nail down just a few names because I know I’m leaving a large number of people out. But I got hooked on Reacher, and you’ll see a lot of my voice mimics that. I love Tami Hoag, Lisa Jackson, Laura Lippman, and Matt Coyle. New finds are James D.F. Hannah and LynDee Walker.
J.D.: Little known fact. I’m a bit competitive. In my younger days, I was a speed skater. On wheels! I raced all the way to the national championships. Lost. Hurt my knee in the second heat. That seems like a million years ago.
I was also a member of the national championship equestrian team from Ohio State. Got to travel with them for a couple years while finishing my degree. Made the college experience so good for me given I was about a decade older than most the students. My best buddy, Jill Smith, was the best. She won all the classes and the all-around champ. We’re still friends and she was part of the reason I moved to Florida.
Sin City Series