By Mary Kennedy
Recently I sat down with L.J. Sellers to talk about Thrilled to Death, the latest in her Detective Jackson Mysteries.
Jack Quick, a book reviewer, said you have a “delightfully twisted mind.” I assume that is a good thing, for a mystery novelist. Care to elaborate?
For a crime novelist, “delightfully twisted mind” is the highest compliment you can receive. In my case, I hope it refers to the many twists and turns my stories take and to the unusual and difficult crimes I devise for Detective Jackson to investigate. To clarify, I don’t write about serial killers or evil for the sake of evil, so he didn’t mean that kind of twisted.
The premise is terrific: “two missing women with nothing in common, a dead body and a suspect who hasn’t left his house in years.”
The details of this story are complete fabrication, but women disappear all the time, so this is a common headline and I think about these women daily. It’s difficult to talk about the plot’s basic idea without giving away several twists, but like most of my stories, I’ve combined ideas that stuck in my mind. I bounce ideas off each other, asking: How can I connect this event to this crime?
Many of your characters struggle with moral choices. Kera withholds information from Detective Jackson to protect her client’s privacy. Is this something you deliberately add when you’re creating your characters?
We all struggle with moral choices and have to live with the consequences. These choices test and build character in a way that nothing else can. Moral dilemma so create conflict between characters who otherwise would choose to cooperate. Client confidentiality is also a theme I come back to because it’s common for detectives to come up against it from doctors, lawyers, and social workers.
Do you think that readers like ambiguity? I’m thinking of the ending of the Sex Club.
Readers like a little ambiguity involving minor plots or character development. But most people dislike cliffhangers, and I don’t end books that way. I resolve the main crime in every story. In fact, the question left open at the end of The Sex Cub (Will Danette have the baby?) is answered in the second story, Secrets to Die For.
You’d received kudos for your editorial services. Editing seems to involve such a different skill set from writing, and I wondered which came first.
Entry level journalism jobs require mostly copy writing, so that’s what I did first. But if you want to get promoted, you have to develop editing skills as well. The skills overlap in many ways, but editing is more than just reading for grammar and punctuation. Eventually, I combined the two areas and began editing fiction as a freelancer–which is much more fun than editing pharmaceutical reports.
What’s new on the horizon for you?
I have a fourth Detective Jackson story coming out next year. It’s titled Passions of the Dead, and my beta readers say it’s my best work yet. The Baby Thief, a standalone thriller, is coming out next year too. Meanwhile, I’m working on a fifth Jackson novel, and I’ve outlined and started writing a futuristic thriller.
What else would you like to tell us about yourself?
The control freak/organized/editor type is only one of my personalities. I’m also an adrenaline junkie. I bike to the top of steep hills so I can fly back down at 40 miles an hour. I’ve jumped out of an airplane, gone up in a hot air balloon, and done parasailing. When I was younger, I biked to the Grand Canyon (from Oregon), including crossing Donner Pass, a three-day 10,000-foot climb. Coming down the other side, with snow on the road, was the most terrifying 45 minutes of my life. Writing stories filled with suspense also feeds that need for living on the edge.