Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Julie Hyzy on Writing Well, Fitting in Family, and Reading Regularly

Julie Hyzy is an award-winning Chicago area mystery writer. Her current series are the White House Chef series and the Marshland Manor mysteries. Her latest in the White House books is called Buffalo West Wing, and it debuts today. Julie last visited this blog in 2006.

Hi, Julie! So much has happened since last you were on this blog. You have become the Stieg Larsson of cozy White-House mysteries. :) How do you feel about your meteoric rise to fame?

Ha ha ha. Don’t I wish!! Oh wait… on second thought, maybe not … he’s not here anymore and I’d like to stick around a bit longer. But you’re so sweet. I’d hardly say I’ve experienced a meteoric rise to fame, but winning the 2009 Anthony and Barry Awards did have me walking on clouds for a long time. (Want to know the truth? I’m still flying.) No complaints. Things have been good and I’m a very happy camper. And it has been a while since I’ve been here, hasn’t it? Love this blog. Miss talking with you!

Congratulations on your very big year last year! Your White House mysteries are very popular—what’s your writing schedule like? Are you working on a book right now?

I’m always working on a book. LOL. I heard a great quote (paraphrasing) “Writers don’t take vacations. They’re either writing or thinking about writing.” Is that true or what?

Right now I’m busy with getting the word out for Buffalo West Wing, but I’m also in the middle of copy edits for the second Manor House Mystery, Grace Interrupted. (They’re planning to include “Grace” in every title. I love it!)

As far as my writing schedule goes – I’m kind of in flux right now. I’m thinking about changing things up a bit. I had planned to write five days a week in 2010, leaving weekends and evenings open for family, but I had a lot of commitments during the year that threw my schedule way off. After having way too much fun (can you say “procrastination”?) I found myself under the gun in October and November, writing three to six thousand words per day. As it turned out, I cut about half of them, but they needed to be written first.

Believe me when I say I don’t want to be under that kind of pressure ever again, so this year I plan to write 2,000 words per day three days a week. Even if I miss a day here and there, it ought to be more than enough for the two books I’m under contract for, plus another book (or so). Promotion takes up a lot of time, so I’ll use Mondays and Fridays for that, and still try to keep weekends and evenings free. That’s the plan, at least. Check in with me at the start of 2012 and I’ll let you know if it worked!

Yeesh! There's only so much time in the day. Speaking of political leaders (as we were with your White House novels): you are a Chicago girl; what do you think of the fact that Chicago will soon have a new mayor?

Oh my gosh, how fun is this? My favorite story so far has been how the powers that be who are opposed to Rahm Emanuel talked the man living in Rahm’s Chicago residence into running for office just to screw up the works. Is this entertaining, or what?

I know that city finances are a mess, but I am sorry to see Richard Daley go – for a couple of reasons. I love Chicago--and love spending time in the city. Visitors always comment on how beautiful and how clean the city is. After touring a few other major cities around the world, I realize how right they are. Say what you will about his politics (and how much $$ he spent), but Daley really made the city sparkle.

I’m also very sorry to hear about Maggie’s health problems. I’m sure her battle with cancer played a big part in Richie’s decision not to run again.

It is a lovely city.

As you mentioned, you're working on another Manor House Mystery. Is one series easier to write than the other?

Hmm… interesting question. I guess I don’t think about it that way. I love writing for Ollie [in the White House series] because I know her very well now. She still surprises me from time to time but good friends do that in real life, right? Grace is newer to me. I’m still learning about her—about her hopes, dreams, and what makes her tick—and that’s endlessly fascinating. I suppose it’s been slightly easier to follow a printed floor plan of the White House than to create my own original as I did for Marshfield Manor, but I really enjoyed that project. And I keep adding rooms.

I think Grace and Ollie are equally easy and equally difficult. Both heroines have minds of their own and both refuse to cooperate if I try to push them to act out of character.

But I love questions that make me examine how I write and your question did just that. Thank you!

You blog at Mystery Lover’s Kitchen. Have you always been a foodie, or were you sort of forced to become one when you began the White House series?

If you count eating, I’m a foodie and always have been. Love, love, love going out to dinner. People want to know what I do when I’m not writing. You know, like a hobby?

I eat.

That doesn’t mean I like to cook. I usually try to avoid cooking if I can get away with it. I’m actually pretty good in the kitchen and I’m not afraid to experiment, but if it’s a choice of writing, reading, or cooking… kitchen duty always loses.

I make no secret of the fact that all the great recipes in the back of my White House Chef Mysteries are created by a professional chef. She is amazing. My family and I have thoroughly enjoyed every single one of the items she’s come up with. Delicious!

That said, I’ve been coming up with new and mostly original recipes for Mystery Lovers Kitchen once a week for over a year now. You know what? It’s been fun. To my great amazement, I’ve really enjoyed creating new dishes. My husband loves it and so do the kids (when they’re home). I’ve even started to amass kitchen gadgets. I now have a food processor, a potato ricer, and--my newest addition--a set of good kitchen knives. Real ones! With blades that actually cut!

Cool! Your website says that fiction is your passion. Do you feel passionate about it when you’re in the throes of revision? :)

Even when the passion manifests itself as hatred, it is there nonetheless.

Seriously, though, I love revising. Love it. It’s probably my favorite part of the process. I’m happily surprised when some of the stuff I’ve written isn’t always as bad as I remembered, and the stuff that is horrible gets tossed. Love that. That’s where I’m happiest.

Wow! That is a gift. I wish I could love revising. What are your plans for 2011?

I have two books to write—the third Manor House (the second, Grace Interrupted, comes out in June) and the sixth White House Chef (the fifth one is turned in, but no title yet). I’m keeping my fingers crossed that both series will continue beyond my current contracts. I also hope to write a third book in 2011. No solid plans on that one, though. Right now it’s just a jumble of ideas.

What are you reading these days?

Believe it or not, I’m finally reading the first Stieg Larsson – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I had such trouble getting past all that Swedish economy blather, but now the story seems to be taking off. I’m also reading a couple of books about the White House. Research for the next Ollie.

I just read the first one recently, too. You're not the only one who is tardy in experiencing the Larsson phenomenon. :)

You’re a busy mom; when do you find time to write?

Sniff… my baby just finished her first semester in college. Although the girls are all home fairly often, I have lots more time now than I used to. It’s nice, but if someone gave me the chance to go back to when they were 2, 5, and 8, I’d jump on that in a heartbeat.

I can relate. Even writers have their guilty pleasures. What’s your favorite tv show?

Oooh. Favorite now? Or all time?
What the heck – I’ll answer both.

Favorite recent TV shows:
Criminal Minds

Favorites of all time:
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Star Trek: The Next Generation

Worst Guilty Pleasure I’m almost afraid to admit:
1,000 Ways to Die

Interesting! I knew about the Star Trek passion, but the others are a nice potpourri.

Now on to a business question: Where do your books sell better—in stores, or on Kindle?

So far, they all seem to sell better in stores, but Kindle/Nook/etc. sales are increasing by the minute. E-readers were the big gift this holiday – or so I’d heard. I think they’re predicting a 70% jump in e-book sales in 2011. I bet it’ll be higher.

I don't doubt it (said the new owner of a Kindle). You’ve traveled a lot for your writing; is there anyplace you’ve discovered that you would consider moving to, or is Illinois the best place for you?

With family here, Illinois will always be home, but I would love (dreaming now…) to have a second place for the frigid winter months. I loved North Carolina when I visited there, but my husband (the accountant) prefers Florida because there’s no income tax. By the time we ever get there, we might not even have income, so I guess maybe he’s dreaming too!

I did not know that about Florida! Or maybe I did and forgot. Hmmm.

What environment do you need when you’re writing? Music on or off? Peaceful or chaotic? Good luck charms, or not?

Total quiet. In fact, I prefer writing when there’s no one else in the house. Music would drive me bonkers. No specific good luck charms, but I do have my writing room which is filled with wonderful little reminders of good times, happy writing, and special events.

What’s your best advice for people who want a writing career?

Write every day.

Great advice! Thanks for chatting with me, Julie!

Thank you, Julia! It’s been too long!


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