A nosy-Parker is the cherry cheesecake no reader can resist. An everyday hero that can’t mind her or his business is a scrumptious read. One such hero is Regan McHenry, a real estate agent in Santa Cruz, California.
Ever curious, Regan often asks too many questions. In ‘Death Contingency,’ she knows the villain, but wonders why the murders happened. This mystery has the ‘why do it’ style of the television show, ‘Columbo.’
‘Backyard Bones’ is a more conventional ‘who done it.’ ‘Buying Murder’ is a cold case ripe for solving, as it relies on wobbly memories and flouted clues. ‘Widow’s Walk League,’ is a ‘Who did what, when, where and why,’ liberally seasoned with well-research details and good humour.
Regan McHenry mysteries are awash in red herrings, flimsy excuses and vexing, though probable, twists. Readers may think they found a new Raymond Chandler novel, when key clues recur, as the mystery seems solved. Jarvis takes impious pleasure in reminding readers they overlooked a strategic clue.
Nancy Lynn Jarvis created Regan McHenry much in her own image, as Robert B Parker created ‘Spencer’ and Dashiell Hammett created the ‘Continental Op.’ Regan is a fit, middle-aged real estate agent. She has two adult sons and a great marriage. She’s independent and intelligent, a university graduate. She has too much energy. She belongs to the church of Get Over It. She notices what others don’t. She asks why and how, when others say, ‘Huh?’
‘Mags and the AARP Gang’ is a cops and robbers crime novel, with a huge twist, that doesn’t involve Regan. Jarvis presents a gang of conventional elderly women and men led by Mags. They scheme to rob a local bank to save the trailer park where they live, using the elderly stereotype to their advantage. Feeling compelled to fess up, Mags confesses. She decides on a jury trial. The jury acquits Mags, arguing no elderly woman could pull-off such a crime.
Nancy Lynn Jarvis sees her writing as an echo of herself. We admire a humorous writer that willingly lets her native optimism leak profusely. In no way, do such leaks weaken the seriousness of her themes: family, love and, above all, curiosity.
Nancy Lynn Jarvis does not write for lobotomised seekers of zombies or vampires. Her mysteries aren’t done-on-purpose, for a buck, as D H Lawrence accursed James Joyce for doing. Readers recognise Jarvis characters as neighbours or co-workers and she writes fun, for fun.
Nancy Lynn Jarvis gives her readers much. She provides pleasure, company and comfort. Fast-ageing Baby Boomers love how 83-year-old Mags outwits ‘The System,’ hoping they will too.
Nancy Lynn Jarvis gets her strength from love and work. Sigmund Freud said, ‘There is love and there is work.’ Susan Sontag said she got her strength from ‘Being in love and work.
In this exclusive interview, Nancy Lynn Jarvis talks about writing. How her mysteries challenge and beguile readers. How her writing embraces readers and, in turn, how she believes the reader embraces her writing.
Grub Street (GS) You finished a draft of a new book.
Nancy Lynn Jarvis (NLJ) Yes, finally, a new book is moving briskly toward completion and will likely publish by February 2014. Normally, I have an outline and a timeline; both are loose, but critical. This time, the outline and timeline were not as complete as usual.
My writing became a little tangled and complicated. Writing this book, I started and stopped many times. Usually, I write steadily, so this book, written here and there, came about in a different way for me; sputtering, if you like.
When I finished the first draft of the new book, I wondered if it made sense. Before turning the draft it over to my husband, Craig, for the first editorial pass, I wanted to make sure everything was consistent. I started reading one section and realised it wasn’t right.
I figured out how to fix this section and did this morning. Your call comes at the right time. I needed a break from writing.
GS What can you reveal about the new book?
NLJ It’s a new entry in the Regan McHenry series. I missed Regan, even though I needed some distance from her; as well, I wanted to do “Mags and the AARP Gang.” This time Regan is in a ghost story, tentatively called, “Murder House.”
I think all my books are a little different. The “Death Contingency” is a “Why do it,” not a “Who did it.” “Backyard Bones” is a traditional mystery, with many red herrings, many breakable alibis, many plot twists and so forth. “Buying Murder” is a cold case ripe for solving.
I don’t know how to classify “Widow’s Walk League.” I suppose it’s a “Who did, when, where and why,” again, with many red herrings. There’s more humour in “Widow’s Walk” than in any of my other books, except “Mags and the AARP Gang.”
For the new book, I wanted to write a little real estate ghost story. California is a litigious state. There are many reasons to sue after buying a house, maybe even ghosts.
Real estate agents, in California, must be careful. There’s page after page after page of disclosure statements clients must fill out and sign. Real estate agents advise buyers about disclosure. Everyone signs everything.
Disclosure decisions are endless. Buyers want to know everything about a property before they buy. Sellers don’t want to give buyers a chance to say, “You didn’t tell me there was a material fact, such a death in the house. If I had known, I wouldn’t have bought the house.”
Many buyers will not buy a property where there’s been a death. There are deep concerns, among some Asians buyers, for example, about living in a house where someone died. In California, for three years after a death, even if it was someone, 99-years-old, that passed due to natural causes, we must disclose the in-house death. If the house is notorious for a murder, suicide or, heaven forbid, multiple murders, especially if unsolved, complete disclosure is a big must.
For “Murder House,” the new book, I wanted to play with the idea of what happens when neighbours believe there’s a ghost in a house that’s up for sale. Is disclosure necessary? What happens if the seller doesn’t disclosure a ghostly resident?
I wanted to take disclosure a bit farther. What happens if there's a murder in a house and the neightbours say they see ghosts? Does it require disclosure?
I wanted to take disclosure a bit farther. What happens if there’s a murder in a house and the neighbours say they see ghosts. I don’t believe in ghosts, but that’s what the neighbours say. Is it a pseudo-fact, but does it require disclosure?
Every community has a house little children avoid or walk around because they fear for their safety. For this book, I suggest a brutal double murder took place, in the house, twenty years before the story starts. I thought it would be fun to write “Murder House.”
GS Was the murder solved.
NLJ Officially, there was no solution for the crime. Still, the neighbours are sure they know what happened. In fact, they are right about what happened.
The ostensible murderer went into hiding, becoming invisible. His son, now an adult, wants to sell house because needs the money. A resident ghost may bring a fair price for the house down, way down.
Supposedly, when he was a child, the son found the body of his mother, the victim of his father, as well as a real estate agent also murderer by his father; he blocked both murders from his memory. The house sat empty for years. It fell into great disrepair.
The son has spent much money to fix up the house; in fact, he overspent. The son is living in the house, as it tries to sell it. Now, he’s seeing spirits, which make him uncomfortable.
The son thought he was going to get a good price for this house, buy another property and pay off his debts. Now, he discovers notoriety makes the house worth far less than he hoped. He hires Regan to sell the house because she’s had some experience with murder.
Regan devises an unusual marketing plan. She plays up the history of the house. She finds a buyer.
It’s complicated. Nothing is straightforward. Rather than more murders, Regan uncovers more murderers. “Murder House” becomes a ghost story.
The unravelling comes in a speech, given by Regan, at the California Association of Realtors Expo. Her topic is “Selling Haunted Houses.” There’s a large audience for her talk.
Regan asks the audience, “Well, what would you do?” If you don’t believe in ghosts would you disclose what the neighbours believe? If you believe in ghosts, would you take the listing? It’s a fine mess, where science, religion and personal belief clash loudly and often.
Finally, someone in the audience asks Regan, “Do you believe in ghosts?” Another audience member asks, “How she handled the listing.” Her response is as ambiguous as she feels about the matter. The ending, I think, is funny.
GS Do you have a personal ghost story?
NLJ Twenty-five years ago, before I moved into the house where I now live, I lived elsewhere in Santa Cruz. I was aware families had always lived in the house and the man always left or passed away. Not long after moving into that house, my husband left me. I was alone with two little boys.
There was a small, enclosed place in-house. It wasn’t a crawl space or attic, merely a small area where six-year-olds might play. My youngest son, AJ, and his best friend, Danny, who lived next door, always talked about seeing a ghost in that space.
I thought the ghost was imaginary. A make-believe friend, made up by children at play. That’s where I left it.
When I met my current husband, we decided to get a house together. We put the house where I was living on the market. Routinely, I had the house inspected.
The inspector came down, out of that small area; he was Caspar white. “There are bare electrical wires going through some insulation, in there,” he said. “I don’t know why this house hasn’t caught fired. Somebody was taking care of you; probably the guy I saw, once in a while, up in there.”
I asked the inspector to describe what he saw. He said, “Well it was weird. I couldn’t see anything straight on, but out of the corner of my eye, every so often, I’d catch sight of what I thought was a man. He had dark hair and a moustache.
“It wasn’t real,” he said. “Shadows and light can play tricks.” I wondered.
When my son, AJ, was much older, I mentioned the story and asked him about the ghost in our old home. He said, “He was a ghost, of a sort, with a big busy moustache.” I wondered.
As well, as a real estate agent, I had the experience of walking into a house only to confront a chilling sensation that made me want to get out, fast. Some houses are warm and inviting, a few are bones cold. Every real estate agent I know had a similar experience. Still, I wonder.
Those experiences were the impetus for “Murder House.”
GS “Death Contingency” was your first book.
NLJ Yes, but “Backyard Bones,” my second, was the book I wanted to write. “Death Contingency” was an experiment, of sorts. I needed to see if I could write a full-length book. I stole, heavily, from people I knew, in my life. I think there’s too much real estate in book for most readers.
GS Do you have a real estate philosophy that might seep into your mysteries.
NLJ On 5 May 2013, its twenty-fifth anniversary, I let my license lapse. Now, I share my opinions about real estate and watch my husband, Craig, gasp. Licensed agents can get into trouble for sharing too much information; as I no longer have a license, I’m free to say what I wish.
When I was a licensed real estate agent, I worked with all manner of women and men, buyers, sellers and agents. Some were pleasant, others weren’t. One day I said, “I’m going to cut out the latter clients and work harder those that appreciate my effort.
When I met new clients, we discussed the ground rules. I explained if they can’t commit, we couldn’t work together effectively. If they couldn’t treat me the way they expected me to treat them, there was no need for a second meeting. I never heard from some potential clients, again.
I worked hard for my clients. Most appreciate it.
It took a long-time for my business to get going. Once it did, I didn’t have to work hard finding new clients. Mostly, my clients were repeat customers or referrals.
My clients were the right type, the ones I could work with, effectively. I made many wonderful friends, as a real estate agent. I am still in contact with most and I adore them. It worked out, well.
GS The real estate information you provide is always interesting. There are good lessons about buying or selling property in “Death Contingency.” The book is entertaining and useful.
NLJ I think the first third of the “Death Contingency” is slow. This is partly because it’s all new to the protagonist, Regan, and new to me. I was trying to figure out how to do it.
I didn’t know much about pacing. As I learned, the stride of my writing picked up, as did the action. I’m pleased with the end of “Death Contingency”; that book has my favourite character, Mrs Rosemont.
GS “Death Contingency” was a learning experience.
NLJ Yes, but “Backyard Bones,” my second book, is a more traditional mystery. It has many plot twists that I enjoyed devising. It also has less about real estate and more about murder.
In “Death Contingency,” the reader knows, early on, who did it. It was much more of a “Why did they do it” story. There doesn’t seem a logical reason for why the murders happened in “Contingency,” until the end.
GS The motivation, of the murderer in “Death Contingency,” isn’t what we expect in North America.
NLJ That may be true. “Backyard Bones” is more conventional motivation. I had so much fun with “Bones.” Every time reader gets to a point where she or he thinks they have it figured out, I added a twist. It was fun to throw in so many red herrings and twists.
GS “Death Contingency” is a “Colombo” style of mystery.
NLJ Yes, I think so. The reader knows the murderer. No character believed it, except Regan McHenry, the protagonist. She didn’t want to be right.
The murderer was a friend of Regan. She did not want that to be true, until Mrs Rosemont became a victim, too. Then, it was, solve this mystery, now.
GS Mrs Rosemont is a sharp, spunky character.
NLJ The police thought Mrs Rosemont died accidentally. Regan realised it wasn’t an accident. This gave me the opportunity to develop her morality, which pushes her in future instalments of the Regan McHenry series.
GS How do you come to understand your characters and their motivations?
NLJ Before I start writing, I develop a reasonably full profile of the characters, even some of the minor ones. I need to know the characters, well, to understand what they do or don’t do; might do or might not do. I need to know about their lives, their past, their families, what drives them and so forth. This is how I understand what they do, how and why.
Developing the profiles, for “Backyard Bones,” was fun, as there are many possible murderers. Many characters resented the victim, Julien Rochette. Originally, I decided the culprit would be one of two characters, a husband or his wife. Unfortunately, their alibis supported one another.
The characters, I created, tricked me. I thought I could get roughly halfway through the book before the characters would play out the storyline for me. When I reached that point, roughly halfway through “Backyard Bones,” it was clear neither of my prime suspects were guilty. Events didn’t happen as I planned.
When I needed to figure out who might be the murderer, the characters were no help. I decided who did what and who didn’t. I thought I would go back to put all the clues in the right places. When I went back, the clues I thought necessary were already in place.
That was a fun experience. The murderer dropped clues I hadn’t notice. My subconscious was way ahead of me in “Backyard Bones.”
GS On some level, the murderer was one-step ahead of you, as he or she was with Regan.
NLJ Yes, in “Backyard Bones,” I was playing Nancy Drew. In those books for children, Drew was forever getting into horrible circumstances. She’s often bound and gagged, waiting for whatever to happen.
GS Reinforcing the notion women are helpless.
NLJ Well, maybe, but I wanted Regan to feel she knew what she was doing. She was in charge. Yes, in fact, the murderer manipulated her in “Backyard Bones,” but she eventually won.
In “Death Contingency,” Regan kept thinking, “Oh this can’t be happening.” “I don’t trust my instincts.” In “Backyard Bones,” she’s experienced, but doesn’t figure it out until it was almost too late.
GS This reminds me of Raymond Chandler: start writing, with a general idea, and let it happen.
NLJ Yes, around the time I began writing, even before “Death Contingency,” I spoke with a more experienced writer. He said sometimes he would go sit by the ocean and let his characters talk to him. I thought he was certifiable.
Now, I find my characters tell me a great deal. As carefully as I figure out my characters, I still don’t know them as well as they know themselves. They advise me, let me in on personality traits, as I write, tell me secrets.
As I said, I do start with an outline. I think know what’s going to happen. Still, some of my story outlines are more open than are others. I learned to let the characters change the storyline a little or a lot, as we go; in a way, it’s up to them.
In the third book, “Buying Murder,” the outline for a chapter was “Regan knocks on Isabelle’s door and Isabelle opens the door.” I knew what I needed do, with this chapter, but no idea, at all, how I would write it to make it work.
I sat back, watching the characters talk to one another. The characters directed how the chapter unfolded. The first question from Isabelle, her opening line to Regan, surprised me.
I didn’t plan Isabelle as tough a character. It turned out she was as tough as nails. It’s fun for me to let the characters to play out the mystery.
GS You see the story for the first time as the characters play it out
NLJ Exactly, I wake up in the morning and sit at the computer. If I’m ready to write, I’m excited. It’s as if I’m reading the book it, as it unfolds; reading it for the first time.
I experience the story for the first time. I learn as it goes. That is a big part of writing to entertain: entertained as I write.
GS It’s effective.
NLJ I always get a kick out of people who blog comments such as, “Obviously, this is what you were thinking.” No, not necessarily, not even often: mostly, these people get it wrong. I wonder if these same readers know what Shakespeare was thinking, what he was trying to do.
GS He was trying to make a buck.
NLJ That’s exactly the point, mystery writers, fiction writers of every ilk, want to make money by entertaining readers.
GS Do you have any rules for building your characters.
NLJ Can you define rules?
GS What a character might and might not do.
NLJ Ah, yes, that’s the profiles. I know my characters. They talk to me. They lead me. They engage each other. I know them because I have done a reasonably deep profile for each one of them.
I think I know what each character can do as well as what they can’t do. They can say or stupid, at times. I know why and how they might do or say something.
Yes, the characters are consistent. I know what’s morally okay for each character to think or do and what’s not; at least, I do hope I know. Sometimes, a character surprises me.
GS What’s an example of a character rule for you?
NLJ In “Widow’s Walk League,” Olive put her foot in it, often. On Halloween, she acted on a suggestion, made by the villain, to dress as the Grim Reaper and hand out pieces of paper with a “time of death,” written on it. Thus, many characters believed she was the murderer because she played this elaborate Halloween prank.
Olive was gullible. She was always getting herself in messes. She should have been more cautious, but it wasn’t in her nature.
She should have realised how certain disclosures she made came across, but she didn’t. That’s Olive. She got away with many missteps other characters could not.
The murderer, on the other hand, was manipulative, secretive and callous. On a second read of “Widow’s Walk,” these traits stand out in the villain, from the first. Olive stands out as the puppet of the villain.
GS In, “Mags and the AARP Gang,” Batty Betty lets the caper out of the bag, but no one believes her.
NLJ Alzheimer’s is developing in Betty. All the characters know about her cognitive decline. She has lost some cognitive ability. She screams a great deal. She’s forgetful. Still, she knows all that’s going on. She also is someone who speaks the truth, only the truth, always.
Betty serves Mags, well. No one believes Betty. She remembers, but attaches equal importance to most everything; she doesn’t rank-order information. She knows about the robbery, but it doesn’t strike her as any more important than the weather.
“Mags and the AARP Gang” was the most fun to write. It popped out of the end of my fingers into a computer file. “Mags” may be my best book so far.
GS Going back to “Widow’s Walk League,” there seems more plotting and planning in it than in your earlier books.
NLJ I would say no more or less research for “Widow’s Walk,” than for the previous books. I interviewed several people for “Widow’s Walk.” These interviews provided many details. This may give a sense of more plotting and planning.
GS You find experts to interview.
NLJ Yes, if I need some specific information, I find someone who has the answers. It’s not difficult to find experts to talk freely: I always give full credit to those who help with my books.
In “Widow’s Walk League,” I had questions about how to kill someone, in public. A nurse, working at Dominican Hospital, in Santa Cruz, California, helped me make my idea work. I asked other workers at the hospital if anyone ever accidentally forgot to store and lock pain medication. Did the medication ever disappear and, if so, how? I asked about the access hospital volunteers might have to medication, surgical instruments and patients. The answers they gave me made the murder believable.
GS This information was important for the story, as I recall.
NLJ Yes, with such expert help, I built a murder in public, in a likely way. Of course, I take liberties and mess with my research findings. I am writing fiction, but mostly I try to stick to the facts.
My research works. I strive to interview experts, both women and men as they can correctly answer the same question in different ways. They confirm what I’m writing; the action, the settings and the circumstances of the mysteries are reasonable. The car rolling to the ocean during “Woodies on the Wharf,” in “Widow’s Walk League,” is one example.
GS The devil is in the details.
NLJ If a writer doesn’t check details it sets off bells and whistles. A writer I know sent me a draft of his new book to read. At roughly page thirty, of a story revolving around a skeleton, he has a coroner say, “Well, given the narrow pelvis, we know it’s a woman.”
GS He didn't check his details closely enough.
NLJ Of course, that was wrong, of course. I e-mailed him about the error. “Too late, he said, “the book has printed.”
Now, his readers can’t rely on the information in his books. Sure, the story is fiction, but a narrow-hipped skeleton defined as a woman, by a coroner, no less, is too much of a fiction. Some guffaws won’t fly, but stay with the writer forever.
Readers enjoy reliable analysis and asides. Mixing fiction with fact is a much better read. What’s doubly interesting is this writer, I just mentioned, was a journalist, a sports writer, no less, before he turned to novels. He should know to double check facts.
GS Readers need to trust writers of fiction as well as fact.
NLJ You’re right. I think good fiction can take the reader in, slightly. I think of “Christine,” an early book by Stephen King. He starts out simply, logically and he makes you buy one tiny part, at a time.
Once you accept one premise, he moves you to the next. King keeps moving the reader up, until she or he is in a scary world. It’s terrifying. He led the reader to a world of horror, one small step at a time.
GS Only King can set the reader free.
NLJ The Harry Potter books move, similarly, but in the opposite direction. You honestly believe that world exists. King and Rowling set up the reader, letting them fall into a creation: for me, that’s the mark of a great writer.
GS Other than interviews, how much research do you do for a book or is that proprietary information?
NLJ I don’t consider how I research a book proprietary. It is fun and not necessarily the same for each book. There are likenesses in how I research my books, but the result is always different.
I research the tiniest details of these books. I want accuracy for all the subplots, all the asides. Sometimes, I write a few paragraphs about why whatever works, say, jigging with a car transmission in a way that makes it roll backwards. That information I got from the President of the Woodies Club, in Santa Cruz.
When I was writing “Widows Walk League,” I wanted to pull off, credibly, the scene where the car rolls off the wharf. “Woodies on the Wharf” is an annual event in Santa Cruz, as described in the book. I didn’t know if the scenario I wanted to write was possible. Was it feasible?
I contacted Warren Atwood, president of the local Woodies Club. Once he realised I wasn’t a crazy person, he got into it as much as did I. We met for coffee.
Atwood told me exactly how what I wanted could happen. He drew diagrams. How someone, in fact, could change the transmission. He even suggested the best year and model of car for me to use.
GS Editing is an obstacle for many writers, new or experienced.
NLJ I can’t edit my books. I try. I try hard to edit each of my books, before anyone else reads it, with little luck.
I think I fix everything. I don’t see what’s wrong. I miss a great deal.
My husband, Craig, reads each of my books, first. He’s a remarkable editor. He does the first editing and usually finds many inconsistencies.
Then, I give the book to my actor son. He’s written plays. He edits my books for details my husband wouldn’t necessarily pick up. My son is also good at finding inconsistencies.
Finally, I have an editor who, in fact, once earned her living editing.
GS How do you feel after someone reads your draft?
NLJ The first time I gave someone a manuscript to read, I was a basket case. I wanted to kill them, when they reported on what needed fixing. How could they find so many errors, when I wrote a perfect manuscript?
“How dare you attack my baby,” I thought and likely said, aloud, many times. I learned. I now realise what I write is never perfect.
I saw Doris Kerns Goodwin on a Charlie Rose show. She writes political and historical biographies. I enjoy reading her books a great deal, maybe more than I enjoy fiction.
Goodwin worked with the same editor for twenty or more years. She trusts her editor, without question. Still, before she sends the editor a manuscript, she makes her husband, Richard Goodwin, read it. He was a speech-writer for John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, among others.
Doris Goodwin said, “I have turned out my chapter and it’s perfect. It’s wonderful. I am so brilliant. I have managed to say something exactly the way I wanted to say it.
“I give it to my husband to read. I have a broad smile on my face. He reads it and says. “What did you mean here?’ I say, ‘How dare he ask that? It’s obvious what I meant.’”
Her reaction could be word for word for my reaction when Craig hands back a manuscript. There a too many run on sentences, he says; you have too many verbs or adjectives, your paragraphs are too long. It does sound familiar to me, as those are my great problems when I write.
GS Finding an editor is difficult.
NLJ It’s not easy, unless you’re lucky. Editing a novel is different from editing a report, but some that call themselves editors don’t know the difference. Copy-editing is different from developmental editing, too.
A copy editor finds typos and grammatical errors. A developmental editor can tell you if a paragraph works or a character is lacking depth or motivation. A writer needs to know, before, what editing his or her work needs.
I hear stories about writers paying thousands of dollars to an editor, with horrible results. No one will publish that edited manuscript. The writer is out of luck.
GS How do you write?
NLJ I don’t have any rituals. I understand some writers need to make coffee, pour it into a specific cup, not trip over the cat on the way to the computer and so forth. That’s not me.
I do prefer writing in the morning. I get up before my husband and write. I need quiet to write. I write before there are distractions.
I think of what I’m writing, night and day. It gets under my skin. Writing can seem an endless torment, although it’s not.
Writing can make me a dangerous driver. I often run dialogue in the car, against the boom of the traffic. Thankfully, I live in the country, where the roads are not as busy.
It’s about a 15-minute drive from Santa Cruz to the turn off for our house; much of it is empty road. It’s relatively safe for me to rehash dialogue as I drive. I may be a hazard to deer, though.
I confess I sometimes find myself on one side of town, with no idea how I got there, having started on the other side, heading for some place in the middle. I think so much about writing, I drive on autopilot.
When I begin a new book, such as “Murder House,” most any distraction takes me away from writing. As I gain more experience writing or with a specific manuscript, I find I write most anywhere. This depends where I am in the story and how well my characters are developing or taking over and so forth.
Deep in the middle of the mystery, trying, say, to solve a locked-room riddle, I write with heightened concentration. Nothing bothers me. Trapped in the story, I ignore all that goes on around me.
Until this new book, “Murder House,” where the story has messed up, my discipline was good. I would write every day, for a few hours, and stop. For the new book, it is catch as catch can, a paragraph here, a sentence there.
GS Maybe you’ve developed your skills to a point where you can write catch as catch can.
NLJ Maybe, I don’t think it’s as much fun writing that way. It’s interesting to spend extended time with my characters. We talk. They direct me. They talk among themselves. Some characters like each other, whereas some don’t. That’s fun.
GS How do you develop dialogue?
NLJ It gets back to the characters. I know Regan McHenry, well. I sense her dialogue, easily. In some ways, Regan is more of a fly on the wall than she is a major player. The other characters do most of the talking.
Dialogue is easy for me. In public, I sit and listen. In a restaurant, say, I eavesdrop.
I’m one of those writers that listen for little bits or pieces of a conversation, I create a backstory for what’s happening. It’s fun to find a story to fit the conversation: they're on a first, say, and she's not happy.
GS You’re as the James Lear character in “Wonder Boys.”
NLJ Maybe, I think it’s a common experience among writers. We want to transform what we hear into stories. We want to tell the stories and have our version dominate.
My husband is a little hard of hearing, especially in restaurants. He learned, over the years, that I eavesdrop. I’ll say, “They’re on their first date,” “They’re in a fight” or whatever it is.
GS Sunday brunch-time is great at Starbucks, that’s when the online contacts meet for the first time.
NLJ I listen to women and men in conversation and my mind goes off. When I write, the characters do the talking. I only write it down. If it sounds natural, that’s why my characters talk with one another, not with me.
GS The same skill likely helps in real estate.
NLJ It does. I listened. Something I learned, as a real estate agent, was to listen, closely, to my clients. Many real estate agents try to sell. That’s what they believe is necessary.
I approached real estate as a detective. Listen to what your clients say. They may not say exactly what they intend to say; tone and inflection provide subtle hints. No matter what they say about what they need in a home, they’re telling you a lot about themselves. They’re telling you what they need or want.
Find what they want and you won’t have to sell them anything. This thrills them and they buy. They’ll refer you to other people. They’ll say you’re a good real estate agent because you did what they wanted, without them thinking they told you. I preferred working with buyers rather than sellers because it’s a detective game.
GS You discover what they want or need even though they can’t express it.
NLJ Yes, Regan, in a way, is good at finding what goes unsaid. She listens to her clients or to what’s going on as a way to solve a mystery. In real estate, buyers give agents information they wouldn’t share with most other people. I don’t know why.
GS Buying and selling real estate is stressful.
NLJ Yes, real estate ranks with death of a spouse for stress, even when it’s a positive experience. When someone’s moving to a new house, they’re excited, but under much stress. It’s the major lifetime investment for most people.
GS There’s much buyer’s remorse.
NLJ To ease the stress, they unload all manner of information. One of the talents for a good real estate agent is the role of a listener, let clients talk. If you listen to them and try to hear what they’re saying, it helps you, it them, it makes your job easier.
I tried to translate what I heard, as a real estate agent, into what Regan does in the books.
GS You prefer not to use the standard Elmo Leonard dialogue tags, “He said.” “She said.”
NLJ I find the repetitiveness distracting, after a while. I would rather do it in some other way, if I can. I would rather try to mix my writing up, a little bit.
GS Leonard thought that, after a while, readers didn’t see those words.
NLJ That’s not true for me. I bet it is true for most readers, though.
GS It’s probably true for the overall style of writing. Not everyone writes the same, thankfully.
NLJ Yes, it worked for Elmo Leonard. He created wonderful books, well written, without a flaw. That’s not how it would work for me.
GS Do you use or try to use action tags, what Elmo Leonard described as adverbs to dialogue tags, such as “He said, excitedly”?
NLJ I use action tags if there are more than two characters in the scene. I use action tags as a way to keep track of whose speaking. I don’t want to say, “Tom said,” and then, “Dick said,” and then, “Harry said” or whatever it is. I try to use action tags here and there, as a way of identifying the character that’s speaking: “Tom cautioned,” “Dick grumbled” or “Harry lied.”
GS You believe action tags are useful.
NLJ I do. Something I realised, when I read what I write, is Regan often touches people. She’s trying to calm down the speaker. I don’t know where comes from, but she does; for example, “… she said, touch his arming gently.”
Regan tries to soothe other characters, with words, but touches the elbow, of the character, to reinforce her intent. If the scene is happy, Regan may lightly touch the shoulder of another character. She’s good at mixing words and gestures.
GS Do the action tags you use draw from women or men you know.
NLJ Yes, most of my characters begin as women and men I know or have met as well as what I overhear in a restaurant, say. The Dave Everett character, however, stems from a friend.
Everett was a police officer, in San Jose, California. He lost an eye in a shootout, which ended his career. He’s a core character in all the Regan McHenry mysteries.
Regan, as a real estate agent, can’t access information about murders. Dave Everett is her friend. He remained on the police force, despite the career ending injury loss of an eye. He finds a way to let her have the information she needs.
Officially, Everett is the police department ombudsperson. Mostly, he’s nosey and wants to stay in the game, preferably near the centre. He stays on top of big cases.
Everett usually provides Regan with confidential information about a murder. He constantly rolls his eyes, as does the character he’s based on. Sometimes his prosthetic eye doesn’t work. He makes faces to compensate. That’s how he works.
GS I thought the Dave Everett was effective: I can see him making the faces.
NLJ Dave and Regan tease each other, a great deal. Their friendship is a version of the tease friends and taunt enemies. There’s much room to work Regan and Dave.
When I start writing, I need to imagine the characters. I need to hear their dialogue, but I need to see him or her, too. Thus, most of the characters start out as someone I know.
As soon as I start writing, I realise the person I’m thinking of isn’t going to do what the character must do. I start changing names, once I get going, to allow for the action I need.
Dave is Dave. I can’t change his name, although the character is not necessarily my friend Dave.
GS You have some Greek chorus reprises, but you avoid unloading pages of information.
NLJ It depends. I try to avoid dumping. Yet, sometimes I must dump.
In “Buying Murder,” for example, there’s information dumping. I needed to recount a murder from the past. It’s a cold case. Regan needs to fill in the details for other characters in the story.
GS Maybe it’s necessary in “Buying Murder.”
NLJ It was, but I try not to dump too much information. A mystery is about noticing clues and stringing clues together to solve a puzzle. A mystery is not about shovelling information at the reader.
Still, it’s difficult to drop all the information needed to solve the mystery, without a little dumping. In “Buying Murder,” Regan is sure about the murderer. She’s trying to get the person to admit to the crime. She needs to dump some information.
This villain is the closest Regan has to an equal nemesis. The two of them are playing one another, cat and mouse, with more than the usual amount of information dumping, maybe. In this case, dumping worked and was, I think, necessary.
Agatha Christie, my favourite mystery writer, includes all the information you need to solve the mystery early on, sometimes in the first chapter. By the point Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot gather the characters in a drawing room to show why this one could not have murdered the victim, but this one did, the reader knows what’s what.
I try to write in that vein. Readers should be able to solve the mystery before the end, if they’re paying attention. If they can’t, maybe I’ve been too vague.
GS If not tactless to answer, how old is Regan McHenry.
NLJ I think of her as being roughly forty-four years old. In the first book, Regan says she married young, about twenty. She had her two sons right away. Her children are now young adults. The youngest one is roughly twenty years old.
That’s my assumption. She’s roughly middle forties. I wanted her young enough that she was still physically able to run around, but held much wisdom.
GS Regan is younger than is Miss Marple, whom Christie says is elderly.
NLJ Yes, I have a younger Miss Marple in mind when I write Regan McHenry.
GS Is Regan as eccentric as is Miss Marple.
NLJ Maybe not now, but as she ages, she will become increasingly eccentric, I think.
GS Mags and her gang are eccentric.
NLJ For sure, eccentricity sells. It has a quaint charm, of the warm and familiar, if it doesn’t go too far. I like the comparison with Regan, too. If someone reads a Regan McHenry mystery and thinks of Miss Marple, I’m thrilled.
GS The influence of Agatha Christie is definitive in “Mags and the AARP Gang.”
NLJ Yes, that’s so true.
GS In “Mags and the AARP Gang,” you play with the widely held stereotype of the elderly.
NLJ “Mags” works the elderly stereotype. When she needs to be frail, confused or needy, she uses the stereotype to her advantage. In fact, she and the other elderly characters, in the gang, are smart, imaginative, resourceful and brave.
GS To the unknowing reader, “Mags and the AARP Gang,” use the stereotype as cover.
NLJ The elderly often use the stereotype to their advantage. By all rights, the robbery, planned by the gang, should have failed, but didn’t. Many of the younger bank customers and workers thought the bandits masqueraded as elderly to confuse witnesses.
GS When, in fact, the robbers were elderly.
NLJ Yes and several members of the gang were in the bank and overlooked. The stereotype worked in their favour. It’s much as hiding something in plain view.
GS You’re right; thank you, I found my eyeglasses.
NLJ At one point, during the robbery, Mags knocks over two young fellows who are helping her. She doesn’t want them to chase the robbers. The two fellows believe she collapsed on them from fright or fragility.
GS No one in the bank thought Mags could plan and pull off such a robbery.
NLJ That’s right.
GS Everyone fell in line with the stereotype, during the robbery.
NLJ You bet.
GS “Mags and the ASRP Gang” is an enlightening book in a great many ways. Did the plan and plot come to you?
NLJ It did. I didn’t plan and plot “Mags,” it mostly came to me. I listened to Mags; honestly, I did. She told me what happened.
I had no outline. I had no idea where the story was going. Again, I knew there would be a formal charge; Mags would face a jury trial. That was obvious from the first chapter.
I wrote the opening as I waited for jury duty, myself. Bored, I thought, “Well, that’s how it’ll start, Mags in the courtroom.” I was taking notes, watching the courtroom. What does it look? What goes on?
I found the jury selection interesting as well as obvious and appalling. How obvious and appalling was the jury selection. I was waiting for a case involving drugs. The defence used much scientific evidence. The prosecutor dismissed anyone with any scientific background, at all. It was blatant.
That troubled me. I got the sense the prosecution didn’t have a case or, maybe, the defence was right. It wasn’t a reassuring experience.
As I sat, waiting for a call as a potential juror, I did the research for the trail of Mags. I figured out the end of the book before I wrote the beginning. I don’t refuse what I’m handed, although this isn’t my usual way of working.
I knew there would be jury nullification for Mags. She was going to get away with a heist, after a trial. I didn’t want her to spend the rest of her life in jail.
I built much sympathy for Mags. What one character, Harvey, said was true: politics carelessly messed with the ordinary lives of women and men. Mags and the gang pulled off a righteous crime that saved their homes and the homes of their friends.
Yet, it was a crime. Mags couldn’t get away with committing a crime. That would have troubled her too much. She had to have a trial, face a jury.
GS The stereotype comes back into play and bites society in the butt.
NLJ That’s right.
GS Does writing mysteries affect reading mysteries.
NLJ Since I began writing mysteries, I find it easier to figure out what’s what when I read the work of other mystery writers. I know the tricks. I recognise the passing mentions and think, “Oh, that’s a clue.”
To some degree, writing mysteries has destroyed the pleasure of reading mysteries for me. A third of the way through a new mystery, if not before, I usually solve it. This isn’t a criticism of other writers, only a learned skill of mine; I’m sure every mystery writer will tell you much the same.
GS There’s a theory of writing mysteries that suggests the writer provide all that’s needed to solve the mystery in the first chapter.
NLJ I think that’s a good idea. If the reader pays attention, she or he should have a good idea of the solution, early on. You read “Widows Walk League.” Did you know which woman was the murderer on Halloween?
GS No, I thought it was too obvious. You fooled me, putting all I needed to know in the open. It took a long-time for you to convince me a certain character did the deed. That made the book a great read.
NLJ By my way of thinking, the murderer had to have done it. He or she was the only one who was near enough to the victim. How would you explain the blood, for example? There’s a stabbing death, but only the murderer has any blood on her or his clothing, for example, all the other characters are blood free.
GS What authors do you read?
NLJ As I mentioned, my favourite mystery writer is Agatha Christie. I grew up reading Agatha Christie in a wickerwork rocking chair, when I visited my grandmother. My grandmother would let me read her true crime and Agatha Christie books. My parents wouldn’t approve. Today, a little independence and a wise grandmother play in my favour.
I enjoy Tony Hillerman mysteries. During his lifetime, he wrote twenty-nine books, including seventeen mysteries. His books didn’t catch on until “A Thief of Time,” about pilfers of time ravaging sacred ground for profit. I read all that Hillerman wrote. I don’t think his early writing was weak, although some wouldn’t agree with me.
I don’t care for Nora Roberts. She writes what I call bodice-rippers: romance. I don’t enjoy that form of fiction. Roberts has written more than one hundred books, two or three a year. She says her first book published, but her next five or six didn’t. I wonder why.
Her seventh book hit big. She’s never looked back. It’s interesting to me, how people write something, for whatever reason, that catches on. They’re stars even though they’ve been writing for a while.
GS Those writers are ten year overnight successes. I think, now, Roberts likely has a small staff. That’s how she cranks out so many books a year.
NLJ She may. There’s always the theory of the dartboard. Her books are wildly formulaic, as are mysteries. Most novels must be formulaic. There must be a solid a format.
I find it interesting some of the one-time big mystery writers, say, Jim Patterson, no longer write. When you look at their books, it will be their name and someone else, such as Maxine Paetro or Michael Ledwidge. What Patterson does, it seems, is publicity, which has become a big business for some older writers.
GS What do you think about promoting books.
NLJ There’s a dichotomy, my work and me. Speaking in public, as me, is terrifying. If I present as Nancy Lynn Jarvis, the writer of mystery novels, I’m not nervous and it’s difficult to get me to stop talking.
GS Emmett Kelly, the great circus clown that created the character, “Weary Willie,” said much the same. When he applies the make-up, he’s Willie, who is sad and never speaks. When the make-up is off, he’s Emmett Kelly, happy and with much to say.
NLJ Right, normally, I don’t do bookstore readings. The only chapter I can read is the first one. Otherwise, I give away the story and its hook.
Somehow, I discovered the “Senior Centre without Walls.” It’s in the San Francisco area, a church group, in the East Bay area. It’s for people that, for whatever reason, can’t get out in the way they once did, but want to stay connected.
This group has regular conference calls, using Skype. One such call is the “Mystery Spot,” which is usually on Wednesday morning, around 10 am. This call focuses on mystery writers and books.
Rather than go to a senior centre or a book club meeting, it comes to me. I read “Death Contingency” for them, roughly forty-minutes at a time, plus took questions and discussed my work. After a few such readings, my confidence peaked, I acted out some of the characters and my audience grew.
Mrs Rosemont is my favourite character, of all. She's in “Death Contingency.” Once I introduced her, the listeners, on “Mystery Spot,” liked her a great deal. I sold her big-time, on those calls. My audience grew each week. Listeners were telling their friends to join my calls on “Mystery Spot.”
Then, the villain murdered Mrs Rosemont. On the call after the death of Mrs Rosemont, only three people joined; no one asked any questions or talked with me. After two or three weeks, callers trickled back, slowly, and the discussion picked up.
They were upset about what happened to Mrs Rosemont and let me know. How dare I do that to Mrs Rosemont? What was I thinking? Was I thinking? Readers, listeners, become deeply engaged with the characters in books they read or I read to them.
GS That was a great lesson.
NLJ Yes, when I wrote “Death Contingency,” I knew the storyline demanded the murder of Mrs Rosemont. For weeks, I wrote around that event. I was going to be unhappy when it happened; it was almost the last part of the book I wrote. The reaction, of “Mystery Spot” listeners wasn’t unexpected and I was sympathetic.
GS You never do personal appearances.
NLJ Well, sometimes I do, if the appearance is close by. I do not read from any of my books. I ask the audience questions.
I start by asking, “Has anyone ever wanted to write a book?”
The hands fly up.
Then I ask, “Has anyone written a book?”
Most hands vanish from sight.
I ask, “Why, of those who want to write a book, have you not done so?”
There’s mumbling and grumbling before someone asks how I started writing. That’s when I talk about Charlotte Bridges. How she nudged me to publish my first book.
GS Can you tell that story.
NLJ I am undisciplined, as a writer. I started writing as a time-filler and, mostly, maybe, to see if I could. I had a friend, Charlotte Bridges, who always wanted to be a published writer. She took the disciplined route most seriously.
Charlotte probably got up each day, for twenty-five years, and wrote something. Maybe she wrote a paragraph, a page, a chapter. That’s not how she earned her living.
She visited me while I worked on “Death Contingency.” I was having a grand time writing that book. Early one morning, which is when I like to write, Charlotte caught me.
“What are you doing,” she said.
I said, “I’m writing a book.”
She said, “You can’t do that. You must take classes. You have to have a mentor. You need to form a critic circle. You have to suffer for your art.”
I told her what I was doing was not art. It was fun. If it weren’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it.
Charlotte huffed. This was March 2008. She called over Memorial Day weekend, near the end of May, that year. She was in the hospital.
Her diagnosis was a brain tumour. She was dying. There was some time, but not much.
By then, I had finished “Death Contingency.” I had so much fun writing the first book, I started a second, “Backyard Bones,” immediately. The second book is the book I would rather have written first.
“Death Contingency” was sitting on a shelf, gathering dust. I didn’t intend to publish it. When Charlotte told of her illness, my husband and I put together a small publishing company to print one hundred copies of “Death Contingency.”
Starting a new business was not a daunting task. We had been real estate agents. My husband was a computer programmer before that. We always had our own business.
We printed 100 copies of the “Death Contingency.” I dedicated the book to Charlotte. She saw her name in print, not long before she passed away.
GS What is the dedication?
NLJ It reads, “To Charlotte Snowden Bridges, a
much better writer than I will ever be, who was always going to publish when her works were perfect.”
Then, after she passed, we added, “She ran out of time on 1 September 2008. Brain cancer took her life.”
GS That’s fitting.
NLJ Thank you. We added a brief aphorism below the dedication. “Worry less about being perfect than the effects of putting off dreams.”
GS Again, that’s most fitting.
NLJ We self-published “Death Contingency” so Charlotte could see her name in print. That’s why I continue to write, today. “Death Contingency” is my weakest book, unfortunately. It takes time to improve writing skills.
GS Charlotte didn’t leave anything publishable.
NLJ No, she sent writing to us all the time, say, the first chapter of something. I thought she was a good writer. I’ve learned, though, it’s often easier to write a good first chapter than it is to an entire book.
GS Maybe you should publish a collection of her first chapters.
NLJ Charlotte was insecure. Someone would say, “Why are you going in direction? You should be doing this?” She would start over. No, she never did finish anything. What a shame.
GS That’s terrible.
NLJ Charlotte was not alone. Many people start writing and don’t finish. Every boomer has a book waiting to escape through the tips of their fingers.
GS Tim Hallinan, the great writer, said, “Everyone wants to be a writer but they fall into traps and can’t get out.”
NLJ Yes and the dedication in “Death Contingency” is to encourage having less concern about perfection and much more concern about following your dreams. I hope to improve every time I write a book.
At this point, in a personal appearance, I tell the audience I don’t want to hear excuses for not writing, finishing or publishing a book. I worked full-time, as a real estate agent. I raised two sons. I was doing all sorts of jobs as well as writing.
“If you want to write a book,” I say, make time for it. Start, today; remind yourself it’s going to be fun and go from there. I mention Charlotte Bridges, again, briefly, as well as another brief story.
My son, AJ, the musician, was in a popular band. Each summer the band toured. They travelled all over Europe and the United States when he was young.
It wasn’t a big name band. It had a great following, but didn’t make much money. My son and his friends had a wonderful adventure; it was great fun for them.
One summer, the sister, of a band member, died in a fluke accident. She was age 26. The band suspended its tour; they came back because they loved her.
It was the most difficult experience to go to the memorial service; one of her parents fainted. It was ghastly. The band members were reconsidering their lives; having fun, touring in a band, seemed gruesome when someone so close to them died so young.
Amid the self-pity, AJ said to me, “No one knows how long they’ll live or how they’ll go. I could die tomorrow. I want you to know I loved my life. I’m doing what I want to do. That’s what matters.”
GS From the mouths of babes spurts wisdom.
NLJ Yes, I cling to and tightly to what AJ said. Women and men need to have a dream and chase it. I try to spread the message in what AJ, my son, said to me at that funeral.
GS Youthful wisdom too soon lost.
NLJ When I do appear at a bookstore or library, I want to engage potential readers. I can’t give the story away, at an appearance. So, I tell stories.
GS What are good stories for your personal appearances?
NLJ Charlotte Bridges is one. The story about meeting a retired San Jose police officer, who was with my friend, Dave, when he suffered his career-ending injury, is another good one. How, in “Backyard Bones,” one character was different from I thought. These are my best stories for now.
GS Do you have a favourite bookshop or store to appear.
NJL Yes, Bookshop Santa Cruz is my favourite; it’s has been around forever and much beloved, locally. Occasionally, it hosts a panel of authors, including, say, a poet, non-fiction writer and novelist.
Each author has a few minutes, say, fifteen minutes, to talk about his or her recent book. There’s a quick question and answer session at the end of each talk and, again, after we’ve all had our say. Then the participants sign their books and, maybe, chat one-on-one briefly.
At these events, I sell more books than do most other authors. I engage the audience, as I mentioned, rather than talk about my books. Other authors often talk about the content of their books. Discovering my stories means you must buy a book.
What I do is talk with the audience, one-on-one. Other authors often talk to audiences, as a whole. One-on-one, I sell books.
GS Do you find book promotion tedious.
NLJ Book promotion is hard work. I love and hate it. I have met people on line and the phone from all over the world because I promote my books. Whatever I do pays benefits far beyond selling books.
Promotion leads to a special treasure I discovered from writing. I meet people I would never have met in any other way because I promote my books. That part of it I love. Huckstering is not my strength.
I dislike the idea of social media, too. I despise it, in fact. I’m trying to somehow, I don’t know, contact and engage readers, without saying anything about my writing or books. Social media are places for personal hucksterism, which is not for me.
Still, social media are necessary. In the end, I spend half my time writing and half my time promoting. The great fun of writing outweighs the necessary promotion.
GS Well you’re not alone, but not everyone says she or he meets interesting people.
NLJ Oh, no, that’s a reward.
GS You self-publish.
NLJ Yes, my husband and I decided to self-publish when Charlotte Bridges fell ill. We wanted her to see her name in print, in the dedicated. Time was short and self-publishing was the quickest route.
We printed one hundred books. We never expected to sell all those books, but we did. We thought, maybe, the book would sell well in Santa Cruz, given the recognisable locations. We thought, maybe, real estate agents would buy the books to give to clients. It turned out clients bought the books for their real estate agents.
GS Then Amazon came along.
NLJ I posted “Death Contingency,” on Amazon, and it sold well. I began getting notes from people who maybe were real estate agents, saying, “How did you know so-and-so in my office? You described them, as if you knew them.”
GS There must be a universal personality in real estate.
NLJ Do you think so. Someone in the UK read the book and sent a note. “We don’t call them realtors or real estate agents,” he said. “We call them estate agents.”
Readers kept reading. After five books, I’m astounded. Now that everyone connects via social media, self-publishing is worthwhile. Websites, such as Create Space, offer a full range of publishing services, many at no charge.
GS What’s involved in the self-publishing?
NLJ When I start a new book, I aim for a Kindle version. This means I can use an older book as a template. I gut the template and hope it works for the new book. Mostly, it doesn’t, but it’s a starting point.
It takes about four months to write the draft that goes for formal editing. Editing and fixing the manuscript takes three to four months. While the editor does her work, I begin to develop the cover.
I search the web, looking for images I can use or buy. For “Murder House,” I found a photograph, of a woman, before I began writing. The main cover image was thus in place from the start.
Usually, it takes me sixty hours to find and buy the rights to ingredients for a good cover. Then, my husband, Craig, the computer whiz, spends another sixty hours putting the ingredients together. The production, of a well-prepared Kindle version, can be tricky and take several weeks.
Formatting is often slow. For example, some dashes (-) display as ampersands (&) on Kindle. Sometimes the formatting looks great until it’s seen on a Kindle, live, where it displays as a mess.
For one book, we went back-and-forth, with Kindle, trying to fix errors. Twenty-five e-mails, at roughly one e-mail each way, each day. They’d say, “The format looks fine to us”; we’d say, “Look at it on a Kindle, not your computer screen.”
Yet, this is what must do, if you wish to self-publish. Mistakes are what reviewers drill down on. You can fix errors on a Kindle version, but that may mean taking the book offline for a few days or weeks and losing sales; get it right first time.
My books publish in regular and large print versions, on demand, too. Both print formats have problems. Large print is not only a matter of font, but of layout and spacing.
GS I asked for 90 minutes and we just passed an extra hour. Thanks so much for you time and great stories.
NLJ You’re most welcome.
dr george pollard is a Sociometrician and Social Psychologist at Carleton University, in Ottawa, where he currently conducts research and seminars on "Media and Truth," Social Psychology of Pop Culture and Entertainment as well as umbrella repair.
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