My guest today is author Nancy Lynn Jarvis. She’s been a Santa Cruz, California Realtor for almost twenty years. After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, she worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News. A move to Santa Cruz meant a new job as a librarian and later a stint as the business manager of Shakespeare, Santa Cruz. Nancy’s work history reflects her philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years. Writing is her newest adventure.
MA: Well I’m a firm believer (and example) of changing up the routine of life and pursuing new passions, so I can relate to your personal philosophy. Are you still in the real estate business or have you shifted completely to writing?
NLJ: I own a real estate company with my husband, although we are referring business out and trying to be retired at this point.
MA: So what made you decide to write as your new adventure?
NLJ: I started writing as a game, a puzzle solving exercise as it were, to see if I could do it. I’ve never had so much fun in my life. The result was “The Death Contingency” and the formulation for “Backyard Bones” that kept swirling around in my mind as I wrote the first book.
MA: I agree on the fun part – a lot of work to be sure – but much more fun. Did you find inspiration for your writing from your Realtor career?
NLJ: My career was definitively influential in my writing. Since I never entertained being a writer before I started, I thought I better write about something I knew. Realtors generally aren’t the most highly thought of people in the room, but judging from the number of people who flock around them with questions at parties, they are some of the more fascinating. That was another factor in deciding to use real estate in the books. I thought readers might get a kick out of getting a peek into the business.
MA: I must admit, that does make for a unique angle. I can see how your constant interaction with the public can lead to some great, rich experiences for fiction. Tell me about your latest project – and I’m curious now if you ever actually found some bones in a backyard of one of the homes you sold!
NLJ: Anyone who has worked as a Realtor will tell you they should write a book. Did you know being a real estate agent can be dangerous? Excluding the military, they rank right after police and firefighters for being killed while at work. There’s just so much material to use, it was a matter of deciding which story to tell first.
In “The Death Contingency,” a seller turns up dead and a Realtor Regan has known for years becomes a person of interest in his death. She’s convinced the authorities focus is all wrong and sets out to prove it. Then there’s a second death in the neighborhood. When it’s ruled accidental, Regan is again at odds with the police. She thinks it’s murder and thinks she knows who the murderer is, but she has to prove a crime has been committed before anyone will take her seriously. The problem is, she doesn’t want to be right.
“Backyard Bones,” the second book in what I now call the Regan McHenry Mystery Series, is client driven. It’s not the first time Regan has experienced déjà-vu. But when the sensation involves finding a second body buried in a client’s backyard where one was found just weeks before, déjà-vu takes on new meaning. Someone murdered a girl on her seventeenth birthday and, as Regan delves into the motive behind the girl’s murder, she discovers many people are trying to hide secrets about their entanglement with the dead teenager. Regan must figure out which of them is a murderer, and she has to do it carefully or she’ll become the killer’s next victim.
The characters, a Wiccan family, a politician and his family, a conservative minister, and a college professor are all people I’ve worked with…or at least they started out that way. Almost all the characters in my books start out as people I know or have worked with, but they do morph into other characters because the real-life people they are based on won’t do what I want them to do unless I rename them and let them have a looser identity.
“Backyard Bones” opens with a body being discovered in the backyard of a newly purchased home. It winds up being an ancient burial, but another body turns up in the same location a few weeks later and it is definitely recent and murder. Did I mention I write mysteries?
MA: <Chuckling> I kind of gathered that! I definitely love a good mystery. Tell me about your heroine.
NLJ: The protagonist started out as me. I even called her Nancy when I started writing. It seems I’m a method writer. I act out scenes and then write them down, so it worked pretty well to start that way, but the first time Nancy had to find a body, I decided that was way too personal and uncomfortable and that she better become someone else that I could watch rather than be.
MA: So you started out calling her Nancy, but then you changed her name to Regan. How did you develop her character, especially knowing she was you at the beginning?
NLJ: Regan is curious; determined and tenacious (which sometimes is a weakness); cares a great deal about her friends and clients; intelligent and observant of things like connections, relationships, details, and body language; and intuitive. Fortunately she has a very logical husband to run things by who keeps her grounded. All of those positives, come to think of it, work against her sometimes.
MA: So, does Regan have to do battle with the same bad guy, or do you change things up?
NLJ: Regan doesn’t have an ongoing nemesis like a Moriarty, just problems with the murder in each book.
MA: Okay, so you started out with calling Regan Nancy, who resembled you…how about other characters in your writing. Are any based upon real people you’ve known?
NLJ: Just like the characters are based on real people, the background details, color, and most of Regan’s experiences, except for the murder, of course, are right out of my, “I should write a book,” experiences.
MA: Cool. So what’s in your future? Any additional writing plans?
NLJ: I’m currently working on the third book, tentatively titled, “Buying Murder” and tossing around an idea for the fourth. I intend to keep doing this as long as it’s fun.
MA: Will Regan feature in the third and fourth books?
NLJ: The protagonist, Regan McHenry, her husband Tom Kiley, and her friend Dave, a semi-retired cop turned ombudsman and police relations person in Santa Cruz, a town with the official motto, “Keep Santa Cruz Weird,” will be in all the books in the series.
MA: I had the pleasure of traveling through Santa Cruz many, many years back when I was running undercover operations in the Air Force. I can attest to the motto, but at the same time, the local color of the town is nothing but charming. Thanks for guesting with me! I encourage everyone to visit Nancy Lynn Jarvis’ website for more information about her novels: http://www.GoodReadMysteries.com.