Sunday, October 20, 2019

Interview with Heather Haven

I didn't wake up this morning thinking about my past or a little boy's face that sometimes makes me cry in my sleep. No, it's a typical day and all I'm thinking about is the act. I push out into space and up toward the canvas sky, the trapeze and I as one. It’s exhilarating, the closest thing to flying I’d ever known. The fatigue from yesterday’s Fourth of July parade and two shows turn into wings. I am more than an eagle. I am free.” -Heather Haven, Murder under the Big Top

So begins circus mystery Death of a Clown (retitled Murder Under the Big Top). San Jose author Heather Haven is as eclectic a writer as her old hero P.G. Wodehouse. By her own admission on her author blog she writes, “In my twenties and thirties, I spent my writing career in New York City creating short stories, comedy acts, plays, television treatments, ad copy, and commercials. I even ghost-wrote a book once.” This is my interview with October’s Author of the Month, Heather Haven.

15) Heather, what made you decide to begin writing your own fiction when you’d reached your late 30’s?

I’ve been writing all my life: song lyrics, ad copy, articles, plays, comedy acts, you name it. It’s a puzzle to me more than anyone else why I never attempted to write a novel until I reached my late thirties. But when I did, there was no stopping me. I’m on my fourteenth novel now!

14) Death of a Clown was written not only as a murder mystery but also as an homage to your mother, who performed for Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus during WWII. You said you’d gotten insight into what the circus life was like from reading her letters and diaries. What was the most fascinating thing you’d learned about the old circus that is even now disappearing in the modern age?

There was a sense of togetherness and love not just for one another but for the animals they worked with every day. Everyone had their favorite animal, a relationship often sought out by the animal itself. My mother had a strong bond with one of the elephants, Topsy. When she baked, Mom would often make an extra pie just for Topsy. It was usually apple, because that was Topsy’s favorite. The circus was a different place then, but all of the world has changed so much, why should the circus be any different?

13) When Ringling Brothers did their final show two and a half years ago, were you sad and did you think of your mother’s legacy?

I did, indeed. In fact, some of me still mourns the passing of an era that impacted so much of American culture during the Great Depression and WWII. As long as Ringling Brothers was around, a part of my mother still lived. Irrational, of course, but that’s how I felt.

12) You still look at Murder under the Big Top as a high water mark of sorts. So why haven’t you turned it into a series, especially as the relaunch resulted in greater book sales?

I think I would be too sad, too involved. At that time, I wrote the book because I wanted to explore a world that was important to my mother. I was grateful to Mom for letting me use my perception of how she might have been when she was twenty as my muse. I really don’t know if I could do it again. Some things are best left alone. In any event, at the moment, that’s how I feel.

11) You’re also the author of the Alvarez mystery series. Without using your old synopsis and back cover blurbs, tell us about the family dynamic.

Here’s what I wanted to do: Show a family who were not the typical mother, father, sister, brother and sheep dog running around in a station wagon in the burbs. So I started the series off with the unexpected death of the patriarch, the father who started the family detective business, and took it from there. You have the mid-thirties protagonist (Lee) who is funny, warm, impulsive, but insecure about herself, her mother (Lila), who is beautiful, cool, and reserved, younger brother (Richard) who is a computer genius and uncle (Tío), who not only can cook like a house afire, but gives unconditional love.
Importantly, I didn’t want Lee to have no sense of self, be unhappy or battling with her loved ones or own only one black skirt shoved in the back of the closet to use only for funerals and weddings. I wanted her to glory in life, strive for happiness, be always working toward that goal. In fact, the whole family wants to be happy. You’d be surprised how many people in the world don’t think they deserve happiness. It’s so important, Thomas Jefferson put it into the Declaration of Independence “the pursuit of happiness.”
Secondly, I also wanted to show an immigrant family (Mexican-American) who were successful. As it’s a humorous series, I didn’t want them to be struggling at keeping a roof over their heads or getting the necessities of life. Their struggles are more along the lines of getting along with each other while trying to solve a murder or murders. The Alvarez clan sparkles, amuses, maybe teach a lesson or two, but it’s a beach read, for sure. Having said that, I do deal in some part with important issues of today: illegal immigration, black-market antiquities, gambling, child pornography, drugs, and, of course, good old-fashioned murder. I just try to do it with a few laughs thrown in.

10) How difficult is it to work with a varied family dynamic in the Alvarez mystery series?
Not at all. I love it. Scratch the surface of ninety-five percent of families and you will probably find something odd going on. That’s what makes life so interesting.

9) Who were some of your favorite mystery authors when you were younger and which one in particular do you think influenced you the most?

Right after Carolyn Keene (and there were several of them who wrote the Nancy Drew series), it begins and ends with Agatha Christie. She is to mysteries what Shakespeare is to plays: pure genius.

8) Plotter, pantser or plantser?

I am a pantser, although I love all my plants.

7) In the modern age of the internet and smart phones, readers can fact-check you on a dime. Do you find this puts added pressure on you as a novelist to get all your facts straight or are you scrupulous in your research to begin with?

I try to spend a lot of time on research, but you have to be careful and not let it get in the way of your writing. On the back end, I do have fact-checkers but sometimes things get away from all of us. Case in point: putting down the wrong year for the attack on Pearl Harbor. But then there’s usually some lovely reader who straightens me out. Then I fix it. The only thing I really worry about is hurting someone’s feelings.

6) You’ve recently started a spinoff series featuring one of the Alvarez family, How does this one differ from the parent series or it is it an expansion of it?

The Love Can Be Murder Novellas concentrate more on the relationship between Lee Alvarez (protagonist of the Alvarez series) and her husband, Gurn Hanson. The rest of the Alvarez clan circle the two satellites. Also, they are shorter, novellas.

5) You’d once said you could never write a straight-up romance novel even though romance is an element in your work. Is this because of lack of interest in the genre or are you just a born mystery novelist?

Funny you should bring that up. My latest book, which came out in September 2019, is called Christmas Trifle. It was originally slated to be a romance novel. After six gruesome months of trying to write straight romance, I gave up. I just can’t do it. So I turned the book into a romantic suspense and that worked out a lot better. Apparently, if I’m going to write something, I need to throw in a dead body. Not sure what that says about me.

4) Describe your typical writing day. Do you draft in a notebook or laptop exclusively or a combination of both? Do you set daily words goals and, if so, what’s a good day for you?

A good day for me is when I write a complete chapter. Doesn’t often happen, I tend to write around 1500 words at a clip. But any day I don’t write something is a day without sunshine, as far as I’m concerned.

3) You’ve written seemingly everything from ad copy to novels. Have any of those non-novel disciplines helped or informed your novel-writing?

Yes. Writing is a job. I started out being paid to write ad copy, so I wouldn’t have dreamed of walking in one morning and saying, “I can’t write today, I’m not in the mood.” I write whether I’m in the mood or not. It’s a job. I happen to love the job, so it makes it easy, but that’s always my approach to it.

2) Are there any plans to start another series or is juggling two enough for you?

I’m actually juggling four. So there are no plans to start any more.

1) What’s next for Heather Haven?

Books, books, books, writing, writing, writing, and living life to the best of my ability.

If you’re interested in learning more about Heather Haven and her work, then please follow the links below:

Heather Haven Amazon Page:
Amazon Alvarez Series Page:


At October 20, 2019 at 4:53 PM, Blogger Heather Haven said...

Thank you for hosting me, Robert. It's an honor to be here.

At October 20, 2019 at 5:14 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

You're the first Author of the Month who ever thanked me with a comment here. I bet you make out and send all the thank you cards in your household.

At October 20, 2019 at 11:34 PM, Blogger Heather Haven said...

Norman and I do make out, even after 37 years of marriage. We've been called on it now and then, but we don't care. Keep love alive is our cry. But mostly, be true to yourself. And I buy all the thank you cards, even though I don't necessarily write and send them. I love shopping for cards.

At October 20, 2019 at 11:43 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Uh, that's not what I meant by "make out" but OK, thanks for sharing...


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