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Monday, January 18, 2010

Author Interview: Julie Hyzy

I am excited to have author Julie Hyzy interview today for you.  She is a fascinating lady who has acted in community theater productions, appeared in television commercials, and crashed a previously all-male fraternity to become one of the first female brothers in Loyola University's Chapter of Delta Sigma Pi. Julie had dreams of becoming a writer, but family, friends, and frat brothers convinced her otherwise. Having held positions as junior officer at a downtown bank, office manager at an architectural firm, and financial advisor at a prestigious wealth management company, she realizes that the business degree was probably a good choice -- but fiction is truly her passion. Now, with some well-earned life experience behind her, she's delighted to finally be able to make writing a priority in her life. (Life details provided from her website.)

I am grateful she is writing full time because I enjoy her books.  You may read the review I did of here second book in her White House Chef series, "Hail to the Chef" here.  I am looking forward to hopefully giving you an advance peak of her new series due out this coming summer 2010.

Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

I usually start with a plot idea, then decide on the victim, and finally the killer. I've started with the victim a time or two, but I almost always start with the plot. That said, my plots have changed during the writing process and the end story is never exactly as I originally planned.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc) before sitting down and writing?

I do outline, but it's not terribly structured. I've tried all sorts of outlining tactics, but the one I'm favoring now involves a main page of ideas, Post-it notes, and a big board. I start with a sheet of paper and put my main character in the center of it, then surround her (almost always a "her") with other characters who will be important to the story. I jot a few notes as to how they all interact. Once that's done, I start imagining how the story starts and how it progresses. That's where the Post-it notes come in. I scribble an idea or two for a scene -- very brief -- and tack it to my board, adjusting as necessary. One idea I have come to love is to have separate Post-it notes labeled with days of the week, for as many days as necessary. I put those up first along the left side of the board (and again, adjust as needed), but this way I can see at a glance if I've included way too much action for a single day. The days-of-the-week has prevented me from double-dipping, too. I did that once. I have a book with two Saturdays. Yikes!

I loved Olivia Paras, what is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character tell you about him/herself as you write?

Thanks so much. I love it when people feel strongly about my characters because I really do. With Olivia, I studied Cristeta Comerford, our *real* first female White House Executive Chef, but I didn't copy her exactly. I just used her as a guide. Usually I don't have a real person to base my characters on, so I free-write and let them talk to me and tell me about how they grew up, what's important to them, and how they came to be important to the story.

How do you find time for writing, what works for you - and do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?

I am so lucky to have a room to write. My family calls it my cave. Every morning, I read the paper, have coffee, check email, and then sit down to write. When there are busy days, or times when I can't carve out my morning that way, I feel it. I love my routine.

When I write, I prefer silence. No music, no background noise. Just the quiet of the house around me. It's lovely.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

I tend to write abuot 3 hours per day when I'm not on deadline, and about 8 hours a day when I am. Now, I'm way more leisurely during those 3 hours, which is why I often find myself approaching a deadline and start to get nervous. I've always finished a book with weeks to spare, but I need those weeks for revision, so it's not as though I'm done early. Does that make sense?

The shortest time it ever took me to write an entire novel was about 2 months. But that was for a contest that I decided (last minute) to enter. I didn't win, but the novel seems to have garnered some attention. It isn't published yet, nor is it under contract, but I have hopes.

Mostly, I take about 6 months to write a book, give or take.

How much research goes into your work and do you complete that up front or "just enough" as you go?

For the White House Chef books, and for the upcoming Manor of Murder series, I do a lot of research. I'm constantly on the prowl for information, and I'm always gathering ideas and notes. I have books, DVDs, articles, etc. here that I refer to every day, but I prefer to research certain details as I write. For instance, in one of the WHChef books, Ollie walks through the Palm Room. There are a couple of great paintings in there. I knew where to find that information, so I waited until I was writing that scene to fully explore that room.

I particularly enjoy how you create a sense of place. Setting seems as important as the characters in your mysteries, any tips on conveying a sense of place well?

I think if you "see and smell and feel" a place in your mind as you write, it naturally comes out in the story. What I really enjoy reading and try to write myself - is how a character experiences a place. That is... seeing and feeling it through his/her particular filters. That not only gives you the setting, it helps the reader know the character better too.

Can you recommend a fiction book that provides a great example of the writing craft to dissect and learn from?

So many. Sue Grafton does a great job of providing that "filter" I just mentioned. We see where Kinsey is, but even better, we hear what she's thinking about the setting. I love that. Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER is lush with detail. The first time I read that one I skimmed through the descriptions, only to find out later that I needed to know those details. Wonderful book.

There are so many... it's hard to narrow it down. I think we can learn from every book we read. How to, or how not to...

What are you currently reading?

At the moment, I'm in SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut, THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, and a manuscript from a new writer that is really, really excellent.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I like to act out gestures to "get it right." Sometimes I find it hard to describe exactly the gesture I want, so I act it out repeatedly until I find the words for it. This is why I prefer to write in my cave, and not out in a coffee shop where people might stare ;-)

How did you get your first break towards getting published? Was it sending in a query or meeting an agent at a writing conference etc?

My first professional sale was a short story for an annual Star Trek anthology by Pocket Books. This was a great opportunity for new writers (especially those who were ST fans!) because it was only open to amateurs -- that is, writers who had not had more than 3 professional sales. That meant one could possibly appear in a maximum of three anthologies, which I did. Once I had these sales under my belt, editors and agents were more willing to look at my stuff. As it turns out an editor took my first novel for Five Star, and working with them to get three novels published helped me develop a foothold in the business. I still love writing short stories, though I haven't done so in a while.

Do you participate in a critique group (or have you in the past?) What are the pros and cons of critique groups?

I belonged to a critique group for about 7 or 8 years. I still keep in touch with the group and go to the holiday party, but I've run out of time. It takes about a year to get one's entire novel critiqued in the group, and I'm under contract to write 2 books per year at this point. But I learned a great deal in the time I was participating, and the group is wonderful for providing support and help whenever needed.

I think the pros include having that support and knowing there are others in the same boat. Also, if everybody says, "this scene doesn't work for me," then you can bet that scene doesn't work. The cons include the time participating takes from writing, and also sometimes there are too many opinions. Once in a while, you just have to go with what feels right.

Tell us about your latest book, Eggsecutive Orders out Jan 5 2010. What aspect of the new book did you particularly enjoy? I also noticed a second mystery series - A Manor of Murder, what can you tell us about that?

Eggsecutive Orders is the third White House Chef novel featuring Ollie Paras. This time she faces the worst dinner guest she's ever encountered -- a dead one. When a big shot dies after dining with the president, she's banished from the kitchen until her innocence can be proved. But it's the week before the annual Easter Egg Roll, so tension is very high. In this one we meet Ollie's family and we get to know the kitchen staff a little better. Lots of stuff going on in this one.

Manor of Murder is the series debuting in June, 2010, and the first book is Grace Under Pressure. The books are set in the Eastern United States, at a palatial mansion/museum/tourist attraction, where Grace Wheaton is curator. Well, assistant curator until her boss is found murdered. She steps into his position, not only to help keep the place running, but also to solve his murder. What she doesn't expect is to encounter a personal mystery of her own.

Thanks for asking!


Thank you Julie for such a fantastic interview.  I bet she has a hard time not getting overwhelmed with the research she could do on the White House!  I love her writing quirk too.  I am looking forward to her new series, sounds great with lots of possibilities with the setting.  So dear reader, what do you find interesting in the interview?
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this interview. I recently read State of the Onion and really enjoyed it. I'll be looking for the other two books in the White House Chef series. I'm also glad to hear and the new series Julie has starting this year. Always room for more!

Julie Hyzy said...

Thanks so much for having me here, Ariel. Your questions were great!

Glad you enjoyed State of the Onion, Kay! And I'm pretty excited about the new series!


A.F. Heart said...


I am glad you enjoyed the interview and found it interesting.

Thank you for the interview, it was great. I want to be in on your new book being released. If you are doing a book Blog tour, consider us here.


Unknown said...

Great interview! I love the White House Chef series and I'm really looking forward to the Manor of Murder series.

I really liked Julie's tips for establishing a setting. Wonderful advice throughout the interview. Thank you!

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