Jessie Crockett’s first cozy mystery, LIVE FREE OR DIE, won the Daphne du Maurier Award for mainstream mystery. Her new series, the Sugar Grove mysteries, features Dani Greene, from a prominent New Hampshire family of maple syrup makers, and a large cast of colorful secondary characters.
Just out now is the second book in this series, MAPLE MAYHEM, in which Dani tries to set up an agricultural cooperative to help smaller sugarhouses, setting off a chain of vandalism and then murder.
Please tell us a little about yourself. You’re a New Hampshire native?
Native might be too strong a word. I’ve lived in New Hampshire since I was eight years old. Both of my parents were born and raised in Maine so I feel very strongly that northern New England is my home.
What can you tell us about your new book, MAPLE MAYHEM?
MAPLE MAYHEM involves maple syrup maker Dani Greene’s thwarted attempts at starting an agricultural cooperative. She finds herself confronted by sabotage and ultimately murder in her quest to help her neighbors and herself to improve the bottom line in their sugaring businesses.
Readers will enjoy your asides on New Hampshire culture and inside details on the maple sugar business. In this book you also touch on a real-life crime involving maple syrup. Do you do a lot of research for your books?
I do quite a bit of research. Maple sugaring is a fascinating activity and a pleasure to investigate. One of the best parts of the research is, of course, the taste testing!
On your website you use the phrase “like Mayberry with dead bodies” and I was also reminded of Cabot Cove. Is it difficult to combine humor and small-town nostalgia with a murder plot and some degree of psychological and current-day realism?
For me, humor is what makes all tough situations bearable. I didn’t sit down with the intention to write humor into my books but it showed up anyway and I think that is a reflection of my lens on the world. I think we can only bring ourselves to the page, and while mixing murder with comical aspects of small-town life may not be everyone’s way, I’ve been enjoying it being mine.
What led you to decide to write mysteries? Any particular writers who inspired you?
I’ve always loved mysteries. In fact, the first chapter book I ever read was a Bobbsey Twins book. I felt so triumphant about reading that book that I think I’ve associated mysteries with pleasure ever since. I also love the structures involved in creating them and the bargain you strike with the reader to simultaneously reveal and conceal the truth of the story.
As for inspiration, I would say Charlotte MacLeod, Dorothy Cannell, and Martha Grimes are favorites. I also love all forms of Scandinavian crime, partly because of the armchair traveler aspect but also because I am cheered by the fact the winter weather in Scandinavia is even worse than in New Hampshire.
How long did it take you to get published? I see you started out at a smaller publisher and are now in the Berkley Prime Crime line of paperback mysteries.
It took me about a year of trying to find a publisher for my first book, LIVE FREE OR DIE. I signed with Berkley two years after that.
Is there anything you wish you had known when you were starting out as a writer?
I wish I had trusted my instincts sooner. My natural tendency is to write bloated and then to ruthlessly cut. When I was working on LIVE FREE OR DIE, I figured I couldn’t possibly know what I was doing so I fought my instincts and wrote really lean. As I’ve learned to trust myself and my process, I’ve found I often need to write something two or even three times almost exactly the same way in order to get it right. I also think it would have been good for me to understand earlier that when an agent says she can’t sell something it doesn’t mean it can’t be sold by anyone. It just means it isn’t a match for her.
With the Internet now everyone is a critic. How much attention do you pay to reader comments on Amazon, Twitter, and other sites?
I sometimes read the reviews of my work and am so grateful that people take time out of their lives to share their thoughts. I tend to pay the most attention to things that are repeated by many readers because those comments give me feedback that I believe helps me to provide a better experience for my readers.
What are you working on now?
I recently turned in the third manuscript in my Sugar Grove series. I’ll be working on revisions of that very soon.
Is there any other sort of book you think about writing in the future?
My first book, LIVE FREE OR DIE, involved a historical component. I enjoyed the research and weaving those threads into the story so much I would really like to try my hand at something similar again. I also love things with a bit of a Gothic or paranormal element to them.
A nearly life-long resident of the Granite State, Jessie naturally adores black flies, 98% humidity and snow banks taller than the average grandmother. When not writing she combs the beach and throws parties. She delights in mentoring young writers at local schools. She lives with her dark and mysterious husband and exuberant children in a village so small many other New Hampshire residents have never heard of it. Her debut mystery, LIVE FREE OR DIE, won the 2011 Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Mystery.
To learn more about Jessie, please visit her website.