Author Julie Hyzy ~ Interviewed

Julie Hyzy’s White House Chef Mystery series debuted in January 2008 with State of the Onion featuring Olivia (Ollie) Paras, a White House chef who feeds the First Family and saves the world in her spare time. The second book in the series, Hail to the Chef, just came out in December. In addition, Julie’s collaboration with her writing partner, Michael A. Black—Dead Ringer— was released in November. A Chicago area author, Julie is currently the president of the Midwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Please visit.

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

Right now I’m beginning Book #4 (as yet untitled) in the White House Chef series and I’m working up a proposal for another series I hope to write (fingers crossed!).

Because Book #4 is still a twinkle in my eye, I’ll talk a little about Book #3, which I finished just before the Christmas holidays. I’m calling it Book 3 because the title I assigned, EGGSECUTIVE ORDERS, will probably be changed 😉 This story takes place around the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Ollie has invited her mother and grandmother to come visit so she can show them around the White House, but the day they arrive, Ollie is banished from the building. One of the president’s dinner guests died after eating the meal Ollie prepared.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head?

I’ve been writing ever since I was little. Nancy Drew stories were the best — exciting, fun, and they proved that girls could be just as smart and a
tenacious (if not more) than boys. I zipped through reading all of the yellow-spine Nancy Drew books and then decided to write my own. I came up with the Mary King mysteries, reasoning that if my protagonist had the same syllablic sound as Nancy Drew, I was a shoo-in. I was determined to be published by age 12. That didn’t happen.

Flash forward to 2002 – I joined a writers’ group, I participated in an extremely intense two-week writers’ workshop on the Oregon coast, and I saw my first short story published in an anthology. This was a very good year because I realized the importance of goal-setting. My kids were of an age where they no longer required constant supervision, and I decided it was time to do … or do not (apologies to Yoda). I opted for “do.”

I had been writing short stories exclusively. I didn’t believe I had the stick-to-itive-ness I needed to attempt a novel, but I was encouraged by my
good friend Mike Black to try. I did and I loved it. Writing a novel was a blast — I enjoyed every moment. Artistic License was rejected lots of times before it was picked up by Five Star, but even before that I’d begun writing my first series book, Deadly Blessings. I knew that novel writing was now in my blood.

As far as what went through my head? Well, the day I received a copy of my first book cover (via e-mail) I was so excited. No one was home to share my news with, but my library’s bookmobile was parked out on the street out front. So I printed out the book cover and ran outside. I had to introduce myself to the Bookmobile librarian, Fran, and I know I probably sounded like a nutcase, but I figured that anyone who loves books would understand my excitement. Fran did and we’ve been friends ever since.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Self-doubt is constant. I’ve yet to meet any writer who has permanently overcome the handicap of self-doubt. But that’s okay. I think that as long as writers use that doubt to push themselves to be better, then it’s a good thing — a healthy thing. I try to use my doubts as fuel to push myself further.

Writers’ block? I don’t believe in it. I believe that there are fun and varied ways to procrastinate… and I’m very good at putting things off. Many people are. But writers’ block, IMHO, is just a sign that the story isn’t working. If I come to a point where I can’t write further, and my mind refuses to move the story along, I realize I’ve done something wrong — taken a wrong option, or blown the pacing.

I wrote a minimum of two pages a day, every day, for five years straight. No days off. And during that time, as I worked the “muscles” of my brain, writing was the easiest it’s ever been. Every day I just picked up where I left off and continued. Now that I’ve given up that absolute, I find it harder to get myself moving. I’m planning to restart a daily minimum page count. But … not today 😉

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I wasted energy sweating the small stuff.

What’s the best or worst advice (or both) you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Best advice: Never give up
Worst advice: Publish it yourself

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

Favorite? Tough one. I find story ideas everywhere.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

A medical professional once mentioned visiting the Cook County Morgue. I said, “Wow, cool! I would love to see that!” I not only received some very strange looks, I also got an invitation to tour the facility. I’ve been there twice now.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share? Or have you ever been at the point where considered quitting writing altogether?

Never. As discouraging as some situations can be in this business, writing is my passion. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I would never give it up.

I’ve often thought, what if I lose … sight, fingers, hearing…etc. … what would I do? It’s like that game that challenges you do adapt if the worst happens. I’ve seriously thought about how I would write if I lost a sense, or if I lost feeling in my fingers. I would find a way to adapt. Writing is that important to me.

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet- behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

Start sooner. Believe in yourself. I wanted to be an English major but was talked out of it because “writers starve.” Even though that’s often true, I should have pushed my younger self to write and send way back when I graduated college. If I would have learned then what I know now, I might be further up the ladder in the publishing world.

But then again, Max Ehrmann (Desiderata) says that the universe unfolds as it should… so maybe this was the way it was all supposed to happen.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

Two important things have changed me as a writer. First: the Oregon Coast Master Class run by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Wow. Two solid weeks with twelve writers in one house. All we did was write, workshop, eat and sleep. I came out of that with newfound confidence and an even stronger work ethic than when I went in. Talk to *anyone* who participated in one of Dean and Kris’s workshops and you’ll hear the same thing: “This was life-changing”

The other thing is actually a person. I met Michael A. Black when I joined the writers’ group he belonged to. He took me under his wing and helped me gain footing in the publishing world. Mike introduced me to other Chicago mystery writers and he introduced me to my first editor. He and I are critique partners now and we trade pages as we write. He has ten novels out there. I have six. Not one of them went out without both of us reading, revising, editing, and sweating over them. This has been a great partnership.

Our collaborative novel, Dead Ringer, just came out in November.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

I have a couple of short stories that have never seen publication that I am particularly proud of. I really like the emotional tug of these two.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Strangers saying: “Hi, I have a great idea for a story. You write it and we’ll split the profits.”

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

Like divulging a secret wish, I feel as though putting my dreams in writing will jinx them. So, I’ll pass on this one 😉

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

I do love the solitude. As much as I enjoy meeting and talking with people, I love being alone with my characters. I love creating a scene and feeling it play out in my head. It’s just the most fun, ever. As a kid, I played with Barbies and imagined elaborate adventures for them. Now I get to create characters and watch them interact.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot or send a picture if you’d like.

Pic attached. (Such a mess, isn’t it?)

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

After I decide a character’s name, I like to write it in the center of a piece of paper and then fill in parts of her (it’s usually female) around it. I come up with family, work, love life, other issues, stuff like that—mind you, I’ve probably worked a lot out in my mind ahead of time—and then see the relationships. I’m a visual person and having all of the characters and their backgrounds (even if those backgrounds are just in my head at that point) makes it easier for me to envision my character’s life. Does that make sense?

Kind of like a big “people map.”

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

Starting in 2002, I wrote a minimum of two pages a day for five years straight, no misses. I often wrote more than two pages, but I always hit that minimum mark. While working on novels I found it very helpful to stop writing mid-paragraph, mid-scene. That way I knew exactly where I was when I re- started. Saved me bunches of re-reading time. And it got me right back into the flow immediately. It was a great little trick. I still use it today. Makes it fun to come back….

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

Combination. I tend to know my ending, more or less. I plot out ideas for how I imagine the story will go, but I always, always change it up. In HAIL TO THE CHEF, the character “Gav” plays a significant role. He wasn’t in my outline at all. He just showed up at his opening scene and said, “Hey, I think you should put me in here.” I did, and he stuck around through the end of the book. I love it when that happens.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

I don’t know how to commit a crime; Seriously. That’s a tricky thing, because I need to come up with something for my villains to do. With all the cell phones, security cameras, forensic clues and such, it makes it tough to get away with anything these days. But they do, and so I press on, working hard to figure out a crime that’s not too easy to solve right away, but can be solved eventually. I guess I just don’t have the heart of a criminal 😉

How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?

Books are like kids. We write (raise) them, send them off to publication (school) and hope that everyone likes them and they don’t get picked on. Marketing and publicity are like being the “room mom” for your kid’s class. You send them off to be educated and you think your job is done… but then come the field trips, the room parties, the school plays. All of these are a lot of fun, and you’d never want to miss one – but they do take a lot of time away from working on the next book (or kid still at home).

Weird analogy, I know. But that’s how it feels to me.

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

Not at all. These were some of the most thoughtful questions I’ve encountered. I just want to add that I love hearing from readers and to visit my website or my blog spot (which I update more frequently than the website).

Thanks so much!!