I knew that Jane Wheel had family issues to resolve;she had to rebuild her own professional confidence after leaving the advertising business,where she was successful if not always content;and I knew that she had to work on her own tics-her impatience,her restlessness,her passion for the worn out stuff of others.I wanted to explore her complicated relationship with her mother.And I wanted to write it with humor & compassion.
Originally Published on OpEdNews
My interviews have often taken me far afield. So, it's a special
treat to interview some local talent, especially in the mystery genre.
For many years, literate mysteries, favoring the puzzle of human
behavior over gore and mayhem, were my chosen literary escape. Mystery
writer Sharon Fiffer and I live within several miles of one another in
suburban Chicago. And, a lifetime ago, her husband, Steve, and I
attended junior high and New Trier [high school] together. Welcome to
OpEdNews, Sharon. Scary Stuff is your sixth Jane Wheeler
mystery. When you wrote the first one,
Killer Stuff, did you ever imagine you'd have such an
extended relationship with the heroine?
I could imagine an extended relationship - I just wasn't quite clear on
everything that would happen during our time together. I knew that
Jane Wheel had family issues to resolve; I knew that she had to rebuild
her own professional confidence after leaving the advertising business,
where she was successful if not always content; and I knew that she had
to work on her own tics - her impatience, her restlessness, her passion
for the worn out stuff of others.
interesting aspect of character I wanted to explore was her complicated
relationship with her mother and how her perception of that
relationship impacted her roles as wife, mother and daughter. I just
wanted to write it all with humor and compassion. I like working with
small tools - I prefer a watchmaker's bench to a fully outfitted machine
I'm working on book #7 right now - and I could see a few more down the road before I can safely leave Jane to her own devices.
How has Jane evolved over the last six books?
Jane has become slightly more sure of herself as a detective, as a
problem solver; even more sure of herself as a picker; but is still
completely at sea when she tries to figure out her mother Nellie. She
thinks that maybe, just maybe, her childhood memories are all
wrong - either that, or Nellie is changing history just to mess with
Jane has also grown more interested in
"detecting" since Detective Oh has made the world so interesting for
her. His methods are not those of a TV detective - he is a thoughtful
observer of people and a curious man - a good listener - someone who
believes that anything is possible. Jane is fascinated by him and
loves being his student.
Jane is also a better
friend to Tim - she doesn't let him push her around quite as much - and
that is good for both of them. After The Wrong Stuff, where she
worried so much about her failures as a mother, she has learned to
relax and enjoy her son Nick
And lastly, she
is aware, as Charley's wife, that she isn't all that good at being
Charley's wife. But she has gotten much better at being Jane Wheel.
She's so human. I love that! Where did her character come from? I know
you collect. Is she you, someone you know, an aggregate, or totally
I know that there is no way I should link myself to Nobel Prize Winner
Orhan Pamuk but in yesterday's New York Times
magazine, he implied that he was frustrated by people asking him if he
was his fictional hero, Kemel. He answers that he's not but because
he's a novelist, he can't convince anyone or explain why he is not. My
take on the same question is, although I lag woefully behind in earning
nobel prizes, quite similar.
On one hand I am not Jane Wheel - although
we share so much - our tavern-owning parents, Kankakee childhood,
doubts, love of stuff - but she is my fictional creation - both an
exaggeration of parts of myself and a tamping down of some parts - and
on the other hand, because I am a novelist, I try to inhabit her and
find her within myself so I can make her true and real - so how can I
convince anyone that she is not me? I have also written fiction from a
male point of view, a child's point of view - many other characters - I
just try to be them, assume their voice while I write the book. I
think in some ways, I am less shaky about my relationships than is
Jane - she is always questioning all of her ties to people. I am
content in my relationships - at least I think I am.
Okay. I can see how that could be annoying. I promise not to ask you anymore about it. I'm fascinated by
the mania for antique picking, if that's the right term. Your books
are full of picking lore. When you write about Jane's joy of searching
and finding, do you vicariously experience the same high you get from
actually going out and doing it? Or do you still need your collecting
fix as well?
Interesting - I think I love the actual hunt in a different way. When I
write about Jane's finds, it's fun, but it's fun because I'm creating
the fantasy sale - Jane can find the Bakelite bracelet in the bottom of
a box full of junk for a dollar - fantasy. When I'm on the hunt, it's a
different sensation. It's so interesting to attend an estate sale and
"read" the objects left behind by someone. It's the story of someone's
life - so rich and complicated. So I guess I'm "reading" while at a
sale, and writing when Jane is at one.
Sort of like two sides of the same coin. You've been writing for a long
time. Do you have special rituals or routines that enable you to
I think for a long time before I sit down to write a scene or chapter.
Mornings are best but I've been known to pull late-nighters, too. I
wish I could think of something that always works or show off some
great discipline, but usually, I think through the part of the book I'm
working on and then just start writing. If I feel stuck in any way, I
imagine dialogue. Sometimes I do a give and take between Jane and Tim
or Jane and Nellie - just to get warmed up - then the dialogue might stay
or go. Hearing the characters' voices usually moves the writing along.
I'm at the very beginning of a book, gathering ideas? I clean out a
drawer or a closet where I've stashed some stuff I've collected. The
right object can set off a paragraph, a page, a chapter, a novel.
Do you use friends or family as guinea pigs? Practice dialogue on them
or with them? Do your near and dear dread talking with you because they
might end up in an unflattering way in one of your books?
No, I can't say as I've ever tested out actual dialogue, but I do
sometimes read pages aloud to family to see how the work "sounds."
Reading aloud is a great way to tell if the writing is balanced and if
it works. As for friends and family ending up in my books? Most
people tell me stories that they think should be in the
books - especially when I meet people from Kankakee.
Mysteries aren't the only thing you write. Can you tell our readers what else you've worked on besides Jane Wheel stories?
I've co-edited three collections of memoir with my husband, writer
Steve Fiffer. Two, Home
, were published by Random
House/Pantheon and the third, Body
, was published by Bard Avon. We
also co-wrote Fifty Ways To Help Your Community: A Handbook For Change
published by Doubleday. And about a thousand years ago, I co-edited a
literary magazine, Other Voices, and my own short fiction was published
in several different literary magazines. Two thousand years ago, one
of those stories, The Power of Speech, won an Illinois Arts Council.
You've sure been busy. Anything you'd like to add, Sharon?
Can't think of anything - you got me to ramble about almost everything I can think of.
thanks for joining us, Sharon. I'm a
dog lover and I want to see what you do about the growing
rapport between Jane's mother, Nellie, and Jane's dog, Rita. As of now, it sure feels like Rita and Nellie belong together. One more reason to look forward to Jane Wheel,#7!
Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of transparency and the ability to accurately check and authenticate the vote cast, these systems can alter election results and therefore are simply antithetical to democratic principles and functioning.
Since the pivotal 2004 Presidential election, Joan has come to see the connection between a broken election system, a dysfunctional, corporate media and a total lack of campaign finance reform. This has led her to enlarge the parameters of her writing to include interviews with whistle-blowers and articulate others who give a view quite different from that presented by the mainstream media. She also turns the spotlight on activists and ordinary folks who are striving to make a difference, to clean up and improve their corner of the world. By focusing on these intrepid individuals, she gives hope and inspiration to those who might otherwise be turned off and alienated. She also interviews people in the arts in all their variations - authors, journalists, filmmakers, actors, playwrights, and artists. Why? The bottom line: without art and inspiration, we lose one of the best parts of ourselves. And we're all in this together. If Joan can keep even one of her fellow citizens going another day, she considers her job well done.
Joan has been Election Integrity Editor for OpEdNews since December, 2005. Her articles also appear at Huffington Post, RepublicMedia.TV and Scoop.co.nz.