4.5 out of 5 stars.
Today, I’m happy to be bringing you a stop on the Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour for A Christmas Peril, the first in a new series by J.A. Hennrikus. There will also be an interview with the author after my review!
When Edwina “Sully” Sullivan’s life imploded, she left behind her job on the police force and her unfaithful husband to start a new life as the general manager of her hometown theater, the Cliffside Theater Company. For five years, she focused on budgets instead of crimes and kept the Cliffside running alongside its mercurial artistic director.
But when her best friend is arrested for killing his father, the rich and powerful Peter Whitehall, no one is looking for another suspect. So, in between keeping A Christmas Carol on budget and Scrooge sober, Sully dusts off her investigative skills to find a killer. Her two lives collide when her ex-husband gets on the suspect list and she’s forced to confront her past in order to save her present.
This was an absolutely delightful book! It didn’t quite have the pizzazz I look for to push it up to a 5-star rating, it is a solid 4.5 in my opinion.
The characters in this series are great. There was only once where the main character did something absolutely stupid and unsafe. The rest of the time she was well-behaved. Obviously there are some risks in trying to solve a mystery, it just bugs me when the heroine goes off and does stupid stuff or disregards all thoughts of safety. The side characters were fun too. Everyone was well-developed and complex.
The plot line moved along quite well. I’d say steady-fast. It wasn’t so fast that you couldn’t keep up, but it definitely moved along. I had absolutely no idea who the villain was until it was revealed. Honestly, he wasn’t even on my radar, so that was a great twist for me.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I look forward to the next installment whenever that might be!
Q1: Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day? Do you enjoy your day job?
Ms. Hennrikus’s Answer: I run an arts service organization for the New England theater community called StageSource (www.StageSource.org). I’ve worked in arts management for my entire career, and really love what I do. The work I am doing now is particularly rewarding, because it is a behind the scenes organization that supports the entire community.
I also teach arts management classes, which I also enjoy. It is a challenge keeping everything in the air, but worth it.
Q2: Do you set aside time to write every day or do you write more sporadically? When you write, do you aim to complete a set # of pages or words? How does music/other noise affect your concentration when you’re writing?
Ms. Hennrikus’s Answer: I really, really try to carve out time every day, but that isn’t always possible. Usually I do marathon days on the weekends. When I write, I try and get a scene done, so the word count can vary. I need background noise while I write. I usually have a show on that I’ve seen before, so I don’t pay attention but the voices are with me. MIDSOMER MURDERS is my current writing companion.
Q3: When you’re writing, do your characters seem to “hijack” the story or do you feel like you have the “reigns” of the story? Similarly, do you outline your book first or just sit down and write, seeing where it takes you?
Ms. Hennrikus’s Answer: I am a plotter. A serious plotter. I start with characters, and an idea for the overall story. Then I write it down, and keep writing down the barebones until there is a frame for the entire story. Then I write it all down on plot cards, and use dramatic structure to make sure it will work.
Do characters hijack my stories? Yes, and I love that. I have characters that were supposed to be in one book, and they end up being series regulars. If a character hijacks the story too much, I make a note of it. That character obviously wants their own story, and isn’t good about sharing.
Q4: How did you break into the publishing world? How many rejections did you go through before finding a publisher? Did you ever think about quitting? If so, what did you do to keep yourself hopeful?
Ms. Hennrikus’s Answer: Years ago I joined Sisters In Crime, and that made all the difference in my writing life. Not only did I meet people who understood my journey, I took classes to hone my craft, went to conferences to build my network, and made friends. Wonderful friends, including my fellow Wicked Cozy Authors (WickedCozyAuthors.com): Barbara Ross, Sherry Harris, Liz Mugavero aka Cate Conte, Jessica Estaveo aka Jessie Crockett aka Jessica Ellicott, and Edith Maxwell aka Maddie Day.
A CHRISTMAS PERIL was the first book I tried to sell. I’d written other books, but they are in drawers, and they will stay there. I got lovely rejections for A CHRISTMAS PERIL, but didn’t find an agent or a publisher. Then I was offered the opportunity to write the Clock Shop Mystery series as Julianne Holmes. The idea came from an editor, and I “auditioned” to write the series. The third book, CHIME AND PUNISHMENT, just came out. With that track record, I wrote a proposal for A CHRISTMAS PERIL, and very happily for me, Midnight Ink bought the series. Proving the adage, dreams do come true, but sometimes the path isn’t a straight one.
Q5: In general, how many revisions do you go through before a book is published? Do you have beta readers or is it just your editing team and their suggestions? Do you set your books aside for a period of time and then pick them up and edit them?
Ms. Hennrikus’s Answer: I plot very heavily, and that helps me with a fairly polished first draft. I do a read through, and then send it out to my first reader, Jason Allen-Forrest. He gets it back to me with notes. Then I do at least two more deep edits on the book
Usually, I have been in a writing loop where one draft bleeds into another. For the manuscript I just turned in, I gave it a chance to “rest”, and that made all the difference. I am trying to incorporate more rest periods in my writing, which is tough given that I write two books a year.
Q6: A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book. Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it?
Ms. Hennrikus’s Answer: Working in theater has been a gift to me for regarding characters. Every actor will tell you that they have to find something redeeming about their characters in order to play them. Villains don’t think that they are villains.
In mysteries, villains are driven to commit a crime, and usually they can justify that. I will confess, when I first wrote A CHRISTMAS PERIL I had another villain in mind, but after I worked on it for a while I realized I had the wrong killer.
Most of my characters, including my villains, have parts of people I know in them. The villains? I’ll never tell.
Q7: Do any family members, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. end up showing up in your work or are your characters all truly fictional?
Ms. Hennrikus’s Answer: Between borrowing names and creating characters, there is a lot of my real life that shows up in my fiction. Happily, so far, it has worked out. I am also very fortunate in that I know and work with a lot of people, so there is a lot to draw from. Usually, it is a quirk, or a trait, or an experience that I borrow.
I was once in a very volatile meeting, and I kept my cool throughout. A colleague followed me into my office, and demanded to know how I always kept so calm. I told her that I plotted a murder during the meeting, and that helped. Then I smiled, so she thought I was kidding. I wasn’t, of course.
Q8: If you could write about anyone fiction/nonfiction, contemporary/historical who would you write about? Why?
Ms. Hennrikus’s Answer: What an interesting question! I think about that. I have friends who write historical fiction, and I applaud them their research and attention to detail. I don’t think I could do it.
I do think about non-fiction, and some of the extraordinary women who we don’t know enough about. I’m not sure I would write about a specific woman as much as I would write about a time. We are coming up to the centennial of white women getting the right to vote in the United States. (It took women of color longer.) That subject fascinates me.
Q9: What are some great books you’ve read recently?
Ms. Hennrikus’s Answer: I am on a summer reading binge of Louise Penny, and I am enjoying it tremendously. I had never read her before, so I have catching up to do!
Q10: What books have influenced your life the most?
Ms. Hennrikus’s Answer: My life or my writing? My writing has been influenced by Agatha Christie, Elizabeth Peters, Dorothy Sayers, Elizabeth George and others. Specific books? If you could see my triple shelved bookshelves, you’d know I can’t answer that question, at least not easily!
Q11: If you could spend one day with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that day?
Ms. Hennrikus’s Answer: I would spend the day with Sully. We’d go to the Beef and Ale, have burgers and fries, and a good local brew. I hope we’d have charming actors like Steward Tracy joining us. Then we’d go back over, and watch rehearsal for a while. We’d end up back at her carriage house, drinking wine and talking about the show.
Q12: Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Have you ever learned anything from a bad review and incorporated it into your future work?
Ms. Hennrikus’s Answer: Again, my theater life helps me with this a bit. I don’t seek reviews out. If I happen upon one, I may read it, but I likely won’t. Reviews are useful when they are constructive, but “like” or “don’t like” are matters of opinion. The reviews that matter to me are the reviews I get from my editors, and folks who read my manuscripts, because I can still change the work. Once it is published, there’s nothing I can do.
The only way I engage with reviewers is to thank them. It is a lot of work, and a service to authors and readers.
A huge thank you to J.A. Hennrikus for being willing to answer my questions! Thanks for joining me today on the latest stop of the Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour for A Christmas Peril by J.A. Hennrikus. If you wish to visit other sites on the tour, please click on the banner below. It will take you to the main tour page where you will find a list of participants and links to their blogs.