Interview with Jeanne Burrows-Johnson

What's the inspiration behind your newly published book?
The sensory rich environs of Hawai`i and its multiculturalism, as well as my having served as the Volunteer Talent Coordinator for the Honolulu Police Department are the sources of my inspiration for Prospect for Murder, the first book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series.
What are you working on now?
I’m in the process of finalizing the fourth book in the Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series, Yen For Murder. For the most part, I’ve completed researching Japanese Buddhist sects and the offerings and the daily operations of international auction houses. I’m now steering protagonist Natalie and her companions Keoni Hewitt, Miss Una and HPD Lieutenant John Dias through the final phases of determining who murdered a Buddhist priestess while stealing a priceless golden statue of the Buddha from a temple in the hills of Honolulu.

I’m also in the process of re-examining a series of seven oral history interviews I conducted many years ago in Hawai`i. The subject of Conversations with Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox De Lima Farias was the mother of one of my first pupils in Hawai`i who had many interesting stories to share. They ranged from description of her family life in upcountry Maui in the early Twentieth Century, to being a grandniece of Robert Wilcox, a revolutionary defender of Queen Lili`u`okalanit, the last monarch of Hawai`i. She also shared her experiences as a young hula dancer performing in Waikīkī on December 6, 1941. With the onset of World War II the following morning, it was several years before she could return to her family home on Maui.

As my knowledge of the Hawaiian language has increased with preparing Prospect For Murder, I am re-editing the glossaries of these interviews. Although the transcripts were donated to a couple of Hawaiian libraries, I am anticipating publication of both a revised compilation, as well as the audio files of the original interviews.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
In the few hours I’m not writing or working on details of promoting Prospect For Murder, I read mysteries and watch whodunits, spy thrillers, and interviews with inspirational writers—usually on PBS. I also direct a writers’ salon and occasionally offer promotional advice to artists and other authors and present workshops to help professionals and non-profits with their branding.
What is your writing process?
Accompanied by Miss Satin (a lovely black and white cat), much of my writing is accomplished at my computer—morning, noon, or night—overlooking a sago palm and a paloverde tree in my bricked courtyard. Often my best writing occurs late at night, seated in a recliner while applying my pen to the backside of printouts of old material. Concurrently, I may be watching television shows which provide exotic details of mayhem, death, and autopsies. In terms of the elements of my writing, I usually write my blogs and book chapters consecutively. While I work from a rough outline, most of my work is simply written as I feel inspired. Nevertheless, there are a few organizational techniques and materials that I employ.

~ I keep comprehensive folders of each book’s research. If the potential for reusing the material is limited, it remains in that book’s general folder. But, since much of the information on Hawai`i is likely to prove useful in the future, it may be moved to a Natalie Seachrist series research folder.

~ Once I’ve written a chapter, I use a spreadsheet program to record details of time frame, characters, and the main points of action.

~ I write chapter summaries, sometimes right after writing a section. More often I do so when shifting material from one chapter to another due to errors I’ve caught, or to harmonize the length of them. This is the basis for writing an initial extensive book summary, and subsequently shorter summaries that will be used in numerous ways.

~ I keep a file with images and descriptions of elements I wish to see included in each book’s cover art and audio CDs. [It’s interesting to compare early ideas with the final art.]
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I do not remember specific books I read as a child. Theatrical performances were the most inspirational forms of stories and language I enjoyed in my childhood.
What are your five favorite books, and why? Who are your favorite authors?
As I look at my bookcases, I realize that almost all of my books are reference materials.
Constantly reading means I seldom recall the name of a book or author. But while I do not categorize books as being “favorites,” there are a few authors whose work has been especially impactful. In my youth, Pearl Buck introduced me to distant lands filled with magical images and the moving stories of persons whose joys and sorrows I could envision. I was also influenced by the melodious sonnets of Shakespeare and the deviousness of Agatha Christie’s plots. Through the decades, I have appreciated the complexities of classic nail biters from James Lee Burke, Richard North Patterson, and Scott Turow, as well as newer works by historically-oriented mystery authors like Sarah R. Shaber. I guess I would name Irving Wallace’s The R Document as a book whose plot continues to haunt me. In recent years, I’ve been especially inspired by the speeches written by Barrack Obama and I anticipate enjoying his next book.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
While many authors find inspiration in their surroundings, the years of my youth in California and Oregon did not impact my writing. I have drawn inspiration for my life and writing from my activities in theatre, dance, and classical music, as well as the literature I enjoyed at school. Moving to Hawai`i as a young adult, I was inspired by the beauty of both the land and its people. This influenced how I shaped the performing arts classes I taught and the materials I generated to help promote performance events.
When did you first start writing?
I began writing both fiction and non-fiction on a regular basis in accelerated English and Social Studies classes in high school. And, because of my work in theatre and dance, I also wrote performance introductions and event promotion materials from an early age.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I truly enjoy entering a harmonious rhythm for weaving words that bring my characters and their stories to life in environments that engage all of a reader or listener’s senses!
Published 2017-03-06.
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