Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Tell Me a Story--Miranda James

DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's such a pleasure to bring you today's guest, Miranda James, author of the CAT IN THE STACKS mystery series featuring librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel. As many of you undoubtedly know, Miranda is really Dean, and Dean and I go WAY back, to the days when I was a newbie author doing my first book signings and Dean was working part time at the wonderful Murder by the Book in Houston. One of the biggest treats of Houston events for me was getting to visit with Dean over a lovely dinner, and I missed those very much when he relocated to Mississippi. But now I have Dean's Charlie and Diesel adventures to enjoy, so that is some consolation, and I'm looking forward to WHAT THE CAT DRAGGED IN, which launches tomorrow! Of course Dean and I talked about our mutual love of books over those dinners, and here he shares how that love of reading translated into a love of writing.


 TELL ME A STORY

Miranda James

            When I choose a book to read, I want most of all a good story. Doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, I expect a good story. At heart, I believe that’s what most readers want. For me, however, it’s essential. Literary flourishes are all well and good, and they can add layers to stories, but if there are flourishes simply for the sake of the writer’s saying, “Look what I can do,” they’re wasted on me. I’ve read many of the great classics, writers whose books are revered for their power, their elegance of style, and their illumination of the human condition. The best of them tell a good story, like Shakespeare’s plays, stories that remain relevant today.

             Wanting to tell a story motivated me to become a writer. I loved books as a child. My parents read to me, and I could read by the time I started first grade. I didn’t go to kindergarten. I was a country child who grew up on a farm. I also grew up in a family that loved stories, especially when the family gathered on the porch at my paternal grandparents’ house. There were also the Bible stories that were the staple of a Baptist church upbringing. When I finally figured out that books didn’t just magically appear, fully formed, on their own, that actual people wrote them, I decided that’s what I wanted to do.

            The more I read as I grew up, the more convinced I was that I wanted to write, but I had to defer that dream while I got an education. I didn’t begin to write fiction seriously until I was in graduate school in Texas. What did I write? An academic murder mystery, of course. I’m not saying that being in graduate school drove me to murder but make of it what you will. I continued to devour mysteries along with all the books I had to read for grad school. I submitted my book to an editor and got a polite, but slightly encouraging rejection.

            More time passed while I continued to think about writing. I couldn’t afford to quit working in order to focus on writing, so I had to work around a full-time job and a part-time one, in order to get anything down on paper (or into the word processor, eventually). I was lucky to break into publishing in non-fiction first. This was the kind of analytical writing I trained to do in graduate school in medieval history. Writing fiction – and fiction that sold – was harder. I eventually had my breakthrough there as well, but it took me twenty-five years and fourteen mysteries before I became anything approaching a success.

            I’m working on the fifteenth novel in my Cat in the Stacks series now, with the fourteenth one out today, and my goal with this one is, as always, tell a good story. I learned how to tell a story by reading thousands of novels, most of them mysteries in the last forty years, and I advise any aspiring writer to read, read, read. Bad books, good books, mediocre books – and learn to tell the difference. Along with a good story, I also want to give readers characters with whom they can identify and whom they can begin to think of as friends. That’s why I write a series, rather than standalones.

            I also choose to write from the point of view of an amateur sleuth. Many critics decry these books as completely unrealistic. I know that my neighbor, who is retired, doesn’t stumble over dead bodies every few months. Neither do I, but my main character can, and I can have the vicarious pleasure of an adventure, the way I have done over the years with everyone from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple to Meg Langslow. I can only hope that my readers are enjoying my stories as much as I enjoy writing them. 

DEBS: We do! And I have to add that the CAT IN THE STACKS covers are absolutely the most  charming!

 Miranda James, a serial killer by night and on weekends, is a mild-mannered medical librarian by day. Miranda has four cats and thousands of books. Home is the Jackson, Mississippi, area.

Here's more about the latest CAT IN THE STACKS:

When Charlie Harris finds out he has unexpectedly inherited his grandfather’s old farmhouse, he has no idea he is about to embark on the search for another killer. His Maine Coon cat Diesel finds a skeleton in the farmhouse attic, and Charlie has to wonder whether his grandfather, or the life tenant who recently died, was responsible. When a fresh corpse turns up on the property, Charlie is even more determined to find out what is going on.

DEBS: I know Dean was looking forward to doing an in person signing at Murder by the Book, but the Covid surge in Texas has sadly made that untenable.  Readers, how much are you missing those in person events?         

41 comments:

  1. There are many, many readers who are absolutely delighted that you persevered and continue to give us those wonderful Cats In The Stacks stories . . . I’m looking forward to seeing how things play out around Diesel’s discovery . . . .

    Oh, my . . . there are not words to tell how much I miss being able to go wherever I want whenever I want . . . Dean, I’m sorry to hear your in-person signing is a victim of this pandemic mess . . . .

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  2. We don't have nearly as many events in LA as we used to. I've been missing them for years, and I've found some authors I might not have picked up but have turned out loving that way.

    A good story with characters we want to visit again? That's what keeps me coming back to the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries. Such a fun series.

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    1. Thank you so much, Mark! I really appreciate your reviews.

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  3. Thank you, Dean! You have absolutely accomplished your mission of telling a good story with relatable characters. It is one of my favorite series. Like Charlie, I serve a Maine Coon cat. Diesel embodies the affectionate, sociable and intelligent characteristics of the breed perfectly.

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  4. Best of luck with the new book, Dean! I miss in-person author events so much, but I also value being alive. I had a masked nearly outdoors signing in May, and attended a debut author's event in August on a library's outdoor patio. But that's it, alas. Fingers crossed for next year.

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    1. Thanks, Edith! I know we all look forward to the day when we can get together again with our readers.

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  5. “ characters with whom they can identify and whom they can begin to think of as friends. ” those are just the books that are getting me through this difficult time - loved reading how your series came about!

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  6. Congratulations on your book release.

    I miss in-person book signings/launches a lot.

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  7. I'm with you on saying the best books tell a good story, Dean.

    I did a hybrid launch for HARM NOT THE EARTH. Live in the store and on Zoom. I've got an outdoor live event coming up in a couple weeks. I'm really looking forward to it.

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  8. A good story! Yes! That's what I want first and foremost from any book I crack open. And if an author gives me that in the first book--I'll happily read every book that comes after. Looking forward to Diesel and Charlie's (as a servant to four cats, you know Diesel comes first) latest adventure!

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    1. Love this, Flora. I am a servant to a mere three.

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  9. Debs, thanks, my TBR pile just grew by 14 books. You never steer me wrong!

    Dean, welcome to JRW and congratulations on your new book. A skeleton in an old barn is a good mystery to solve. It sounds like just the kind of adventure I am loving these days and Debs is my guru when it comes to authors. I always start reading with book 1 so it can take a few months to catch up.

    I do miss feeling free to go anywhere without worrying about life threatening diseases. We were starting to get out again when the second wave began. I follow authors here and on Facebook. That has been great fun and I want that to continue.

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    1. It's such fun to discover a series and start from the beginning, isn't it, Judy? Especially when the protagonist is as likeable as Charlie Harris. I was thinking about that this morning. Charlie isn't just likable, he's decent, and I feel so in need of decent men these last few years. Also, Charlie is my dad's name, and it's a nice reminder of what a good man he was.

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    2. Judy and Deb, thank you both so much!

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    3. Oops, I meant Debs, of course!

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  10. Congratulations on your new release!

    I survived Killer Nashville wearing a mask and eating takeout in our room. A different experience.

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  11. This is certainly good news for me! An author I am not familiar with who has written a bunch of books everyone here says are great! Can't wait to get started!

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  12. Happy book birthday! As someone who has owned a Maine Coon cat, I can attest to their sleuthing abilities! Off to buy the latest.

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  13. I completely agree that I enjoy and actually find myself needing to read books where I can identify with the character and can also imagine being friends with them - the best kind of books. Congratulations on the release of the Cat in the Stacks Book 14 and thanks for stopping by JRW!

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  15. Looking forward to reading the latest!
    We never have much for events out here in the middle of nowhere, but there is an indie bookstore 30 minutes away that does some great author events. This last weekend was the annual arts festival and she had 7 local authors speaking throughout Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was raining and ended up with everybody stuffed inside the bookstore but the weather cooperated Sunday. Lots of fun both days!

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    1. I'm happy to hear that you were able to get out and enjoy yourself!

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  16. I do miss the opportunity to go to author events. I've been to several over the years at Murder by the Book, a cool place! But the parking in that area is a real issue. Congratulations Dean on your latest!

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    1. Pat, the parking is crazy there! Thanks for the good words!

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  17. Congratulations on the new book! A friend of mine is a serious fan of your series, and I've sent her the link to JR this morning so she can chime in, too. I'll confess that I've only read the first couple of books in this series, so I have some catching up to do!

    I don't often attend in-person book signings, but I've dropped in on several virtual events since the pandemic hit. I'm a big fan of the either/all answer for that question.

    Now, switch hats for a moment, if you like. As a medieval scholar, what's your take on the new movie, The Green Knight? Debs and I saw it together back on the first of the month.

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  18. Thanks, Gigi! I haven't seen that movie yet. I'm always highly suspicious of any "medieval" movie, because it's so easy to get things wrong.

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  19. Always so wonderful to see you—and your story is so inspirational.
    And yes, sigh. Staying virtual.
    But I have met a lot of cats on zoom— isn’t it hilarious how they stroll oh so casually in front of the camera?

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    1. Hi, Hank! Great to see you! My cats like to nose around when I'm online on camera. They're all divas at heart!

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  20. Hi, Dean! I am so excited for your latest release. After all these books, Charlie and Diesel have become dear dear friends.

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  21. Dean, I miss seeing you when I'm at Murder by the Book, and to miss your new book launch is especially disappointing. So happy to see you here, though. Best of Luck with the new one!

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  22. Such perseverance! So glad you kept at it, Dean! Love the covers and the storylines.

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  23. Congratulations on your new release! Your book series sounds Great!! I love book series because they let me know what has happened to the book characters. I also love reading standalone books. I love your book titles and your covers are all so great ! Thank you for sharing about your books. I have missed some in person meetings, but mostly my family for sure, but for now, we have got to do what we need to do and that is doing the Best that we can to stay safe. Have a great rest of the week and stay safe. God Bless you and your families. aliciabhaney(at)sbcglobal(dot)net

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