Interview: Juliet Blackwell, author of Dead Bolt!

I’m so excited to have the wonderful Juliet Blackwell on the blog today! Juliet is the author of the Haunted Home Renovation Mystery series (including Dead Bolt, just out yesterday!), the Witchcraft Mystery series, and much more. She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so please welcome her to the blog!

Juliet, you pursued degrees in both Anthropology and Social work, taught anthropology and worked as a social worker! Whew! What finally made you decide to pursue a writing career?
It wasn’t so much a “decision” as something I backed into…though that sounds bad, doesn’t it? It’s true that I’ve tried my hand at many vocations over the years, and I’ve enjoyed all of them. But after I established my own specialty painting and design company in the San Francisco Bay Area –doing a lot of historic restoration work– I found myself on construction sites at all hours of the night. I read a lot of mystery novels, and of course my imagination ran wild from time to time. I started thinking of possible story ideas, and one day I just started writing down some of my ideas. Of course, it took a loooong time before I managed to write anything anyone would have wanted to read…! But I think that ultimately, my love of storytelling and reading led me to writing. Also I’m very, very stubborn, so once I started my first book I was determined to finish!

You’ve written the Art Lover’s Mystery series with your sister, Carolyn, the Witchcraft Mystery series, and the brand new Haunted Home Renovation series! What made you decide that mystery was your genre, and do you have a character that you love to write the most?
At first I assumed mystery was a natural genre for me because I read so many mysteries. But after I began writing full-time and teaching writing workshops, I realized there was more to it than that. Mysteries offer the author a natural “skeleton” on which to hang one’s story: there’s a crime, the pursuit of suspects and the unraveling of the mystery, and finally the unmasking of the party or parties responsible. Weaving those elements together in new and exciting ways, and coming up with intriguing characters and plot elements, is where the real fun begins. Another attractive aspect of writing mysteries is the chance to set the world right again, to seek and find justice. In the real world, we rarely get such satisfying endings!

My first character, Annie Kincaid –an ex-art forger– holds a special place in my heart because she was the protagonist of my first series…besides, she had my day job as a faux finisher. But I love writing about witchcraft as well, since it has been a lifelong interest for me. And Mel Turner, the reluctant boss of a construction crew in the San Francisco Bay Area (in the Haunted Home Renovation series), is my current favorite because she’s so snarky and funny, and is determined to find ways to get past her insecurities and unhappiness while working hard and helping others. Now that I think about it…I guess the character I most love to write depends on the book I’m writing at the time!

What is your most unusual writing quirk?
I never know what the ending is going to be. In the case of the last book I turned in, In a Witch’s Wardrobe (fourth in my Witchcraft mystery series) I was so proud of myself for figuring out the ending long before finishing the book. But then upon revision, I wound up completely re-writing the final scenes! I used to panic about it, but now that I’ve got ten books under my belt I’m learning to roll with the punches. I guess I just need to write the entire book before I can figure out where my story naturally ends.

Name 5 of your favorite books.
Oooh, this is a tough one and I think it changes with each interview I do! Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, Elizabeth Peter’s Borrower of the Night, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams, Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer, and Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River. They’re all great books, but more importantly they’re books I read at crucial moments in my life, so they inspired/altered me in profound ways. But as I say…the list changes depending on when I’m asked!

What’s on your nightstand right now?
Right now I’m reading Rochelle Staab’s debut novel, Who Do, Voodoo?. Also, I’m reading Sophie Littlefield’s latest apocalyptic thriller, Rebirth, and Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ufelder. I’m also reading a non-fiction book on California architectural styles, and an anthology of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I always read several books at once!

Your love of home renovation shines on the pages of If Walls Could Talk, and it’s obvious you know your stuff! It says you enjoy renovating your own haunted house as well. Could you tell us more about that?
I live in a house built by John Hudson Thomas, an architect who worked with people like Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan in the Arts and Crafts movement. The house is far too big for me, so I share it with a couple of housemates, and until recently my teenage son (now off to college) and a big brown mutt named Sam (recently departed—she was the inspiration for Dog in the books).

The house has incredible wooden Moroccan arches, intricate old windows –almost every one distinct from the others– with original wavy glass, and a grand stairway. It’s very hard to describe, except to say that it’s gorgeous. The original owners were clearly well off; they lived here for more than forty years, with a live-in maid and full-time gardener. Afterwards, the neighborhood went downhill, and the home was bought by neighbors who were Polish immigrants, Victoria and Ziggy, who lived here for more than forty years as well, until they both passed away. So I’m only the third owner. Victoria and Ziggy weren’t able to keep the place up, which was both bad and good for the house: it had been neglected and needed a lot of repair, but many of the original features were intact. The only places they had “remodeled” were the kitchen and bathrooms, which were done with cheap 1970s materials such as Harvest Gold linoleum squares…ew! But the gorgeous woodwork was untouched, the lamps were original, and we found priceless French doors in the basement.

When I bought the house it had no source of heat, and the water heater was a fascinating cast-iron contraption from 1922 that took a very long time to heat water. I called in favors from people I worked with to renovate it, step by step, re-doing plaster and paint and foundation. It’s still a work in progress!

As to the “haunting”…everyone who sees the place has a strong (positive!) reaction to it. It truly has character, and it sparkles especially during our annual Halloween party because of all its shadowy nooks and crannies. In addition, it has a number of interesting quirks: doors that open and close of their own accord, lights that go on and off, items that disappear and show up elsewhere, and the distinct sounds of footsteps overhead when no one is upstairs. The basement always seems…”active”. The sensations are decidedly benevolent, though, so we’re fine with sharing the house with our ghosts.

In your bio, it says that Halloween is by far your favorite holiday. What do you love most about it?
Well as I mentioned, since we have ghosts in the house it seems only right to let them have their day! But seriously, Halloween combines many of the things I most love: dressing in costume (amazing how differently people act when they’re dressed up); decorating with a macabre sense (have I mentioned how great this house looks bedecked in haunted house decorations?); and the history of Samhain and Day of the Dead and the harvest festivals…just everything about it is great! Plus, I love the color orange. Oh, and black. After all, I write about ghosts and witches!

You’re also an accomplished artist, in several mediums. Which is your favorite to work in?
I paint in oils, and my favorite subject is the human form, and portraits. You can see some examples at here. I am largely self-taught, though one of the best decisions of my life was to spend a summer in Florence studying at the Florence Academy of Art, where I learned Renaissance skills like grinding my own paints. I get lost in the techniques, the history, even the smells of the paint. To me, painting is a lot like architecture, and witchcraft for that matter: they all link us to history, and to those who’ve gone before us. I just love it!

If you could pack your bags and go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
Probably back to Firenze! I adore Italy, and all of Europe. I’ve traveled around much of the world, and I hold a special place in my heart for Mexico and Latin America…in fact, Mexico would probably be my second choice. But Europe keeps pulling me back, time and time again. I find the pace of life, and the beauty, so relaxing and inspirational. And then there’s the food…

Quick! Name something that makes you laugh out loud.
Anything written by David Sedaris, or Anne Lamott – oh, add their names to my list of favorite authors! If you don’t know their work (they’re both primarily essayists) you should check them out for super-smart, astute, biting, caustic, and hilarious views of the modern world. They crack me up!
And my friends – I have some truly, wicked-funny friends. They never cease to amaze me and make me laugh, sometimes to the point of tears. That’s why I keep them around!

Is there any other news of upcoming projects or events that you’d like to share with us?
Dead Bolt comes out December 6 – the second in the Haunted Home Renovation series. In it, Mel Turner is renovating a historic Queen Anne Victorian and comes upon some nasty ghosts trapped in the attic…Publishers Weekly called it “smooth and seductive” – by which I was hoping they were calling *me* smooth and seductive! And in the fourth Witchcraft Novel, In a Witch’s Wardrobe, (July 3, 2012) Lily goes to the Art Deco ball and finds more than she bargained for at the theater. And I’m writing the third Haunted Home Renovation book now, which we just entitled: Murder on the House. Catchy, huh?

Keep up with Juliet: Website | Twitter | Blog
Read my review of If Walls Could Talk (A Haunted Home Renovation Mystery #1)

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