Thursday, October 13, 2011

J. A. Squires takes a fresh approach: Nepal, poker, and an African Gray

HALLIE EPHRON: It's hard to find something new in crime fiction., But Jeannette de Beauvoir and her collaborator, Susan E. Squires, writing together as J. A. Squires, have come up with something fresh in their series sleuth, Irene Adler. She's an anthropologist-cum-poker player with a pet African gray parrot. Her debut novel: "Assignment Nepal"

Jeanette, are you an anthropologist? Poker player? Have a parrot?

JEANNETTE DE BEAUVOIR: Susan, my co-author, is the professional anthropologist, though I studied it as well. We wanted to come up with a character whose background was familiar to us and whose work could potentially allow for time off to go away on adventures. Unfortunately, academia alone doesn't offer the kind of money that would pay for those adventures, so we were a bit stuck there ...

Then one evening I was watching the movie "Rounders," which is about people who play poker for a living, and that seemed the perfect way for Irene to finance her life: minimum time investment, maximum financial return.

Of course, then I had to actually *learn* about poker! I'm so grateful to the myriad people who have taken time to teach me about it, including the folks at Foxwoods Casino ... I understand the milieu now, but am personally still a terrible player!

And, finally, I had a brief relationship once with someone who had an African Gray. Smart bird. Incredibly obnoxious bird. Bird whose personality could fill a stadium. We didn't want Irene to have a permanent love-interest, but we did want her to have someone to come home to ... and so Corey was created.

HALLIE: Jeannette, I know your character in "Assignment Nepal" isn't Holmes's Irene Adler, but tell us why you used that name (I've always loved that character)?

JEANNETTE: Susan is the one who came up with that. Our Irene is, of course, named after Conan Doyle's Irene Adler; it seemed a nice connection to make, since she was the only person to have outsmarted Sherlock Holmes! I then gave Irene eccentric parents who named all their children after famous people, which might allow for some word- and name-play down the road.

HALLIE: Tell us about you and your co-author, and how this collaboration came about?

Susan and I have been friends for more years than I care to count; we met when both working for the Department of Mental Health in Massachusetts, which probably says something about us, though I'm not sure exactly what! We've always had similar interests, and early on collaborated on a photography project as well as some journal articles ... and that seemed to work well, so we started talking about what else we might try.

Susan had been to Nepal, and experienced a great deal of what Irene experiences there (sans the murder and mystery, of course!), so we decided to try our hand at collaborating on a mystery. Almost immediately we knew that we didn't want it to stop there, that Irene was interesting enough to grow into a series, so ...

HALLIE: How do you partner in the writing, and how is it different from writing solo?

By and large, Susan is the plot person. She's really good at figuring ways out of the corners I often paint us into, at seeing inconsistencies, at making the story make sense. She never panics, a trait I admire and cannot for the life of me emulate. I do all the writing—while this is my first adventure in *mystery* writing, I've been published (mostly in historical fiction) under a couple of other pen names, so the writing part and character development come easily to me.

When I was first starting out, I did some work-for-hire ghostwriting assignments (I guess you could say they were my equivalent of playing poker for a living!): the publisher gave me a detailed plot, character sketches, etc., and I connected the dots and put the book together. In some ways, working with Susan is similar: we work from a detailed plot that I deviate from as little as possible, and always at my peril!

This is very different from the way I work alone. I start out with a general idea of where things are going, but I get immersed in my characters, their dialogue, their interactions, and almost always they lead me somewhere else. I can generally come up with a plot summary for my novels—but only *after* they've been written!

So this is a challenge to me, as I'm sure it is to Susan, who's far more analytical than I am!

HALLIE: Your decision about how to publish this book is still a bit unusual. Tell us about it.

JEANNETTE: I should start by saying that I am a collector of books. I have a study that could easily double as a library. I love books and I agree that there really is nothing like holding a hardcover book in one's hands. That said, we decided to publish this series with Echelon in ebook format only. I'm not going to get involved in the electronic versus paper argument that's being waged every day across the internet (does anyone see just a little irony in that?): I think there's a place for both, and I'm excited about the convenience of ebooks—I carry about a hundred around with me every day. That continues to amaze me.

Here's the thing, Hallie: crime fiction is a crowded field, and its devotees devour books (I know: I'm one of them) more quickly than said books can come off the presses. So the flexibility of not *including* presses at all appealed to us. Ebook sales are skyrocketing, and it seems a format that more people might be willing to take a chance on a new author/character/series with, as it's generally less expensive and more quickly available.

HALLIE: What's next for Irene Adler an J. A. Squires?

JEANNETTE: Irene's off to Oxford, England, where a professor with a murky past has just been murdered, which may have to do with a cult, or his recent academic work around the "real" Robin Hood, or ... stay tuned and find out! We are expecting Irene to have a number of "assignments" that will take her to interesting places (I spent three happy weeks in Oxford this past summer researching the milieu for the second book) and, hopefully, show her growth both as a person and as an amateur detective.

HALLIE: Thanks, Jeanette! Hoping this venture deals you a winning hand!

Chime in if you want to talk about collaborating, or going digital, or African Grays, or winning at poker.


  1. Oh, this sounds like so much fun! I adore Irene Adler--and it;s funny--by choosing that name, you have a character who a whole raft of people will INSTANTLY like! (And I love the family-name idea.)

    Marketing question? Does it make it easier (because you don't have to do it) or more difficult (because you can't do it) because there are no actual books to "sign" or "sell" ?

    Off to look for your book! Thanks for being here today..

  2. What an intriguing combination for this "fresh approach." We used to breed African Greys - those birds were NOISY and seemed temperamental (to me, at least.) LOL

    I think digital is becoming the new mass paperback. Echelon seems like an ideal choice for publishing. Good luck!

  3. Wonderful interview, thanks ladies! Hallie, doesn't this writing technique sound similar to the way you worked with Donald Davidoff? To me right now (in my mushy middle), it would feel like heaven to have a co-worker who's strong on plotting:).

    I'll be interested in the answer to Hank's question too, as I think there's quite a bit of ebook marketing happening--just a little different from the traditional route, right?

  4. That is exactly how Don and I collaborated, Lucy! (I was afraid he was going to want to write and he was afraid I was going to make him write -- the perfect partnership.)

    And I'm remembering Alex the famous African Gray who died in '07 and was studied for 30 years at Brandeis - he could identify colors, the alphabet, and count. He totally amazed people and was learning phonics.

  5. I think it's just different, Hank. There's a certain immediacy about the book (which, by the way, has just been rescheduled to be "out" next week, not this week as expected) ... you can hear about it and download it instantly. But you're right -- no author signings!

    I do believe that we're going to see more and more ebooks as people look for cost and convenience in their reading.

    In the meantime, you can visit the website and read the first chapter there!

  6. African Grays are intensely smart, which presents both a delight and a challenge to their humans. (Me, personally, I have two lovebirds and they're challenging enough at times, thank you very much!)

    I keep telling myself to embrace change, as it's inevitable anyway, and part of that change involves new ways of producing and marketing work. At least that's what I tell myself!

  7. Yes, I agree--I think it'll be fascinating to see how this develops--I mean, you CAN get the book instantly! I sat by someone at a luncheon recently, we chatted about my books (of course :-) ) she pulled out her Kindle and bought all of them right there on the spot!

    It was--amazing.

  8. And oh, Roberta/Lucy--what I wouldn't give to be in the middle!!


  9. Hi Jeannette,
    Welcome to Jungle Red. I had a quaker parakeet for many years, but think an African Grey must have so many more possibilities.

    Birds are kind of scary smart. Good for sleuthing.

  10. I think that it's going to be fascinating in the next few years to see how the ebook influences the industry. Hallie's right -- no longer can someone say, just vaguely, "Oh, yes, of course I'll buy your book!"

    I also don't think it's an either/or sort of situation. I myself own (she blushes) thousands of books. And I wouldn't want to give them up for anything! But I love love love traveling with hundreds of books tucked into my ereader!

  11. Oh, and please take a moment to come and "like" us on Facebook! You'll find the Irene Adler mysteries there at

    Jeannette & Susan

  12. That's an enjoyable interview, Hallie and Jeannette. I tried collaborating on a novel once and learned that it's easier for me to write alone.