At 4 years old, I had an imaginary friend. I think my storytelling began there. Later came a career in television news, politics and corporate communications; more writing.
Working with writing coaches and editors, I began a series of murder mysteries that connect northern California to the colorful Louisiana Creole culture.
I am a Bay Area native with Louisiana Creole roots. In our quiet Berkeley neighborhood, my parents often hosted gumbo Sundays seasoned with hushed stories of relatives who spoke to the dead and had cast more than a spell or two. Those “secrets” fueled the voice of mystery and humor within me.
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most? What about being a writer frustrates you the most?
I didn’t immediately put together that writing was the common and recurring theme in my life. I was writing little stories from the age of six. I was a melodramatic kid with an invisible friend whose imagination wouldn’t quit. I became a television news reporter and anchor, public relations executive and corporate spokesperson—it dawned on me that it all involved storytelling. I was in the habit of writing short cozy murder mysteries after work as a creative outlet and part of my “me time.”
I love that I have created a world of people whom I can see and hear. They go on adventures and I live those adventures, vicariously.
What frustrates me the most is frankly, it’s so hard. It’s really, really hard to hold a world in your head, build a mystery that truly engages readers, and to rinse and repeat that. The marketing of a book, whether you are traditionally published or self-published as I am so far, is daunting. I’m a PR person and it challenges me. I had to get help with marketing and putting my work out there.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
I channel the scary and humorous life of amateur sleuth, Sarah Doucette-Jean Louis. She is a former family therapist and relationship counselor who can’t stand her own family for more than a day, and who has had terrible relationships with men. One of those bad relationships cratered her successful family therapy practice. Sarah is a California girl with Louisiana Creole roots, and thanks to an unwanted gift of second sight, she is able to solve murders in the San Francisco Bay Area. She opened her own private detective agency with a former patient, a former fiancé and an old school former New York detective. The crew is bizarre, but they succeed where police don’t.
You can find Sarah’s two journeys on Amazon and more about me on my website, www.myrajolivet.com. Sarah and I have a few things in common. We both love good food, strong drinks, and good times. And we are California girls with Louisiana Creole roots who honor spirituality and our unique life paths. Unlike Sarah, I wasn’t pressured to get a husband because I was married (was being the operative word). I have children and grandchildren. She’s also younger than I am and a Ph.D.
3) Where do you draw your inspiration from for the stories that you manage to weave together and the characters that you create?
My stories and characters come from my entertaining and often embarrassing Creole culture. Children don’t like being different, but we were; my father spoke Creole French and my mother lit candles on people who pissed her off. On Sundays, our house was filled with the aroma of amazing and authentic court bouillon sauces and gumbo. Relatives from all over the Bay Area would visit, drink, play dominoes and cards. Our food was different, our culture was different and I felt like an odd duck, even in non-conformist Berkeley, California.
Once I became an adult, I learned to love and appreciate my culture. Much of it is hilarious and a bit crazy, but warm and spicy. Besides, when you had aunts who talked to dead people, you gotta tell somebody about that. I thought that a series of murder mysteries about a highly educated and wealthy Berkeley woman who must lean on the culture she rejected to succeed, could be fun. My books also include many races because it is reflective of my family and social life.
4) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel? What projects are you currently working on?
I take a long, long time to complete a book–years. And then the manuscript goes to three or four editors, so I’m a slow one. During the time I wrote the first two books, I had demanding day jobs; but to be completely honest, I haven’t had the best discipline about writing 1,000 words a day, every day. Like Sarah, a martini brunch with girlfriends or wine dates, derail me. My bad. I outline, but by the middle of the book, it begins to take on a life of its own and the outline changes.
I am currently working on Sarah’s third case called, Orchids and Omens. It’s about the murder of a gold digger socialite from the affluent Berkeley Hills. Turns out she’s the wife of Sarah’s former high school classmate whose family has as many secrets as they do investment accounts. I spent time with an orchid society to learn about them before writing the book. The members told me that their world is incredibly competitive and makes a perfect backdrop for a murder. That was funny!
5) What’s the first book you ever read that really moved you emotionally? Who is your favorite author to read? What book are you currently reading?
I’ve been moved by many books in my life, both books that have elevated my social consciousness and ones that are lighting a path on my spiritual journey. The first book to move me emotionally was The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst. I was in elementary school and it was likely the first truly sad story I had read. But within the context of this conversation, every whodunit that caught me by surprise fed the desire within me to inspire, tease and entertain with clue-filled mysteries. Valerie Wilson Wesley, the late M.C. Beaton, Janet Evanovich, R. Franklin James, are only a few of the authors I’ve enjoyed. I am currently reading a non-mystery, Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date.
6) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
I haven’t actually submitted work for awards yet. It’s what I plan to do at some point.
I am honored to have my first book selected to be included in The Bancroft Library of U.C. Berkeley. I am also honored to be included in my first anthology, Festive Mayhem. I joined nine mystery writers I met via the organization, Crime Writers of Color, to create a fun book of cozy mysteries and thrillers for the coming holidays. It’s an honor to be included.
In the next five years I hope to have continued to hone my craft and improve my ability to tell a cozy mystery. I’m not sure where this is headed. At this point, I’m taking it book by book.
7) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career? What is your advice for other writers to better be able to cope or navigate their way through the publishing process, be it traditional or self-publishing?
I haven’t put myself out there for an agent or publisher yet. My goal was to focus on learning the craft and the genre, then to self-publish to see if I could attract readers with more than one book. I think any writer has to figure out their specific goals, whether to self-publish or go for traditional publishing, and take the time to learn the rules of the game. Every industry has its inner workings. I believe it’s important to learn from more experienced writers, to attend writing workshops, and to work with a coach if needed. No matter which route you take, you want to present your best work.
8) Do you find it hard to juggle the creative side of being a writer against the business side of being a writer, in terms of marketing and promotion and things of that nature? How hard has it been (or easy) for you to build up your author platform?
If I could just live the life of a creative only, I’d be in writer’s heaven. But the reality is that business, marketing strategies and promotions while trying to create is a bear. It’s been hard for me because like the cobbler’s wife, I can promote everyone but myself. I solve that by getting help with building my platform. I had a few false starts, but it’s underway.
9) So many writers say that they hate reading their own work. Do you ever enjoy reading your own work back to yourself after it’s out there for the rest of the world?
There are parts of my books that still make me laugh looking back, but I am viciously critical of myself. I’ve quit this effort several times. I keep crawling back into it because I hear my characters telling me they have more experiences to share. (Guess I’m as Creole-crazy as my family. LOL).
10) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
I really don’t know. It appears that age is not a determining factor in writing, but that is a question I’ve asked myself over and over again.
11) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
My murder mysteries have hints of my spiritual practice and my life as a spiritual empath with some psychic ability. When I write about Sarah’s experiences, it enables me to share my own. But beyond the specifics, writing gives me a sense of accomplishment that could be meaningless to others. When I create a unique phrase and find new ways to express common situations or terms, I get a charge out of that. For me, writing is an intimate exercise in painting word pictures.