By Jeremy Burns
Jana Hollifield may be a new name to the mystery field, but it shouldn’t remain an unknown one for true fans of the genre. Hollifield’s follow-up to her debut The Problem with Goodbye, THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES, just hit store shelves, and the second in her Ryan McCabe series looks to make quite an impression on fans new and old alike. The author sat down with THE BIG THRILL to take readers behind the scenes of her latest book.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I live in a tiny coastal town in picturesque northern California where five cars ahead of you at a stoplight is considered heavy traffic. The natural environment here is a steady draw for artists of all kinds, including my relatives. I was born into a family of very creative people and for many years pursued an interest in painting until my desire to write became irresistible. The Problem with Goodbye, first in the Ryan McCabe series, was my debut novel.
Tell us about your new book, THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES.
With his girlfriend out of town, lonely Ryan McCabe never expects ex-flame Holly Kemp to show up at his doorstep begging him to persuade his best friend, Portland homicide detective Ollie O’Neill, to clear her cousin in the brutal slaying of his fiancée. Holly’s cousin Sam seems a viable murder suspect, until he and Ryan meet. Convinced of Sam’s innocence, Ryan and Ollie find themselves embroiled in a disturbing murder mystery that claims yet another life. As they narrow in on the truth, inexplicable acts of violence begin to plague Ryan, and Ollie worries his closest pal may be next on the killer’s list.
As this book is the second in your Ryan McCabe mystery series, what should new fans know about the series thus far?
Ryan McCabe is a normal guy in every way except for his gift of extrasensory perception. He is an empath—able to sense the emotions of others—giving him insight that best friend Ollie has no qualms exploiting while solving perplexing homicide cases. Ryan meets Cora Dalton during the first novel in the series and the two fall in love. THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES picks up with the characters four months following the conclusion of the first book. Though the second entry in the series is a sequel, it also reads as a stand-alone novel.
What was your initial inspiration for THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES? How did the story’s premise develop through the early days of your writing process?
When I first began this series, I had a rough outline in mind for the second book. For example, Ryan’s relationship with Holly Kemp was referenced briefly in book one because I intended to introduce Holly in the second novel. Also, Ryan’s relationship with Ollie—a hilarious bromance—is more deeply explored in THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES. However, even though I do like to craft a rough outline, I allow the characters to dictate much of what happens in my novels. Working this way keeps the dialogue fresh and interesting for my readers as well as myself since I often don’t know what my characters are going to say until I begin writing.
How much of yourself do you put in your characters? With which character in THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES do you most identify?
Oddly enough, even though Ryan is male and I am female, I most closely identify with him. He is very different from me in many ways, but we share some similar traits. I try to put my heart into my work, particularly with the Ryan character, and some of the issues he struggles with in THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES are modified versions of my own issues. That can make Ryan a challenging character to write at times and yet also quite cathartic.
Which character was the most fun for you to write? Why?
The most entertaining and easiest character for me to write is Ryan’s best friend, Ollie O’Neill. Ollie says things I would never think of to say which I know does not makes sense since I am obviously the one writing his dialogue, but that’s exactly how it feels. When I was first creating this character, as soon as I gave Ollie his name, everything about him instantly formed in my mind—from his appearance to his amusing personality. Since that time, Ollie has been a total delight to write and a standout favorite with my readers.
One of the most fascinating aspects of your bio as an author is your struggle with dyslexia. Tell us how you have overcome this difficulty to become not only an avid reader, but also an accomplished novelist.
I am fortunate to be a high-functioning dyslexic, but it did create problems for me as I was growing up and even today, though I am better now at addressing the symptoms. Dyslexia basically means that I process information in a different way, making language in particular—reading and writing—a challenge. My spelling is not great, I read somewhat slowly, and I have to maintain a high level of concentration to write, but my enjoyment of reading and writing is in no way diminished just because I have to work harder. And there are some advantages to dyslexia. For example, dyslexics tend to be big picture thinkers, highly perceptive, and artistic. These are all excellent qualities for an author to possess which is probably why there are more dyslexic writers than people may think.
What is your favorite book by another author? Why?
I do not have a single favorite book because I am always reading and discovering novels that I love, from old classics to the works of new authors. In thrillers, I love the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child with Running Blind and Without Fail standing out as favorites, and Nelson DeMille has written many books that I have greatly enjoyed, such as The Gold Coast, The Lion’s Game, and The Charm School. In detective fiction, I love Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and Suspect is my favorite Robert Crais novel. In classic literature, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility are favorites, as are Jane Eyre, East of Eden, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. But if you were to ask me this question again in a couple of months, depending on what I’ve read during that time, my answers may be different!
What is your favorite travel destination? Why?
I love Great Britain. I have been somewhat of an Anglophile ever since my teenage years so it seemed perfectly natural for me to make this a travel destination. I have been to England several times—alone and with others—as well as Scotland and a brief visit to Wales. I still have yet to see Ireland, though I hope to someday.
If you could have dinner with any one person, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you talk about?
Perhaps Mark Twain. He was such a clever man, and a truly gifted writer. He was also a strong advocate for women’s rights and I would love to discuss with him the vastly different roles women now play in modern society.
If you had the opportunity to freely explore any secure location (palaces, bunkers, secret bases, corporate headquarters, abandoned sites) from anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you do?
I would probably pick the British Museum or the Louvre because only a fraction of the art and historical objects are on display at any given time and I’d love to have the opportunity to freely see everything. I would also enjoy witnessing firsthand how they store and protect priceless items, clean them, manage the security systems, and so on—all the behind-the-scenes thing you never get to see even in documentaries.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
On a personal level, I need a creative outlet or I do not function properly. Writing fulfills this need within me while also challenging me as a person in many different ways. I enjoy all aspects of writing, even the tedious research which provides me with endless opportunities to learn new things. But the most rewarding aspect of writing is when I hear from readers that my books have touched them in some way, or made them laugh. I feel honored to be able to share my work with others.
What advice would you give to new or aspiring authors who look up to you?
I would advise any aspiring authors to simply continue reading and writing. Keep working hard and learning along the way to accomplish your dream, but don’t be so focused on your goals that you forget to take pleasure in the act of writing.
What can we expect next from you?
I intend to write in at least one other genre in the future, while also continuing the Ryan McCabe mystery series.
Thanks to Jana Hollifield for dropping by to share her insights on her latest Ryan McCabe book and herself. If you’re craving a new voice in the mystery genre for 2015, curling up with THE PROBLEM WITH SECOND CHANCES, might be a great way to kick off your new year.
All the latest news about her work is available on her website, her author page on Facebook, and on Twitter at @janahollifield.
Jana Hollifield resides in a coastal northern California town bordered by majestic redwoods. Born into a creative family of artists, Jana’s interest in writing was shelved for many years while she pursued her interest in painting. Despite struggles with dyslexia, the desire to write ultimately became irresistible and Jana’s debut novel, THE PROBLEM WITH GOODBYE, takes the classic murder mystery and injects it with healthy doses of humor, romance, and extrasensory perception for a unique reading experience.