Author Chat: Michele Lynn Seigfried

One of the most exciting things is discovering indie authors in your area, and a great way to do that is through book conferences. Recently, I met Michele Lynn Seigfried, author of the Jersey Shore Mystery Series, at the Belmar BookCon. Her series struck me as a great mix of mystery, fun, and timely and relatable current events. Of course I bought the first book in the series. 🙂

The third book in the Jersey Shore Mystery Series, Community Affairs, is coming out tomorrow, but I got the scoop on it from Michele a day in advance. Enjoy!

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Was Red Tape, the first book in the Jersey Shore Mystery Series, your very first book? How long did it take you to plan it (or the whole series) before you began writing it?

Red Tape was about 10 years in the making! One year of actual writing. I have a full-time job and a toddler, so it’s hard to find time to write!

Do you typically plan your writing out with outlines, character development exercises, and other pre-writing activities? Or do you just write as it comes to you?

I have tried to write with outlines, but I always seem to deviate from them. Sometimes I have to go back to the beginning and write in a character to make the story make sense! I do use character development exercises at times. I find them to be helpful!

Did you do any research for the Jersey Shore Mystery Series? Tell us about how your expertise in municipal government helped you with this series.

Yes, even though I work in government, I still had to do a lot of research. I didn’t know the first thing about guns, arrests, or how a court system works. I wanted the facts to be correct, so a lot of research went into it.

With regard to my position in government, I have 16+ years experience. I am a municipal clerk, so I thought I’d make my character have the same profession. “Write what you know” is advice I always hear. I know how that office operates and how records work. I also have kept up over the years with current events regarding government employees, which became ideas in my book. For example, there was a city in North Jersey many years ago that had an employee stealing birth certificate papers.

Does Superstorm Sandy play a part in any of your series?

Yes. A large part. In the first book in the series, the antagonist, “Mr. Triggers”, is angry about there being no dunes at the end of his street. During the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I had seen a news report on television about a group of residents who didn’t have dunes and how their homes were destroyed. On the streets where there were dunes in that same town, the homes weren’t completely obliterated. I started to think – what if a resident was angry about the dunes and took it out on the government? And what if, after repeated requests to get his dunes, his home got destroyed in a hurricane? I suddenly had a plot (and a subplot with the birth certificate issue).

In addition, I portrayed the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as accurately as I could. I was lucky during the storm, I only lost power for a week. Many others were not so lucky. I have cousins who were newlyweds living in a basement apartment that lost everything, escaping the storm with only the clothes on their backs.

Give us the inside scoop on what we can expect in the third part of your series, Community Affairs, to be published January 27, 2015. Tell us something no one else knows!

Fans of Bonnie, get ready! Bonnie, the sassy sidekick in the first two novels, is the main character in Community Affairs. She and her neighbor Lyla, or “Lemon Face” (as Bonnie calls her) go head to head in a somewhat immature neighbor battle. It’s a mystery, of course, so that also means a murder, a kidnapping, mayhem, and a little humor.

As for something that no one else knows, I’ll let you in on this little secret. A lot of my fans are wondering what is going on in Chelsey’s love life. She has two suitors, Bryce and Kris. Since this book ended up being a “Bonnie Book” the love triangle for Chelsey isn’t resolved until book 4 in the series. But there is a new development revealed in Community Affairs. Chelsey’s ex, the father of her daughter, is back in the picture too!

You’ve won honorable mention and runner-up awards for your first two Jersey Shore Mystery Series books in the Beach Book Festival. What is that and what does this recognition mean to you?

I was so excited and honored to be recognized for those awards. “Honorable mention” in that particular book contest is like getting third place. “Runner-up” is synonymous with getting second place. I think, as an author, I’m always second guessing myself. Will readers enjoy this? Is this believable? Is this character developed enough? Will people understand my sense of humor? Is there enough conflict? Is the plot moving too slow? Receiving an award for me is having an expert in the field say, “Guess what? Your work is good! Stop worrying!”

Do you mostly write in this particular genre or do you dabble in other genres? If so, which ones?

I write in this genre (cozy mysteries) and I also write and illustrate children’s picture books.

How do you switch back and forth between children’s books and mystery books intended for adults?

I’ve always enjoyed drawing and other types of art. I was an art minor in college. So sometimes when I feel stuck in the plot, being creative in a different way helps me to clear the writer’s block. I may set the writing aside to draw pictures for a new book, then go back to the writing when I’m ready. Drawing pictures is something that is very relaxing to me, and I tend to become more creative with the written word when I’m less stressed. I also tend to create the children’s books while my current book is with the editor. And lots of times, my husband and daughter give me ideas. Lately, to get my daughter to brush her teeth, we’ve been telling here there’s a monster in her mouth and she has to get it out. Hence the next of my children’s books was born! I wrote the story (in verse) in one day and I’ll work on the illustrations throughout the year, in between writing book 4 in the Jersey Shore Mystery Series.

What do you think makes your mystery series stand apart from other works in your genre?

I think one of the ways it stands out is that I used similarities to current events in New Jersey in the first two books, like Hurricane Sandy and the Seaside boardwalk fire (though I didn’t mention Seaside in the second book). I also don’t know of any other cozy mysteries where the sleuths and criminals are government workers. I was trying to give readers an idea of what it is like to work in government and how government employees don’t all fit that lazy stereotype, especially in local governments.

Are any of the characters in your book based on people you know or have seen/talked to in real life?

Yes! Lots of them. Jose Texidor is based from a real person, retired Lt. Scott Texidor, a former co-worker of mine (with his permission of course). And yes, he is as sarcastic in person as he is in the books!

Uncle Freddy, Giuseppe Frusione, Salvatore Romeo, Kathy Norcia, and Sylvia G. are all real people to name a few.

Chelsey’s Uncle Lou left her a house on a lagoon in New Jersey. My Great Uncle Lou lived in a house on a lagoon at the Jersey shore and I wish he left me a house in his will! Oh well. (I’m living vicariously!)

Also, Bonnie is based on one of my friends (who wishes to remain anonymous). She talks the same way in person as her character does, so it always makes me laugh when a review comes in saying that Bonnie is not a realistic character because people don’t talk that way. I’m here to tell you, oh yes, they do! I find Bonnie absolutely hilarious. Although the real “Bonnie” does not have a rich neurosurgeon husband or beach front home.

What inspires you to write? Music? Other books? Real life events? Just an incredible imagination?

All of the above! Newspapers and the news on TV are a big inspiration to me. Family is as well. There is so much in my books that have some reference to my family – including Mandy, who was modeled after my own daughter. Heck, even the dog! My husband had a Shepherd named “Snickers.”

How do you connect with your audience (e.g. book signings, social media, BookCons, lectures, etc.)?

I appeared at numerous local craft shows last year, where I signed and sold books, and I have plans to attend more this year. I’ve done library talks, seminars, conferences, BookCons, and school appearances. Social media helps me connect with readers a lot as well. Email, Goodreads, and Facebook are easy ways for readers to get in touch with me!

Are you part of any writers’ groups? If so, what do you like about them? How do they help you or inspire you? If not, why not?

I am. I’m a member of Sisters in Crime, Sisters in Crime – Central Jersey, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the New Jersey Author’s Network. Since I don’t have a formal education in literature or creative writing, networking with others who are writing is helping me to learn as much as I can. Members in these groups are extremely supportive. They also provide opportunities for speaking engagements and book signings.

Who are your writing influences and why?

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of J.A. Konrath. While our genres are a little different, I really like how each of his books in the Jack Daniels series has a unique style. I thought I would try to adapt a unique style in each of my books too! My first book is told in first person with Chelsey being the main character. Tax Cut is told in first person from Chelsey, but each chapter has sections where you get the insight from the “bad guys,” told in third person. In Community Affairs, not only did I change the main character, the beginning of each chapter is told in present time, a time when Bonnie is being held captive. Then she tells the story of what led up to her being captive over the past few weeks in first person.

I also have been reading a lot of Gemma Halliday and the authors that she publishes. I enjoy their work, and in my third book, I tried to adopt a tighter writing style like theirs.

Do you read the kinds of books you like to write? Do you watch movies similar to or the same genre as your writing?

Yes, all the time! I do book tours and reviews about cozy mysteries for Escape with Dollycas. I learn about so many new authors that way and have the pleasure of reading books I may not have thought to try. I love cozies, regular mysteries, and thrillers. Yes, I also watch movies and television that pertain to the genre. I love watching CSI and Law and Order reruns. Now that I have a toddler, movies are more of a luxury for me! I never get to go!

If you could write anywhere in the world – in a fictional or non-fiction place – where would you write?

On the island of St. Maarten, watching the pelicans, listening to the ocean, sipping exotic cocktails made with guava or passion fruit, eating the best chocolate in the world (The Belgian Chocolate Box), listening to island music, being on island time. Ah, so relaxing! And as I mentioned earlier – I’m much more creative when I am relaxed!

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Buy Community Affairs here!

Connect with Michele:
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