Hollywood + Mystery with a nice dash of noir. Meet the author of DEADLY FARCE, Jennifer McAndrews, whose novel will be released in hardback this February through Avalon Books
When Hollywood heavyweight Shepard Brown suspects someone has poisoned his pizza, he calls on long-time friend Lorraine Keys to keep him safe. Newly licensed and eager to prove to her boss she’s capable of guarding more than vacant banks, Lorraine takes the job. Amid the chaos of a film set — where threats against Shepard are escalating — Lorraine has to separate the divas from the dangerous before the killer succeeds in knocking off Shepard and anyone who gets in the way – including Lorraine herself.
The first chapter of DEADLY FARCE sings. In Keys, McAndrews has a wry protagonist and the crisp prose dotted with witty descriptions kept me reading.
Here to help tide me over until the official release, please welcome, Jennifer McAndrews!
Hi, Mike—thanks so much for the flattering welcome!
First of all, can you tell me more about Lorraine Keys, the novel’s protagonist? What drives her?
Pretty much I think she’s driven by caffeine and the pain created by biting her tongue. But mostly, she has a strong need to keep everyone and everything around her safe. She’ll protect her friends and family at all cost—whether that protection means sparing their feelings or physically defending them against a threat. I hope I get the chance some day to do a book where the cause of her need to protect others is revealed. Until then, she’ll keep on doing what she’s doing and wisecracking along the way.
Is there any of you in Keys?
Lorraine and I share a preference for plain cheese pizza, a weakness for sangria, and a fierce devotion to our friends. We’re both very protective over the people closest to us. Of course, Lorraine actually gets to make her living protecting that which is most important to her, whereas I, who would love to make a living as a writer, am secured in an office protecting websites from malformed html.
The title, DEADLY FARCE, suggests a humorous streak in the novel. Is it in the noirish tone or more overt? What do you see as the challenges of blending humor and suspense, and why do they go so well together?
To me the humor is overt, but, you know, I also know the identity of the killer and the things Shepard is hiding in his bathroom, so my perspective is a tad skewed. I’m anxious to learn if readers agree, or if they find the humor more sly. (I never considered it noir. Noir was always something I could only strive for; to claim my own work as noir seems like an awful conceit.)
The challenge of mixing humor and suspense is remembering that those two things can’t happen in the same moment. They are always first this, then that. For me, the toughest part was letting the dramatic points be long enough before re-introducing humor. But once you’ve weakened the reader’s defences by getting their heart-rate up, a little humor hits twice as hard, feels twice as good. I believe that’s why the two elements work; both impact the reader on a primal level.
Or maybe it’s just that I can’t stay serious long enough to tell a whole story. That might be the more accurate answer.
How did you research a Hollywood set? Do you have an inside track? A famous friend like the novel’s Shepard Brown?
Sadly, I have no famous friends. I don’t think. (I have some somewhat-well-known friends who may be insulted to learn I don’t consider them famous, so here’s hoping they don’t read this.) I do have the great luck of living within quick commuting distance of New York City, and a lot of television and movie filming takes place there. For that, I did have a bit of an inside track insomuch as I was invited into the city to watch a shoot. Lorraine’s initial observations of the Atlantic City shoot in the book are mine completely: fascinating for about thirty minutes. When it all boils down, you’re watching other people work. And that’s really not at all interesting unless the other person’s job is in professional sports. And your team is winning. And maybe you have a beer and some peanuts. That’s interesting.
When starting to write DEADY FARCE, did you already know who did it?
I did! The challenge came in knowing why. Here I have Lorraine, whose focus is on keeping the people around her safe, and I understand that since, as we all know by now, I share that motivation with her. And yeah, I get angry enough when the dog chews the corners off my latest Lee Child novel to threaten murder, but the dog is totally on to me and knows I’m really no threat. So tapping into the kind of emotion or experience that would lead someone to actually kill, that was tough. I should probably be frightened that I was able to locate that emotion. Or perhaps the dog should be…
The novel placed at the Daphne Du Maurier awards, which is an award hosted by the Kiss of Death chapter of the Romance Writers of America. How strong are the romantic elements in your novel?
The Kiss of Death chapter, which is the mystery and romantic suspense group within RWA, reached an agreement with the du Maurier estate when the contest originated. One of the conditions of using Daphne du Maurier’s name was the inclusion of a mainstream mystery category, a category that does not require any romantic elements. And that’s where Deadly placed. There’s a thin romantic thread in the novel, but when you get right down to it, it’s hard to be romantic in the presence of a corpse.
The award was back in 2005. Can you tell me a bit about your road to publication and the challenges you needed to overcome?
I always hear stories from authors who are all “it was my first book and I got a six figure advance and a movie deal and a tie-in with Burger King!” yeah. I got rocks.
Deadly Farce is a novel that – in manuscript form – must have been the perfect size for bolstering one uneven desk leg. I signed with my first agent, with the Deadly manuscript, following the Daphne. She never shopped the book. It sat with Big Publisher for three years while the editor who loved the story tried to find the “right time” to officially acquire it. I finally got it back with the aid of agent #2, who simply wasn’t interested in shopping it, but I had become friendly with the editors at Avalon…both of whom left shortly after I sent the manuscript there. It took three more editors at Avalon before the manuscript was acquired. Luckily, from that point on, the process has been hands-down delightful.
What did you need to change in the manuscript to update it to 2012?
First I had to account for the introduction of indoor plumbing, electricity, and sliced bread. Once that was done, the change from flip-phone to smart phone was a cinch.
Okay, truth is I got super lucky. The only changes were that phone thing, and a switch from what had been a construction site to a renovation site. Oh, and the hotel I had Shepard staying in was demolished. But I have that sort of bad luck with most everything I write. I’m used to it by now. And sometimes I can laugh.
Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process?
Writing happens in evenings or early mornings – basically, in the dark hours where secrets are kept. Ideal for mysteries. I start all books by writing longhand. For me, to start longhand forces me to take my time with my characters and really get to know them. It’s more personal than working on a computer, I think. And I’m very particular about my notebooks and pens. (Okay, not just particular. Obsessive.) I keep some photographs of writer friends around and I think that helps me feel less like I’m on the journey alone. But I’m very fortunate in that I don’t have a lot of trouble connecting with my muse. That said, I am a little… um… weird… in that if I’m really struggling with forgetting my own troubles and tapping in to my characters, I’ll put on a hat or a scarf or even a pair of shoes I think my character might wear (Steve Madden inspires me!).
What’s next for Jennifer McAndrews the writer? Is there a series character in Lorraine Keys?
For me, Lorraine is absolutely a series character. I only hope I can persuade my new editor to agree. So I am still writing her stories. Beyond that, I have a young adult mystery series I’m crossing my fingers for, and another romantic suspense story in the plotting stages. Once all that’s done, I’m thinking of catching up on sleep. It’s important to have long-range goals.
Thank you for your time, Jennifer, and I can’t wait to read more from you!
Thank YOU for taking the time with me and asking such thought-provoking and fun questions. This has been very enjoyable!
Jennifer McAndrews is a two-time Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence finalist and a Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist. Her love of mystery began in middle school, and despite the occasional foray into romance fiction, Jennifer is happiest when weaving puzzles on the page and leaving a trail of clues for the reader to follow. She resides in the greater New York metro area with her husband, children, and an assortment of household pets.
To find out more about Jennifer McAndrews, please visit her website.