Friday, July 24, 2009

The Treasure in Grunt Work

"This is not just a murder mystery - it is also a poignant story about the complexity of family relationships, the search for closure and the importance of forgiveness . . . Once you start this book, it will be hard to put down. Not only will you be surprised at the ending, you will be filled with admiration at how every piece has fallen into its perfect spot.”-
Bonnie Adams, freelance reporter, The Worcester Telegram and Gazette, and the Town Crier Publications

JAN: We are pleased to welcome to Jungle Red, Stacy Juba, the author of the mystery novel Twenty-Five Years Ago Today. (Mainly Murder Press)

A freelance writer and former daily newspaper reporter with more than a dozen writing awards to her credit, including three New England Press Association awards, she'll be discussing what might be considered a grunt task for a young reporter can lead to some great storytelling.

Twenty-Five Years Ago Today is Stacy's first adult mystery, but her young adult novel Face-Off was published under her maiden name, Stacy Drumtra, when she was 18 years old.

STACY: I don’t know how many afternoons I once spent scouring the microfilm, combing old newspaper headlines for something, anything, to rehash in my “25 and 50 Years Ago Today” column. As the newsroom editorial assistant, my first job out of college, I must’ve slaved over that task 200 times. My eyes glazed over as I read about class reunions, anniversary parties and spelling bees.

My assignment? To compile short snippets recalling local newsworthy events. This wasn’t easy, since the scrolling of the typeface across the brightly lit viewing screen made me dizzy. I confess – once in awhile I fudged the exact date. A slow news day is a slow news day. Eventually, I got promoted to reporter and passed the historical column to my replacement, but my time slaving over these issues left a deeper impression than I’d anticipated.

Over the next couple years, questions kept popping into my mind. What if an editorial assistant discovered an unsolved murder on the microfilm? What if she obsessed over it and conducted an investigation? All that speculation inspired my first mystery novel Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, which chronicles Kris Langley, a rookie obit writer and editorial assistant for a small town daily newspaper.

While researching her “25 Years Ago Today” column, Kris grows fascinated with the cold case of a young cocktail waitress. Driven by a tragedy from her own past, Kris immerses herself in the investigation of what happened to Diana Ferguson, a talented artist who expressed herself through haunting paintings of Greek mythology.

While I was writing the novel, I pored over my published “25 Years Ago Today” clips, which inspired me to open each chapter with a similar news note. I even figured out a way to insert clues into a couple of blurbs. As I created these fictional historical snippets, a wave of nostalgia rolled over me.

I remembered how neat it was to read wire reports about U.S. presidents long gone and wars long over, and how it once awed me that the babies in those birth announcements twenty-five years ago were now out of college, and the newlyweds in those black and white society page photos fifty years ago were now grandparents in their seventies.

Someday, perhaps a young editorial assistant will write a one-line sentence about how fifty years ago, a former local newspaper reporter published her first mystery novel.

Time is fleeting. Maybe we should all enjoy the present moment … and snuggle up with a good book.

To download an excerpt of Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, visit Stacy's web site at


  1. Welcome Stacy and congrats on the great review. It's afternoon here in Aix, but you guys are just waking up. I won't be able to get back to the Internet until Monday probably, but wanted to stop in and say hello.

    Love those reporter books!

  2. Congratulations, Stacy! What a great idea - a cold case in one of those "XX Years Ago Today" stories.

  3. Sounds fascinating. Great idea for a novel!

    Ugh...microfilm. Or microfiche. I remember those days.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  4. Oh, me too! I loved using microfilm, but microfiche was a huge pain.

    ANd I think there's a sense of history that's missing when you google. ALthough it's easy, there's a lot of context lost. I love the idea of poring over those items to get a sense of what happend in the past--what a unique job you had, Stacy. ANd what fun! (I know, not always...)

    Does it change the way you look at the present? Wondering which things your 50-years-from-now counterpart might see?

  5. Hi everyone, thank you for the kind comments. To answer Hank's question, I think it does change my perspective. Sometimes when I find myself getting worried or frustrated, I stop and think, "Is this really going to matter to me in 10 years? 25 Years? 50 years? Will I even remember it?" The answer is almost always "no." But, it's hard to bring yourself back into the present moment and stop sweating the small stuff. I think if our future selves could visit us in the present, they'd tell us to lighten up and remind us to put the little day-to-day annoyances in perspective. Not everything is as "newsworthy" as we make it out to be.

  6. Hi, Stacy -- Congratulations! We've been in Sisters in Crime together for a long time--it's so great to see your book in print.

    When I've interviewed published writers who were once journalists, one of the things they say that writing for a paper with a set deadline keeps them from being precious about their words. Is that what you found? In those columns you were, after all, telling a story each time out. Or is fiction just so totally different from nonfiction.

  7. Hi Hallie! Yes, I think writing for a newspaper definitely influenced my fiction. All my articles had to be a certain number of "inches" and couldn't exceed that. I'd spend awhile trimming before I turned in the article to my editor. If it was 10:45 p.m. and my deadline was 11, sometimes I had to edit fast. Eventually, you just learn to write tight. As a result, I've found that I often write the first draft of my novels "too tight" and must go back and flesh out scenes to get the manuscript up to a higher, more acceptable, word count. But on the bright side, I think my editing skills make the finished novel sound more polished and it helps the pacing if you don't have a lot of superfluous words.

  8. Stacy! congratulations on the new book--we're so pleased to have the opportunity to host you. Tell us a little about getting published...the second time around.

  9. Hi Roberta! I wrote my first book at age 16 and had it accepted by Avon at 17, and I thought getting subsequent books published was going to be so easy. Long story short - it wasn't!

    What has been much easier this time is promotion, for one chief reason - the Internet. For my first book, Face-Off, I did one booksigning, mailed out a couple press releases, and that was about it. That book was published when the Internet was in its infancy and hardly anyone had access to that technology. For Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, so far, I've launched a web site with an online press kit, set up pages on Facebook and Goodreads, used the Internet to research guidelines for book reviewers - and the book isn't even out till around Halloween. Book promotion is a big time commitment, but the Internet also makes it much easier for authors to establish themselves. The first time around, I didn't really establish myself the way I wanted to, so I'm grateful for this second chance and I'm grateful that the Internet makes that task so much easier.