How about a little murder mystery to kickstart the weekend? Please help me welcome as my guest author Janyce Stefan-Cole! Let’s take a look at her bio and then find out whodunit…
JANYCE STEFAN-COLE is the author of the novels, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (Unbridled Books) and THE DETECTIVE’S GARDEN (Unbridled Books) and is included in: Rattapallax Magazine issue 36, The Broadkill Review, The Laurel Review, and The Open Space. “Conversation with a Tree” won Knock Literary Magazine’s Eco-lit prize and was republished in the anthology, BEING HUMAN; Editions Bibliotekos. Also: Fiction Writers Review, Pank, The Healing Muse, Main Street Rag, American Book Review, WG News + Arts, and the anthology, DICK FOR A DAY; Villard Books. Visiting novelist, Texas University of the Permian Basin.
Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?
Janyce: The Detective came to me first, as does happen but not always. I knew Emil was an atheist, and that atheists are “the most religious in the world”. My husband is an inherited atheist, so perhaps some of him features in protagonist, retired homicide detective, Emil Milosec. Also, I wanted to write in the male voice, and do so convincingly. A mystery presents itself in the form a severed female finger. The garden is Emil’s refuge; his deceased wife Elena, very much alive in Emil’s heart, created the garden in what had been a dump of a backyard at their Brooklyn brownstone. Emil has dug a hole with intentions of planting the apple tree his wife had long wanted in the garden. He discovers the severed finger there and, in an instant, his refuge is spoiled. He must discover who “planted” the finger and why. This takes him, first in memory, then actually to his boyhood home of Slovenia. There is revealed what his mind had refused to accept, and can no longer avoid: Emil Milosec, the law-defending, self-certain detective faces himself and finds a murderer.
Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?
Janyce: Emil Milosec, and his neighbor, Franco Montoya.
Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?
Janyce: I would say both character and setting. The garden is of course a metaphor for Eden. The irony being an atheist is its inhabitant.
Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?
Janyce: Emil is very complex, and he is a male, while I am female. I had to grasp a consistent male voice, and I had to break through a very reticent character. Elena is, of course, deceased from the story’s beginning. I had to bring her alive just enough to let the reader know how deeply she affected, still affects Emil.
Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?
Janyce: Happily, I have been to Slovenia, so was able to project that city believably. I had to research weapons, and certain police procedures. And I had to find certain words in Slovenian—that was tricky. I read the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament because Emil the atheist is at the same time very Old Testament. He argues with The Bible; the deity found in it.
Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?
Janyce: I wrote a story in 1999, “The Pepper Patch”. There is a pepper patch in Emil’s garden. His neighbor, Franco Montoya gave the seeds to Emil’s wife Elena, who planted them knowing Emil hated peppers. The story introduced me to Emil and my other main characters. I began to write a novel, Outside Eden, which evolved after perhaps three drafts to, THE DETECTIVE’S GARDEN.
Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?
Janyce: If you exclude the short story that led to the novel, I’d say three years, a bit more. Yes, the length is pretty typical. I average between three and four hundred manuscript pages. I don’t plan the number of pages.
Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?
Janyce: Solitude! I must pretend I am utterly alone in the world of my book. That means no phone calls or emails. I try to be at the desk by nine AM where I stay, no matter what, until lunch. Afternoons the world usually steps in, though I try for an afternoon session at the desk.
Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?
Janyce: Nod (he/she nodded) might be one. And then, is another I have to watch out for. Also, starting a sentence with and. For some reason I like to start sentences with and. I carefully rein that in.
Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?
Janyce: Not really living role models but many authors. Lewis Nordan was a wonderful Southern writer I got to know at an art colony. He was the real deal, and I looked up to him but was, happily, too bashful to make a complete annoyance of myself. We became friends. I don’t know that he actually took my writing seriously at the time.
Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?
Janyce: I have a wonderful studio in Brooklyn. Not quite quiet enough but I make it work. It is my lair. My sister gave me an apple green chaise that I read on. My husband, also a writer, works downstairs at the opposite end of the house. So I feel safe and physically isolated when I write.
Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?
Janyce: Thankfully, I haven’t had a day job in years. Last job was as a clerk for Time, Inc. I live modestly.
Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?
Janyce: Greatest achievement is having written three novels, so far. I was told in workshop, at one of the art colonies I attended, that I was writing a novel. Before that I’d not had the nerve or confidence to think I could write a novel. Others convinced me I could.
Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?
Janyce: I’d take tea with Charlotte Bronte because she was such a supreme storyteller. Likewise, Louise Erdrich. I’d like to have sat at a Paris café with Mavis Gallant. I’d gladly sit at the knee of Dostoyevsky. James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man had a profound effect on me in my late teens; I’d like to thank him. Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Jean Ryhs of Good Morning Midnight, any Orhan Pamuk book. The list goes on…
Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?
Janyce: Success that I have been able to write well, to find a voice that turned out to be mine.
THE DETECTIVE’S GARDEN: A Love Story and Meditation on Murder
Brooklyn, 1995: hipsters are moving in, developers smell blood, and a housing bubble begins that will turn a sleepy semi-industrial waterfront into towers of glass and steel. Ex-homicide Detective Emil Milosec figures he’s safe in his garden, until a grim discovery in the pepper patch one hot June morning raises the possibility of real estate terrorists. He’d thought he was done detecting iniquity but now he’s back on a case. Originally from Slovenia, he’s the perennial outsider. So was his wife, the beauty from Trieste, Elena Morandi, who has died too young, taking her secrets with her. A cast of locals flavors the story, but it’s the ex-cop’s journey into his own darkness that makes the tale. A heat wave, a gun, a smattering of science: A bit of Shakespeare, tablespoons of the Old Testament, and hints of Sophocles yield a contemplative, noirish brew.
Thanks for sharing your story premise and a bit about your writing process, Janyce!
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