I am pleased to welcome mystery author Janice Croom to my blog today! I had the pleasure of working with Janice during Mystery Thriller Week a few months ago. Her book’s title – Dead of an Idiot Boss – really cracked me up and made me take notice of her Kadence MacBride mystery series.
Here is your chance to learn more about Janice, her books, her fascination with Wakanda, her favorite music to write to, and insider tips for your next visit to Disney World.
Please tell me a little bit about yourself, your books and writing career.
“I blame it on television.” I wrote these words in October of 1997. Although they ended up on the cutting room floor, they represent my first foray into writing fiction and eventually evolved into the Kadence MacBride mystery series. I’m getting ahead of myself. When I wrote those words there wasn’t a thought of a book let alone a series. There wasn’t even a Kadence. There was a Michelle. Not the most original name for a fictional heroine. The best I could do at the time.
My journey began with an eight week class on novel writing, not that I ever intended to actually write a novel. At the time, I was a marketing manager and wanted to use fiction techniques to make the myriad of reports I had to write more interesting.
Our assignment was to write the first chapter of our novel. I volunteered to read mine aloud. After I finished, the class applauded.
“That’s really good,” my teacher said. “What happens next?”
I reminded her she’d asked us to write the first chapter, not what happened next, so I had no idea. She pushed me to continue the story. By the end of the class, I wanted to know what happened next. That quest, to tell my character’s stories, to give them a voice, to learn what happens next, drives me as a writer.
Like most writers, I love to read. After all, writing is just reverse reading. I love to cook. One of my favorite things to do is take whatever I have on hand in the pantry and fridge and create something wonderful. I’m one of those a dab of this, a pinch of that, keep adding till it tastes right cooks. I’m active in my church where I teach Sunday School and Children’s Church, and I’m a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Since the question didn’t explicitly limit “anywhere” to the real world, neither will I. If I could literally go “anywhere,” and as a fiction writer I create worlds that let me go “anywhere” all the time, book me on the first flight to Wakanda. The juxtaposition of tribal customs and technology fascinates me. Hanging out in Shuri’s lab. Watching the Wakandan sunset. And the clothes. It would definitely be a shopping vacation. Wakanda Forever.
A place I’d love to travel to that actually exists outside my imagination is Alaska. It’s one of the 12 states in the US I haven’t visited yet, so it’d let me check that box. And, from everything I’ve heard, it’s breathtakingly beautiful. My preferred mode of transportation would be a suite on a cruise ship through the Inside Passage since that’s the best way to see the glaciers.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with background music? Why?
I always write with music. It helps me block everything out and enter the world of the story. I have several playlists I developed specifically for writing. They’re an eclectic mix of classical, soft rock (Sting and Phil Collins are personal favorites), movie soundtracks (Titantic is especially conducive to writing) and soul (like Seal’s Kiss From A Rose and Toni Braxton’s Un-break My Heart).
Although different musical genres, all the songs on my soundtrack are soft, slow, and harmonious. Phil Collins Against All Odds, but not Sussidio for example.
Sometimes I develop soundtracks for my books. In my last published novel, The One, there was a senior prom on a cruise ship. Senior prom as in everyone but the hero and heroine were senior citizens. As such, I got to revisit the music from my parents’ era: Nat King Cole, The Platters, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers…The music really helped set the mood and put me in the character’s head.
As I write this, I’m listening to Pandora’s Thumbprint Radio: a personalized station based on what I’ve given a thumbs up to in the past. Sting’s Mad About You just finished followed by Canon in D.
Tell me something about yourself that has nothing to do with writing?
I’ve been called a bit of a Disney nut. I made my first trip to Disney World in 1977. Back then there was only the Magic Kingdom and they still used ticket books. Since that first trip, I’ve visited well over a hundred times despite living over a thousand miles away from Florida. Going that regularly makes my approach to Disney a bit different. I don’t do lines. Thirty minutes is my max. Aided by an annual pass and use of Disney transportation–I’m a Disney Vacation Club member so I always stay on site—I’ll often go to the parks and just stroll the grounds not getting on a single ride. Epcot is especially good for that.
For those of you planning a Disney trip, I’d like to offer a few tips. Take your time and savor the experience. There’s so much to do and see, it’s tempting to try and cram it all in. True story, I saw this family at Magic Kingdom. The two little boys, who looked to be maybe 5 and 3, were both crying. “We want to go back to the hotel and take a nap,” the oldest one wailed. “No,” the father barked. “We still need to do the Goofy Rollercoaster, Teacups, and Small World before lunch.” Try not to be that parent.
If you have transportation, don’t buy any Disney souvenirs until after you’ve visited one of the two Disney Character Warehouses. They’re located at the Orlando International Premium Outlet (closest to Universal Studios) and Orlando Vineland Premium Outlet (closest to Disney). There are a lot of strip mall stores claiming to be Disney outlets. These two are the real deal in that they carry official Disney merchandise, primarily overstock and out of season. Like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you gonna get, but they are well worth a visit. As a bonus, each outlet has enough stores to scratch the biggest shopping itch.
Last but not least, when your feet tell you they need to sit down that’s an ideal time to experience the Wedway People Mover or The Carousel of Progress. Located in Tomorrowland, you can almost always get right on these attractions and give your feet a break. Bonus, The Carousel of Progress is air conditioned, relatively dark, and 20 minutes long. If you need a catnap, that’s the place to take it.
You write in several genres, why?
Besides mysteries, I write in two other genres: romance novels (rom-com and inspirational) and urban fantasy short stories (like what you might see on Twilight Zone). The stories in my head dictate the genres I write.
Why have you chosen to write a series? Do you know how many books will be in it?
The first five book arc of the Kadence MacBride series is an amateur sleuth/cozy romantic mystery. Each book’s title both identifies the murder victim and the flaw that Kadence has to kill in herself to earn her happily ever after with her boyfriend Terrence. Solving the mystery helps her identify the issue and resolve it.
The elevator pitch for the series is: Best friends since college, Kadence and Terrence have supported each other through failed marriages and dead-end relationships. Despite their strong mutual attraction, they’ve been unwilling to risk their friendship for a chance at love, until now. They’d be well on their way to happily ever after if they could just stop stumbling over dead bodies.
The first two books in the series, Death of an Idiot Boss and Death of an Island Tart, are already out. I’m in the process of editing Book three, Death of a Diet Queen. It’ll be out by the fall. Book four, Death of a High Roller is about half written. Tentatively, it will be out late next year and book five, Death of a Drama Queen, is still just a title. I know the setting is Terrence’s parents’ estate and it’ll end with a wedding. It’s everything between those two points that I have to work out.
As for the next phase of the series, I’m a huge fan of mystery movies from the forties: Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes and especially The Thin Man series. Once Kadence and Terrence finally get married, I envision them as a modern day Nick and Nora Charles with all their love and wit and none of Nick’s heavy drinking.
Tell us a little bit about your writing process. What’s the most difficult thing about writing to you?
Hands down, the most difficult thing about writing for me is the first draft. I have a list of story ideas. When starting any project, first thing I do is open a Scrivener file, Scrivener is a writing software package, and write down everything I know about the story. Scrivener makes it easy to jump around in addition to providing a place to store all my story notes.
Writers tend to fall into one of two camps: pansters or plotters. At their most extreme, pansters don’t plan in advance. They just start writing, letting the story take them where it will. Plotters won’t start writing until they’ve outlined the entire story.
Fantasy author Terry Brooks, a dedicated plotter, views outlining as freeing where Stephen King calls outlining “the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.”
I do both which I guess makes me a planster. In the beginning, I’m literally throwing up on the page writing down everything I think I know about the story. After that, I pull out my critical plot points worksheet and outline scene by scene.
What part of the process do you enjoy the most?
My favorite part of the writing process is editing. Once the bare bones of the story are down and the plot works, I love going back and making the language sing. I’ve included an excerpt from Death of an Island Tart, the best opening I think I’ve ever written. Trust me, it didn’t come out whole cloth. Hence the magic of editing.
“There comes a time in every woman’s life when she has to go get her man. My time was now. That’s what put me on a jet, somewhere over the Caribbean, in this hootchie-momma outfit I’d let my friend Charlene talk me into. Everything I normally let hang out was trussed up like a turkey, and the things I always kept covered were out there swinging in the breeze.
Clothes may make the man, but they change the woman. I’m a thirty-something African-American with junk in my trunk and a chest that women go under the knife for; I always dress to downplay that. I want folks judging me for my mind, not my body.
In this stuff, every time I stood, my chest ended up in some man’s face. And when I walked, my butt swished like a Whirlpool on agitate.
Clothes may change the woman, but they make the man lose his mind. They got me to the front of the security line and into first-class on a coach ticket. Terrence didn’t have a prayer.”
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on the third Kadence MacBride Mystery: Death of a Diet Queen. Approaching a year free from dead bodies has finally convinced Kadence that she’s not a murder magnet and it’s safe to marry Terrence, but she won’t walk down the aisle until she can fit into the dress she wore at her first wedding. The moratorium on murder ends when in her quest to become a perfect size six she finds a perfect size corpse.
Fingers crossed and a ton of butt glue (for keeping me in the chair), it’ll be out this fall.
Many thanks to Jennifer for this opportunity.
My pleasure, Janice! It was a pleasure to get to know you better.