Who murdered the small town mayor? Watch Readers’ Favorite murder mystery author Jill M. Lyon as she clues you in on whodunnit.
There are many writers who aren't authors and then there are writers who are authors. Today I’ll be speaking with Jill M. Lyon who happens to wear both caps. She's a writer and an author. Hello, I'm N’Marie Crumbie with the Fountain Hills Parkbench, right here in beautiful Fountain Hills, Arizona 85268.
Jill, welcome! Thank you for joining us for another episode of getting to know Fountain Hills and the wonderful talents we have here in our beautiful town. Please share with us your background in writing, your journey, and what led you to this place.
Sure. I've been a writer pretty much all my life. Both of my primary careers over my working life had to do with writing, first as a journalist, and then as an attorney. So I've done an awful lot of different kinds of writing, and all of it, in spite of what they say about lobbyists, all of it was non-fiction. Until I guess it's about four years ago now when I suddenly had the urge to get involved with some creative writing and some fiction. And after two, two and a half years of work, I had a draft of a novel. And then I found someone who said, gee, we'd like to publish it, which was very nice. And now I need to sell them. That's why I'm here.
So where did you look for inspiration when that bug hit you to draft that novel?
Well, this one has kind of a unique story. The book, which is called The Summer Festival is Murder takes place in a small Oregon town on the Coast of Oregon, which is not the town where we used to live. It's a fictional town but there are similarities and this was actually triggered by events that were going on in the town. There were some frustrating things going on and I started writing kind of as a stress reliever. Basically, I said, this person is driving me so crazy, I'm going to write 1000 words on how to kill her - which is a nice, non-lethal way of dealing with things, I thought, I thought I was being very adult, and then put it away for a while.
Then I learned about this event called NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month, it's every November, and in 30 days, you're supposed to write 50,000 words, if you sign up for it. I learned a little bit about it and I thought, okay, well, let's see if we can turn this into something. And at the end of that November, I only had 15,000 words, but I had the beginnings of what I thought might be a decent story. And then another two years, with some time off because in the meantime, we moved here to Fountain Hills from Oregon. Then in about June or July of 2020. I had it, I had the first draft.
How long did it take you to write the entire book?
The whole first draft with time out for moving was about two years, which I understand it's not at all unusual for someone especially writing their first novel. Some people agonize over it for years and years and years.
What was the process like for you, did you take some time away in a secluded corner, on the beach?
Well, when I first got into this, I got involved with a couple of writing groups while we were still in Oregon, then that was because of the NaNoWriMo connection because they were groups set up for that and then I continued with them. Usually, one night a week and we'd go sit, we had a room in a community center where we the group sat and wrote. And then after we moved here, I realized I needed to get back to it. I formed a group that was under the aegis of what's called “Shut up and Write” great title. It's under Meetup and what it is, is groups get together, you meet somewhere. And obviously, for the last couple of years, it was virtual, but it can be in person too. And everybody gets together, there's a little bit of discussion. And then for one timed hour you shut up and write. And then afterward, you can talk some more just leave or whatever. And I started one of those groups, which had a varying number of people, and then after that, I just kept going on my own. For me, I need to get away from the house. There are too many distractions. And so if I sit around saying, well, I think I'll write tonight. No, it won't happen. But if I can schedule a time away, once a week, twice a week, and just go somewhere else and sit, then I can crank out. When I was in the middle of this, I was cranking out 12 to 1400 words in about an hour and a half. So it went pretty well.
And that support system was really helpful? Is it a kind of speed dating?
Yeah, very helpful, except you're not going fast. It's just that you are concentrating and not talking. So it's not a group where everybody gets together and talks about what they've been writing. You can do that for a few minutes but then the group leader will say, okay, here's our hour, we are timing it from now until the next hour. You just write, you shut up and right. Some of them take place in the library and there's one in-person Shut up and Write group now in Phoenix, and they meet at a bookstore in central Phoenix on Wednesday mornings. I don't go to that, because it's really too far for me to travel. But they are getting back to in-person meetings.
How many books have you written so far?
I have one published novel and I’m working on the sequel to that, which is actually there's a teaser for it at the end of this book. I also have a piece of flash fiction, which is very short. Those were limited to 1200 words, that's been printed and republished in an anthology that the Shut Up and Write group put together in 2021. That's called Roots Shoots and Blooms. It's a wonderful mix of very different stuff. I mean, the theme was anything that had something to do with roots, shoots, and blooms. So there's a lot of stuff in there about changing in life and, you know, having an experience that turns you in a new direction, or that you put down roots, and then you bloom, I mean, there's a lot of different aspects. And it's poetry and memoir and fiction. And I just happen to have a piece of flash fiction in there that was something that I wrote for fun. It's about a woman who goes in to see a lawyer about a problem, and her lawyer turns out to be a Japanese dragon. It's only 1200 words, it goes really fast. But it was fun to write.
Have you ever had writer's block, if so, how do you deal with that?
I happened to be a grammarian and also a very good editor. I used to edit lots of things in my working career that came from other departments. And they just would send them to me because I could edit them on the way out. And so my way of dealing with writer's block is actually to edit. I will go back to what I wrote the last time, or two chapters behind or something else, or I'll go back to my notes, and it helps you to dive back into the story. To go back and say, well, no, I don't really want to say that. No, that's not right. Let's add this. Let's add that. And suddenly, there you are, and you just keep going. So that always worked pretty well for me.
Let's talk about your novel, The Summer Festival is Murder by Jill M. Lyon.
Well, as we mentioned, it takes place in a small town on the Coast of Oregon. The primary character is a mature woman named Felice Bowes and she's kind of snarky. Hopefully, when people read it, they'll get a chuckle or two out of it because, you know, along with the darkness of a murder mystery, you tried to put a little humor in there as well. One of the things that were a bit of a challenge for me was that I decided to write it in the first person, so everything is; I did this, you know, and in her, it's her thoughts and her experiences and so on.
And so that means that pretty much everything that happens in the book has to happen as she sees it, or as she hears about it, you can't have scenes where you just suddenly say, okay over here, this is happening, because, in first person, it has to be her. It was a bit of a challenge but it was also fun because then I could put her thinking into the book.
I really liked that she initially eavesdropped on the mayor's conversation, which led her on this journey throughout the book. Could you share a little bit about her?
Without doing any spoilers. Hopefully, she's funny. She and her husband came to this small town from a major city, they have been trying to fit in, and all they want to do is be part of the community. They're trying to volunteer and be part of things without causing any waves. And it so happens, happens so often in small towns, there are some people who welcome them and there are some people who view them with fear and loathing. And one of the things I've really enjoyed is the number of comments I've had back from readers who have said, oh man, that is just what small towns are like, you know, I lived in one and it was just the same and all of that. So I really appreciated, in the 10 months that it's been out, I've appreciated the kinds of comments that I've had back from readers.
One of the things she says is you try to go to social events but you keep running into the same 40 people wherever you go because they're the ones who are out there. She says you know, after a while, you understand why nobody throws a party because it's just an expensive way of seeing the same people again.
Are there any characters in the book that have similarities to you or anyone you know?
Oh, yeah. I can honestly say that everyone has been changed, there is no one in there who is a direct copy of any living person. And I don't say that just because I'm an attorney trying to be libel proof. There are people who are similar to people, I knew, there are people who are completely made up. And then there are people who are amalgams of one or two or more people. There were a couple of folks who were friends that I called up and said, okay, you're going to be in the book, what do you want your name to be? And so they chose their names, their character names, and that was fun.
Does it make it easier to write when you can draw on the characteristic of people you know?
Oh, for me as a first-time novelist, it was vital. I mean, one of the things they always tell you is, to write what you know. If I had to make this whole world up, I don't know that I ever would have finished. But the fact that I had people in places that I could draw on, even though I changed all of them, helped enormously. And the initial stress that led to me wanting to kill someone anyway, was helpful.
To me, this book is like a twisty mystery, Forensic Files, gripping the edge of your-seat type of book. So what are your thoughts on those popular shows bringing, say a book like this to life?
Well, one of the things I tried to do very carefully was to get the science right. I interviewed the police chief in the town where we lived before I even started and said, okay, I need to talk to you about the procedure. I need to talk to you about how you would actually handle something like this and he was very helpful. I then went back to him later and checked on things so I'm pretty sure that the science is correct. One of the issues in the book is there is, in one way, a lack of forensic clues. And that's part of what makes it more difficult. So you have to deal with personalities, as well as timing, as well as the science, which hopefully makes it a little more interesting.
So what advice would you give to budding authors?
It really depends on what it is they want to write. I wrote a murder mystery because I've been reading murder mysteries my whole life and I really enjoy them. And I understand some of the unwritten rules about murder mysteries. To me, if you're interested in a genre of writing, read that genre. If you want to write fantasy or science fiction, you should have a really good understanding of the good science fiction and the good fantasy that's out there, not because you want to copy it, but because it gets your brain working in that same sort of pathway so that you can create your own world. And I think that the same is true of pretty much any other form of writing.
So is that rooted in your experience as a lawyer?
No, I was a telecom lobbyist. So I worked for an industry association in the telecom field, and I got to go play with the federal government and asked for things they didn't want to do. It was stressful but I never wrote anything about how to kill anyone, I might have to go back and rethink that.
So as a storyteller, what are you trying to accomplish?
This is not a book that's going to change anybody's life. This is not the kind of book where you read it and say, wow! You know, that really made me think about our society or about what's wrong with things or how I can change things. This is entertainment and I'm quite happy to admit that. Hopefully, it is a well-crafted mystery that gives people enjoyment that they don't guess on page 10, who did what? And if people come away and they close the book at the end of it and say, that was good. They were good characters, it was a good story. I’d read another one from this person. That's great. I would love to write another one.
Yes, I would imagine folks that are so in love with murder mysteries, they'll love this. This is like a five-star restaurant for those people.
Well, you gave me a very slow pitch there so I'm going to take it. It has, in fact, received a lot of excellent reviews, professionally. Either four out of four or five out of five from Readers' Favorite, New York Journal of Books. Most recently online book clubs. People who have read it generally have given me very good reviews.
I have two very negative reviews on Amazon that were posted some months ago. One of them read the book and the other one read a blurb about the book and apparently that was enough. I can honestly tell you the reason why they wrote a negative review is that they recognized themselves in the book. And one of them is in the book in a rather negative way and there's a reason for that so I'm not surprised he wrote me a bad review. So yeah, I mean, you put yourself out there you take what you get. But I'm very happy that most people have enjoyed it and most people have said good things about it.
Is there a specific website or book club where can people find out more about this book and most importantly, where can they find this book to purchase?
Thank you so much for asking me. Actually, it's online rather than in bookstores, but there is pretty much anywhere you buy books online. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones. It's also available as paperback, eBook, and there's also an audiobook on Audible and all those various options. I have a broadcast background, so I actually read the book for the audiobook.
Do you want to tell us about your broadcast background?
Oh well, it was a long time ago. I started when I was a mere child in radio. And after I graduated from college, I worked in television. So I was in radio and television news. And actually a little bit of time in television sales for 13 years or so. That was my first career.
So you're multi-talented, television, radio, lawyer, author, what’s next?
Well, it kind of all goes together because my whole journey has been about communications. Whether you're communicating through a camera, through a microphone, through a piece of writing in person at a meeting, you're trying to get ideas across and in some ways, you're trying to sell those ideas. And so that pretty much has been consistent throughout.