What is your name and where do you live now?
My pen name is Nancy Lynn Jarvis. Most of those names really are mine. I live in Santa Cruz, California, and set the mysteries I write in that community. Truthfully, all my books are set in Santa Cruz, but for Mags and the AARP Gang, I had to promise a friend who’s on the Board of Directors of the bank that Mags robs that I wouldn’t specifically make the book’s location Santa Cruz― so don’t tell anyone what I just said.
First off, how has your week been?
It depends in which part you consider. Sitting naked except for a little examination wrap for over an hour waiting for my doctor to arrive and give me a physical wasn’t so great. Neither was the car exploding day, or the hysterical push to finish the final edit and get Mags and the AARP Gang off to be published. But my oldest son is in town on business and it’s great to see him, the tomatoes remaining in the garden have ripened in a burst of unseasonal warmth, and the book did get off in the end.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
I started writing mysteries at the end of 2007 as a game. I’d been a Realtor―I believe you call them estate agents in the UK― for more than twenty years when the real estate market collapsed and I decided to take a time out and wait for it to return to normal. Within a couple of weeks, I got bored. I’m not sure why, since the idea of being a writer had never occurred to me before, but as a self-challenge I began writing The Death Contingency.
I set the book in my hometown, named my protagonist Nancy, and made her a Realtor like me. My husband became her husband and the characters in the book started out as people I knew. That intimate familiarity worked until Nancy had to find a body. The day I wrote that scene, my husband found me curled in a ball crying and shaking; it seems I don’t do well with dead bodies, even imagined ones.
My protagonist was renamed Regan McHenry and her husband became Tom Kiley. I still see my husband’s beautiful blue eyes when Regan looks into Tom’s eyes, but we haven’t been the characters in the book since that day. The other characters got new names, too, because as real people I knew, they wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do. Now, even though I may use someone I know to visualize as I write, each character gets a psychological profile and life history because I need to know them well and understand their motivation before I start writing.
What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarise it what would you say?
I’ve written four mysteries in the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series and will go back to that, but I took a break and created a completely different book which was released in November. The book is written in first person from the prospective of Mags, an eighty-three year old woman. The back blurb of the book describes it well:
Mags and her gang of renegade octogenarians have a deadline. They have to rob Bayside Community Bank, the bank about to foreclose on the mobile home park where they live, by a week from Friday so they can pay off the mortgage and save their homes. They’ve cased the joint, planned carefully, assembled their disguises, and rehearsed their every move. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty.
Some people think they can take advantage of the elderly. They haven’t met Mags and the AARP gang or they’d know better. Sure, they’re older, but not too old for the adventure of a lifetime or to risk everything for the sake of friendship.
Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?
I had a vague idea rolling around in my mind for a book about an older woman who was an extension and amalgamation of my favourite characters in the mysteries. I knew her name was Mags and that she had an unconventional approach to life, but had no idea what she looked like. I was visiting my mom at the retirement community where she lives and she introduced me to her new neighbour. The minute I saw my mother’s new friend, I knew she was my Mags and the book fell into place.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Most of what happens in the book combines some imagination with a great deal of observation. The technique Mags uses to rob the bank is one-hundred per cent observation, not that I was in a bank while it was being robbed, but I watched a bank customer deliver all the lines Mags does during the robbery and observed the bank customers react as my characters did. What I observed so perfectly matched what I wanted to have happen in the book that I was convinced a robbery was about to take place.
How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to finishing writing it?
Writing mysteries usually takes three to four months. Editing takes a couple more months before the copy editor gets the book. Mags took more than a year to write because there were a number of family health issues that took me away from it for months at a time. I do think it still would have taken longer to write than the mysteries, though, because it’s in first person and it’s easier for me to write in third person ― that’s the observer part of the way I write, again― so I had to fight constantly to keep the right point of view.
Do you have plans for a new book?
I always have plans for a new book. I’ve missed the logic and revealing of clues in mysteries and am anxious to do a fifth book for the series. I’ve already informed the real Realtor I plan to kill in the second chapter that she’s doomed, and am finishing the outline for the book tentatively called The Murder House.
What genre would you place your books into?
The mysteries are easy. They are cozy-style with an amateur sleuth, a body in the first chapter, sex and violence mostly taking place off the page, and a tidy resolution well explained at the end like Agatha Christie does in her Miss Marple books. I’m still struggling with the genre of Mags and the AARP Gang. The book has many laugh-out-loud moments, but I don’t think it qualifies as a book of humour. In a way, it’s a coming of age story, but since the characters are all over eighty, that doesn’t quite work. Perhaps it could be old chick lit if there was such a category, or heart-warming action-adventure.
Do you have a favourite out of the books you have written? If so why is it your favourite?
That’s not a fair question. That’s like asking a mother which of her children is her favourite. And for what it’s worth, holding your book for the first time feels remarkably similar to holding your newborn; the books become your babies.
Has anything surprised you about your writing life?
Almost everything about writing has been a surprise. I never expected to be a writer. I never expected to sell any books. I never expected to get a five star rating or an Editor’s Choice Award for anything I wrote. I never thought I’d be OK with the public speaking involved in being a writer, but now I love it. I never expected to meet people from all over the world online because of writing, but that’s one of the best parts about this experience. Mostly, I had no idea how much fun I’d have doing this.
Nancy Lynn Jarvis was a Santa Cruz, California, Realtor® for more than twenty years. She still owns a real estate company with her husband, but is having so much fun writing that she has officially retired from being an active agent.
After earning a BA in behavioural science from San Jose State University, she worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News. A move to Santa Cruz meant a new job as a librarian and later a stint as the business manager for Shakespeare Santa Cruz at UCSC.Nancy’s work history reflects her philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years. Writing is the latest of her adventures.
Find out more about Nancy on her website.