Four Questions With… Merry Jones

Winter BreakFew writers will have more novels published in 2013 than Merry Jones.

Winter Break, the third in her series of crime thrillers featuring Iraq War veteran Harper Jennings (following Summer Session and Behind the Walls), was released in January. In it, a pregnant Jennings sees a young man dragged into the woods near her house, but the police write it off as kids playing around — or Jennings’ hormones. She knows it’s something more.

The Trouble with Charlie, a standalone thriller, was released in February. In it, Philadelphia schoolteacher Elle Brooks finds her husband Charlie (who was soon to be her ex-husband) dead on her sofa, stabbed with her kitchen knife. She can’t remember killing him, but she also can’t say for sure that she didn’t.

Outside Eden, the fourth Harper Jennings novel, will be released in July.

Jones — who’s also the author of the Zoe Hayes mysteries, which include The Nanny Murders, The River Killings, The Deadly Neighbors, and The Borrowed and Blue Murders (and that doesn’t even get to her non-fiction!) — lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia and teaches writing at my alma mater, Temple University. When you meet her in person, it’s easy to see that she has the energy needed for such an ambitious publishing schedule. She’s smart, engaging and fun to talk to.

Here are Four Questions With… Merry Jones.

You’ve had two novels published already in 2013, Winter Break and The Trouble with Charlie. What’s it like to have two new books out in such a compressed time frame — and will you continue averaging one per month through the rest of the year?

The Trouble With CharlieHahaha. I wish I could be that productive.

It’s insanity, trying to promote two books at once. I ended up hiring a PR firm — I’ve never done that before. But they wanted to emphasize The Trouble with Charlie rather than Winter Break, which is the third Harper Jennings book; they preferred not to start their promotion in the middle of a series.

I try to get attention for Winter Break, but I feel like a neglectful parent, paying more attention to one book than the other, even though I love them both. Bottom line, it’s been a busy time.

I love the premise of The Trouble with Charlie: A wife finds the body of her soon-to-be ex-husband and is pretty sure she didn’t kill him, but really can’t account for the time in question. Do you think that kind of situation — not being certain that you haven’t done something horrible — would be among the most terrifying a person could face?

Yes, I think that not being able to trust your own perceptions, not being able to rely on your own mind would be terrifying. External danger and bad guys are scary, but I think it’s even scarier when you can’t even be sure whether you can trust yourself and your own sense of reality.

I think there’s a shadowy place for all of us where our senses are tricked, whether by emotions, contradictory sensations, imagination, superstition, expectation, or whatever. In The Trouble with Charlie, Elle finds herself deep in this shadowy state and she has to find her way out, figuring out what’s real, what isn’t. She has a dissociation disorder that occasionally causes her mind to wander, leaving her with gaps in her memory. But even without an actual disorder, I think most everyone can relate to the fear of not being able to trust your own self.

The Trouble with Charlie also touches on the supernatural, with Charlie playing a role even after his death. Is this the first time one of your novels incorporated that sort of element, and how much did you enjoy writing those scenes?

I loved going across the border into the supernatural. I’ve touched on it before in Behind the Walls, where a shapeshifter appears. And Outside Eden, which comes out in July, touches on the power of the Evil Eye.

But The Trouble with Charlie‘s supernatural side is actually connected to your last question. For most of the book, even Elle isn’t sure if Charlie’s spirit is with her or if she is imagining him. Is Elle’s mind tricking her? Are her perceptions accurate?

The horror she feels after she finds Charlie’s body is compounded by her conflicting feelings for him and by her aching need to be in contact with him. As she fights her way through subsequent events, discovering disturbing secrets and fighting off attacks, she relies on Charlie — or the memory of Charlie. Again, her sense of reality is shaken. Is her mind going? Or is Charlie’s spirit really still with her?

I know you love working with small publishers. What about it appeals to you so much?

I don’t think it’s that I love all small publishers as much as that I love publishers that communicate with authors, make a real effort to support them, and keep them involved in the publishing process.

I’ve found that kind of relationship with one of my current publishers. Oceanview includes authors in every phase: not just copy-editing, but also cover concept and design, marketing and promotion. Members of the staff share information and ideas, and are constantly available for questions, eager to support authors’ promotional efforts by providing books for reviews, giveaways or signings. The creation and sale of The Trouble with Charlie has felt very much like a team effort. When I was with bigger publishers, I felt like just another cookie on the platter. The publishers were much less committed and involved — and even though I’d written the books, I felt like a helpless outsider to its publication, distribution and marketing.

I think that as the world of books and publishing evolves, smaller, more personal publishers might benefit. Authors who aren’t comfortable at big impersonal houses have plenty of other options.

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