An Interview with Sue Ann Jaffarian

By Joan Leotta
(March, 2014)

Sue Ann Jaffarian has created several mystery series. Her best known is the Odelia Gray mystery series which features a full-figured paralegal who has a knack for finding bodies and deciphering "whodunit." You can find out more about this award winning author at her website and through the interview below.

1. You say you heard the siren call of writing early in life. When exactly was that? Did someone particular call your talent to your attention?

It wasn't anything particular that I can recall, but I was an avid reader, even when I was very young, and knew I wanted to write books that people would read. I would even write my name on tiny slips of paper and insert them into the card catalogue at the library exactly where I knew one day my name would one day be.

2. Over the years, how did you nurture your talent?

I didn't really except for reading tons of books, both fiction and nonfiction. All budding writers must read. It can teach you more about writing, both the good and the bad, than taking dozens of writing classes. As the great Stephen King said in his book On Writing: "Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones."

3. What made you commit to novels in 1995? What type of novels were those first two that are now in the drawer? Do you think you will ever take them out to work on them?

Quite honestly, in 1995 I realized I was at least halfway, if not more, through my life and had not made a serious attempt to pursue my lifelong dream of writing. I didn't want to reach the end and regret that, so I got to work. My first two novels were general fiction and both came close to being published. One will definitely never be published since I cannibalized it for some of the characters I've used in other books. My current agent loves the first one I wrote but it was done so long ago and my writing skills have changed so much that I would have to totally revamp it to bring it to the place where I would submit it to be considered.

4. Why did you turn to mystery? On your website you credit Mystery Writers in America and Sisters in Crime with contributing to your success. Can you share how, specifically, belonging to these groups helped you?

I turned to mystery when my first agent advised me to go into that genre. She said my general fiction contained a lot of mystery elements. Once I started learning more about the genre, I fell in love with it. She was right. When I was first starting out both of these groups, especially Sisters In Crime, gave me a place to go and learn more about the genre. It's also a great help and support to associate with other writers in the same field. Once I was published I was able to get more exposure for my work through these groups.

5. Did you and do you still, work with a critique group near your home?

I have never worked with a critique group. I would find it way too time consuming and confining for my work style.

6. Someone has told me that you self-published the Odelia Gray series. Then the series was picked up by a commercial publisher. Our readers, many of whom are writers would be interested in knowing how after you decided to self-publish you made that jump to commercial publishing and if you went with an agent or applied directly to a publishing house with your finished book?

Only the first two books in the Odelia Grey series were self-published and that was years ago through iUniverse, before all the online self-publishing avenues of today were available. Both did very well and I decided if I truly wanted to be a professional writer and be really serious about my writing career, I needed to make the jump to traditional publishing. I landed a new agent, who I've been with now for ten years, and she worked with publishers to find a home for Odelia.

7. Do you write full time now or do you also still work in a law office?

I still work as a paralegal in a law office in Los Angeles. It's difficult but I manage to juggle both careers.

8. How do you manage different series and different publishers — what made you look outside of your Odelia Gray publisher for the other books?

The Granny Apples series was originally with Midnight Ink, the publisher for the Odelia Grey series. After the third Granny Apples book, my agent and I decided it was time to expand my career and exposure by moving that series to a larger publisher. Penguin/Berkley bought the Granny franchise and signed me for several more books. Being with the larger publisher has really helped to grow my reader base in leaps and bounds. As for managing two series, it's not that difficult. I focus on them at different times of the year.

9. Who/what was your inspiration for Odelia, a character I love! She shares your profession — and your sense of humor is outstanding! What else do you share?

Odelia was inspired by all women who were never considered normal, acceptable, smart or sexy because of their weight. Odelia doesn't let it (her weight) get her down, but plows through life determined to carve out her own happiness and place in the world no matter what her critics say. You have to have a sense of humor to do that. Are we alike? Yes, but Odelia swears less than I do and dresses much better. She's also married, but I have the nicer attorney bosses.

10. Was Odelia your first mystery?

Yes. She's the one who started it all!

11.Which came first for you stage or page? Where and how often do you perform? Do you find that your performances aid your writing and vice versa?

If you're referring to my stint performing comedy, that was very short lived. When my first novel came out I decided to take a stand-up comedy class to learn to be comfortable in front of audiences and to get a feel for timing when speaking. Over about 18 months I performed in various small comedy clubs and even at a few private events, but it wasn't a focus just a tool. It was also a great help! I do a lot of public speaking as an author and I'm comfortable in front of audiences of all sizes.

12. Advice to writers. You offer four pieces of advice to writers on your website. Can you share how those work in your own life? Do you make a schedule and stick to it? How do you stay focused on your dreams and goals? Is there someone who tried to "pee on your parade" and if so, how did you deal with it?

My schedule is to write in the mornings for a couple of hours before I go to work. I also write at least 4 hours on each Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes I get off track, but then jump right back on schedule. It's the only way I can get it all done. I've met so many wannabe writers who say "when I have time I'll write." That attitude gets nothing done. You will never have time for writing — for anything — unless you make the time, even if it's only an hour a day.

Without focus, you meander. Before I had publishing contracts that was the most difficult thing to battle. Now having two book deadlines a year keep me on the straight and narrow. I have to make those deadlines! If you don't have a deadline staring you in the face, then set your own. Tell yourself you will writer "x" number pages a day or "x" number of words. Even if you only write a page a day, in a year you'll have a novel. If you get off track, don't give up; pick up where you left off.

And don't let anyone tell you that you CAN'T do it. A lot of people, even many of my well-meaning friends and family, thought my writing was just a "phase" I was going through. It would have been easy to give up, but I forged on and they aren't saying that now.

Finally, lucky 13 — is there anything I have not asked that you would like to share with omdb! readers?

We've already covered so much, so let me leave with this: READ A LOT, READ OFTEN, and don't be afraid to give authors you've never heard of a try. A lot of people think if a book isn't on the NY Times Bestseller List, it isn't worth their time. Shame on those people! There are tons of fantastic authors out there not on that list who will blow your socks off with their work. Not all, but a lot!

Thank you.

Please click here to read a review of SECONDHAND STIFF by Sue Ann Jaffarian.

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