Monday, March 10, 2008

Q&A: NANCY MEHL

This week we check in with novelist Nancy Mehl, a mystery writer who loves to set her stories in her home state of Kansas. Her "Ivy Towers Mystery Series" -- written for Heartsong Presents -- Mysteries! -- recently kicked off with In the Dead of Winter, set in the fictional town of Winter Break, Kansas. Find Nancy on her blog, Nancy's Notes.

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Q: HOW DID YOU GET YOUR BIG BREAK?
Well, I’m not too sure how “big” it is, but I would say I’m getting ready to embark upon my most successful writing adventure. I signed with Barbour Publishing’s new mystery book club, Heartsong Presents -- Mysteries. I have four books coming out in my Ivy Towers Mystery Series, and a series compilation toward the end of the year. Believe it or not, that’s five books in one year! Whew! I’ve had three other books published, but they were through much smaller publishers and over a much longer span of time.

The story behind this particular journey is rather interesting. I’d been struggling with my writing for several years. People seemed to like my books, but they weren’t getting much distribution. I knew God had called me to write, but I couldn’t figure out why things weren’t working better for me. I was most interested in darker Christian fiction -– what some would call “horror.” I call it supernatural Christian fiction.

Then one day I had an experience with the Lord that overwhelmed me. My love for Him seemed to be more than I could bear. In response to that love, I put my writing career on the altar. I wanted ONLY what He wanted. If I never wrote again –- so be it. I also told Him that I would write whatever he wanted me to -– no matter what.

A couple of weeks later, my agent, Janet Benrey, mentioned the new Barbour mystery line. She told me they were looking for cozy mystery proposals. I’d never written a cozy mystery –- and I’d never written a proposal. So after a little help from Janet, I sat down and wrote out a proposal for In the Dead of Winter. It was one of those odd writing experiences we writers have sometimes; the words and ideas flowed out almost effortlessly.

When I finished, I gave it to Janet and she sent it to Barbour. Within two weeks, they let her know they wanted it. And it grew from there. I’m scheduled with Barbour through 2010! And let me say that I have never worked with a better publisher -– or a more wonderful editor. Susan Downs is every author’s dream editor. I can’t say enough nice things about her. As far as the switch in genre, I have no idea why God wants me to write cozy mystery, but I intend to do it with all my heart!

Q: HOW MUCH DO YOU WRITE FOR AN "AUDIENCE" VERSUS SIMPLY WRITING FOR YOURSELF?
That’s quite a question. I have started to pray over every book I write. Since I dedicated my career to God, I am only interested in writing what He’s interested in. As I said, the first novel in my new series came rather effortlessly. The second was more difficult. I realized after going through some tough editing that I really hadn’t made a “determined” effort to place that novel in God’s hands. I corrected that with the third novel which went much more smoothly. God gave me an unusual plot line in that one, involving a dog which was not in my original plans. But it worked beautifully into the main theme of that novel which is “There is no one so broken that God can’t mend them.”

So, I guess my answer would be that the audience comes first since I believe that is God’s intent. As long as I allow Him access, I believe He will touch my readers with more than just an entertaining story. Just as Jesus used fictional stories to communicate great spiritual truths (parables), I believe God will use our novels to touch the hearts of people for Him if we allow Him access.

Q: WHAT FIVE CLASSIC AUTHORS DO YOU CONSIDER ESSENTIAL MYSTERY READING?
1. Agatha Christie
2. Arthur Conan Doyle
3. G.K. Chesterton (Father Brown series)
4. Ellery Queen (Frederick Dannay and Manfred Lee)
5. Dorothy L. Sayers

Q: WHAT FIVE MODERN AUTHORS DO YOU CONSIDER ESSENTIAL MYSTERY READING?
1. Mary Higgins Clark
2. Sue Grafton
3. John Grisham
4. Jonathon Kellerman
5. Lillian Jackson Braun

Q: BEFORE BEING SIGNED, WHAT'S THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION YOU HAD ABOUT BEING AN AUTHOR?
Now this is an easy question! When I had my very first book signing I thought people would be lined up, just waiting to meet me and buy my book. What a let down! I discovered that unless you’re famous, signing books runs a close second to asking people to buy cemetery plots. That might not even accurately describe the reaction most people have to an author stuck in the middle of their favorite bookstore, gazing at them with a pleading look plastered on their face. At least some people see the need for a cemetery plot. Your book, on the other hand, is an investment most people don’t want to make if they don’t know you. And when they do talk to you, it’s to ask where the bathrooms are -- or if you could direct them to books written by their favorite author. And that certainly isn’t you!

Thanks to our guest, Nancy Mehl. Find her online at nancymehlbooks.com and her blog, Nancy's Notes. Visit her ShoutLife profile at ShoutLife.com/NancyMehl. Subscribe to Heartsong Presents -- Mysteries!

More interviews:
Q&A: JANICE A. THOMPSON (Gone With The Groom)
Q&A: SUSAN PAGE DAVIS (Homicide at Blue Heron Lake)
Q&A: LISA HARRIS (Recipe For Murder)
Q&A: BRANDT DODSON (White Soul)
Q&A: Mystery / Suspense / Thriller authors
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