~If you love a mystery with a smart, quirky protagonist who can solve crimes, then don’t miss this series~
Introducing Jill Orr
Jill Orr is the author of The Good Byline, the first in the Riley Ellison mystery series. The second book in the series, The Bad Break, is due out in April of 2018. Orr lives in Columbia, Missouri with her husband and two children. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers and serves on the board of the Unbound Book Festival.
Take it away Jill….
What led you into writing books?
In school, writing was the only bright spot on an otherwise stunningly average transcript, so it seemed as good an idea as any for a career. I decided to major in Journalism because I thought “Journalist” sounded better than “Unemployed English Major.” I got my undergraduate degree and then three jobs, one master’s degree, and two kids later, I decided to try writing fiction.
Why write mysteries?
The first two novels I wrote were actually women’s fiction and they both live in the depths of my hard drive, never to be seen by human eyes again. (They were not good.) But having always been a big reader of mysteries, I eventually decided to try to write one. I think there was something in the structure of a mystery novel that helped me get to that next level. After all, in a mystery you have certain pegs on which you can hang your story, right? You have a crime, clues, suspects, red herrings– and those things provide an internal structure that helped move the story along.
Who do you look up to as a writer?
I read widely so it depends on the genre, but I am particularly drawn to writers who do humor well like Maria Semple, Rainbow Rowell, Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, Janet Evanovich and essayist Colin NIssan.
How long did it take you to write The Good Byline?
All in, about one year. Nine months to get a workable draft and three months to revise it.
How was it writing your first book?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, THE GOOD BYLINE isn’t actually the first book I wrote – it’s the third. I’ve now written 4.5 books and I always find the process of writing books fun and frustrating, in near equal parts, depending on the day!
Name some resources that helped you in your writing.
Since THE GOOD BYLINE features a character who is obsessed with obituaries, I did a lot of research on obituary readers and writers. There’s a fabulous book called THE DEAD BEAT: LOST SOULS, LUCKY STIFFS, AND THE PERVERSE PLEASURE OF THE OBITUARY by Marilyn Johnson which I just loved. I also read OBIT by famed obituarist Jim Sheeler and countless interviews with some of the other great obituary writers of our time like Margalit Fox, Bruce Weber, and Ann Wroe. Of course, like most writers, I keep a copy of Strunk & White’s THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by my desk and I love, love, love Lisa Cron’s writing guides WIRED FOR STORY and STORY GENIUS.
Take us through the creative process of developing Riley Ellison.
It started for me when I stumbled upon the website Legacy.com and realized there’s an entire subculture of people who read the obits as a hobby! I thought, “What a great quirk for a protagonist!” And since in the obit section there are plenty of dead bodies to choose from, it was perfect: all you have to do is make one of those into a murder and your off to the races!
What’s her motivation? What makes her tick?
Riley, like many twenty-four year-olds, is trying to figure out her place in the world. She had a plan for herself that fell through and now she feels adrift and is searching to find her purpose. She’s incredibly compassionate, but guarded, and yearns for human connection even though circumstances in her life have led her a place where she really has no good friends left. That’s where she is when the story begins. I like to think that through the action of the plot, we see Riley grow and develop and make some progress towards some of those goals.
What’s was your method for writing the plot?
Method? What is this “method” you speak of? Ha! I wish I had a method, but the truth is that I didn’t know what was going to happen from one page to the next. I never do. I am incapable of outlining no matter how hard I try, so really what I do is wait for the characters to reveal themselves to me page by page. It’s terribly inefficient. The only good thing is I haven’t had very many readers tell me they figured out who the “bad guy” was until the end, and I always think that’s because as the writer, I didn’t even know!
How’s the writing going for The Bad Break?
THE BAD BREAK is done and about to go to the printers! It will release on April 3, 2018. It was so much fun to write and I hope readers enjoy visiting with Riley and her friends again. I’m now working on the third book in the series, untitled as of yet, and that one is due out April 2019.
Can you give us a little sneak preview?
Sure! Here’s what’s on the back of the book:
Obituary-obsessed Riley Ellison’s life is going pretty well at the moment. She has an exciting new career as a reporter, a hot new boyfriend, and is even learning to co-exist with her ex and his “practically perfect in every way” baby mama in their small town of Tuttle Corner. But all of that changes when Riley’s former co-worker Tabitha finds her soon to be father-in-law dead and Riley is asked to write his obituary. And when the police discover Tabitha’s fiancé’s knife sticking out of his father’s chest, Riley finds herself with a murder investigation to cover as well.
With her quirky mentor Holman out on leave and mounting pressure from her editor, the mayor, and a bridezilla facing the possibility of a conjugal visit honeymoon, Riley is desperate to prove that she can handle the increasing demands of her new job. Despite warnings from those closest to her, Riley blurs the line between reporter and investigator. Will Riley’s rookie mistakes lead to more than just her byline ending up on the obituary page?
Have any favorite quotes?
Funny you should ask! I love quotes and am a sucker for those quote websites on which you can search by theme. One of the characters in THE BAD BREAK, Jenna B, Riley’s millennial life coach, is chock-full of pop culture/fortune cookie/Pinterest-meme wisdom and it was so much fun searching for “inspirational” quotes through her eyes. But I’d say one of my favorite quotes from a writer is from Meg Cabot:
“You’re not a one hundred dollar bill, not everyone is going to like you.” I find that advice very comforting in an odd sort of way!
Words of encouragement for new writers?
The only difference between a person who becomes a published author and one who doesn’t is stick-to-it-ness. There’s no magical talent threshold, you don’t have to have any special connections, and you don’t have to have a crazy BIG idea. All you have to do is keep writing and keep feeding what can sometimes feel like a delusional belief that you will get there one day, no matter how much evidence it seems like there is to the contrary!
Connect with Jill Orr
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