Friday, September 15, 2006

Mystery Writer Jane Cleland's Consigned to Success

Thanks for agreeing to chat with me, Jane.

Your novel, Consigned to Death, is a fun play on words. In one sense, of course, it refers to the antiques business, in which you have some experience. So, having run your own rare book and antiques store, have you ever felt “consigned to death?”
Interesting question... “consigned to death,” as in “shoot me now.” Yes, when I ran my rare books and antiques store... I occasionally felt that way—for instance, when explaining to a customer that “free gift wrap” didn’t include those items she’d purchased elsewhere, or when we foolishly opened on Superbowl Sunday and not one customer came into the store all day. Mostly though, I recall special moments—the delight of discovering a satiny-smooth leather bound book among a box of battered volumes or the look of elation on a collector’s face when he found a treasure in our shop.

You are also, according to your website, an “experienced speaker and meeting facilitator.” How did you develop experience in this area, and how does one facilitate meetings?
There are two theories to training professional speakers: hire a subject matter expert and hope they can communicate effectively or hire a really smart, excellent communicator and teach them the curriculum or subject matter you want them to deliver. I got into the industry more than twenty years ago via the second approach. I sometimes think of myself as the 7-11 of the information business—I’m very adept at distilling complex information into manageable and understandable “data chunks.” I have a behavioral slant, so all my business communications work aims to help people do something better. My clients are blue-chip: I write seminars for the American Management Association (they assign me a subject matter expert); and I develop and facilitate workshops for clients such as Pfizer and PriceWaterhouse Coopers. As to how one facilitates meetings well—well, that’s a huge subject—in fact, I offer a seminar on the topic, so it’s tough to summarize in a sentence or two, but here goes: to facilitate a meeting well, ensure that everyone in the room feels like a million bucks while maintaining an iron grip of control. I’m not being flip—those are the two qualities that excellent facilitators share. There are lots of ways to achieve these seemingly mutually exclusive imperatives, so there’s plenty of room for individual styles and personalities to succeed.

Your book has been tied in with the popular Antiques Roadshow. Do you think this has helped to contribute to its success?
First let me clarify that there is no official “tie-in” with the wonderful program, Antiques Roadshow. I was surprised when the early reviews compared Consigned to Death to the Antiques Roadshow, but, of course, I was thrilled at the comparison. I think Margaret Maron, Kirkus Reviews, and others really nailed an aspect of the book that I hadn’t really latched onto—the intriguing complexity of appraising antiques. I’m new to the writing business—Consigned to Death is my first novel. I think it’s crucial, when you’re a debut author to have a succinct way to describe your book. It helps people understand what they may be getting themselves into by starting it. Therefore, I think it’s useful that I can explain Consigned to Death as: “It’s like an Antiques Roadshow for mystery fans.” I think that’s clear and accurate.

Before writing fiction, you wrote several books on business, including Putting First What Matters Most: Proven Strategies for Success in Work and in Life. Were you a business major?
My undergraduate work was in communications, but my graduate work was in business. I earned an MBA.

How did you come up with the idea for Josie Prescott, your protagonist?
I wrote a mystery featuring a sizzling hot private eye named Tony Barnes who was based in New York City. It received the nicest rejections! Part of the message was that the market wasn’t strong for new series featuring a male private eye based in New York. I took it as a personal challenge and developed a mystery series featuring a female amateur not based in New York. I really love Josie a lot, so I’m thrilled she has come to life!

The nicest rejections--that's funny. But so true.

Since you have a great deal of business experience, are you handling your own public relations?
I’m handling a lot of it, but I have a good friend who’s helping me with some aspects of it, and I also work with an outside service as well—Breakthrough Promotions.

I’m also helping the Wolfe Pack, the fan club of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books, publicize their literary awards. Starting in 2007, I’m taking over as chair of the awards. And I’m very excited to announce that we’re partnering with Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine to offer a new writing award—for best novella! Rules for submission will be posted on starting in October!

You have a husband and four cats. Are they a part of your business empire?

Sadly, I must report that one of our little cats has died. Very hard. We loved the little guy a lot. As to your question, I wish I had a business empire for them to be part of! I’m just a new author trying to introduce my protagonist, Josie Prescott, to as many people as possible!

You seem like a goal-oriented person. What are your goals for the next few years? Do you have a long-term goal?
I am extremely goal-oriented—and I’m always in a hurry. My goal up until a few months ago was to get a new contract. I did so—so St. Martin’s Minotaur will be publishing Josie’s adventures for years. I’ve completely thrilled!

Other goals—to keep introducing Josie to as many people as possible; to launch the Black Orchid Novella Award in partnership with Alfred Hitchock Mystery Magazine (see starting in October for details); to ensure that the Nero Award (I’m the chair starting in 2007) maintains its high quality level; to write good books; to serve well on the New York Board of the MWA; and to snorkel a lot.

Long term goal—all of the above, except more so.

You are considered an inspired speech-maker. Have you utilized this in promoting your fiction writing?
Thank you for the nice words! I don’t know about “inspired,” but it’s true that I am an experienced public speaker—all those years delivering seminars and facilitating meetings add up!

To answer your question—I’ve developed two speeches related to the Nazi theme in Consigned to Death—one is called Finding Stolen Art: A Detective Takes on the Nazi and the other is called The Politics of Stolen Art: A Legacy of the Holocaust. I’ve delivered them at Temple Israel in Sharon, Massachusetts—one to the entire congregation, and the other to high school students. They were very well received.

If any of your readers would be interested in learning more about those speeches, or a speech on another topic—such as Growing a Small Business: How to Get the Word Out—I’ll be happy to talk to them about it. They can e-mail me at or call 212.332.9976. I’m very good about responding to e-mail, so if they don’t hear from me within a day or two, that probably means I didn’t get it! Please call!

I’m very interested in speaking at libraries, Rotary Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, and the like.

Because I’ve spent a fair amount of time researching how I can best introduce Josie (my protagonist) to people, and have had some success, I also offer a presentation on: How to Promote Your Book—20 Ideas in 40 Minutes.

Did you always want to write fiction, or is this a new discovery of your creative side?
I sort of knew I wanted to write fiction, but it was a long-sublimated desire.

Will there be more Josie Prescott adventures?

I’m trilled to report—yes! Deadly Appraisal will be published (also by St. Martin’s Minotaur) in April 2007, Lethal Legacy in April 2008, and so on. I have a multi-book contract, so we can expect Josie to have adventures for years to come!

What’s been the most unexpected part of promoting the mystery?
How thrilling it is to meet fans! I knew it would be fun to meet fellow mystery lovers, but I didn’t expect to be brought to tears as fans confide in me how close they felt to Josie because of her strength; or how their dad died, too, so they understood Josie’s struggle to overcome her heart-wrenching grief; or to hear their stories—like Jerry, a fan’s dad who gave her a flashlight when she was a little girl so she could read late into the night without risking her mom’s ire. I feel truly fortunate and grateful.

You encourage people, on your website, to share thoughts about the value of some of their antiques—going beyond the monetary and thinking in terms of emotional value. What sorts of stories have people told you?
One fellow told us about how he and his wife found a painting in the attic just after they married and moved into their first house, and how it still hangs in their living room reminding them of their love—and they’ve been married more than fifty years. A woman told us about her grandmother’s quilt, and how it traced the stories of her life. Very moving.

Jane, when do you find TIME to do all this stuff? Am I talking like a loser? Do I need to buy one of your books to help prioritize my life? :)
Ah, priorities! Part of why it seems that I accomplish a lot is that I don’t spend time doing things that other people do. For instance, I don’t have children! Another part is personality—I can’t sit still! I like being busy and I like getting things done. Still another part is that I’m a late bloomer and I want to make up for lost time!

See, that's a problem: I can sit still for HOURS.

How can people find out more about Jane Cleland and her fictional creation, Josie Prescott, and the mystery called Consigned to Death?

My website is a good source of information: – there’s an excerpt so people can try the book to see if it’s of interest to them, for instance.

I post two BLOGS a month—and starting this month, they’re available as podcasts! I discuss everything from nightmares to characterization through suspense.

The newsletters keep people up to date on what’s going on – like the major change in cover art that will occur when Consigned to Death is released as a paperback—and will be carried over in the branding with Deadly Appraisal. You can see the new covers in an article in newsletter, Vol I, No. 6:
I also include an unpublished fact about Josie in every issue of the newsletter--fun! Anyone interested in receiving it via e-mail can sign up on the site.

There are photos of Josie’s world on the site, recipes for all of the dishes mentioned in the book, and loads of other informative and fun content!
I’d love to hear from people. Folks are welcome to e-mail me at or call 212.332.9976. As I mentioned above, I’m very good about responding to e-mail, so if they don’t hear from me within a day or two, that probably means I didn’t get it! Please try again or call!


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