Please welcome my friend and fellow mystery author R. Franklin James, who writes The Hollis Morgan Mysteries (Camel Press) – a friend and fellow author who will be joining me — and many other authors — at this weekend’s Bouchercon Mystery Convention in Long Beach, California.
The Fallen Angels Book Club has only two requirements: the members must love books and have a white-collar criminal record. Hollis Morgan fits the bill. Left holding the bag in an insurance fraud scheme concocted by her now ex-husband, she served her time and is trying to rebuild her life. All she wants is for the court to pardon her conviction so she can return to law school.
After one of her fellow members is murdered in a scenario straight out of a club selection, Hollis is once again the subject of police scrutiny. Refusing to get stuck with another bad rap, she sets out to investigate her fellow club members. Is one of them really blackmailing the others? As a second member dies in yet another book-inspired murder, Hollis realizes that time is running out. Everything rides on her finding the killer—not just her career aspirations. She must identify the killer before she herself becomes the next victim. Everyone is convinced she knows more than she lets on. But what is it, exactly, that is she supposed to know?
The Fallen Angels Book Club is the first book in an exciting new mystery series featuring amateur sleuth Hollis Morgan.
R. Franklin James grew up in the San Francisco East Bay Area and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She and her husband currently live in northern California. The Fallen Angels Book Club is the first book in the Hollis Morgan Mystery series. You can find R. Franklin on the Web at http://www.rfranklinjames.com.
And now, with no further ado: on with the questions!
Where did you grow up? Please share a favorite story from your childhood.
I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area in Oakland, California. I shared a wonderful childhood with my younger brother and sister. We were quite adventurous and likely drove my parents to distraction.
One very hot summer day, we decided we wanted a popsicle from the corner grocery, only we didn’t have any money. My brother and I got the idea to sell food to our neighbors, and take the proceeds to buy popsicles. (It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time). So we pulled out our sister’s red wagon and filled it with canned and boxed goods from our kitchen cabinets. Going from door to door the three of us sold canned tomatoes, corn and peas for a penny, cereal for two pennies along with any vegetable we didn’t like: two for one penny. The woman who looked after us while our parents were at work spent most afternoons watching soap operas, so she didn’t notice the back door opening and closing. As you can imagine it took several trips to completely empty the kitchen. That afternoon, our neighbors thought we were “cute” and bought everything we had to sell. (Didn’t I say our babysitter was mesmerized with soap operas).
At the end of the day we had enough for three popsicles and three candy bars. It was a glorious day! That is, until my mother came home to start dinner and all the cupboards were literally bare. I can still see her running from cabinet to cabinet flinging open the doors, and we slowly backing out of the room with stains of flavored ice on our t-shirts.
Thus the story that led to our spankings. I like to think that was laughter coming from my parent’s bedroom.
Then there was the time we painted our neighbor’s Cadillac lime green (it was her favorite color), for her birthday. (We were very creative). But that’s a story for another day.
What inspired you to write the Hollis Morgan Mystery series?
About seven years ago I signed up for an online novel writing class through UCLA. There were roughly 60 English speaking students from around the world. Our process was to write so many pages a week and then we would comment on each other’s work in alternate weeks. It was a “blind” submittal so we didn’t know whose work belonged to whom.
The first week was pretty normal, except that one student was unhappy with our comments. The teacher explained it was the work that was being critiqued – not the individual. The next week the student must have received more negative comments, they were clearly upset, saying that the rest of us weren’t qualified to judge their work.
The following week the same thing happened only the student threatened to find out where we lived and would make us sorry. Needless to say, the professor dropped him or her, from class rolls.
But, a story idea started to bubble in my brain. What if it was a book club and not a class—and wonder if the members of the club couldn’t afford to have their identities known because they were all white collar ex-cons. And what if one member was murdered….
I like the premise that sometimes second chances don’t come easy to those whose mistake had them caught up in the legal system. And what happens when the second chance isn’t deserved.
If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your first manuscript … what would that be?
That “showing” is the primary ingredient to a good story. Telling robs the reader of using their imagination and the richness of traveling through words. By using the subtext of dialog, creating setting as another character, and depicting human behavior with realism, has made writing a true journey of joy for me.
The first Hollis Morgan Mystery, THE FALLEN ANGELS BOOK CLUB, features a book club where membership requires “a love of books and a white-collar criminal record.” How did you come up with such an intriguing and unusual premise?
A lot of times you can get an idea, but it doesn’t work as a plot for 60,000 words. As I mentioned earlier, I had a great idea…but to make it work for more than just an interesting anecdote, it needed a little massaging. I love books, and I had to guess that prisoners loved books too. If you wanted to re-assimilate back into society, a book club is one acceptable way to do it. And I love twists, so the Fallen Angels were born.
Do you have a favorite author, book, or genre? If so, who (or what) is it, and why?
My favorite author for all time is F. Scott Fitzgerald. His work made me want to write, but to write the best I could. My favorite genres are mysteries and thrillers. I gobble up P.D. James, Harlan Coben, and Lee Child to name just a few. I also enjoy Susan Spann.
Do you have a favorite scene in THE FALLEN ANGELS BOOK CLUB? If so (and if you can tell us about it without revealing any spoilers), what makes that scene stand out for you?
In Fallen Angels there’s a scene where Hollis realizes that her protective “shell” of distrust has blinded her to seeing the good and as well as the bad in people. She’s been helping out at a senior home, and one of the residents has an equally crusty personality. Both discover a chink in the wall that they’ve built around themselves, and they learn that locking people out has meant that they are locked in.
In book two, STICKS AND STONES, there are several scenes that reveal Hollis’ evolution as a character. Her attempts at testing the waters of trusting again, cause her to gradually accept people as they are—warts and all.
What is your favorite aspect of writing mystery novels?
Writing a scene nonstop because the words are pouring out and it’s real good writing.
How do you inspire yourself to get past difficult moments in writing and editing?
I give myself a goal of time in chair, or word count and no matter if it’s gibberish I write it down and edit it later. I also outline, and if I feel I don’t know where I’m going I refer back to where I thought I was going. So, I never have writer’s block.
What do you find most rewarding, and most difficult, about writing series fiction?
I enjoy writing series fiction, particularly a character like Hollis Morgan who grows with the storyline. I write stories where happily ever after may not be immediately apparent, and the enticement to read the next book is undeniable.
And now, the speed round:
Plotter or pantser?
Definitely a plotter.
Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
Wine, lots of wine.
Socks or no socks?
Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Thank you so much for joining us today! It’s been great fun learning more about you and The Fallen Angels Book Club – and I’m looking forward to seeing you at Bouchercon!
You can also find R. Franklin James, and more about her books, at her website: http://www.RFranklinJames.com.