J. B. Stanley on Mystery Writing

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 22 2008

J. B. Stanley
Chili Con Corpses
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Pub date: January 2008
Agent: Jessica Faust

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Author Web/Blog links: www.jbstanley.com, www.cozychicks.com, www.cozychicksblog.com/

Mystery writers have so much fun! We do oddball research that can range from how a .22-caliber gun shoots at close range to the Latin names of cattle vaccines to recipes for authentic chicken enchiladas.

It must be strange to live with a mystery writer. We are always killing people in print, and when we’re not writing a chapter in which somebody dies, we’re planning to write one in the near future. We scheme on behalf of our villains and stab, shoot, poison, suffocate, and commit vehicular manslaughter on a regular basis.

I often call my father-in-law in Utah (he is an expert on a spectrum of potentially lethal drugs) to ask him for advice on deadly dosages, side effects, and the appearance of cadavers. My husband listens to these conversations with a smirk on his face. He knows how much I enjoy coming up with original murder scenarios and how much his father enjoys pontificating over the negative uses of opiates. If I wasn’t a mystery writer, I’m not sure that his father would even know what to talk to me about.

The other night, after the kids were in bed and the dishwasher was merrily gurgling away as it worked on the caked grease I had created on the stove top an hour earlier, I was surfing on the Internet when I suddenly blurted, “There just isn’t enough clip art showing poisons on the Web! I need some violent drawings for my library presentation.”

My husband replied, “Isn’t that a good thing? The lack of clip art showing poison?”

I scowled and continued to complain. “And all the clip art showing murderers and felons shooting guns are drawings of men! Women kill people too. Sexist clip art. Jeez.”

This comment was followed by my husband swiveling around on his desk chair to ask, “What’s for dessert?”

Poisons cannot compare with dessert, of course, so that was the end of the night’s research.

This is the life we lead. By we, I’m referring to the Cozy Chicks. We are seven rather average women. We cook, clean, care for children, and do a little harmless killing. If you saw one of us in the grocery store, you’d never know that we’re dreaming of the hit-and-run scene we’ll pen as soon as we pick up the dry cleaning. The dumbbells at the gym remind us of the blunt object our killer will use on his second victim, and as we feed the fish in our child’s room, we ponder the possibility of a drowning in the next book in the series.

Okay, so maybe we’re not your average chick, but our time seated in front of the computer screen is never dull.

What is your favorite part about being a writer?

19 responses to “J. B. Stanley on Mystery Writing”

  1. Favorite part of being a writer?
    Definately the look on people’s faces when they look in my bookcase. How to books on murder, poison and guns tend to freak people out. Who really needs Forensics for Dummies? Vampire encyclopedia? A DSM?
    My kids think my mind is a scary place…heh, heh, heh

  2. I love putting my characters through hell (or at least something really, really upsetting!) and seeing how they react to it.
    I also love coming up with dialogue that just works, having it flow naturally and adds that extra dimesion to whatever is going on at the time.
    I love putting my hero and heroine at odds and then seeing how they resolve things.
    I love the excuse to spend hours on the net researching things I otherwise might not know about.
    Most of all I love the challange each new scene presents, in finding the right way to convey the story to the reader.

  3. Avatar Vivien V. says:

    It’s always fun to have writing to fall back on. If I’m ever in a really boring conversation, I can just come up with a new plotline…

  4. The research.

    I’m a Thriller writer and I love the hands-on research.

  5. Avatar Marie Force says:

    While researching an alcoholic character, I had AA books and Al-Anon pamphlets all over my house. “Put that stuff away, will ya?” my husband said one day. “People will think it’s me.”

    Loved your post, J.B., and you are right, it’s so fun to think about killing and chaos within the safe confines of the writer’s imagination (God forbid our family and friends every find out what goes on in that imagination…) After writing several fun contemporaries, I decided to explore my darker side and I ended up scaring myself a few times during the writing of my first romantic suspense. I think I’ve settled on a happier medium in my most recent one, but I definitely enjoy the walk to the dark side!

  6. I think the research part is wonderful. I spend yesterday with a group of sustainable food chefs (guess what’s going into my next book?), and got applause when I told them about my orchard series.

    The downside is, we see plots in everything now. I was reading something about the use of arsenic for embalming in the Civil War, and how the arsenic leached out of the bodies and into the local water supply, and I immediately started thinking, how can I use that?

    And I had a heck of a time finding a decent picture of a corpse just lying on the ground.

  7. Avatar jbstanley says:


    I too have had AA pamhplets sitting helter-skelter on my desk. Recently, my father was visiting (he’s been sober for nearly 15 years now) and was thrilled to see the literature. He asked if I was going to give up drinking
    (and I may have one drink a week if I’m lucky) and I said, “No way! I’m a writer!”

    Truth be told, there are some times when I’ve just gotta have a mojito or a margarita. After all, people can say whatever they want to about my books on Amazon or bn.com and zillions of people can read what they say. Sometimes, those comments drive me straight to the blender. But that’s a whole different post, right fellow authors?

  8. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I’m a romance writer. I love falling in love with my heros, the thrill of the first kiss, the heartwrenching decisions that my characters have to make. Some days I wish I could do more, ahem, hands-on research there, but I think my husband would object :). Instead I settle for researching locations and jobs and all of the other fun things my heroines get to do (ever flip a house? I’m kind of wanting to try it for real now…)

  9. Avatar Just_Me says:

    Oh! This is a perfect post! I’m working on the opening for a jealous stalker/serial killer book and I’m so glad that I’m not the only one who starts pondering if table legs could be used with lethal force.

    My favorite part of writing? Getting to be someone else for a moment… I love getting in my characters heads. It’s like trying out a new body for a few hours. While I’m writing, I’m them. I’m a starpilot, a special forces commando, an Empress, an orphan hunting down drug dealers, a Roman centurian, a priestess….

    Sometimes I think my best friends are all fictional, but then my writing group reminds me they are real :o)

  10. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I love being a writer. When someone really gets under my skin, I just create a character for them and take out my hostility on the character. It’s better than therapy.

  11. Avatar jbstanley says:

    Dear Anonymous,

    Your comment made me laugh! I’d gotten revenge on every junior high school nemesis and am always on the look out for people who are mean to waiters or waitresses, book store employees, or literary agents (!) and if I happen to learn his or her name…well, let’s just say I have no difficulty naming villians!

  12. Avatar beverley says:

    Seeing my characters come alive. Having someone say, I can’t wait to see what happens. Moving someone to laughter or tears. Polishing someone so much so that even I say, “Wow, I think that really is good.” LOL. LOL.

    Getting that letter from an editor or agent that says, I want to see more.

    Discovering how people really lived in 19th century England and being grateful I live in the 21st century.

  13. Avatar Gail says:

    A few of my favorite things: Love working in jammies. The excitement of a new story to write. Publish day!! The fact that almost anything can be explained by saying confidently, “I’m an author. This is research.” Young adults think I’m way cooler than I am because I’m published. Saying, “I’m an author.” is a guilty pleasure at class reunions or when distant relatives show up. Explaining I’m an erotic romance author and acting like I take myself seriously as the person searches for an appropriate response can cause leakage. Must wear Depends when having that much fun. Oh dang, I’m not that old, but I have had a baby. Women will understand.

  14. Avatar Moth says:

    The people in my head talking to me. Definitely.


  15. Avatar Sarahlynn says:

    I enjoy taking my friends’ little idiocracies and giving them to characters. Like my husband’s buddy who has a weird obsession with staying friends with all of his exes? In my current WIP I’ve got a character who’s stuck in a car with his current girlfriend and three exes for a 12-hour scavenger hunt. The resulting scenes are quite fun to write.

  16. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I’m not a mystery writer but did have a terrific time interviewing two police detectives about gun caliber, blood spatter patterns etc in preparation for my novel
    (women’s fiction). They were great guys and read my drafts as carefully as they investigate their crime scenes. One pointed out that the pistol wouldn’t clatter on the carpet in the family room. There was something so delicious about delving into this world.

  17. Avatar jbstanley says:

    Thanks to everyone for adding such wonderful (and hilarious) comments on writing and best of luck to those of you looking to become published. I hope to see you on the bookshelves one day…

  18. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I was writing a scene a couple of years ago. For research, I turned to hubby (deputy sheriff) and asked about a certain heinous crime and what were the max penalties for it in our state. “What kind of book are you writing?!?” was his response. **big grin**

    Now I’m writing a YA with law enforcement ties. He’s my procedure reader. What a great new way to bond with hubby!

    WandaV in AL

  19. Avatar Lucy says:

    “Mystery writers have so much fun! We do oddball research that can range from how a .22-caliber gun shoots at close range to the Latin names of cattle vaccines to recipes for authentic chicken enchiladas.”

    And here I thought we all did that. 😉