Tuesday, March 10, 2009


"Kozak keeps the laughs and chills in bewitching balance as Wollie uncovers the secrets of Yuri's extended family—and suffers a first-time dating consequence in the surprising denouement."

—Publishers Weekly

You’re at a conference, or seminar, or a party. You hear a huge burst of laughter. And then another one. There’s no question—in the center of that happy group is the hilarious and incredibly clever Harley Jane Kozak.

I love to say it—star of stage and screen. But to us, she’s always a star of page.

Her debut novel, DATING DEAD MEN, won the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Its sequel was DATING IS MURDER, followed by DEAD EX and the upcoming A DATE YOU CAN’T REFUSE. Of which Janet Evanovich says: "A page-turner of a mystery. A loveable sleuth. A real winner!"

Like everyone else on the planet, we visit her (and her very talented pals) at her blog The Lipstick Chronicles . But now she’s visiting us.

HANK: Ah, Harley. A question I've never asked before. Sex in a parking lot? A Neiman Marcus parking lot?

HARLEY: Yes, Hank. Times are tough and hotel rooms expensive, and when one is undercover, on-the-fly decisions must be made. Still, parking lots sex does come at a cost, not the least of which is dry-cleaning bills. At least I sent Wollie to Neiman Marcus, and not Wal-Mart. (I also send her to Costco in this book, but not for sex.)

HANK: ON THE FLY?? You see, this is why we love you. A Date You Can't Refuse--tell us more about your latest!

HARLEY: Wollie finds herself a "social coach" -- that is, combination babysitter, bus driver and dating therapist for a trio of eastern euro eccentrics: a heavyweight boxer with substance abuse issues, a Soviet country & Western singer, and an evangelical diet book author. The FBI is involved. Hijinks ensue. And she's being poisoned, while attired in the couture clothing of a dead America's Next Top Model contestant. However, it's more highbrow than I've made it sound here.

HANK: Your wonderful Wollie Shelley--where did she come from in your head? And her name is hilarious...did you think of the name first? Or create the character first, and then name her? Or was she just--born?

HARLEY: She was a greeting card shop owner first -- I saw the shop in my head, and then the woman running it, and then realized she not only manages the shop, she designs greeting cards, and then her name came to me, followed by her wacky mother (who only appeared briefly, in Book #2). I hate to sound like I channel this stuff, but it does sort of feel that way. I imagine all authors work like this, but what do I know? Do you channel your characters, or do you do a by-the-numbers Excel spreadsheet character study?

HANK: Oh, some spring full-blown, personalities, characteristics, everything. Charlie, certainly, and Franklin, and little Penny. Who I tried to rename Ella, but it just wasn't her name, you know? And yes, I do think "channeling" is part of it, and I feel incredibly lucky when it happens.
Speaking of channeling--dialogue, too? Do your characters talk to you? Have you ever tried to get them to say or do something that they just won't?

HARLEY: They don't talk to me so much as they talk to each other, but if I don't get it right, they make me rewrite it and rewrite it and rewrite it. My biggest dialogue problem is that one of them will go on and on, a veritable aria, and then I have to go back and remind them that there are other people in the book too and let the other people interrupt, as other people (in my house, anyway) are wont to do.

HANK: Speaking of, um, channeling. I see you on TV all the time. (Thanks, Tivo. And you know, Arachnophobia is even funnier when you see it now.) Do people recognize you from movies and TV? How does your stage and screen experience translate into your novels?

HARLEY: People recognize me on occasion, but it's rare enough to be fun. As in, I never need to punch out the paparazzi. The best is when people recognize me in front of my children, who are convinced that the only life I ever had began on their respective birthdays.

I think acting trains you to put yourself into other people's shoes automatically, which comes in handy when writing novels. Mine are definitely character-driven. My plots are more left-brain; I have to work at making them credible and interesting, and then I have to interrupt my long-winded characters and make them pay attention to plot, to hit the road and carry the action forward because frankly, they'd rather sit at home and yak.

HANK: Anything you wish someone had told you when you started all this writing stuff? When was that, anyway?

HARLEY: That I'd never read fiction in the same way again, and that while I'd get lots of free books (blurb requests, conventions) I'd never have time to read them.

I started to write novels about 15 years ago in a serious way, but I've been writing long (very) letters, journals, plays, poems, and country & western song lyrics my whole life.

HANK: And now you're such a...beloved and loving part of the community. (ACK, sappy. But true.)

HARLEY: Oh, bless you. You make me feel like the mayor. Of what town, I'm not sure.

HANK: Well, Ms. Mayor , you still can’t get away without the Jungle Red Quiz:

Pizza or chocolate?

Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan?

Sex or violence?

Facebook or MySpace?

Katharine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn?

Your favorite non-mystery book?
currently? The Golden Compass

Favorite book as a kid?
The Godfather

Making dinner or making reservations?

*****And finally, the Jungle Red Big Lie. Tell us four things about you that no one knows. Only three can be true. We'll guess.

I was a National Merit Scholar.
My dad was an Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms agent.
I was Courtesy Queen of the first grade at St. John's School
I was a chain smoker, coke addict and pot head

HANK: Well Jungle Reds? Do we think Harley was really the courtesy queen?

And we can also ask her what it's like to work with ten billion spiders.

Harley’s debut novel, DATING DEAD MEN, won the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Its sequel was DATING IS MURDER, followed by DEAD EX and the upcoming A DATE YOU CAN’T REFUSE. She’s still a sometimes actress, and lives with her family in California’s Conego Valley. Her short prose has appeared in Ms. Magazine, Soap Opera Digest, The Sun, The Santa Monica Review, and the anthologies Mystery Muses, This is Chick Lit and A HELL OF A WOMAN.


  1. ryanOh and one more thing--we're giving away TWO copies of Harley's new book!

    Just leave her a quick hello here..or guess which is the BIG LIE...and you're entered!

  2. "Never have time to read them."

    That's the killer. Surrounded by writers and books, I'm left with less reading time than ever before.

  3. Oh, Stephen, you're so right! How high is your TBR pile? And when--and why--do you just move books out of it?

  4. With all the running she does, no way was Harley ever a smoker.

  5. Oops. Hit publish too soon. I'm so looking forward to Harley's new book. Somehow they always make it to the top of my TBR pile. :-)


  6. Great blog interview! I enjoyed reading every word. Lets see, THE BIG LIE -hmm. I'm going with the coke head smoking thing.

  7. I'd say the lie is the smoking thing. Would love a shot at winning the books. I'm a fan!!!

  8. Hi, Harley! (and Hank)

    I'm registered to go see Harley at the Mystery Lovers' Bookshop in Oakmont -- the day before I take the family on a spring break/birthday trip (mine) to Utah. Can't wait!

  9. I'm gonna say this is true:
    I was a chain smoker, coke addict and pot head

    Maybe she smokes fish, drinks Coke, and is a gardener.

    So what's the big lie, then? Well, I wouldn't want to insult her intelligence or manners, so it must be her dad.

  10. Hi Harley,
    Welcome to Jungle Red. Your books sound hysterical. And I'm so jealous about the channeling thing. The Godfather was also one of my favorite books as a kid, and I reread it recently, and was SHOCKED by how historical it actually was. A lot blew by me the first time around I was so captivated by the whole mafia thing. (But then, I AM from NJ.)
    Anyway, most of my friends were chainsmoker, potheads and coke addicts in the 80s, so I thnk its plausible. And humor is usually very intelligent, so I'm going to go with your Dad as the lie.

  11. Harley seems very smart so I think she was a National Merit Scholar. She's also unfailingly polite on The Lipstick Chronicles so I can see her as Courtesy Queen. As for the wild behavior, she may have done it or acted it. So I think the lie is that her dad was an ATF agent.

  12. Reading the two of you converse is like watching that Icons show on the movie network. You're both so adorable.

    Fellow pothead, which must explain why I can't figure out how to get my name in the Blogger identity box!
    Nancy Martin

  13. I can't believe I've never read any of these books - they sound great. Loved the interview - now to add these to my TBR list.

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  15. Hi Nancy! Lovely to see you... Thanks--but puh-leese...you're the most adorable. And I do hope you'll come chat when your new book comes out! (We'd all love to hear more..)

    Darlene--I totally agree. And Kira--smokes FISH?? I'm still laughing, envisioning it.

    Hey Susan, Hey Maggie, hey everyone--what a very cool crowd we have here today!

  16. What a great interview, and I look forward to reading Harley's books! I absolutely LOVED the part about making your characters quit hanging around the house talking and get out there doing something.

    On the channeling question, I have been spending time "interviewing" the main character of what I hope will be my new book, a suggestion I think I read on Guppies-Sinc. And I learned so much about her, it was really interesting. Including the fact that the main character in my last short story is actually her sister, and that the one in the story before is her friend. Who have known?


  17. Welcome to jungle red Harley, it's so nice to see you here! I think the last time I saw you was at Romantic Times in the ladies room. You had some kind of outlandish outfit on and were waiting to go onstage...

    Anyway, I love Wollie too and am looking forward to the new installment. I do think actors have an advantage in developing characters. Jessica Speart often talks about this--how helpful it is to have had the experience of really getting inside someone's head.

    Kira, very clever guess. Can't wait to hear the right answer Harley and thanks so much for stopping by!

  18. Oh, heck! I've the most embarrassed Courtesy Queen ever, because I'm not here yakking with you guys, but leaving you alone to talk amongst yourselves. I thought the interview was TOMORROW! (it's all that pot smoking coming back to haunt me.)

  19. Anyhow, here I am, in between making dinner for my kids. Keep talking. I'm here, I'm here!

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  21. Hey Harley...! There's some synchronicity thing going on. (I know this is about your book, but what can I say.)
    This morning I picked up the paper, and "The Favor" was on Comcast. (or some such.) I burst out laughing. I know her! I thought. Fun.
    And it got a very appreciative review, specifically- calling you something like "charming" and "endearing." There was nothing about pot smoking or courtesy queening.


    We're giving away two copies of your book to people who comment Tuesday and Wednesday--you're a two-day girl if I ever saw one.

    And can't wait to see who comes to chat. Hope someone's bringing the lattes!

  22. So, not to be intrusive, but what's with the deleted comments? Is someone saying unsavory things about us, Hank?

  23. Well, no. It's really...well, here's the mystery solved. It's me. I'm not sure why this doesn't happen to annyone else, but I put in my comments. Then I hit send. Then I read them, and find a typo.
    Which drives crazy. So I delete them, and make them perfect.

    And so, I wrote a song about it.
    To the tune of Lennon/McCartney's Michelle.

    Oh, hell.
    When I wrote the words they looked so swell.
    Now they're mispelled.

    A typo, a typo, a typo!
    That's all I seem to see
    From "sea" to shining "si"
    So with these words I'm telling you so you'll understand
    They're misspelled.

    (I might need more sleep. Anyway Harley, It's mi. I mean, me.)

  24. That deserves a full orchestral arrangement to back you up.

    Honestly, I'm relieved. I had visions of some mad reader saying, "You STUPID author! I bought one of your books and you SUCK. I want my twenty bucks back! And I bet you never shot a Glock in your LIFE, you girlie girl!" Over and over, on and on.

  25. I hear you've had a good bit of Glock trigger time. And that you're an absolute natural with the combat Tupperware.

    Waiting for the return of Doc, his daughter and her ferret, as well as the resolution of PB's living arrangements.

    (Oh - the guessing game; I don't believe your father was with BATF.)

  26. Hi Harley! Welcome to Jungle Red. Checking in from Hawaii where Hallie and I are behaving ourselves and having a great time.

    Harley, my sweet, I'm sure you were never a drug addict of any sort. Good luck with the new book. You deserve a good year this year!


  27. Here are the lattes! Hope I get extra points for bringing them. I'd love to win a book... (Subtle enough for you?)

    I loved Harley in The Favor. Hysterical movie. Love that kitchen scene especially.

    The lie...I'm going with her Dad not being an ATF agent.

    Paula Matter

  28. I want to thank the ladies of JRW for making it easy to leave comments. As a non-Blogger, it's nice to be able to comment without having to jump through a lot of hoops.

    I've stopped reading other blogs because I can't comment on them.

    Paula Matter

  29. Hi Hank

    New to your blog, but I'll be visiting again soon.

    Ms. Kozak books are some of my favs. I love Wollie and all the misadventures she finds herself getting into. Oh, and I love PB too. He's so sweet when he's in his non-schizo moments and he so funny when he is.

    I'm voting for the pot head smoking coke statement. Kids cut into your extracurricular time.

    Also, I happened to catch 'The Favor' on Starz just the other day. It was so funny to see it again.

    I'd love to win her book! I'm a big fan. Even Nancy Martin stopped to give Harley a shout. I love the Lipstick Chronicles and stop by whenever I can.

    Great interview and can't wait to read the new book!


  30. You guys are so great!

    And it's true -- this is the EASIEST blog in the world to comment on. Kudos.

  31. Yay--now that Paula brought the lattes (yum, thanks so much!) we can really talk. ANd thanks for bringing one for Nancy Martin. We love when she stops by, too, Dottie!

    So you mean you don't like those "type these letters to prove you're not a bot"
    gatekeeping things? Yeah, I agree they're sometimes annoying. But I try to make them mean something.

    Like if they say "souci," as one did for me recently.
    There's a lot you can take from that. It's not as annoying if you look at them as fortune-tellling device. Know what I mean?

  32. Well, I'm guessing Harley was the Courtesy Queen, and not the Calendar Queen, since all of us at TLC thought this blog was on the 11th. Thanks for leaving it up, Jungle Ladies!

    I've read "A Date You Can't Refuse" and I think it's my favorite one! If you are near Pittsburgh, come and see Harley at Mystery Lovers on April 7th.

    Are any of you Jungle Red writers going to RT in Orlando?

    Kathy Sweeney

  33. "Never have time to read them."

    Yup. Been there, done that. Fortunately, I have to cool my heels in many waiting room situations. I always take a book with me. Train rides are great for reading, too.

    Hank - you should be writing musicals, too. In your spare time. ;)

  34. Hi Harley. Hurried over from TLC. Can't wait to read about Wollie's new job.

    Your lie?
    #4 is true
    So that give me a 33% chance of guessing correctly. I'm going with your dad being an ATF agent being a lie.

    And if Ramona finds out you're claiming Daniel Craig for yourself, you're in big trouble!

  35. i loved dating dead men

    please enter me! i would kill to read this book!

  36. I'd love some more Kozak books! I'll guess the dad as an ATF agent, too. I like to imagine the colorful past of #4.

  37. Yikes...rushed over here from TLC to check out the interview and all.

    How about this...my Mount TBR fell over the other night, and took out the alarm clock! LOL!!! Should I be given a lay-off, I am set at least.

    So, hello Harley!!! Hello, Hank!!!

    I was also thinking her lie might be that her dad was atf, but I am usually wrong about these kinds of things.

  38. Hank, at what point do I come clean about the Truth vs. Lie thing?

  39. Not yet, not yet! I wanna change my answer; just don't know what to change it to yet.

    Paula Matter

  40. Hey everyone...so lovely to see you all. (Maybe we'll give away a few MORE books. Yes, I think we will!)

    Oh, Kathy, I have to miss RT his year..It's during the May TV ratings book, so I'm not allowed to leave town! (Reporters can't go anywhere in February, May, or November.) I'm so annoyed. (stamping foot)
    Will you have an umbrella drink for me?

    Plus I'm so sorry to miss all the exploits I know you all have planned for Orlando... Having to do with cabanas and coppertone and cover models.

  41. I refuse to believe Harley was a druggie. And that Courtesy Queen sounds just crazy enough to be true!


  42. And Harley, don't tell yet...or maybe, just give a clue?

    Amanda doesn't believe the pot smoking thing. Kira does. You see how controversial you are..

  43. Okay. I'm changing my answer to...

    Harley's wasn't the Courtesy Queen of the first grade at St. John's School.

    I say it was probably another grade.

    Or maybe she wasn't a National Merit Scholar.

    One of them. Yeah. Okay. I'm done.

    Paula Matter

  44. Hello! I would love a copy of the book. It looks fascinating!

  45. Wait! I didn't say I believe she was a pot smoker. It's "pot head." Very different, you see. She could wear clay pots on her head. OK, now Harley will have to fess up to smoking pot because otherwise we'll just think she's nuts, right?

    And Hank, by fish smoking, I didn't mean like a cigar, you know. (I wish I could import a little picture!) Although her standing over a smoldering fire with gutted fish on frames may well be pretty amusing.

    PS: If you have the Google toolbar, you can spellcheck these entries. (Though it won't catch typos like "this" for "these" that I just did, and corrected.) You can also Preview before Publishing.

  46. Kira. You rock. There it is--spellcheck. Love it. Thanks. (And yeah, preview, but that's too hard.)

    And yes, I knew you meant like smoked salmon, but you're so right--after that I did imagine Harley with a cod cigar. A Perch Panetela. A salmon stogie.

  47. Hmmm. I just heard from a very good source that Harley is partial to frosted animal cookies.

    Who would have told me that???

  48. This sounds like a great book, I will have to get a hold of the first book!

  49. Oh, my GOD. You've discovered my dirty little secret. You can keep your Peeps, your Famous Amos, your Mrs. Fields, even your Sprinkles Cupcakes, just give me those frosted animal cookies.

    By the way: One of you is SO CLOSE to the truth vs. lie answer, I can't believe it.

  50. Ah, Harley, you got ratted uot by the fabulous Fran at the Seattle Mystery Bookstore--she says please stop by if you have a chance--they love you!

    And they promise to have cooookieeees.....

    And I guess it wasn't me who was SO CLOSE to the Harley answer. Now I'm really wondering..It wasn't the fish cigar thing, was it?

    Stil some time left to enter the drawing for Harley's new book!

    And soon, Harley wil reveal all.

    And come back tomorrow for some free advice from the experts, including Suzanne Brockmann and Elmore Leonard!

  51. Drawing names for book winners at random...results tomorrow and I'll let you know!

    Merit scholar Harley (I think that's true)...let us in on the scoop!

    Tomorrow--how will Joan Johnston finish this sentence:
    People don't like...

    And Friday: BSP for the Agatha day!
    We're so proud of our Rosemary Harris and Rhys Bowen! And we reserve the right to say so.

    But Agatha nominees--come tell us about yourselves! It's not BSP--its JRW.

  52. okay, now should I spill the beans?

  53. Okay, here's the deal. It was a TRICK ANSWER.

    Yes, I was a National Merit Scholar.

    Yes, my father was a ATF agent, but I only found that out 3 years ago from my oldest brother. It was during a very slow time in our dad's law practice, back in the Dark Ages, and he needed a job. I was completely shocked.

    Yes, I did every drug known to mankind, except those requiring needles and those not yet invented in 1985, which was the year I hung it all up. I know, I know, I don't seem the type. Oh, and I kept on smoking until 1996. I know, I know, I don't seem the type.

    No, I was not Courtesy Queen of the 1st grade at St. John's School -- it was HOLY FAMILY SCHOOL. As there's not a snowball's chance in hell anyone could have figured that one out, I am deeply mortified at having toyed with all of you in this egregious fashion. To atone for this discourteous act, I'd love to kick in an extra free book.

    It was wonderful spending time on Jungle Red with all of you. Big thanks!

  54. Wow! Holy sh--Family!

    Wait till Inside Edition finds out about this!

    You sure you don't want your own reality show? ;)

    It was a hoot "meeting" you Harley. Thanks--even for jerking us around!