On the first Friday of July 2015, we are having breakfast with Mystery Author Noreen Ayres. Noreen’s fiction and poetry has won top-tier awards in national contests. For over 20 years Noreen was wrote and edited technical documentation for engineering companies in Alaska, California, Texas, and Washington. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in Literature from Cal-State University, Los Angeles, and has taught writing at community colleges. Seven “rescue” cats permit Noreen and her ballroom-dance coach husband to live with them in northeast Pennsylvania.
Her novel, THE JUAN DOE MURDERS, is part of her Smokey Brandon book series. Her three forensics-based suspense novels were a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award nominee.
For this late June/early July breakfast, I’m having a teeny seeded Sprouts’ croissant with organogold coffee, the results of my Redina lettuce thinning with an alpine strawberry and the rare now store-bought blueberries drizzled with lime infused olive oil. Noreen, what are you having?
You know you are the only person in this whole, wide universe who would ever ask me that question, don’t you? Well, it’s a grainy cereal with half a small banana and raspberries or strawberries.
I’m incredibly curious about breakfasts! Tell us about your writing process from concept to draft to revision.
I wish I were more like an engineer, with a conception, a detailed plan, and the end product in mind, and even a timetable. Instead, the process starts with a scene, something I’ve seen or heard about. Then some sort of comment comes to me, usually turned into dialogue, and only then do I attach a character to it. “Someone” answers that dialogue, and then I have two characters. I have a number of what I call Fiction Starts, with just that: two characters talking to each other. I should live so long to turn those “starts” into real stories! The process of a novel is entirely one of getting sucked down into some strange vortex with debris flying. Then the trimming, the extraction of certain worthless pieces gets underway. That’s a poor process. It means a lot of rewriting and despair when I get stuck and wonder why I wasted all those hours and if I can even finish. And then the wind starts to churn again and somehow I am freed…and a book is born.
Tell us about the Smokey Brandon books. Why this series, why now?
The series started when I took an Introduction to Forensics course at the Univ of Irvine. In the first class I heard a story of a young man earning a living at a gas station in my county who was chased into the store freezer and shot in the mouth. On the way home that night of the class, the opening two lines came to me, and in my gut I knew I would sell that book, a book that wasn’t even written. I did not think I could write a whole novel, or a second book, but the contract I eventually got called for one, so I started typing again. Each time, I wondered if I could write another novel. The series began in the ’90s, got good reviews, but I did not get the second one out for two years. I had been warned by a bookseller that authors must get one out every single year to build a following. By then I had lost the editor who believed in me, so there was virtually no push, no promotion. Luckily, Brash Books reached out to me last year and offered to re-publish the books. I could not get the rights back from the original publisher for the first two. Brash graciously still agreed to re-publish the third one, THE JUAN DOE MURDERS, now available in both digital and print form from Brash Books and other sites.
Let me top off your unadulterated Kona coffee, Noreen. What did you find fun/intriguing about writing THE JUAN DOE MURDERS and what was difficult?
JUAN DOE is the third book in a series. One difficult thing was having to cut out 25,000 words when it went to a smaller publisher in the first go-round, which version also now appears in the issue from Brash Books. In writing Juan Doe (which term, by the way, I heard at the county morgue while viewing an autopsy), I was inspired by the lives of workers in the fields I saw from the Orange County freeways, those minimum-wage mostly Hispanic souls laboring in the hot rows. Too often they became victims with no family advocates who’d insist on finding justice. What I liked about researching for this book was going into the fields myself as part of a charity harvest. I sweated while picking potatoes and corn. Corn is really heavy, dusty, itchy work. I also liked bringing the investigator (“Smokey” Brandon, who was a stripper in Vegas in her teens) down into the canyons where she volunteered cutting out invasive plants. But the most difficult research in any of these forensics-based mysteries was the trips to the morgue and the viewing of autopsies, advised by the teachers of the two criminal investigation classes I took. These days we see mock autopsies on TV or partially blurred real ones, but there is nothing like the actuality.
Tell us about your next project and when it may be published.
It’s a non-mystery, the story of my father when he was part of the phenomenon of boys from ages nine into the teens who jumped on railroad cars to find work on farms across the Midwest. As to when will it be published? I was very, very lucky once. Maybe I will be again. I do have a new short story out in an anthology edited by Mary Higgins Clark. It’s called “Copycats,” and is in MANHATTAN MAYHEM.
I bought THE JUAN DOE MURDERS as soon as I heard about it. I’ve always loved Smokey and I so enjoyed spending time with her again. I highly recommend the book to anyone who likes depth and pitch in their thrillers with characters that will stay with you to the grave.
Thank you for visiting with us, Noreen. Your next project intrigues me, and I hope it’ll be available soon. Let me pour us all another virtual cup of Kona coffee before you rush off to Amazon for THE JUAN DOE MURDERS.
Learn more about Noreen Ayres and her Smokey Brandon series at:
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Noreen-Ayres/e/B001KHDXA6/