Jonnie Jacobs' Paradise Falls

Please extend a warm welcome to my guest, Jonnie Jacobs. She is the author of thirteen novels, including the newly released, Paradise Falls. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a law degree from UC's Boalt Hall School of Law. A former practicing attorney and mother of two grown sons, she lives near San Francisco with her husband and now writes full time.

Anne - I’m so glad you could take time from your busy schedule, Jonnie. Let’s talk writing! Tell us about your book.

Jonnie - With Paradise Falls I wanted to write a suspenseful mystery, but I also wanted to explore the effects of crime and the doubts and suspicions that ensue. Grace Whittington is married to her second husband with a happily blended family of teenage children. When Grace's daughter disappears and Grace suspects that her teenage stepson is to blame, the fault lines of a seemingly typical family crack.  The investigation also takes a toll on the detective as the case becomes increasingly personal for her.

Anne - Is this book part of a series?

Jonnie - Although I’ve written series books, this is a stand-alone novel. After my first stand-alone, The Only Suspect, I received emails from readers hoping it was the start of a new series. I was tempted (I have as much trouble leaving my characters behind as readers do), but a stand-alone is meant to stand alone. To take the central characters off in a new direction simply would not work for me.

Anne – Would you share an excerpt of Paradise Falls with us?

Jonnie – Certainly!

Chapter 1:

Caitlin Whittington hunched forward under the weight of her backpack and pulled her jacket tight across her chest. The wind whipped strands of chestnut brown hair across her face, stinging her eyes and catching in her mouth. The warmth her body had generated during volleyball practice was long gone. She shivered and checked her watch.

Her dad was late. No surprise there, he was always late. Then he’d spend twenty minutes making excuses, which was really just a way of reminding her how busy and important he was.

It wasn’t like she actually wanted to spend the weekend with him, anyway. It was boring at his place, away from her friends, from her home, from everything that was hers. He never seemed particularly happy to see her either. Especially now that Starr had moved in and all she wanted to talk about was their upcoming wedding.

Caitlin had tried explaining this to her mom but she must not have done a very good job because her mom had just shaken her head sadly and said, “Really, Caitlin, is a weekend now and then really so much to ask? He’s your father, after all.”

And Caitlin knew that her mom and Carl liked having the time to themselves. She’d noticed that her visits to her father’s always coincided with the weekends Adam and Lucy, Carl’s kids, were with their mother. With no teenagers around, her mom and Carl would have the house to themselves.

Caitlin checked her watch again just as Traci Redding walked past, one hand holding a cigarette, fingers of the other looped through Leo Johnson’s rear belt loop. Traci waved with the hand holding the cigarette.

“Hey, Cate. Thanks for the study help in Algebra. I got a C-plus on the test.” Traci sounded pleased, although Caitlin thought a C-plus was nothing to get excited about.

“Good for you,” she called back. “I bet next time you’ll do even better.”

Caitlin’s words were drowned out by the sudden, deafening beat of rap music emanating from a car that screeched to a halt in the student parking lot. Traci and Leo jogged toward it and climbed in.

Traci was one of the divas, a group of girls Caitlin had once held in disdain. But that was before she got to know them. She and Fern had started calling them divas behind their backs, making private jokes about them, none really funny even though once they’d laughed so hard that Fern wet her pants and had to pretend she’d gotten her period so she could go home and change. Then at the end of last year Fern’s dad got transferred, the family moved clear across the country to New York, and Caitlin somehow found herself dating Ty Cross, who everyone said had the cutest butt in the whole school. All of a sudden, the divas were Caitlin’s new best friends.

Sort of.

And now . . . well, Caitlin wasn’t sure what was going to happen. What she wanted to have happen even. Sometimes Caitlin wasn’t so sure she even knew who she was anymore.

Anne – Thank you! I'm sure I am not the only person who wants to read more. :) When did you first realize you were destined to be a mystery/suspense writer? 

Jonnie - The first book I wrote ( and never published) wasn’t a mystery but what I thought of as women’s fiction. After the fact, I realized that not much happened in that story. About the same time, I rediscovered women mystery writers (this was in the early ‘90s when women mystery writers were coming into their own). I loved their books and had the pleasure of meeting a number of them at a conference. It was inspiration. It dawned on me that I could combine the kind of family drama I’m drawn to with the mystery and suspense elements I’m also drawn to. Over the years, mystery and suspense have taken on a larger role in my books, but relationships and interpersonal dynamics are still a core element.

Anne - Any words of advice for struggling, unpublished writers?

Jonnie - Bottom line -- keep at it. I know that’s easier said than done in the face of repeated rejections, but keep in mind that most published authors have been there. (A few lucky ones become overnight successes but they are not typical.) My three-pronged advice:

Read -- Read widely and critically. My personal preference is to read in many genres, but writers should certainly read within in the genre they’re writing. Read the best authors who write the kinds of books you do, and read some by authors you don’t enjoy. Try to figure out the differences.  Read “how to” books also, at least when you’re starting out. Learn the “rules” of writing and then learn when to break them. Attending writer workshops and fan conferences can also be helpful, as well as energizing.

Write – Write every day if you can. It keeps your writing muscles toned and your creative juices flowing. Nothing happens if you don’t put pen to paper, or more aptly, fingers to the keyboard.

Live -- Live life with your eyes and ears open and your senses attuned to what goes on around you. You can only write what’s in your head (experience, observation and imagination). Living fuels all three. 

Anne – Sage advice. Have you experienced writer's block? If so, how did you work through it?

Jonnie - There are two types of writer’s block – at least for me. The first is the easiest to deal with. If I’m having trouble with a scene or drawing a blank as I look at the computer screen, I will sometimes just start typing, a sort of stream of consciousness to myself. Why am I having trouble here? What is the character feeling and why? What’s the worst thing that could happen to her? Another trick is that I’ll put two (or more) characters on the page and let them start talking. This isn’t generally dialogue I’ll end up using, but it helps me get back in touch with the characters, which for me are what drive the story.

The second type of writer’s block is harder to deal with. If I am ready to start a book and can’t settle on what I want to write, I’ll start brainstorming. I write down ideas about characters, scenes, setting, conflicts etc. not caring if they work together or not. And eventually, I’ll pull two or three ideas together with a character who grabs my attention (that’s almost always my starting point) and then I’m good to go.

I guess there’s a third kind of block, now that I think of it. That’s when I’m having a really bad day and I know that nothing will come of my time at the computer. I give myself permission to do something else!

Anne - What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself from writing?

Jonnie - It’s funny what you learn about yourself from your writing. For one thing, I’ve become aware of the way I talk from writing dialogue (and I’ve made a conscious effort to change both on occasion). For instance, I grew up calling sunglasses “dark glasses.” I still do. When my son’s girlfriend read one of my books she laughed and said my character was the only person besides me she’d known to use that term.

Writing has also reaffirmed what I knew -- which is that I’m a wimp at heart. I have a hard time with anger and I hate putting my characters in danger, even when I know they will be okay in the end. And it’s almost impossible for me to write a truly evil character. I know such people exist, but try as I might, I end up “humanizing” my bad guy (or gal).

I’ve also come to recognize that I am very bad at the big picture. Several years back I took up quilting and was surprised to see that I approach that as I do writing. I don’t follow a pattern in quilting. I prefer to start with fabrics I like and see what happens. I don’t follow an outline when writing, either. I start with characters I love, put them in a situation, and see where it takes us.

Anne – I love that you write like you quilt, because I do something very similar. Last question, where can readers find you online?

Jonnie - I am on the web at

Readers, as always, your comments are welcome and appreciated. Become a follower to ensure you receive every author interview, announcement and/or blog post on the Muriel Reeves Mysteries. Until next time, happy reading! J

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