Mystery author Joyce Strand – much like her fictional character, Jillian Hillcrest – served as head of corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder.
Rather, she focused on publicizing her companies and their products. Joyce received her Ph.D. from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA. She currently lives in Southern California with her two cats, a collection of cow statuary and art, and her muse, the roadrunner.
Today she joins me as part of the First Love Blog Hop and Giveaway to discuss her novel, OPEN MEETINGS.
OPEN MEETINGS is a mystery with some suspense. Silicon Valley PR Executive Jillian Hillcrest joins a local reporter to investigate small-town police in California wine country following the suspicious death of an informant. The crime itself is drawn from a real California case in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is the second book in the Jillian Hillcrest mystery series.
2. Is there a message in your book that you want your readers to grasp?
Basically, I want my readers to enjoy solving the puzzle and frolicking with the characters. However, I also try to inform readers. In the case of OPEN MEETINGS, I expose corruption in city governments.
3. If Oprah invited you onto her show to talk about your book, what would the theme of the show be?
Oprah would most likely want to discuss the issues of city government – corruption on the negative side and applause on the positive. The title, OPEN MEETINGS, is based on the California Brown Act that guarantees citizens’ rights to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies. As part of her responsibilities as a PR executive, Jillian works with local communities as a representative of her company. She is drawn into this corruption as part of her community relations duties.
4. How much of the book is based on real life (either yours or someone you know)?
In OPEN MEETINGS, the crime itself is based on an ongoing case involving a network of criminal ex- and current police in a town east of San Francisco. However, I hasten to say that I fictionalized the situation. No murders have been attributed to this group. For characters and backstory, I drew upon my experiences as a PR professional in Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Again, I hasten to add – ALL of the characters are fictional. Jillian Hillcrest is tall, slender, attractive, smart, successful – all the things I wish I were!
5. How did you get the idea for the novel?
Specifically, I got the idea for OPEN MEETINGS from news articles about crimes committed in a San Francisco East Bay city. Jillian’s role as a PR Executive enabled me to connect her to these crimes through her community relations responsibilities. Once I had established the theme, I searched for other community issues to fill the story.
6. Which came first, the title or the novel?
Once I selected the theme of corrupt city governments, I quickly chose the title OPEN MEETINGS, given that the California Brown Act stipulates citizens have the right to attend and participate in meetings of local governing bodies. So the theme came first, and then the title…then my characters helped fill in the pages.
7. What inspired you to write your first book?
Hunger! Well, I was out of a job and hadn’t found one after a year of searching. I had always been a writer. In school, I chose essay questions over multiple choice. I consider my first book my doctoral dissertation. Throughout my career I drafted hundreds of press releases and so many other documents. I always found writing therapeutic. I loved reading mysteries, so I decided to write mysteries. I also quickly discovered that just because you write a book, it doesn’t mean you’ll eat better!
8. Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a writer from then to now?
Oh, my! There are so many things I’ve learned. A few are:
- More dialogue, less description. This message came loud and clear from my editor.
- Ease revealing characters’ traits to readers. They don’t need to become acquainted all at once.
- Assure that each chapter moves plot along – not just for red herrings.
9. Considering a book from the first word you write to the moment you see it on a bookstore shelf, what’s your favorite part of the process? What’s your least favorite?
I must admit that I enjoy the entire process. I love writing the book, and I enjoy rewriting it many times. I welcome my editors’ (I have both friends and professionals) suggestions because they all improve the books. I have the most difficulty writing the conclusion. I have the most fun conceiving the plot.
I even like marketing it.
What I don’t enjoy are poor sales!!!!
10. What genre have you not yet written but really want to try?
I really want to write historical mysteries. After I publish the third Jillian Hillcrest mystery, I plan to write about a judge in the early 1940s in California, based on an unpublished memoir of the grandfather of a friend. I am very excited about it. I am trying to envision a world at war, coming out of a depression…and a judge solving a case with no cell phone.
11. What’s up next for you?
I am currently writing the third Jillian Hillcrest mystery, FAIR DISCLOSURE. Having survived the predicaments of the first two novels, Jillian encounters insider trading, murder, and her ex-husband Chad closer to home. It is based on the insider trading cases and expert networking firms prevalent in the news in the past few years. I plan to publish it mid-2013.
12. Is there anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I would encourage all readers—if they like a book—to write reviews. This helps other readers to choose, and it gives the writer perspective on what readers like.
Jillian Hillcrest returns as a PR Executive to join with a local Silicon Valley reporter, who is uneasy about the supposed DUI death of an informant. He solicits Jillian’s help, along with that of her neighbor – a retired police officer – to look into events in his hometown north of the Napa/Sonoma wine country. Jillian’s ex-husband grows more and more certain he wants to remarry her. OPEN MEETINGS was inspired by a network of criminal ex- and current police officers in the broader San Francisco Bay Area.
Book trailer (ON MESSAGE): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEf-FXjO1y4&feature=youtu.be
Purchase sites – Amazon.com