Joyce T. Strand is the author of who-done-it mysteries set in the San Francisco Silicon Valley and Napa-Sonoma wine regions of California.
Her most recent novel, HILLTOP SUNSET, is the first of a new series featuring protagonist Brynn Bancroft, a financial guru in transition to winemaker from corporate executive. Brynn Bancroft is a minor character in Strand’s novels ON MESSAGE, OPEN MEETINGS, and FAIR DISCLOSURE—three mysteries solved by Jillian Hillcrest, a publicist whose boss was Chief Financial Officer Brynn Bancroft.
Much like her protagonist Jillian Hillcrest, Strand headed corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in California’s Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder in her career. She focused on writing by-lined articles, press releases, white papers, and brochures to publicize her companies and their products.
Strand lives with her two cats and collection of cow statuary in Southern California, and seeks out and attends as many Broadway musicals and other stage plays as possible.
She received her Ph.D. from the George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA
Guest Post: Writing to Entertain—The Message in the Mystery
Without question, a mystery must entertain readers. Otherwise, why would we read it?
We mystery readers love to solve a puzzle along side our favorite sleuth—or help a new sleuth in his endeavors. We thrive on page-turning action and complex heroes and villains. We enjoy our heroes’ one-liners. Sometimes we long for a touch of romance. We wait patiently for a bumbling hero to get it right, or for a smart villain to make the mistake that will get him caught.
However, sometimes along the way of reading a mystery, we realize that we’ve learned something new; or our values have been challenged; or maybe even we’ve been inspired. How did that happen?
I have read mysteries and action thrillers since I was a teenager, and we won’t get into how long ago that started—let’s just say it’s been a long time. I’ve enjoyed Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys through Erle Stanley Gardiner’s Perry Mason, Ian Fleming’s James Bond to John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee right on up to Stieg Larsson’s Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. And, oh, so many more favorite authors.
I was so influenced in my early years by the Perry Mason series that I decided that I wanted to become a lawyer. (A quick review of a law textbook changed that career goal.) I doubt that Erle Stanley Gardner had my career goals in mind when he wrote his books, but I do believe that he wanted to let us know that not all criminal lawyers were shysters, and that some of them collected fees in order to defend their mostly innocent clients as well as they could.
I recall a story by Nora Roberts titled NORTHERN LIGHTS that featured characters located in an Alaskan town in winter. She described what it was like to walk across a street at night, creating a clear picture of what life must be like there during the winter months. And I learned so much about horse racing through Dick Francis thrillers and forensic anthropology from Kathy Reichs. Yet all of those books were page-turners. I didn’t stop to revel at the discovery of a new piece of information.
When I started to write my own mysteries, I pondered over the value of back-story without any desire to educate but with the comprehension that my readers would appreciate learning a little something along the way. I set my most recent mystery, HILLTOP SUNSET, at a winery and readers get to learn about winemaking along with my protagonist. Of course, the mystery was the primary “thing,” and my goal was to use winemaking only as a backdrop for the puzzle and action.
So even in a mystery, authors can help readers learn something—so long as the story is entertaining and we want to turn the pages quickly.
What about an author’s own point of view? Does an author use his writing to deliver a message? Does an author try to influence his readers?
Personally, I think it’s got to be almost impossible for an author’s point of view NOT to come across somehow. Authors can either channel that or ignore it, but how can we not reflect a lifetime of values, experiences, and education?
Perhaps the most successful writers are those who can overcome their own point-of-view to write the universal novel, such as, John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. We could make the argument that Steinbeck channeled his own point of view to capture the plight of the farmers experiencing the dust bowl during the Depression of the 1930s. Nonetheless, there are authors who write highly entertaining novels who go beyond their own viewpoint and deliver messages—even in the mystery/thriller genre. John Grisham’s novels tell us quite clearly that bigotry is wrong, insurance companies are corrupt, law firms are suspect, and the death penalty is to be questioned.
One of the most inspirational mysteries—if I dare call it that—is To Kill a Mockingbird. We definitely are drawn into the mystery, appreciate the heroism of Atticus Finch, and also hear the message against bigotry.
If we are to draw any conclusion about the goals of writing a mystery or thriller, it is that a book must above all be entertaining and compelling. A reader must want to learn more about the characters and how they will overcome the adversities they encounter—how the hero will out-maneuver the villain. However, a book will mean ever so much more to us readers if we learn something along the way without even realizing it. Or if we start to think about new ideas. Or if we examine our own values.
Writing to entertain—and what’s in the message.
A mystery set in wine country pitting financial exec Brynn Bancroft against a determined stalker, a troubled love interest, and career clashes.
Brynn Bancroft learns that a former employee who beat her nearly to death has returned to stalk her and her friend, Jillian Hillcrest, also a former victim. Recently divorced, Brynn turns to a new love interest only to encounter additional unwelcome issues. Meanwhile, short-timer Brynn, who has resigned from her Silicon Valley company, becomes bored fulfilling her remaining responsibilities there. She begins to prefer supporting the launch of her ex-husband’s new hilltop winery while waiting to move to her next position. Between her stalker and her new love interest, Brynn faces a series of life-changing events.
Blog Tour Giveaway
1st prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card plus autographed copy of Hilltop Sunset
2nd prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card plus autographed copy of Hilltop Sunset
3rd prize: Autographed copy of Hilltop Sunset