Sunday, April 18, 2021

Interview with Jessica H. Stone

Sheaffer Blue can't hold a job, a boyfriend, or her place in line at the liquor store. But she can solve murders. In Blood on a Blue Moon, set in Seattle's houseboat community, Sheaffer-just Blue to her buddies-tackles corrupt politicians, big money, and killers who think nothing of torching an old woman and blowing up her neighbors. In her current job as an insurance investigator, Blue must join forces with David Chen, a high-ranking detective on loan to the Seattle police department. Chen is precise, organized, and diligent-the polar opposite of Blue. Their relationship is icy. But when thrown together in life-threatening danger, things heat up, and sparks fly. Sheaffer Blue is a woman of many careers and many lovers, but the one constant in her life is murder.” Synopsis for Blood on a Blue Moon.

15) There’s a hoary old adage in writing circles: “Write what you know.” And that certainly seems to be the case with you, Jessica. Tell us how Sheaffer Blue came about. How long were you mulling that character until you’d finally begun Blood on a Blue Moon?

Sheaffer Blue has been hanging around in my head for ages.  I’ve seen her sailing the coast of Mexico, partied with her on South Polynesian beaches, and swapped stories of dozens of dock parties I honestly don’t remember when we first met. I suspect she’s an amalgamation of a gaggle of gutsy sailor girls who’ve welcomed me aboard or who’ve waved as we passed.

14) The houseboat community of a major US city is certainly a fresh and original backdrop and setting for a detective series. In fact, I don’t know of a precedent for it (Discounting, of course, the Terry McCaleb duology by Michael Connelly). I have my own ideas but what do you personally see as the advantages to setting your new series in Seattle’s houseboat community?

Ah, well, this first book in the series is set in a floating-home community much like one I lived in for a couple of years. I got the idea for this book when I saw a worker replacing a hermetically sealed drum (a floatation device) under a home.  It occurred to me that a drum, sealed tight, would be a great place to hide a body.  And you know, that’s how these things start. But Sheaffer will move on to other exciting venues as she’s a bit of a rambler.

13) Of course, Blood on a Blue Moon isn’t the only nautically-themed book you’ve written and published. There was also Doggy on Deck, a nonfiction account of life on the sea with your quadruped first mate, Kip McSnip. Tell us about some of your adventures on the water and have or will any of them find their way into your fiction?

Guessing this is the case for all fiction writers—everyday life—every adventure, word, smell, and moment can inform the work. No different for me.  I’ve spent half a lifetime on the sea, so much of that saltwater splashes onto my pages. The ocean offers up both deep, spiritual magic and unholy terror.  Even when I write of the land, the emotions felt at sea become part of the tale. The water has given me a great gift, and I hope to share it with others through words and stories.

12) I’d imagine that having a protagonist who lives on a houseboat is a wonderful way to escape the dreaded Cabot Cove syndrome. Are you planning, in future installments, to have Sheaffer set sail to different locales or is she in Seattle to stay?

Sheaffer is a wandering soul, and she will travel widely in her adventures. While she may check in on her buddies on Dock W from time to time, she has a whole world to explore and explore, she will.

11) For those who’d never been to your blog… What did you do in your professional life before you’d made the transition to writing? And had any of that knowledge or experiences informed your writing?

College professor—taught marketing, strategic business planning, and consumer behavior.  I was lucky to enjoy great students and intelligent colleagues. It was a good gig, but I’ve always been happier at the helm of a boat or at my keyboard than I was in faculty meetings. My former career comes into play in my writing through my ability to conduct research and stay organized when bombarded with data. Valuable skills, I think, for any writer.

10) Describe your typical writing day, if there is such a thing. Do you exclusively draft in notebooks or journals, on a laptop or is it both? Do you set a word or page goal and if so, what is it?

While Covid has messed with almost everything, some of my writing habits are cast in stone (nope, not a pun). Early morning with coffee, journal, and fountain pen. Then shower, dress, and hit the desk. I light a candle to call in the Muse. No page or word goal. I write until the characters stop acting out or until the Muse calls it a day. Then it’s on to the business of adulting and living in the three-dimensional world.

9) What are Sheaffer Blue’s strengths and weaknesses and why does she make such a compelling detective?

Without a doubt, Blue’s strengths are her intelligence and her tenacity when she uses them to good ends.  If she’d focus on her life, the way she focuses on solving murders, she’d go far. But she’s lazy and doesn’t care for anything that sounds or feels like work. Her only desire is to sail her boat, Ink Spot, down the coast of the U.S. to the south of Mexico, where she can spend her days in a hammock and her nights dancing with dark-eyed men.

8) You mentioned in an email last winter that you were collaborating on a thriller with your mentor, J.D. Barker. How’s that coming along and can you tell us anything about it?

Oh, gosh, miscommunication. J.D. Barker is a fantastic thriller writer – a master! He’s my mentor—a guide, a teacher. We’re working together to strengthen my skills, but we’re not collaborating on work. At least not yet. However, wow—what a goal! Okay, now you’ve got me dreaming of bigger and better things.

7) Your debut novel, The Last Outrageous Womanwon First Place in The Somerset Award for Women’s Literary Fiction, certainly an auspicious start. What was the inspiration behind that?

My mother lived in a retirement community in Florida. She belonged to a group of senior women who met once a month for lunch and conversation. They called themselves the Outrageous Women. During a visit to the Sunshine State, mom invited me to join one of their luncheons. Later that evening, my mother said it was sad—they had started with fifteen Outrageous Women, and now there were only five. I popped out with, “wouldn’t it be strange to the last outrageous woman?” BAM! Voices filled my head—they babbled and tittered and pushed each other out of the way—each so eager to tell her story. I had to excuse myself, run to find paper and pen, and write down everything those ladies had to say. In two hours, they gave me the entire outline of the novel. They stayed with me, chattering away until the book was complete, a full year later. When they’d finished telling their stories, their voices faded into mist.

6) Plotter, pantser or plantser?

Plotter. Ideas come in the morning journaling, walking the pup, sailing, standing in line at the deli. Ideas come all the time. What if? What would happen if? Questions start the musing, the wondering, but outlining and plotting—that’s where the story takes shape—at least for me. I use the beat sheet in Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody and the structure format in The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick. The Hero’s Journey, discussed by Joseph Campbell, is another useful model.

5) What are some of the advantages to living on a houseboat? How does it add to the writing experience?

Anything that floats is a catalyst to dreaming, to musing. I’m currently writing a thriller set on a whale-watching tour boat and, as one character tells another, “the best dreams you’ll ever have are the dreams you have at sea.”

4) You’d also written a nonfiction book entitled, Howto Retire on a Boat. Have you taken all your own advice?

For many years I lived on my sailboat while working at my teaching career.  When I transitioned to full-time writing, I traveled extensively and did house and boat-sitting around the globe.  At the moment, I’m a dirt-dweller living in a 125-year-old-home in a charming little town by the sea.

3) While growing up, who were your favorite authors and which ones would you call an influence?

My mother went to college when my sister and I were young, so I had the advantage of being exposed to many writers not often encountered until high school. I read Dickens and Fitzgerald and Salinger. My favorite book of all time is Moby Dick by Herman Melville. By far, the most influential writer for me was Ernest Hemingway. Say what you will about the man or his troubled life—the guy was a master with words.

2) Would you like to see more nautical-based mystery fiction or do you like being the only fish in that sea?

I enjoy novels set in all sorts of locations. It’s a joy to experience new places and situations through story so bring them all on!

1) Besides the Barker collaboration, what’s next for Jessica Stone/Sheaffer Blue? 

J.D. Barker is my mentor and teacher. Our collaboration is on my education—and while he’s a stern taskmaster, he’s also a kind and generous guide. I’m working on a thriller titled Turbulent Waters. It’s a stand-alone novel. Set on a whale-watching tour boat in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Turbulent Waters tells the terrifying story of killers who kidnap a class of third graders and the emotionally-shattered stow aboard who risks everything in an attempt to save the children.

If you’re interested in learning more about Ms. Stone and her work, please follow the links provided below.


FB author page:

Amazon Author Page:

Publisher’s website:


At April 19, 2021 at 3:44 AM, Anonymous Jane Risdon said...

Fab interview, thanks so much for sharing. Good luck Jessica. Thanks Robert. x


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