We’re proud to introduce the newest addition to the Femmes Fatales, Dean James. Dean has written under a number of names, and most recently, as Miranda James, has hit the NYT Best Seller List. We had questions, and our Frere Fatale has answers. Dean, take it away!
About pen names:
Toni: Why did you go with a female pen name when your protagonist is male? And how do you handle people who don't realize Miranda is not a woman, but a fine-looking man instead?
Dean: The decision to use a female pen name was partly marketing, since the marketing department believes that the primary audience for my series is women readers. They contend that women readers prefer to read cozier books written by women writers. I don't think that's necessarily true, but the main reason that I use a pseudonym is that my own name, Dean James, tends to get lost in cyberspace, thanks to a long-dead movie star. Miranda James is much easier to find on the internet, as were Jimmie Ruth Evans and Honor Hartman, two other pen names I used.
People who don't realize that Miranda is really a middle-aged man are sometimes taken aback, but thus far I've not had anyone react in a negative way to the revelation.
Donna: One of my friends found common cause with a neighbor--they both love reading, and more to the point, both loved the Miranda James books. "Of course, I love all of his books," my friend said. "His books?" the neighbor repeated, "You mean her, right?" My friend was concerned--she knew Miranda James was also Dean, but wasn't sure she was allowed to tell. Fortunately in this case, the woman was thrilled to find that a favorite author had written a whole bunch of other books under at least two other names. So I think my question to Dean is--we're allowed to tell who you really are, right? And do you find people who love one of your personas and hate one of the others? And what do you do then?
Dean: Yes, you can tell who I really am. It's an open secret. Given that I've now written eighteen mysteries in three series and one sort-of series, I hear from readers who are often adamant about their preferences for one series over the others. So far no readers have told me they hate any of the series in preference to one they love, but perhaps they are being kind and not telling me. There are commonalities to the different series, I think, but there are enough differences to satisfy differing tastes.
On the book business:
Marcia: Before you became a published mystery author, you wore several different hats -- scholar, teacher, bookseller. Tell us about them, and how they inform your fiction.
Dean: Don't forget about librarian, which is the hat I currently wear (and that I share with you). :-) Having been a bookseller for over twenty-eight years is a decided bonus for me, because I have first-hand knowledge of the market for mysteries. I've seen trends come and go, and I generally know who's doing what in terms of series characters and types of plots. My scholarly interest in the history of the mystery genre feeds into that as well, because I love mysteries from the Golden Age as well as contemporary ones. It's an incredibly diverse genre, and I love that I can read so widely and never run out of interesting and entertaining books. Also I think that, having read several thousand mysteries, I have learned a lot about plotting and how to structure the traditional, cozy mystery. Finally, as a librarian in a medical library, I have access to wonderful resources when I need to research ways in which to kill the victims in my books.
Kris: As a bookseller to a former bookseller, would you tell me how you'd like to see File M for Murder described in bookstore shelf-talker tags?
Dean: I'd love to see File M for Murder, or indeed any of my current series, described as an entertaining cozy mystery novels suitable for readers ages twelve and up. Readers have responded enthusiastically to the two main characters, Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat Diesel, and I love it when reviewers and readers both comment on how likeable and endearing they find them both.
Elaine: Tell one thing about you that would surprise your fans and readers.
Dean: They might be surprised to find out that I'm really rather shy and that I find promoting my books difficult. I've learned to cope with public speaking and meeting people over the years, thanks to working in the bookstore for so long and from having taught so many classes, but every time I step in front of an audience I have to give myself a little pep talk.
Charlaine: You've written about a lot of different characters with different occupations. Do editors sometimes suggest these scenarios, or do you always come up with them yourself?
Dean: Until I started writing the current series, the scenarios and characters were all of my own devising. My editor at Berkley, Michelle Vega, and the head of the Prime Crime imprint, Natalee Rosenstein, suggested that I try writing a series about a librarian and a cat. They both know of course that I'm a librarian and a cat-lover, so it wasn't that difficult to talk me into it. Everything else about the series, however, is my own invention. They provided the inspiration, and I developed it from there.
Hank: Computer, yellow pad, typewriter...when you start to write (every day?), what are you thinking about?
Dean: The actual writing I do on a computer. After all these years of using one I find that I simply can't write quickly enough in the old-fashioned way, by hand. I do make notes for the books, however, on pads of paper and in notebooks. Jotting down ideas is much easier that way. I don't write every day, except when a deadline is looming. With my full-time job, which requires many hours at the computer each day, I find that I'm too tired by the time I get home to spend any quality time writing on the computer (and I am not a morning person, as a general rule, so getting up early to write doesn't work for me). Thus I tend to do a lot of writing on the weekends, when I'm better rested and have time to relax and think. That doesn't mean, however, that my subconscious has been idle the preceding five days.
Mary: I know you have, or have had, cats of your own at home. Have you ever had cats who lived where you worked? Ones who made you want to write a series set in the workplace?
Dean: My two cats both passed away during the past ten months. They were both 17, so they lived long -- and, I'd like to think, happy -- lives. I've never had a cat that lived where I work, because unfortunately so many people are allergic. Otherwise it would certainly be fun to have a resident cat at Murder by the Book! Having had my two dear companions for 17 years taught me a lot about cats, and that helps in writing the current series, although neither of my cats was a Maine Coon.
Dana: What writers make you *want* to write? Is there one book (or author) that made you decide to be a crime writer?
Dean: I'm a Southerner, and I think many Southerners love the story-telling tradition. Ever since I came to the realization that books are actually written by people, I wanted to write. Books have been so significant in my life and have given me so much that I wanted to be able to do that too. My favorite mystery writer is Elizabeth Peters who also writes as Barbara Michaels. I've spent countless hours enthralled by her books, many of which I've read multiple times. She has been there when I've needed to escape from reality and has never let me down. If I can give that same kind of pleasure and escape to my readers, then I will be happy and grateful for the chance to do so. If I had to choose just one book by Elizabeth Peters, it would have to be Crocodile on the Sandbank, the book that introduced Amelia Peabody. I can't remember how many times I've read it, but I've loved it -- and laughed all the way through it -- every time.