Interview with Jane Cleland

Jane K. Cleland writes the multiple award-winning and IMBA bestselling Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series. The twelfth novel in the series, Antique Blues, will be out in April 2018. The Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery series has been reviewed as an Antiques Roadshow for mystery fans. Library Journal named Consigned to Death a “core title” for librarians looking to build a cozy collection.

Jane also writes about the craft of writing, including articles for Writer’s Digest Magazine and the bestselling and Agatha Award-nominated how-to book, Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot, published by Writer’s Digest Books.  Cleland served as a director of the Mystery Writers of America and served a two-year term as president of the group’s New York chapter.

JB: I love your writing. How did you come up with the idea for the Josie Prescott Antiques Mysteries Series?

JC: Thank you. My first novel was a private eye novel that didn’t sell. In one of the rejection letters sent to my agent, an editor said the plot wasn’t fully formed, the narrative was messed up and the characters were mushy. But he felt I could write.  He added that if the author was interested, he was looking for a female amateur sleuth, not in New York. I had my sleuth, Josie and added the antiques business, so she has an organic reason to go out and do what she’s doing. I also created an ensemble cast of characters in her company.

I’d owned a rare book store for a while. I decided to broaden that scope to antiques. I wanted a character who found it hard to fit in. I also wanted rugged territory for my character to have to deal with, so I chose New Hampshire. It’s a sweet and decent place that people want to come back to.

I knew there would be a pivotal antique in each book.  I’d just read about Elizabeth Taylor being sued over a Renoir she was selling that was allegedly stolen by the Nazis. That ended up being not true, but it got me thinking. I was so naive that I had no idea about Nazi art theft. I did some research and the plot grew from there.

JB: You mentioned that you love being with your character, Josie. What do you like best about her?

JC: I like a lot of things about Josie. I like that she’s quaking on the inside but no one knows that about her. She doesn’t believe it’s in her best interest to show that vulnerability. I like that she’s one hundred percent ethical. She’s her own guiding compass. She has absolutely no desire to go to the dark side. She does the right thing always and only. She doesn’t try to convert anyone to her point of view, but she is very aware of situations that present themselves and she will walk away when necessary.

JB: Which book did you like writing the most?

JC: The first book because there is no moment like selling your first novel. I asked my agent to show the first few chapters of Consigned to Death to the editor to see if I was on the right track. He said yes. I finished the book in about eight months. They liked it, and it sold in a week as part of a three book deal.

I learned from the editor what my potential readers wanted. I listened very closely and didn’t try to persuade readers to like something else. I latched onto what the editor said readers wanted.

JB: Which book do you think readers connected with the most?

JC: Readers loved Deadly Threads. It was number five in the series. There are a lot of people who love vintage clothing. People love fashion. I have several designers from back in the day that I talked about. People liked that.  I introduced, Hank, the cat in that novel. I was very leery about bringing a cat to the series. I try to be a serious literary writer. I get reviewed as erudite. I don’t set out to write fluff, but I was told that people who read this type of story like cats. I like cats. Now Josie has two of them.

JB: What do you see in the future for Josie?

JC: Josie will be making another appearance in Antique Blues which will be out in April 2018.

JB: You’re being nominated for an Agatha award for your new book, Mastering Suspense, Structure and Plot. Why did you want to write a non-fiction book?

JC: I’ve written four non-fiction books. I’d written three of them when I was a business trainer so I knew what it entailed. I like speaking at writing conferences. My sessions were popular at the Writer’s Digest Conference, so the publisher asked me to do something on suspense, plot and structure. I was also up for tenure at Lehman College, part of the City University of New York.  I figured a non-fiction book would help in that respect. I was flattered to be asked, so I said yes.

JB: What type of writing schedule do you keep?

JC: If I’m not writing, I think about my current work in progress or ideas for a new novel all the time. If I’m not physically at a computer, I review TRD’s which are the plot twists, reversals and moments of heightened danger I talk about in the book. It’s how you control the pace of your novel.

JB: We’re a critique group, do you participate in one?

JC: No. Not my style. I’m a loner, a recluse. I’m not shy, but I like to work on my own. A critique group is a good way for writers to get feedback. I think that there can be pitfalls if you’re not in the right group. What if a person offering critique doesn’t like your topic or your voice? I was fortunate to be in a financial position where I could hire private editors, so I didn’t work with a critique group at all. It’s important to learn whatever you can about craft. There are so many things you can learn about the craft of writing at conferences. That’s why I like Sleuthfest it offers deep educational opportunities.

JB: Thanks, Jane for joining the Tuesday Writers and good luck with the Agatha award!

JC: My pleasure. Your readers can find me at www.janecleland.com or on Twitter @janekcleland