Monday, July 12, 2010

Author Interview: Julie Hyzy

Today, I'm excited to welcome Julie Hyzy, the author of Grace Under Pressure (Manor of Murder Mystery Series, Book 1), released June 1st, as well as the White House Chef mysteries.  She has graciously agreed to answer a few questions for my readers.  I thoroughly enjoyed Grace Under Pressure, and you can read my review here.

Everyone wants a piece of millionaire Bennett Marshfield, owner of Marshfield Manor, and letters are coming in daily from those claiming to be poor relations.  The elderly, reclusive heir trusts no one but his aged curator, Abe.  But when Abe is killed in a case of mistaken identity, the tide changes...

Although shaken by the murder, Grace Wheaton,  whose lifelong dream has been to work at the manor, steps up to the challenge of assumng Abe's job.  But now some of the letters arriving for Bennett have taken a nasty turn, demanding millions - or else. When an uninvited stalker shows up at the manor and at Grace's home, she and handsome groundskeeper Jack Embers must protect their dear old Marshfield.  But to do this, they'll have to investigate a botched Ponzi scheme, some torrid Wheaton family secrets - and sour grapes out for revenge...

1)  To start off, can you tell me something about yourself?  And also, something the readers would never know?

I'm married with three lovely daughters (and two cats).  We live in Tinley Park, IL, which was recently named the best place in America to raise kids by BusinessWeek Magazine.  We Tinley residents are pretty chuffed about that.

Something readers would never know...mmm...well, when our dog K'Ehleyr was still alive (I *loved* her so much) she used to sit at my feet as I was writing, but she would get up and follow me every time I stood.  That is, except when I got up to answer the house phone.  For some reason she understood that the phone ringing meant that I would be back soon and so she stayed where she was.  As she got older and it became more difficult for her to get up easily, I felt terrible getting up out of my chair for a drink of water or a trip to the washroom.  Despite her aches and pains, she continued to get up and follow me.  So...I came up with a plan.  I kept my cell phone next to me at the computer.  Whenever I needed to get up, I would ring the house phone.   Then when I got up, K'Ehleyr would stay put.  I'd pretend to 'answer' the phone as I ran whatever quick task I needed to run.  Silly, but effective.

2)  That's brilliant!  My dog passed away almost nine years ago and I still miss her terribly so I understand completely. 
Can you tell us something about your new release, GRACE UNDER PRESSURE?

Grace Under Pressure is probably the most personal book I've ever written.  Someone likened it to a grown-up Nancy Drew book and I couldn't have been more pleased.  As a kid, Nancy Drew was my idol and although Grace doesn't lead the same sort of charmed life Nancy does, she does have the same pluck and verve.  At least I think so.  Grace has a terrible sister - which I'm happy to say I do not have - but there are a lot of family and connection stories in this first Manor House Mystery that mirror my own.  I loved writing this book and I'm enjoying writing the second in the series right now.

3)  In Grace Under Pressure, we are introduced to some very interesting characters.  Who was the most fun to write about?  Which character was the most difficult to write about?  Are any of your characters modelled off anyone you know?  I have to admit that I really enjoyed the character 'Frances'.

I think Frances was the most fun to write. She's that nasty woman we've all had to deal with at some point in our lives and I based her on several individuals I've met over the years.  I also enjoyed writing Ronny Tooney.  He's just fun.  The most difficult person to write was probably Jack.  Grace is just getting to know him, and so am I.  This second book is helping me understand him better.  Not sure if that bodes well for their relationship or not...grins*

As I mentioned, Frances is based on several people I've known.  Scott and Bruce are based - very loosely - on my brother and his partner.  Unfortunately, they don't own a wine shop.  Wish they did!  Aunt Belinda is based on one of my aunts and Grace's grandmother on my mom's mom.

Just about everyone else is a complete fabrication.  Although I have to admit that I envision Jorge Garcia (Hurley from LOST) in the role of Percy.  Except with red hair.

4)  What was your inspiration for developing this series around Marshfield Manor?  Is it based on a real place?  How much research was involved in the writing process?

Marshfield Manor was named for Marshall Field's department store, the flagship of which was on State Street in Chicago my whole life.  That is, of course, until Macy's bought them out several years ago.  I love Macy's but I love it in New York.  I miss Marshall Field's a lot.  I used to spend every lunch hour there just browsing.  A wonderful place.

Anyway, although people think I'm writing about the Biltmore Estates in disguise, I'm not.  Marshfield is a little bit smaller, and a different setup.  I have to admit however, the idea of writing about a curator/director of Marshfield was inspired by my trips to the Hearst Castle in California, Cad'zan in Sarasota, Florida, and Biltmore in NC.  I designed a floor plan for my mansion and I work from that.  Research is great, because I pick and choose what I learn from other great homes in the US and I'm able to adapt to my purposes at Marshfield.  I adore research.  I could do it all day.  And sometimes I do...Yikes!

5)  When you are not working, what do you like to read?  Is there an author was has inspired you over the years?

I love to read everything.  I try not to read other cozies while I'm writing just because I don't want to inadvertently 'borrow' anyone else's ideas.  And since I'm writing all the time, I'm far, far behind on my cozy reading.  But I plan to catch up soon.  I enjoy Ray Bradbury most of all (the man is a genius), but also Sue Grafton, Diana Gabaldon, and in-between I like to sample new-to-me authors so I can develop new favourites.

6)  How much say do you have in the book publication process?  For example, do you get to choose the covers?

I have absolutely no input in the covers, but I have to tell you I've been absolutely delighted with every one of them.  I feel as though the artists have really read the books.  Amazing at how much detail they're able to include and still keep them eye-catching and beautiful.

7)  I definitely agree with you on the covers as they're amazing!  Can you share with us any projects you are currently working on or any plans for the future?

Right now I'm currently working on the second book in the Manor House series - tentatively titled Murder Most Civil (although I am considering Grace Under Fire).  We'll see what Berkley prefers - and they may come up with something entirely different!  After that I'll be writing the fifth White House Chef mystery - no title yet - and I'm always tucking away ideas for a standalone I have planned.  I'm sure I won't get to that one until 2011 at the earliest. 

8)  What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I *love* to go out to dinner.  I swear it's become my favourite hobby.  I'm trying to learn about wines, and pairing them with meals.  I can't say that I go out of my way to cook, but when I do, I enjoy doing so (note the food theme running through all of these).  Lately, however, my schedule has been keeping me in my writing chair almost 24/7.

9)  Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?

Right now my current front-runner to play Grace in the movie/TV version (hey, a girl can dream, right?) is A.J. Cook, who plays Jennifer (JJ) Jareau on Criminal Minds (though I hear she's been cut).  I don't have a single other Grace Under Pressure character cast, but I would welcome input from readers.  I love receiving emails with suggestions.  Any ideas for who should play Jack? Frances? Bennett?  I would love hear readers' ideas.

Thank you so much, Julie, for taking the time to answer questions today!  And readers, if you have suggestions/comments for Julie, feel free to email her at anytime.