Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Author: Janis Thornton

About the book:

When it comes to murder, forget the butler . . . it’s the housekeeper who knows where the bodies are buried.

Small-town newspaper editor Crystal Cropper never takes “no” for an answer, hates to be called a “senior citizen,” and uses the power of her pen to expose corruption in her small town.

Cleaning lady Gertie has a knack for sweeping skeletons out of closets—which makes her one of Crystal’s best informants. But Gertie’s latest hot tip has landed her in a coma, courtesy of an unknown assailant.

Now Crystal must follow the trail of dirt and gossip right to the doorsteps of several prominent local families to solve a decade-old murder and the disappearance of a young boy . . .

Interview with Janis Thornton

Janis, how long have you been writing, and how did you start?
Growing up, I was an only child and tended to make up little stories to entertain myself. I wrote poetry, too, and when I was 12 and 13, a national anthology of poetry by junior high students included my poems two years in a row. After that great start, it was 40 years before my next publishing credit. But...I’ve come a long way since my “Easter bonnets straight and tall, some are round and some are small” poem appeared in that anthology.

How did you come up with the title of your book?

Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies was the stroke of genius of the editorial team at PageSpring Publishing. They felt this title represented the fun that readers could expect. My original title, Elmwood Confidential, is now the name for the series, which Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies is starting.

Do you have another job outside of writing?
Yes, besides writing, I am a freelance personal historian and a part-time “doer of whatever needs doing” for a couple of great guys who are producing a new graphic novel series. Mainly, I do their graphic design projects, marketing, P.R., and run their graphic novel art museum.

How would you describe your book in five words?
Golden Girls meet Jessica Fletcher.

How did you create the plot for Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies?

When I first began this project, all I had were the Crystal, Gertie, and Verlin characters, the small-town setting, and a vague inkling of a story about a 20-year-old unsolved murder. I wish I could say I sat down one evening and plotted the whole thing out, but that’s not how it worked. It actually was a long process of “write, delete, cry, repeat” before a doable storyline started to float to the top. During that time, reports about high school and college football coaches’ abuse of power were headlining the national news, and I decided to use that for the crux of the mystery. Once I had that element in place, the rest of the story came together organically.

What’s your favorite line from a book?
There is a lovely, short paragraph near the end of one of my most treasured books, Elizabeth Berg’s Talk Before Sleep, that always touches me. Here, the main character, Ann, tells the reader how she imagines the recent passing of her dearest friend, Ruth, who was a victim of breast cancer.

“I like to think that she looked out the window one last time the night she died and saw with a new understanding the placement of the stars. I like to think something incomprehensibly vast and complex moved into her soul at that moment, and that it, not pathology, was what took her breath away.”

That is wonderful! Tell us a book you’re an evangelist for.

As preparation for an interview I conducted this summer with author William Kent Krueger, I read his current best-selling book, Ordinary Grace, which had won numerous awards over the past few months. Before I reached the end of the prologue, the voice of the narrator, a 12-year-old boy, had hooked me, and I ate the book up. It’s a beautifully written story that seamlessly weaves together mystery, adventure, family, love, joy, loss, grief, and spirituality. In my opinion, it’s a magnificent book, and I can’t stop recommending it.  

What would your main character say about you?
Crystal Cropper would obviously say she owes everything she is and ever hopes to become to me. She might also say she wishes I would learn to cook so she could prepare herself a nutritious dinner that has nothing to do with nuking a frozen mystery casserole.

Are you like any of your characters?
I suspect Crystal and I are twins separated at birth (assuming it’s possible to be a fictional character’s twin) because we have so much in common. For example, she’s a blonde, Boomer-aged newspaper editor, and I’m a blonde, Baby Boomer-aged former newspaper editor; we like living alone, we hate to cook, we make jokes at inappropriate times, and we go crazy when someone refers to us as “seniors.” Where we differ is in the way we handle ourselves in the face of danger. I skulk away, while Crystal steels her nerve and jumps right in. I had great fun writing as Crystal and living vicariously through her. At times, she exemplified some facet of my actual life experience; other times she portrayed attitudes, actions, knowledge, courage, and skills that I’m too shy to exhibit.

Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.
Because I infused my main character, Crystal, with an unfiltered penchant for wisecracking, sarcasm and self-deprecation, my favorite scene shines a light on her vulnerable side, which she rarely reveals. The setting is Gertie’s hospital room, where Gertie lies in a coma after an intruder knocked her unconscious. Crystal pays a visit and, feeling uncomfortable in the presence of a comatose Gertie and not knowing what to do, she starts a one-sided conversation. To me, it’s bittersweet because I drew from my own experience with my dad, who was hospitalized several times before he passed away, and I tried to have Crystal project some of the emotions I felt.

You get to decide who would read your audiobook. Who would you choose?
Without hesitation, I would choose Meryl Streep. If the sky’s the limit, why not pick the brightest star?

I agree. Your last meal would be...
A Chinese chicken salad from Chin-Chin’s of Studio City, California (it’s to die for!) … and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Jamaican Me Crazy sorbet.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I am a huge movie fan and usually go a couple times a month. I also love theater, roaming through museums, hanging out with my son, Matt, Goodwill shopping, and taking road trips.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I’ve not yet discovered my dream home, but I would like to try Booth Bay Harbor, Maine; Estes Park, Colorado; and Florence, Italy, for an extended stay to see if any of them feels like a good fit.

What are you working on now?

Writing-wise, I am in the early stages of plotting and writing Book 2 of my Elmwood Confidential series, I’m a third of the way through a local history book, and I’m polishing a completed a paranormal romantic-mystery. My non-writing work includes piecing together my family history, designing the first trade paperback for a graphic novel series, helping the Midwest Writers Workshop Committee plan the 2015 conference, and cleaning out the attic.

Excerpt from Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies

Chapter 1

Funny where your mind goes when you’re staring into the face of mortal danger. The night I stepped through Gertie Tyroo’s dark back door, uninvited and all alone, my mind conjured up an old movie, starring me as the classic damsel in distress—fragile, frazzled, and befuddled, desperate for a white knight to gallop in on horseback and rescue me.

Crystal Cropper, I thought, revolted by the helpless self-image, you are pathetic! You don’t need a white knight. You’re your own white knight. Now get on with it. And get on with it I did. Without further hesitation, I drew a deep breath and called out, “Gertie! It’s me, Crystal. You okay?” That’s when the living room light went out, somebody screamed, and all hell broke loose.

Rapid-fire footsteps scurried toward me through the opaque darkness, prompting my Ladies Kick Ass training to kick in. I stiffened in a defensive stance—feet fixed at forty-five degree angles, knees bent, one hand clamped around my can of mace, the other poised to strike a crippling blow. I thought I was ready to rock ’n’ roll, but I was quickly proved wrong when a solid shoulder slammed into my chest. It bulldozed me toward the open doorway and knocked the mace from my grip. I screamed “Noooo!” and swung my right fist, hoping it would connect with the assailant’s face. Yes! My knuckles delivered a solid blow, and my attacker mewled weakly. Invigorated, I pressed on, determined to further stun my assailant with a head butt to the chin. Unfortunately, the plan was stopped when two strong hands grabbed my upper arms and shoved me with a force that dislodged my hairpins. As my topknot unfurled, the thug grabbed a handful of my hair and yanked me out the door. Before I could rebound, I found myself tumbling down the back steps and onto the patio, where I landed hard on my left butt cheek, winded and dazed.

The intruder took my temporary incapacitation as an exit cue and bolted through the carport. My fears for Gertie pushed me up the steps and into the dark house. I groped the walls for a light switch, found one in the kitchen and flipped it on. An overhead fluorescent halo flickered to life, spilling light through the doorway to the front room. “Gertie!” I called again. “Where are you?” Still no answer.

Thinking I might catch a glimpse of the fleeing intruder, I rushed for the front door. But as I rounded Gertie’s sofa, I stubbed my foot on something large and doughy in my path. I nearly tripped and was set to give what-for to the poorly placed object, expecting maybe a hassock. But. Oh. My. God. It was Gertie.

The squeal of spinning tires resonated from the street, followed by the grinding roar of a souped-up engine. I scrambled for the front door, but my attempt to throw it open was stymied by the deadbolt. The louder the rumbling, the more my tangled fingers floundered over the stubborn lock. Finally disengaging the bolt, I threw open the door and dashed onto the sun porch as a light-colored pickup truck rocketed past. Although I hadn’t been able to read the license plate, I took note of the truck’s taillights—the left one was red, the right one orange.

With precious time wasting, I rushed back to Gertie. She was sprawled on her left side, wrapped tightly in her leopard-print coat. Her left arm extended unbent in alignment with her body and her hand rested on her tattered wool scarf. Her right arm jutted out before her at a ninety-degree angle gripping the strap of her straw handbag.

I grabbed a pillow and tucked it under her head. That’s when I discovered the blood soaking into the carpet. Its source was a deep wound on the back of her skull. I unbuttoned her coat and gently probed for her carotid artery with my fingertips. She had a pulse. It was weak, but it was there.

A table lamp lay on the floor within arm’s length. I set it upright and clicked it on. The room was chaos. The phone was off the hook and bleeping incessantly. I picked it up, tapped its plunger to get a dial tone, and punched 9–1–1.

About Janis:

Janis Thornton is a freelance writer, personal historian, and award-winning journalist. She is the author of two local history books, Images of America: Tipton County and Images of America: Frankfort. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Indiana Writers Center, Association of Personal Historians, and the Midwest Writers Workshop Planning Committee. She lives in a small Indiana town not unlike Elmwood. Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies is her debut cozy mystery.

Connect with Janis:
Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter

Buy the book:
Amazon | Kobo