A fan of mysteries since she picked up her first Trixie Belden book, J. A. Menzies is a Canadian author who writes classic mysteries set in contemporary Toronto. Many reviewers have compared her books to the best of Agatha Christie, and Library Journal called J. A. a “master of plotting.”
Of her series characters, homicide detectives Paul Manziuk and Jacqueline Ryan, Publishers Weekly said, “He's white, an abrupt, patronizing veteran, while she's a recently promoted, vivacious black woman—but… the two rub elbows and tempers to captivating effect.”
In addition to her Manziuk and Ryan novels, Shaded Light: The Case of the Tactless Trophy Wife and Glitter of Diamonds: The Case of the Reckless Radio Host, Menzies also has a number of short stories.
The third Manziuk and Ryan mystery, Shadow of a Butterfly: The Case of the Harmless Old Woman, will be available everywhere on May 15th.
J. A. is a member of a number of organizations for writers, including Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, and The Writers Union of Canada.
J. A. Menzies is the alter ego of award-winning Canadian author and speaker N. J. Lindquist, the author of a number of inspirational novels and nonfiction, and editor and publisher of the Hot Apple Cider anthologies.
When did you decide to pursue writing and eventually publication?
After I got married. I’d been teaching high school for two years, and I had an idea for a book for teens. I took a correspondence course on writing (with Norman Rohrer) and totally loved it. It had two parts—fiction and nonfiction. I didn’t get to the nonfiction part because I was too busy writing my first book, and part of the second one.
However, I was in Regina, Saskatchewan. I didn’t know any other writers and there was no email back then. Aside from having a couple of articles published, nothing happened, and I felt clueless. So I got involved in other things, including raising and homeschooling four sons.
Almost 15 years later, when my youngest son was 5, I got tendonitis in my right arm. It was so bad I couldn’t open a door or pick up a fork. But I could type on our new computer. So I pulled out my old files and within three years, the second book I’d begun years before was published.
What is your writing process like? Do you write daily? Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’ve never been a typical writer. Writing comes as easily as breathing to me, but I have a lot of other responsibilities and interests that have competed for my time and focus. For example, I had a family of four very actives sons, and I homeschooled until they went to high school. I’ve also had other interests, including being very active in church leadership and small groups, and starting an organization for writers here in Canada . I was also the primary caregiver for my mother for a number of years after my dad died. So I’ve always done my writing in bursts. I can go quite a while without writing anything and then write the first draft of a book in a couple of months. This last year has actually been the first time I could call myself a fulltime writer.
I neither outline in great detail nor just sit down and free write. I’m somewhere in the middle. For fiction, I get an idea and then create the characters and the setting. The plot and subplots always comes out of the characters.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
Creating. The ideas, setting, characters, discovering what might happen, writing the first draft. Those things totally energize me. The second draft isn’t bad either because I’m refining things and coming up with more ideas.
Each successive draft (and there were 17 drafts for my first mystery) takes more and more energy from me while giving me less and less. By the time the book is in the final stages, I just want it to go away.
And of course, then comes the whole marketing thing, which I’d just as soon pretend doesn’t happen. I just want to start another book!
What is one of the most interesting things you’ve discovered in your research?
Not sure if I can think of one thing in particular, but my second book, Glitter of Diamonds, is set in the baseball/sports media world. Although I’d been a baseball fan all my life, I had to do a fair bit of research to make sure that I got things right. I ended up creating my own baseball field (The Diamond Dome), my own baseball team (The Toronto Matrix), and so forth.
Since I had a female radio talk show host and a female newspaper reporter, I found Alison Gordon’s book, Foul Ball: Five Years in the American League, extremely helpful. It’s about her career as one of the first female sports reporter to cover professional baseball. I learned a lot of useful information from it.
One of my main characters is Cuban, so I had to make sure I got him and his wife out of Cuba in realistic ways.
Oh, yeah, I tried to give my baseball team members realistic names without copying actual names of pro ball players. Just before the book was due to go to print, the Toronto Blue Jays brought up a catcher from Triple A. His name was almost exactly the same as the name of my catcher! So I very quickly changed my catcher’s name.
Researching and writing that book was probably the most fun I’ve had as a writer.
Please tell us about your latest release.
Shadow of a Butterfly, aka The Case of the Harmless Old Woman, is a classic, British-style whodunit. It’s set on the 20th floor of a luxury seniors’ condo in downtown Toronto. Residents of that floor were all involved in the arts in some way. There’s a thriller writer, several singers, a former ballerina, a painter, a former talk show host, and so forth. One of the women, who has either dementia or Alzheimer's is stabbed to death. There’s no question it’s murder.
After coming to dead end after dead end, my intrepid homicide detectives discover that the murder is linked to an event from the past. The title, Shadow of a Butterfly, is a reference to Chaos theory and the “Butterfly effect”—the idea that things are connected, and that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings can lead to a hurricane in another part of the world.
Who or what inspired this special story?
Technically, Shadow of a Butterfly began years ago when I was brainstorming potential ideas for a mystery. I made a list of everything I knew something about. Having been the primary caregiver for my mother for a number of years, and having experienced life in a seniors’ home and two nursing homes with her, I felt I knew something about that world.
When it came time to write the book, I remembered something my husband had said about how it would be nice to decide ahead of time where you want to live when you get older, and take steps to make it happen. So I created Serenity Suites, and populated it with characters I came to love. Since I’d recently read and enjoyed several mysteries that involved ties to the past, I decided this would be the perfect time to see if I could work that in.
Is there anything else you would like to share? What will you be working on next?
Actually, at the same time I was working on Shadow, I was also working on a memoir. I was researching things to do with my parents and grandparents—trying to understand where they came from and why they were the way they were. I haven’t finished the memoir yet, but I felt that they two books are paired in a sense. For example, a lot of the research I did to try to understand who the characters in Shadow were when they were younger was similar to my attempts to understand who my parents were when they were young.
I plan to finish the memoir this year if possible. I’m also in the middle of editing another Hot Apple Cider anthology, which we hope to have out in September.
Can you tell us something about yourself that few people may know?
When my parents talked to my home room teacher during grade 11, he asked them what I wanted to do, and they said I wanted to be a teacher. He told them to try to talk me out of it because I was far too shy to ever be able to do that.
My parents never told me what he’d said. I not only went on to teach high school, but at the end of my second year of teaching, I was given a Teacher of the Year award.
It was years later that Mom told me what my teacher had said.
What is your most treasured possession?
Probably the books I was given by my Uncle Frank, an 80-year-old man who twice took a train from San Francisco in the 1950’s to visit my family in southern Manitoba. He was actually the second husband of my mother’s aunt. And the first time, he came to give Mom (his wife’s eldest niece) the diamond ring he’d given her aunt. They had no children.
He knew there was a little girl, so he brought books for me, and he sent more books for Christmas as long as he was alive. My favourites were A Child’s Garden of Verses, Alice in Wonderland, Grimms’ and Hans Christian Andersons’ Fairy Tales.
If you had to leave your house suddenly, what is one thing you would grab, other than family and pets?
My photograph albums. I keep meaning to get them scanned but haven’t yet.
(I keep a back-up hard-drive at my sons; otherwise my back-up external drive would be the most important thing.)
Thank you so much! Where can readers find out more about you and your books?
http://jamenzies.com (my mysteries)
http://www.njlindquist.com (my other books)
Of course, my books are on Amazon, Kobo, Nook, and other locations.
In preparation for the release of Shadow of a Butterfly; The Case of the Harmless Old Woman’s release on May 15th, the first book in my mystery series (Shaded Light: The Case of the Tactless Trophy Wife) we’re making the first book really low in cost, or even free.
Plus, you can get the second book (Glitter of Diamonds: the Case of the Reckless Radio Host) free by signing up for my email updates. So if you like mysteries, please pick them up!
The link is http://jamenzies.com/subscribe/
As for Shadow of a Butterfly: Death of a Harmless Old Woman, it will be releasing on May 15th, but I’m willing to give a free ebook to someone who comments below. You’ll have to wait a few weeks until it’s ready, but we’ll see that you get it.
Multi-published and Amazon Best-Selling author Cynthia Hickey had three cozy mysteries and two novellas published through Barbour Publishing. Her first mystery, Fudge-Laced Felonies, won first place in the inspirational category of the Great Expectations contest in 2007. Her third cozy, Chocolate-Covered Crime, received a four-star review from Romantic Times. All three cozies have been re-released as ebooks through the MacGregor Literary Agency, along with a new cozy series, all of which stay in the top 50 of Amazon’s ebooks for their genre. She has several historical romances releasing in 2013, 2014, 2015 through Harlequin’s Heartsong Presents, and has sold more than 300,000 copies of her works. She is active on FB, twitter, and Goodreads. She lives in Arizona with her husband, one of their seven children, two dogs and two cats. She has five grandchildren who keep her busy and tell everyone they know that “Nana is a writer”. Visit her website at www.cynthiahickey.com