Friday, March 20, 2009

Interview with author June Shaw

By Lonnie Cruse

Today I'm pleased to have author June Shaw join me at PDD for an interview. I met June several years ago on the Internet in a writer's group and read her first manuscript. I knew she had a winner. Now she's got two books in print.

PDD: Why did you defer writing your first book for so long?

JS: Goodness, that seems like such a funny question. I'd wanted to be a writer since ninth grade but never tried and married my high school sweetheart right out of school. He was four years older. Within the next six years, I gave birth to five children. "Are you a sex fiend or good Catholic?" people asked me. "Both," I replied. I kept rather busy with the kids' events, and when they were aged five to eleven, my husband died.

Once my mind worked a little, I knew I needed to provide the sole income. I wanted to write. My silly kids wanted to wear shoes and eat and such, so I didn't have time to read a novel, much less try to write one. I completed my college degree, taught English to great ninth grade students, and finally started writing and selling small pieces: essays, stories, one-act plays and a short screenplay produced on the New Orleans channel for the arts. Finally--time to read and try writing novels.

I retired after twenty years of teaching. Soon afterward, I sold a novel, RELATIVE DANGER, which has received great reviews. My children and eight grandchildren are so proud of me. It took so many years--but I'm finally fulfilling my childhood dream. Love it!

PDD: Well deserved kudos, June. How long did it take you to write that book and get it published?

JS: Ten years? Actually, I'm not sure, but when I was writing screenplays, I wrote one called Spunky Lady that I considered similar to Karate Kid. It didn't sell but received great comments. The spunky lady, whom I loved, years later became Cealie Gunther, the amateur sleuth in my series. Her granddaughter who played an important role was a high school senior in the script. Still a senior, she became a major player who could become a victim in RELATIVE DANGER.

It took me quite awhile to learn to write mysteries, but I love them. I've also added a love interest in this series, Cealie's hunky sometimes-ex-lover that she wants to avoid so she can rediscover herself. But he opens Cajun restaurants in all the places she travels - and she is so bad at avoiding tempting dishes and men. These books are fun and romantic and suspenseful murder mysteries. I've been surprised and thrilled at all of the great reviews they've received.

PDD: How have your real life experiences helped in writing your books?

JS: Wow, my hunk is a terrific Cajun cook. I ask for some of his best recipes to include in the books. Of course, he's obliging when I need research for a romance scene : ) Family is most important to Cealie, just as it is to me.

In RELATIVE DANGER a custodian died at school: accident? Or murder? Graduation might not take place. Cealie can't let that happen and pushes in to substitute teach a couple of days to straighten things out and makes matters much worse. Her grandchild could become a next victim unless Cealie determines who did what.

In KILLER COUSINS Cealie's cousin belongs to a stop smoking group that decided "quit day" is the day Cealie shows up, and a member of the group is found dead. Is Cealie's cousin involved? A possible next victim -- or murderer? I smoked most of my life, tried so many ways to quit, joined a stop-smoking group, and finally five years ago quit. Yea!

At my last class reunion four years ago, I studied people that I once thought I knew, some I had known well. The majority of us had gotten caught up with our own lives and families and not kept in touch. I watched them and wondered -- Who are they now? What are they really like? Suppose... What if... And then I knew. I would be writing a mystery in which a small group of former friends who hadn't seen each other in years would get together for a reunion. One female that was popular would have a major problem for them to help solve. Later I cruised in Alaska, remembered my classmates and knew the group would have to meet on that ship. (Boy, sometimes research gets really tough: )

PDD: Bawhahaha, yes, I can see how tough *some* of your research has been! Aspiring writers always want to know how published writers found their publishers. How did you find yours?

JS: I read positive things about Five Star by one of their authors on Sisters in Crime. I'd had some success with other areas of writing, selling essays and stories. Two one-act plays I wrote were produced Off-Off Broadway. A short screenplay I wrote appeared on a Channel for the Arts in New Orleans. I contacted an editor at Five Star about my novel, sent it, and received a contract! Loved it!

After Five Star published RELATIVE DANGER, which received great reviews and sold really well, Harlequin bought reprint rights. They reprinted my book and quickly sold out. Now Five Star just published KILLER COUSINS, my second book in the series. Harlequin is considering it for reprint. And I'm working on the third book in the series. This is so much fun!

PDD: Yes, indeedy! What is your typical writing day like?

JS: I get up around 7, read my Daily Word, get coffee and head for the computer -- unless I am taking care of little grandkids, which I offer to do about once a week, or if I'm going somewhere else. Life is a great adventure now. I was so confined for years with teaching English and raising my five children alone. Now I write and I play and travel.

PDD: Dare I ask? Okay, I will. How do you research your books? Do you always travel to a location before using it in your writing?

JS: Okay, Lonnie, in early December I had to do research for my third Cealie book, which takes place on a cruise ship. The ship's captain and purser and doctor and lots of other staff members gave me so much information. I have lots of pictures hugging them on the Lido deck. I love asking them where's a good place to find a body and such. In the third book, Cealie will go on the cruise to meet her female buddies from high school that she hasn't seen since then. One has a major problem. One has to die. Cealie's hunk has to show up. The ship's doctor gave me lots of info and then asked, "You're sure this is fiction, right?"

Yes, Cealie travels a lot, and I need to check out she's going next. RELATIVE DANGER takes place in Chicago, where I had a great time. KILLER COUSINS is set in Gatlinburg, TN, an area I love. I'm also really fond of cruises. I need to check each place out to make sure I can get Cealie out of the trouble she will definitely get herself in.

PDD: Have you given up wearing control top pantyhose, like your character, Cealie?

JS: Absolutely! Although I think I only tried some with control tops a couple of times, then decided I did not want to impress anyone enough to be squeezing myself into so much control. Now even the stockings are normally goners. Love it.

PDD: One of your non-writing activities listed on your website is fishing. Do you bait your own hooks? How successful are you at catching fish and what kind do you go after? I'm asking because I adore bass fishing but refuse to bait my own hooks.

JS: I'm good at fishing, and I'll teach you how to bait your hooks. Last week four of us went to a pond with worms late in the afternoon and caught 34 perch (called bream elsewhere, I think) and one nice bass - mine. During the summer I often go down to my squeeze's camp/summer home at Grand Isle, Louisiana, an island about ninety miles south from where I live. We go in his boat in areas around the Gulf of Mexico and catch lots of speckled trout. The bait we like best is artificial worms.

PDD: Is there anything else you'd like us to know about June Shaw or your books?

JS: Yes, please visit my Web site, There you can register for my changing contests, read more about my books, and see great pictures, like of my mom dancing at her 100th party. KILLER COUSINS is dedicated to her; it came out at the end of January, the day before she died, so we were able to read the dedication to her. We were so blessed. She was 102 and still coming to line dance classes with me. Last fall I received a call from a producer of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno who'd read about that and invited us to be on the show. We declined because Mom was almost blind from macular degeneration. She thought it was great fun being invited. We had so much great lively music at her funeral that our mayor, as the guest speaker on a radio talk show the next day, told everyone he'd been to the most fun funeral for her. At line dance class the next day, they dedicated the Freeze, Mom's favorite, to her.

Although my main character, Cealie, is nowhere near Mom's age, she has Mom's spunk. Cealie is who I want to be. I'm again working on Cealie's third book, which is set on that cruise ship. Mmm, gotta go check out the pictures again of me hugging on those hunks on the staff: )

PDD: Thanks, June for a fun interview. Any chance you need an "assistant" on your next fun research trip? Just asking.


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Congrats on the new book and a great interview, June. You already know you and your mom, like my mom, are my kinda woman--though my mother died young at 96.

June Shaw said...

Thanks, Liz. It was fun answering Lonnie's questions. I love Poe's Deadly Daughters and am so happy to get to be on it again.

Natalie said...

Love the interview June! You have my admiration for full-filling your writing dream AND for being facing the adversities that come with being a "single mom". Obviously, your great sense of humor helped there.

Sandra Parshall said...

Hi, June! Best of luck with the new book. I look forward to seeing you at Malice Domestic.

June Shaw said...

Natalie, thanks so much. Yes, having a sense of humor certainly helps with getting through trials. That's one of the reasons I love adding lots of humor in my books.

June Shaw said...


Thank you. My new book seems to be doing great. My publisher said it's selling like hotcakes. (Although I haven't seen hotcakes sold, I believe that's a good thing.)

I absolutely can't wait to see you and others again at Malice!

Theresa de Valence said...

June, I *loved* this interview! The more I read about/from you, the more interesting you become (as though you weren't interesting enough already ;) :)). You have an admirable attitude.

Theresa de Valence
Authors deserve Better Software To Write

June Shaw said...

Theresa, how sweet you are! Thank you so much for such nice comments.