Nice Work: A Jacquidon Carroll Mystery. Denise Weeks. Dark Oak Press, 140 E. Palmer, Taylorsville, IL, 62568. www.oaktreebooks.com Paper. $19.95. ISBN: 978-1-61009-040-7. August 2012.
This is a funny novel as well as a good mystery. Those who feel a growing skepticism with the cavalier way the corporate world operates and treats employees in the twenty-first century will identify with Jacquidon Carroll, who is laid off from her job at CSD with no prior notice because the company is right sizing. Jacquidon is sure it is because they’re hiring a young woman. Later she learns she is accused of stealing supplies and that her boss won’t give her a recommendation, though she has slaved years for him. She has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, and to top it all off, she is now accused of murdering her boss.
As her world falls apart, she call her sister Chantal to her aid. An interesting and subtle connection is made between cruel bosses and local sex cubs that feature a sadistic-masochistic lifestyle. Don’t worry. Nothing explicit, but the implied metaphor for the corporate world today is ingenious.
Jacquidon is given ten sessions in “outplacement,” read a referral to an agency for finding a new job. Fred Gordon, the young man running People Power is both attractive and helpful in job-hunting as well as mystery solving. The sisters’ mother tries vainly to keep her daughters from doing anything illegal, but how else will they find out what they need to know about what’s going on behind the scenes at CSD? Nice Work was a Malice Domestic finalist several years in a row and won the best novel contest at Dark Oak Press in 2011. Denise’s blog for her mystery series is: http://jackiesjotting.blogspot.com.
Interview with Denise Weeks:
Hi, Judy! Man, this one has been tough because I never have a SHORT answer to anything. I've tried valiantly not to blorf out too much, though.
1. When did you begin writing? Why?
I've been writing since I could hold a crayon.
I was an early reader, around age three--probably because my mother took me places and treated me like a little adult, so I turned out precocious like the children of today. Also, she and my father used to sit around and read, so I was eager to be like them. Because there were very few other only children back when I was a child (most people of our acquaintance had three to six!), I spent a lot of time alone reading, drawing, and playing pretend games by making up scenarios for myself and my various toys. This led (some might say "naturally") to my writing down the stories from an early age.
But my parents never took this seriously. My teachers did, from the first week of first grade, and always used to exhort me to "have that published." They had no idea how publishing worked then (regarding magazines as well as books, because there were many magazines that printed young students' work--Golden Magazine, Weekly Reader, and many others that are now forgotten). The professors at college were similarly encouraging, but clueless about how to get commercial fiction published. After I left school, though, I found it far more difficult to attract attention with my writing. I've taken long sabbaticals from writing when I got dejected or depressed. But I've never hopped off the train entirely.
The "WHY" of it is a bit more esoteric. I thought all books fell from the sky like the Bible had (everyone knows THAT) until the second week of first grade, when I had to spend a week at home on bed rest because of chicken pox. (The doctor made a house call and that was his verdict!) My dad was charged with the task of going to the store to get various supplies, and I asked him to get me a book to read. I was thinking along the lines of a "Bobbsey Twins" or "Dana Girls" book like the ones sold in grocery stores at the time; Mama usually got me the new book(s) in the series every couple of weeks when she did the grocery shopping. Well, he had no idea (being a Ph. D. rocket scientist--I am not making this up; he worked at NASA through the 1960s and worked on propulsion and whatnot for the Gemini and then Apollo programs when we lived in Houston) what to get, so he came home with a repro edition of Howard Pyle's _Adventures of Robin Hood_.
This was way beyond my ken and the print was pretty small to boot, so when I protested, he defended his choice. He said that the book had been one of his childhood favorites and that there were many versions. This is when I found out that books had individual authors--mortals who had walked among us! And that a person could write a book that stayed around after he or she was gone, in order to speak to future generations and to people he or she had never met! This boggled my tiny little mind, and I vowed to perfect my story writing so that I could write books. The purpose being, of course, that these books could travel on and meet people that I never would meet, and speak to generations far into the future. Of course NOW we have no guarantee that a library will keep a book for even three years, let alone forever, but perhaps digital texts will have permanence. Anyway, you could say that I began to write with a serious purpose because I don't want to disappear.
Who knows if it'll work?
2. When and why did you begin writing mysteries?
Around ten years ago I discovered that books were becoming more action-oriented and less character-oriented. The sorts of incidents portrayed in older books like _Little Women_ or _The Brothers Karamazov_, the things that you remember out of a book, were falling by the wayside. No longer would Heidi get to make cheese-and-bread sandwiches and have a picnic, for this would not qualify as an "action" scene. Scenes that only revealed character and/or important details were getting omitted in favor of more stabbings, bleeding, car crashes, rapes, and plundering. I really missed the "old" sort of book. Briefly I was fed by a craze for chick lit, but mostly I found books that didn't spend much time at all on the details of life, all the little events that actually make up most of our days. Life IS the little things, and I missed these interludes. (I was getting plenty of "thinking" from the damaged main characters, who all seemed to have been abused, abandoned, punished, and so forth, and often thought about this and about who they'd next have sex with--but seldom about anything FUN from their childhoods or even from the other day.)
Then I discovered cozy/traditional mysteries were still including a lot of the good stuff! Many series characters went on to marry, have children, and have entertainingly happy lives that surrounded the obligatory crime and sleuthing. These books seemed more my style than the action-y books, so I started reading them. I recognized that it would take a while to learn to write a mystery, as it has to be far more planned and organized than other stories. It did take me a while. But I enjoy it now, and I get a bit of leeway in describing Jacquidon/Chantal and Ari/Zoë and their cohorts and their lives. When I'm doing red herrings or hiding clues, I can do it in a scene from life that is FUNNY or that you can relate to, even if it's not an explosion scene! Readers who click with my style and my way of doing things will discover the joys of geocaching, learn how it feels to be diagnosed with and learn to live with type II diabetes, and figure out how to break into a desk along with my sister sleuths Jacquidon and Chantal. I've always liked to finish a novel and feel that I have learned something and have had a vicarious experience that I wouldn't otherwise have gone through. That is cool to me.
3. Are you writing a series or a stand-alone? Explain your basic idea for your series.
I have two mystery series. (Serieses?) The first is the Jacquidon Carroll series, starring sister sleuths in the "Snoop Sisters" tradition. Except that instead of being elderly like the original Snoop Sisters (if anyone remembers them from the NBC Mystery Movies in the 1970s), they're twenty-somethings and full of energy and curiosity. Their banter is hilarious (usually) and the scrapes they get into will amuse and surprise you. Their closeness will make you wish you were friendly like that with your own sister! The idea for this series is to take readers on a fun and occasionally funny romp through an ALMOST-implausible slice of the sisters' lives. Each book will be in the kind of setting that readers would love to see "the inside of," and readers will learn something (maybe even more than one something!) as well as laughing.
The first book kicks off Jacquidon's career as an amateur detective by placing her in the cross hairs of the police when her ex-boss Yancey is murdered (the day after she leaves the company, making quite a memorable scene in so doing). She and her sister need to explore the intricacies of Yancey's BDSM lifestyle to find the perp, including visits to two sex clubs and a few Internet explorations. Nothing's explicit, and there's no sex at all (even though we're not British); it's all played for laughs. The manuscript was vetted by two friends who are/were in the BDSM lifestyle so as not to offend anyone or portray them badly (although when you have a murderer hiding in your midst, that's bound to smear a bit of nasty on the couch!)
The next book is set at a national Christmas tree-trimming contest. (Believe it or not, there is a national gift-wrapping contest that I based this on--I went to the final round as a finalist (duh) in New York City in 1998.) The sisters have their hands full trying to figure out who the killer is without being wrapped in tinsel and thrown into the Central Park reservoir themselves! The book will be a Christmas release.
I also have a far darker series, the Ariadne French paranormal mysteries. Just wanted to mention the series because _MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS_ came out last summer and has gained a following. Here again we have a pair of sisters who are cornered into sleuthing, but the difference is that the settings and their backgrounds are far darker. Their banter is not as light-hearted, nor is the situation they find themselves in when Ari's fiancé Aaron is killed in Marfa, Texas, home of the magical Marfa Mystery Lights as well as home to many eccentrics. If you like darker mysteries in which the paranormal may or may not be at work, this series is for you.
4. Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.
_NICE WORK_ was a finalist in the St. Martin's/Malice Domestic contest several years in a row. I revised it every year after its turn as a bridesmaid once again, but I finally decided that the story simply would never be to the editors' taste. But because it was a hit with my various judges (who always sent me enthusiastic, hopeful letters notifying me that the book was among the top five finalists being sent forward to the St. Martin's Press editorial offices), I felt it would have an audience if only it could reach readers. Agents had no luck marketing it, though. This effort wasted several years.
I hadn't been enthusiastic about small presses, but on a whim I entered the book in the Oak Tree Press Dark Oak First Mystery Novel Contest in 2011 . . . and it won! Oak Tree Press is a vital small press that is turning into a real force, with authors like Marilyn Meredith, Ilene Schneider, Sally Carpenter, and *me* writing mysteries (as well as several talented writers turning out Westerns and romances). We're here and we're not going away. The large New York houses are looking only for blockbusters and have terminated many of the contracts of the mid-list writers I have been reading for years; I think NYC has lost its way, and it can't compete with small presses, where the focus is on quality and accessibility as well as speed in getting new work out. Nowadays, I am a small press convert.
My overall journey to publication (although you didn't ask!) began back when I was eight and sending little poems in the style of "Archy and Mehitabel" and awful little sonnets that rhymed "cheese" and "keys" off to the New Yorker (I am still not making this up) and the Saturday Evening Post as well as to the many markets that served young students. I got back many an encouraging note scribbled by hand on the top of the quarter-page sized standard rejections. I suspect that the slush readers back then knew that I was only a kid and wanted to encourage me. Well, bless them, because they did.
I even wrote a novel when I was in the sixth grade, but it has been lost (and a good thing, too). It was based on the "Godfather" that was so big at the time, except it was a comedy. Yes, I know it must have been a real doozy. After that, I turned to fantasy (like the Narnia books and Tolkien's work) and eventually published DULCINEA: or Wizardry A-Flute under my pen name, Shalanna Collins. DULCINEA was the first runner-up in the Warner Aspect First Fantasy Novel contest in 1996, but when no agents wanted to take it on (this was before Harry Potter made long YA fantasy novels golden), I went with a small press. (You see the trend here.) I still write YA fantasy as Shalanna Collins, and my "April, Maybe June" series will launch this summer with Muse Harbor Press.
5. Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose?
The BDSM deal in _NICE WORK_ is all my husband's fault. I was working on a different plot for Jacquidon when Hubby said, meditatively--oops, if I tell you what he said that sparked the idea, it would be a plot spoiler! But he gave me the idea for the perp and how the perp comes to be a perp and gets into a situation that prompts the crime. It was completely different from anything I had ever done, as I have generally stuck to more white-bread settings and situations. I think many people are still scared of S&M (BDSM) and think of its practitioners and devotees as weirdos who don't have normal lives. In _NICE WORK_, I show that a perfectly average middle manager in a business office (Yancey) and his ex-wife (also a middle manager) can be as mundane as buttermilk and also heavily involved in BDSM as a lifestyle and as a social setting. This takes innocent readers on a tour of some of the "light side" of the lifestyle and shows them that people are mostly more alike than they are different (bwa-ha-haa!) I chose to give my heroine type II diabetes in order to inform people about the disease, as it seems that everyone I know has it now . . . and readers who have it will identify more strongly with Jacquidon, who finds herself making difficult food choices sometimes and suffering the consequences. (When someone has a low blood sugar event, her judgment may be impaired, and she might say things she shouldn’t. If you're on the drug Glucophage/Metformin, you need to avoid alcohol . . . so if something you're drinking has hidden booze in it and you don't know that, you can get pretty incoherent. Enough said.)
6. How have you found it to be published? Share that experience.
I have found it to be a joy. Also a lot of hard work. You'd think that everyone you meet would be eager to read your books, but guess what? Now that everyone is self-published on the Kindle, it's not a big deal. And people don't want you to market to them. It's a tightrope walk sometimes.
My family always says, "You don't make any money from this! Spend all that time doing something that makes money!" They don't see merit in anything that isn't a big money-maker. Originally my elderly mother thought that writers made lots of moolah, but ever since she has been enlightened (during social events with other writers and with editors), she has been less than enthusiastic. Some writers have families who are supportive, and I would like to tell them how lucky they are. It's a struggle when every day you have to justify why you are writing and hold up the contracts you have with your publishers (and because those publishers are not Random House and Penguin, the family sneers).
Still, this has been a lifelong goal of mine. As long as the books are out there in trade paperback and as e-books, there's a chance that someone will stumble across them and will love them the way I have loved many a book over my lifetime. There are books that made me believe again in the indomitable human spirit, and I hope my books can do that for somebody out there. This is a hope I can hold on to during the dark nights of the soul.
7. Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?
I have received many good reviews that are posted on Amazon. I can't abide people who are always bandying about quotations from some "famous person" or another, mostly because I don't have anything like that. (LOL) People who like my books are generally the more thoughtful types who like to hear a character's thoughts about what's happening to them, rather than preferring the type of character who acts before thinking and never considers the consequences beforehand.
One faithful reader mentioned that she could identify with my characters because they weren't superhero types, but just regular people caught in bad situations. Another mentioned that the setting often becomes a character--especially in the MARFA LIGHTS series. It's nice to have my books praised for their narrative drive and inventive plots.
My Amazon author pages (where you can read the reviews by clicking through):
http://www.amazon.com/author/deniseweeks (mysteries, mainstream, romantic suspense)
http://www.amazon.com/author/shalannacollins (fantasy, YA fantasy)
8. What other books have you published and where, when?
As Shalanna Collins:
_DULCINEA_ (YA fantasy), 1999, available on Amazon
_CAMILLE'S TRAVELS_ (YA urban fantasy), ditto
As Denise Weeks:
_MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS_, as I mentioned, came out last summer and is the first in the Ariadne French paranormal mystery series. It's available from Amazon in trade paper or on the Kindle (for only $1.99!)
_LITTLE RITUALS_ is my literary paranormal women's fiction with a chicklitty voice. Available from Amazon in trade paper or on Kindle ($1.99!)
You can try a sample of any book if you have a Kindle. Go to the Amazon page and get the FREE sample. That'll give you some idea as to whether you're going to click with my voice and style.
9. Do you have a work in progress now? Is it part of a series?
I'm working on the sequel to _NICE WORK_, the one about the tree-trimming contest. I am also doing the final edits (galley edits) for the first book in the _APRIL, MAYBE JUNE_ YA fantasy/adventure series. After I finish the final edits and send that one off to my publisher, I'll go back to putting the final polish on _LOVE IS THE BRIDGE_, a standalone romantic suspense that has elements of technology (a possessed cell phone?) as well as the paranormal. Waiting in the wings is the second book in the Ariadne French mystery series--it's a rework of a book that originally was number one in her line-up and which also finaled in the St. Martin's contest almost ten years ago. _MIRANDA'S RIGHTS_, a standalone urban fantasy, will be next. I've been working on that one on the back burner for several years. More to come.
10. If you belong to Sisters in Crime, and/or the Guppies, has that been helpful? How?
I used to belong to every writers' organization I could find, and it was exciting to attend meetings and socialize with others who put writing first as a priority. We often had informative guest speakers. But the cost of belonging to the organizations kept inching up, and I never derived any benefit from being in any of them--I'm sorry to say. The exception is Romance Writers of America, where it's a good idea to join because you then can participate in their many contests or judge contests. If you enter their contests, you might get feedback from an agent or editor. If you judge their contests, you can give useful feedback (which I have tried to do every time I've judged.) I've won the Golden Rose and the Stiletto contests in the recent past, although that never led anywhere as far as publication (although I did get a gold-plated rose as grand prize a couple of years ago; that was pretty stunning.) I got the agent that I briefly had through a query, not through connections, and I've never connected positively with an editor as a result of any organization, unfortunately.
Sorry to sound kind of negative. Perhaps someone who is more outgoing and who is good at schmoozing would get lots more out of the organizations by attending all the face-to-face conventions. A LOT of this business, like any business, is who you know and who takes a liking to you. Life is a popularity contest. In other words, junior high never ends. LOL! Unfortunately, I am not good at all of that. I'm not a basilisk, but I come across better in writing, and I only appeal to people who don't subscribe to the "too long; didn't read" philosophy. If you can do sound bites and are charming, you might score big at a convention.
11. What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?
I'm about to get on the wrong side of a LOT of people, even though I don't mean to: I think conference organizers work very hard to create a good experience, and I know lots of people get benefits from attending.
Me? I attended two conferences (not Malice) that were fun and interesting, but ultimately did not lead to a business benefit when weighed against the cost of admission, travel, and lodgings. What typically happens for me is that my contest entry always wins something, and I get an appointment (an "audience") with a high-powered agent or editor as a result, and I go to the appointment at the con, and the agent or editor is wildly enthusiastic and wants me to send the full manuscript right away. I do so, and then about eight months to a year later I get it back with a form rejection attached. Your mileage might differ greatly; I fervently hope that it does (using the universal "you" here, not Judy in particular!) I know that many people report great forward strides in their careers from attending such conferences. And they're wonderful for those who are adept at networking. Good luck out there!
12. What else would like to say about your books, the next one in your series?
My books appeal to hardcore readers who enjoy cadenced prose and the clever turn of phrase. They are probably not for someone who says, "I hate metaphors" (although usually that is said while the reader is pointing at some other figure of speech--LOL) or "I like things to be simple and easy." For some reason, it never comes out that way for me. But of course I welcome anyone who is curious--please download a sample chapter and give my work a try! That's how I find new authors.
I'm on Facebook as Shalanna Collins, and I have a page for my books at
My blogs (if you want to take a peek):
http://deniseweeks.blogspot.com/ (general official blog)
http://shalanna.livejournal.com/ (personal journal)
http://shalannacollins.blogspot.com/ (official Shalanna blog)
http://jackiesjotting.blogspot.com/ (for the Jacquidon Carroll series)
Thanks so much for giving me your blog as a bully pulpit, Judy! I'm looking forward to reading and blurbing your upcoming new book. See y'all on the 'net!
Denise Weeks, a lifelong writer from Dallas, Texas, has been writing since she could hold a crayon. Like many homegrown Texas humorists, she is not funny. Novelist, pianist, belly dancer, baton twirler (but no fire batons ever again, by order of the Renner, Texas, Volunteer Fire Brigade), and amateur radio operator. She is a polymath (and that doesn’t mean she can still actually DO math). A graduate of SMU many years after Laura Bush, Denise has worked as a software engineer, Dairy Queen soft-serve cone maker (she perfected that little twirl on the top of the dipped cone), and middle school math tutor. She and her husband live happily in a northern suburb of Dallas, Texas, with their two beloved pets: a yappy Pomeranian and Denise’s elderly mother.
Her novel Dulcinea (written as Shalanna Collins)was the first runner-up in the original 1996 Warner Aspect First Fantasy Novel contest. She collects recipes for fried yak. Homeland Security sees her as a Person of Interest. (Guess which two of those statements are lies.)