One of the delights of interviewing authors comes from learning about their journey into print. Is writing the fulfillment of a lifelong dream? Did the author stumble into the world of writing? For author Nancy Lynn Jarvis, the influence of two very different women in her life drew her to pen her first book.
Jarvis speaks quite candidly about her inspirations. One, a lady in her 70’s who zoomed onstage on a zip line as Puck, taught Jarvis that everyone ought to try something new every few years to avoid stagnation. The Shakespeare Santa Cruz company’s outdoor production of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” called for the woman to make her entrance from a grove of redwood trees, and she took on the challenge fearlessly. Jarvis, an experienced real estate agent learned to take that same approach to her writing, fearlessly embracing something new.
Another author provided the counterpoint. Jarvis’ author friend jettisoned many promising starts based on feedback from others. Rather than polishing one work, she would move on to something else and seek perfection there. As a result, she succumbed to cancer without ever seeing any of her work completed and in print. This tragedy pushed Jarvis to finish her first book, “The Death Contingency,” and dedicate it to her friend with a caution against delaying the pursuit of dreams while waiting for perfection.
When the real estate market in California began its decline, Jarvis looked for something else to do as she waited for the recovery.
“I’d worked through the last bad market and had no desire to do it again,” she says. So she looked for a new challenge and turned to writing. Using the multitude of emotional situations inherent in the real estate business, she had a lot of source material. She began “The Death Contingency,” to the horror of her author friend; she counseled Jarvis to study writing and learn her craft before attempting a book. Join a writers’ group and suffer for her art.
Jarvis ignored the advice and barreled ahead with her book. She writes for the fun of it and has no interest in “suffering” to get to a completed book.
“When it stops being fun, I won’t do it anymore,” she promises.
She had a beginning and an ending but no middle to the book when she began the first draft. After much rewriting, she released “The Death Contingency” in 2008 through Good Read Mysteries, an imprint of independent publishing house Good Read Publishsers. She describes it as “mystery rather than suspense,” with readers trying to understand why the villain committed the crime rather than trying to figure out who the villain was.
The story incorporates tidbits from Jarvis’ real estate career and she says it has the most real estate business in it of any of her three books. Readers need not fear, however. Jarvis takes care to avoid overloading her stories with real estate jargon. Real estate sets the stage for her books, but her characters are the true stars.
Her second book, “Backyard Bones,” held multiple villains. To her surprise, the murderer turned out to be someone different that the character she expected. Although this story was more outlined than “Contingency,” the characters changed her plan.
“Characters tell me things all the time and it does impact the story.” Jarvis watches them and writes down what she sees, even if it means the momentum moves in a different direction from her original intent.
For “Buying Murder,” third in the series, Regan McHenry had to deal with a dead body hidden in an odd architectural feature of a house she and her husband had purchased. This episode in McHenry’s life, like the previous ones, drew its inspiration from events in Jarvis’ real estate career. Meticulously plotted, “Buying Murder” invites the reader to solve the case along with McHenry.
Jarvis derives amusement from reader comments about how real the characters are but how unlikely some of the crimes seem. She notes that the crimes are real (although the circumstances may be rearranged a bit). It’s the people who are based on those she’s known, but creatively enhanced. After the publication of each novel, she’s come across news reports of crimes similar to the ones in her books, debunking any possibility that they are unrealistic.
Research plays a big part in Jarvis’ work routine. She has a great desire for accuracy, whether the material constitutes a single line or multiple pages in her book. As she noted, a single factual error can ruin the story for a reader.
For her next project, Jarvis is deep into learning about poisons. In the past, she has discovered resources such as a farm run by the FBI to investigate deterioration rates of human cadavers under various condition as well as drawing on her own real estate background.
Jarvis offers this advice to aspiring writers:
“Do it. You will have so much fun. You will have experiences you would have never had any other way… I guarantee, absolutely guarantee that you will have a major adventure.” Once you’ve finished writing, go back and edit, edit, edit. Worry less about perfection and more about following your dreams.
“Holding a book that you have written in your hands is second only to holding your newborn.”