Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Meet author Joyce T. Strand & Learn About Her New Book, Hilltop Sunset: A Brynn Bancroft Mystery



Author bio:
Joyce T. Strand is the author of who-done-it mysteries set in the San Francisco Silicon Valley and Napa-Sonoma wine regions of California.
Her most recent novel, HILLTOP SUNSET, is the first of a new series featuring protagonist Brynn Bancroft, a financial guru in transition to winemaker from corporate executive. Brynn Bancroft is a minor character in Strand’s novels ON MESSAGE, OPEN MEETINGS, and FAIR DISCLOSURE—three mysteries solved by Jillian Hillcrest, a publicist whose boss was Chief Financial Officer Brynn Bancroft.
Much like her protagonist Jillian Hillcrest, Strand headed corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in California’s Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder in her career. She focused on writing by-lined articles, press releases, white papers, and brochures to publicize her companies and their products.
Strand lives with her two cats and collection of cow statuary in Southern California, and seeks out and attends as many Broadway musicals and other stage plays as possible.
She received her Ph.D. from the George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

Brief synopsis of your book:

A mystery set in wine country pitting financial exec Brynn Bancroft against a determined stalker, a troubled love interest, and career clashes.
Brynn Bancroft learns that a former employee who beat her nearly to death has returned to stalk her and her friend, Jillian Hillcrest, also a former victim.  Recently divorced, Brynn turns to a new love interest only to encounter additional unwelcome issues. Meanwhile, short-timer Brynn, who has resigned from her Silicon Valley company, becomes bored fulfilling her remaining responsibilities there. She begins to prefer supporting the launch of her ex-husband’s new hilltop winery while waiting to move to her next position. Between her stalker and her new love interest, Brynn faces a series of life-threatening events.

Book title:

Hilltop Sunset: 
A Brynn Bancroft Mystery

Current book or project you’re working on:

What moment or event sparked the inspiration for your novel?
I created the story for Hilltop Sunset by fictionalizing a real case solved by the FBI in 1980s Silicon Valley. A retired FBI agent who helped solve the case suggested it to me. I drew the characters from this and my other novels from my corporate background heading public relations in several high-tech and biotech companies.

Please share three interesting facts about the characters in your book.
1) Brynn Bancroft played a minor role in my first three mysteries as the boss of protagonist Jillian Hillcrest, and lover of the married Chief Executive Officer.
2) Liam Bancroft, Brynn’s ex-husband (she chooses to keep his last name), secretly continues to love her but has given up on her largely due to her extra-marital affairs.
3) H. Todd Logan, Brynn’s new love interest, pulls her out of a funk following her divorce, and exhilarates her in more ways than one, but brings his own shadowy complications to the relationship.

Who is the most complex issue you dealt with, as a writer, in your current novel?
In order to transition Brynn from an unfeeling promiscuous financial executive to a caring committed winemaker, I had to introduce her as a somewhat unlikeable character – yet simultaneously engage readers to want to read more about her. In an early draft, she changed too quickly; so I slowed down her progression, but still gave small indications that it was coming. Also, her ex-husband, Liam, gave some insight into her background, enlightening readers about the reason for her behaviour.

Are there any characters in your book that remind you of yourself?
Jillian Hillcrest reminds me of me! I served as the head of various communications functions at several high-tech and biotech companies, much as Jillian does. However, where she is tall, slender, and successful, well, I’m not. Also, I never encountered any murders nor helped the police solve any crimes.

If you could pick any well known or famous author to review your book who would you pick and why?
Mary Higgins Clark writes books with female amateur sleuths who more or less stumble into mystery and life-threatening predicaments.  Therefore she could best review Hilltop Sunset, which tells the story of a financial executive drawn into a mystery and life-threatening events that she must solve. Clark could best review the effectiveness of the suspense, plot, and character building—all of which she does so well.


What genre and age group does your book fall into?
Mystery for readers over 21. There is some light sex and violence which might not be appropriate for younger readers.

What is the first book you remember reading, that affected how you thought or felt about something?
Discounting the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries that I read very young purely for entertainment, I think the first book that really influenced my thinking when I was in junior high school was Nevil Shute’s On the Beach. It terrified me and I spent much of my youth worrying about the ramifications of nuclear war.

Which three authors have inspired you the most, and why?
1) Tom Clavell – and Shogun is my most favorite novel. His descriptions of medieval Japan put me there; and the chess-like moves of the players intrigued my puzzle-solving senses.
2) John Steinbeck – he wrote so real but not despairingly so. I welcomed his characters into my life.
3) John Grisham – he can tell a story with suspense and educate me about the pitfalls of law firms, supreme courts, jury-fixing, southern bigotry, and the death penalty.
Have you ever read a book you couldn’t finish reading?
Yes, James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Do you read a book, while you are writing a book?
I read books at any time, including when I’m writing. I love mysteries specifically. Or historical novels. I’m currently reading The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.

The process:

How many books have you written? I’ve written and published four mysteries; I also count my PhD dissertation as a book (it was 170 pages) so that’s five, although it’s non-fiction; and I’ve written a first draft of my fifth fictional book, which I plan to publish June/July 2015.

Which book is your favourite and why?
Oh, you’re asking me to choose from among my own children!-- but I guess of the ones I’ve published, my favourite was Fair Disclosure, perhaps because I have seen the crime of UN-fair disclosure up close and really care about it, because it’s not understood.

Is there anything that helps get you in the mood to write?
Sitting quietly by myself thinking about the story makes me want to get started. Driving for long distances helps me think through a plot. Opening my computer and starting to write is what helps the most!

What were three challenges you faced when writing your book?
1) I had to transition from being a writer of marketing literature like press releases, by-lined articles, or white papers to being a writer of fiction that told a mystery with suspense and interesting characters.
2) Creating credibility for the mystery/murder and police procedural parts of the books.
3) Endings – I have difficulty concluding my mysteries without calling everyone into the parlour to inform them of who did what, why, and when.

What is one of your favourite sources for research and why?
My favorite sources – other than Google – are experts, i.e., real people who have lived and performed in the field I need to discuss.

Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so what helps you to ‘overcome’?
I sometimes get stopped in developing my plot because I can’t figure out how to get from one point to another. Sometimes I’ll just skip that part and write a different scene, and come back later to bridge the troubling segment. Also, I have a rule when writing that I will write at least 3000 words a day – no matter how bad. That keeps me moving, even if I discard much of the bad stuff.

Was there a time when you felt possessed by a character when you were writing? If so from which book and which character?
Actually, that has happened with my next book which is set in 1939 Ventura CA and is the story about a Judge. To maintain the objectivity so coveted by Judges, I tell his story from the perspective of a precocious 16-year-old wannabe author. Wow! Did she ever take over. I had to keep reminding her and me that this is the Judge’s Story, not hers.

Do you take part in creating your book cover and if so what do you find the most difficult part of the process?
For all of my books, I’ve had a conceptual idea of what I wanted, but quite frankly I have no visual arts talent whatsoever. I usually can describe what I want the cover to say but I rely on an artist’s skills to say it visually. I’ve been very fortunate to have designers who could implement my concept far beyond what I could have imagined.

What part of the process becomes the most critical for you?
Selling books!

How long does it usually take for you to complete a book?
Conceiving the plot, ie, finding the case on which to base the story, drafting a brief or detailed outline, and writing a book can take approximately three months – but that’s barely the beginning of the process. Then, I edit the first draft, send it to some alpha readers, and then re-write and then send to beta readers and rewrite and then send to a professional editor and REALLY rewrite – that process takes another three months. Then, of course, there’s proofing and proofing and proofing and… Next there’s the formatting – so from beginning to end the process can be as long as a year.

Do you have any ideas for your book and Hollywood? Actors, directors, music.
Well, Brynn Bancroft is a shapely blond with a Mensa IQ about 40 years old, so perhaps a blonde Catherine Zeta Jones. Her ex-husband, Liam, is handsome, athletic, and charismatic and could be played by Mark Valley. Her lover, Todd, is tall and somewhat professorial and I picture someone like Chris Noth. Brynn is constantly playing music like John Fogarty/Creedence Clearwater version of “Down on the Corner” so that would be the kind of music I’d put with it.

Which book to movie conversion is your favourite?
John Grisham’s The Client.

Do you watch a lot of science fiction or fantasy movies?
No – except I have been drawn to some of the new Marvel comic book features, like The Avengers. Oh, and of course the new Star Trek and I’m really looking forward to JJ Abrams version of Star Wars.

Do you study science, criminology, police, medical, or anything special to help you with your writing?
I have attended several conferences where criminology and police procedures are discussed. However, I rely on retired police and FBI agents to offer guidance. I’m more interested in the people and the plot than in police procedure, although I do try to make police activity accurate.

What, who, and when, first inspired you to write?
As a PR professional for more than 25 years, I had to write press releases, background documents, by-lined articles, and many other types of documents. However, I had never considered writing fiction until one day, following my being laid off my job in 2008, my husband said “Why don’t you write a book? A mystery.” And that’s how my writing career really began.

Personal favourite info:
Drink – Lemon drop (the kind with vodka) or red wine
Food – Italian
Vacation – Broadway to see as many musicals and plays as possible
TV show – West Wing (current – the newest Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch or NCIS)
Movie – The Usual Suspects or Princess Bride
Animal – cat
Sport – American football
Book – Shogun
Comedy – Some Like it Hot
Struggle – growing old
Addiction - coffee

How can people connect with you?
Blog: Strand’s Simply Tips http://strandssimplytips.blogspot.com
Twitter: @joycetstrand

Where can readers find your book? 

Amazon Paperback and Kindle 

Barnes and Noble Nook

Signed Paperback: Unicorn Book Store

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