Interview: Joyce T. Strand, Author
The Judge’s Story
Q: In what genre is The Judge’s Story?
I place The Judge’s Story in the mystery genre, but it is also historical fiction. It is set in a small town in California (Ventura) in 1939 where a Superior Court Judge enlists the help of his colleagues and a precocious teenager to uncover the identity of a murderer. I typically write current-day mysteries set in Silicon Valley or California wine country. This is my first historical mystery, and I enjoyed researching and imagining how it was to solve a crime in 1939. Even though it’s set in a past time period, it is still a mystery.
Q: What inspired you to write it?
Inspiration for The Judge’s Story occurred one day several years ago when I was having lunch with a friend. Knowing that I was an author of mysteries, he said that he had just printed copies for his family of his grandfather’s autobiography dated 1941, which they had discovered in an attic. His grandfather had been a California Superior Court Judge and also a law partner of – “maybe I was familiar with”—Erle Stanley Gardner. Well, of course, I knew the creator of Perry Mason and I’m sure I’ve read every “Case of …” that he ever wrote. Gardner had recommended that my friend’s grandfather write his autobiography because he had such an interesting life.
Well, I was definitely intrigued, and my friend sent me a copy. What an interesting person! He was a hero-judge, supporting current-day causes and the poor. I knew I had to write about him—I didn’t need to repeat his autobiography. What I craved was to write a mystery using his persona as my protagonist. So in between writing my current-day who-done-its, I made time to research the town’s history and created a mystery around the Judge.
Q: How supportive was the setting of a small town in California to tell the story?
I find that setting definitely supports the telling of a mystery. Weaving location and trends of the period into the plot offers the opportunity to develop characters and plot, which was the case in The Judge’s Story. By reading a daily newspaper in 1939, I was able to pull out many incidences and locations that enhance the tale. Ventura, California is a small seaside town just north of Los Angeles. The real Judge lived there, and I used events and places in Ventura and Los Angeles to advance the plot and flesh out the characters. For example, the fictional Judge loves to go for walks on the Ventura pier to listen to and smell the ocean, which helps him think and solve problems. The L.A. drive-in theater offered a unique location to advance the plot with a robbery.
Q: Why do readers care about your characters?
I write for readers who prefer real people who make mistakes, don’t always perform as they should, but eventually do the right thing. Mostly they succeed, but occasionally they do not. As for villains, well, I try not to make them too villainous, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.
When developing the Judge, I had an advantage given that I based him on a real person—although I hasten to add that most of the events around him in the book are fiction. I used his beliefs, mores, and ethics and some of his biography—but the mystery and all of his friends and colleagues are fictional. Nonetheless, I had quick insight into a real person and could reflect his faults as well as his heroic tendencies.
Many readers find Clara, the 16-year old precocious teenager, almost as compelling a character as the Judge. She is the witness who we learn early in the book is testifying against a 14-year-old boy who participated in a robbery murder. She has strong beliefs, and through the Judge’s tutelage she evolves as someone who makes a difference, although she does trip a few times.
Q: The Judge’s Story involves juveniles and juvenile crime. Did you target youth readers?
Although The Judge’s Story does involve juveniles and juvenile crime I wrote it for adults. The actual Judge and news reports of the 1930s were concerned with juvenile crime, and for the sake of the mystery, I needed to portray that trend and some of its consequences and tragedies.
Q: Did you write The Judge’s Story to entertain and/or to deliver a message or educate?
I wrote The Judge’s Story to entertain, but, quite frankly, the Judge and his friends had much to say about juvenile crime and the merits of rehabilitation versus punishment and the value of reading. Literacy was another trend of the 1930s, and it had to be part of the story. But the messages evolved from the 1930s and from the Judge’s cases and his comments on them. I did not set out to deliver a message or educate.
Q: Was it more difficult to create characters who lived in 1939?
Creating characters in a different time period requires an understanding of what it was like living then. Obviously transportation and communication were different—there were no Cell phones or internet. In fact, many people didn’t have phones at all. But Hollywood was producing movies and cars were becoming more prevalent, resulting in the growth of roads, and air travel was beginning to take shape. So, when creating a 1939 character I had to keep in mind what life was like in a small town in California. This required research, and I was fortunate enough to find the Ventura County Museum with its library and helpful librarians.
But people are people and I found that expressing their feelings, emotions, and motivations were not unlike those of my 21st century characters.
Q: Do you write other mysteries? Are they all historical?
I write current-day who-done-it murder mysteries that typically feature an amateur sleuth who gets herself into lots of predicaments. In the first three, a public relations executive, Jillian Hillcrest, works at a small biotechnology company in Silicon Valley, encounters murder, and becomes involved in solving the mysteries. Although standalone, the three books include repeat characters, including Jillian’s boss, Brynn Bancroft, who becomes the protagonist in Hilltop Sunset, the first of a trio of mysteries starring her. Brynn evolves from financial executive to winemaker. The second book in this series is scheduled for release in November 2015.
Q: What do you like to do for fun?
I am an avid Broadway musical fan—or any live theater performances—so I attend productions whenever I have the opportunity. I also like to go to live orchestra performances, particularly classical and jazz. And I love to go out to dinner and go wine-tasting.
Title: The Judge’s Story
Published: June 23, 2015
Genre: Historical Mystery
About The Judge’s Story
A Superior Court Judge with a passion for social justice as well as the law strives to discover
When the Judge hears testimony against a 14-year-old teenager, he realizes that the boy participated in a robbery-murder. However, the accused did not actually pull the trigger. But unless the boy identifies his partner, the Judge must sentence him as a murderer, which would result in prolonged jail time. The Judge’s investigator, along with the precocious 16-year-old girl who identified the boy as one of the thieves, explore different approaches to uncover the murderer. In the backdrop of escalating war in Europe, the financial scarcities of the Great Depression, and the Judge’s caseload, their attempts to find justice for the accused boy and unmask the killer lure the Judge and his friends into sordid criminal activities.
Inspired by a memoir of a real California Superior Court Judge
About Joyce T. Strand
Joyce T. Strand is the author of who-done-it mysteries.
Her newest novel, THE JUDGE’S STORY, published June 23, 2015, is a historical mystery set in a small California town (Ventura) in 1939 and features a California Superior Court Judge.
Her most recent contemporary novel, HILLTOP SUNSET, is the first of a trio 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. Today, in addition to creating mysteries, Strand writes and publishes a blog, Strand’s Simply Tips, is a writer for a regional wine magazine, and is working on the second Brynn Bancroft mystery, to be published in November 2015.
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 she can.
Purchase Links for The Judge’s Story
Book and Kindle http://amzn.to/1f3F3QN
Barnes and Noble Nook http://bit.ly/1LWf8os
Web page http://joycestrand.com
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