Welcome to Book of Secrets, Juliet! Congratulations on the release of your latest book HEXES AND HEMLINES. Please tell us a little about yourself.
Thank you so much for having me on Book of Secrets!
Oooh, starting with the tough questions, I see! I’m from California originally, majored in Latin American studies at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to the east coast where I studied (and taught) anthropology. I like to joke that I’ve managed to hit just about every career that doesn’t pay: after the anthropology degree I became a social worker, then moved back to Oakland, CA, and opened my own art and design studio, painting murals and faux finishes in people’s homes. Then I started writing and couldn’t stop…. I really caught the bug! Essentially the most consistently lucrative job I’ve had was when I was a waitress. Still, I’ve been lucky enough to live my life doing things I love, and that’s nothing to complain about.
I’ve traveled a lot, speak a few languages (some a LOT better than others!) and have lived in several countries, but now I make my home not far from where I was born, in a house that’s turning 100 this year. It’s haunted by some very friendly ghosts.
For those who are not familiar with your books, could you give us a little background information on your Witchcraft Mysteries series? How many books do you have planned for the series?
The Witchcraft Mysteries feature Lily Ivory, a natural witch who was run out of her West Texas hometown at the age of 17. Since then she has wandered the world searching for a place she feels safe…and she finally finds that community in San Francisco’s famous Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. She opens up a vintage clothing shop, because she can sense vibrations from clothing and enjoys their history and connection with humanity. As a witch, Lily is powerful and able to stand up against demons and such; but as a woman, she still has a lot to learn about trusting other people and making friends.
I don’t have any particular number of books planned for the series. I think there are some series that are successfully sustained for only five or six books, but as we can see in Sue Grafton’s case, there are some that go on for the lifetime of the author! Because of the huge world of witchcraft, I think Lily’s stories could continue for some time to come. Right now I’m contracted through six books.
What was your inspiration to write about a magically inclined amateur sleuth?
I wanted to write something in the paranormal vein, and though I’m fond of vampires and the like, there were plenty of those stories already written! I’m drawn to witches because of personal experiences –I have an aunt and a mother-in-law who are both amazing, magical women-- as well as through my anthropological training. I studied the anthropology of health and medicine all over the world, and there has always been a strong association of healing with witchcraft.
I also like the witch theme because unlike vampires and werewolves, witches are real. They’re human. Whether we believe someone is a “real” witch or not, they believe that they are, and identify themselves as such. That brings up a lot of interesting issues of identity and magic.
Finally, I wanted to present witchcraft not just as the tradition handed down from Europe, but also including curanderismo, the traditional folk medicine of Mexico. I speak Spanish, my mother-in-law is from a small indigenous village and was raised in that tradition, and I’ve always been fascinated by it.
What is in store for Lily Ivory in HEXES AND HEMLINES?
In Hexes and Hemlines Lily is surprised to be called in by the SFPD to consult on a homicide scene. The victim is on the 13th floor, and is surrounded by symbols of bad luck – a broken mirror, a black cat, an open umbrella – and the police inspector who knows Lily is afraid that there might be something magical afoot. While Lily’s trying to tease out superstition from real magic, and tracking down the killer, one of her good friends finds a hex on her doorstep, ratcheting up the stakes.
Meanwhile, Lily is trying to finish her witchcraft training, which was left undone when she had to leave home so early. But seeking training from Aidan Rhodes, powerful (and sexy) male witch, may not have been her brightest idea….
What was one of the most interesting things you learned in researching your book?
I learned about Anton LaVey, self-proclaimed founder of the “Church of Satan” which was active in San Francisco during the late sixties and early seventies. He had nothing to do with real witchcraft, of course – among other things, witches tend to be pagans who don’t even believe in the concept of The Devil or Satan. In fact, LaVey was a showman who used the satanic stuff for shock value. And it worked: he had several bestselling books and even went on the Phil Donahue show. Essentially his “philosophy” espoused looking out for number one, and he declared that selfishness was the ultimate goal – quite something during San Francisco’s “Summer of Love” hippie heyday.
I also learned lots more about botanicals and how to make “Goofer balls” and “spirit bottles”…that was fun ;-)
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Oooh, that’s a tough one! I suppose it was when I actually sold my first book. Up until then it seemed unreal, like a dream that I was almost embarrassed to admit to anyone. But as I took myself more seriously, I realized I allowed myself to make writing a real priority, and then I felt like a real writer. Now I couldn’t imagine a day not writing.
What is your writing process like?
I write just about every day. Even if it’s only for fifteen minutes in a corner somewhere, I’ll sneak in time to write. Normally, though, I get up early and start writing until I reach my word count goal, which might be from 2000 to 5000 words every day. And then there’s editing, of course, and proofing galleys, etc etc. The work never seems to stop, but since I love it, even the hard parts aren’t so bad.
I usually start out with characters, and maybe an idea about a crime – or, in the case of Hexes and Hemlines, I imagined the setting for a crime scene sprinkled with bad luck signs. And writing series are fun, since once the characters are established you get to push them this way and that, put them into difficult situations, and sit back and see what they do ;-)
I write an outline only under duress – my editor asks me for one before I begin writing-- but usually I wander off of it by the second chapter or so. I like to be surprised by my story and follow it wherever it might lead – for me, that’s where the fun comes in, the almost magical way that a story unfolds as though I’m only channeling it, rather than inventing it!
Do you have any interesting writing quirks?
I think I keep a lot in my head. I always want to be more organized, to write up spread sheets and all the way neat writers do, but I never manage it. Other than using the computer as a word processor, I do all the rest by hand – my study is littered with handwritten notes and drawings and charts.
Also, I find endings difficult so if you speak to me a week before deadline I’ll probably have that “deer in the headlights” look, as I frantically search for inspiration. But it always seems to work out, so I’m learning to trust myself more.
What was the last amazing book that you read?
I was just out on tour with Sophie Littlefield and her new book A Bad Day for Scandal – I love that book! I love the whole series, which features Stella Hardesty, a 50-something woman in small town Missouri with a chip on her shoulder, a foul mouth, and an irresistible fury against abusive men. Sophie’s a friend, but she’s also written a great series, and I think Scandal is the best of the bunch.
Besides writing, what are some of your passions in life?
My son, painting, spending time with friends. I love cooking, and good food and wine…I work on my house and garden when I can, and walk around the lake or hike in the woods a lot. I used to love to volunteer, and there are a million other things I’d like to do, but there never seems to be enough time. Still, with good friends, art, writing, and family, what else do I need?
What can readers expect next from you?
Several more books in both of my series, the Witchcraft Mysteries and the Haunted Home Mysteries. I’m also working on a non-mystery novel, which is very exciting.
Where can readers find you on the web?
Contact me through my website, http://www.julietblackwell.net/, and find me on Twitter @JulietBlackwell and on Facebook!
Thank you so much for being with us today, Juliet!
About the Author:
Nationally bestselling author Juliet Blackwell writes the Witchcraft Mystery series (Secondhand Spirits, 2009; A Cast-off Coven, 2010; Hexes and Hemlines, June 2011; Obsidian). If Walls Could Talk launched the Haunted Home Renovation series, featuring Mel Turner, who reluctantly inherited her father’s upscale construction company and finds more than she bargained for behind the walls of historic homes. Dead Bolt, the second in that series, comes out December 6, 2011. As one-half of the sister duo dubbed Hailey Lind, Blackwell wrote the Art Lover’s Mystery Series--including Agatha-nominated Feint of Art and the most recent, Arsenic and Old Paint (September; Perseverance Press).
A former anthropologist and social worker, Juliet has worked in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, and France, and is now a painter in Oakland, California. She served two terms as president of NorCal Sisters in Crime and also sat on the board of Mystery Writers of America.
Would you like a chance to win one of Juliet's books from her Witchcraft Mysteries series? Awesome! I'm offering one randomly selected person her/his choice of Secondhand Spirits, A Cast-Off Coven or Hexes and Hemlines. The contest is open anywhere The Book Depository delivers, so please be sure they ship to your country.
To enter, please leave a meaningful comment on today's interview. Of course, you are welcome to comment on the post even if you're not entering! Just be sure to leave your e-mail addy if you'd like a chance to win.
The contest is open until Tuesday, 7/5/2011, at 11:59 pm CST. Good luck!