Debbi Mack interviews crime writer Jessie Chandler on the Crime Cafe podcast.
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We did it again! This week, there’s a transcription of the show notes. Click here to download a copy in PDF.
Debbi (01:44): Hi everyone. My guest today has written seven mysteries, including five in the Shay O’Hanlon caper series. Her latest book Quest for Redemption is the first in a new series. It also recently won an award, I believe. She is also the second author in a row on this show this season to be an artist as well as a writer. I’m pleased to have with me today mystery writer, Jessie Chandler. Hi Jessie. It’s great to have you on.
Jessie (02:16): Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. This is so exciting.
Debbi (02:19): Well, this is a thrill for me. I mean so many artists and so many writers. This is wonderful.
Jessie (02:26): It’s a good, good thing to be in. Good area to be, a good place to be.
Debbi (02:30): I think it is. Yeah. I think that graphic arts for one thing is just a fantastic area right now for many reasons. But let’s see. Before we get to your latest book, tell us a little about your caper series, which you’ve compared to Stephanie Plum, I believe. So are you much in that kind of Janet Evanovich sort of humor?
I’ve got a cute little old lady who loves to get in trouble with her neon high tops and her little mini backpack. She calls it her whacker to take care of people. It doesn’t follow a lot of the, the romancey stuff of Janet Evanovich in any way. And it’s got much more of a Midwest feel.
Jessie (02:48): Sort of, yeah, a lot of physical comedy, a lot of slapstick stuff. I’ve got a cute little old lady who loves to get in trouble with her neon high tops and her little mini backpack. She calls it her whacker to take care of people. It doesn’t follow a lot of the, the romancey stuff of Janet Evanovich in any way. And it’s got much more of a Midwest feel. The big twist is the protagonist is a lesbian, which my hope in the series and it seemed to have panned out mostly so far from the reviews I’ve received and people talking to me that, you know, that LGBTQ people are the same as anybody else. And we have the same ups, the same downs. We have the same challenges and just, it’s just a part of who she is.
LGBTQ people are the same as anybody else. And we have the same ups, the same downs. We have the same challenges and just, it’s just a part of who she is.
Jessie (03:46): And that’s been a good part of that series for me. I love to laugh and if I can dive into a book for just a few minutes, you know, I don’t have a lot of time and I can read a little bit, have a good time, and then I can come back to it. That’s just, it is so good. It is so good. And I don’t think, especially now we have enough laughter, enough humor in our lives. There’s so much serious stuff going on. So that is what, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit, I imagine. Quest For Redemption is very opposite of that. It’s very much darker and it was a big challenge, but I’m really excited. The next book I write will be the sixth in the Shay O’Hanlon caper series called Shanghai Murder. It goes out to Portland, Oregon, and there’s some Shanghai Tunnels under the city and there’s some coffee involved and some kidnapping and a little of this and a little of that. And it’s going to be a lot of fun.
The next book I write will be the sixth in the Shay O’Hanlon caper series called Shanghai Murder. It goes out to Portland, Oregon, and there’s some Shanghai Tunnels under the city and there’s some coffee involved and some kidnapping and a little of this and a little of that. And it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Debbi (04:45): Wow. Well, that’s very interesting cause I know Portland cause my sister lives there.
Jessie (04:50): Okay. Have you done the Shanghai Tunnel tours?
Debbi (04:54): I have not, actually. I’ll have to ask her about that.
Jessie (04:57): There’s two tours. One’s really good. And one’s pretty lame. I’ll see if I can find the info and I can email it to you, the, the good one. But what the story goes is that under the city of Portland, there are these tunnels and they’re there. But they were used for shanghaiing men and putting on ships to Shanghai and back through the mid-1800s into the early-1900s. And what they would do is there would be in certain bars, they would have a trap door and it would be along the bar.
Jessie (05:29): So they would get these guys drunk. They dropped the trap door, the guys would fall down into a cell of sorts and then they would be shanghaied onto the ship. The City of Portland contests that ever happened. But then there is other evidence to the contrary and it’s just a really fun thought and idea and a super fun way to put my characters in some terrible troubles. So.
Debbi (05:57): Yeah, wow there’s actually a play that I think they put on every year in Astoria, Oregon called Shanghaied in Astoria.
Jessie (06:07): Really? How interesting is that?
Debbi (06:09): I went to it once.
Jessie (06:11): Have you really?
Debbi (06:12): Yeah.
Jessie (06:13): What was it about?
Debbi (06:14): Well, it’s been a while, a long while. And it was about shanghaiing, kidnapping that sort of thing. It was done in a humorous way. There was almost a Rocky Horror-like feel to the audience. It had this kind of bizarre thing going on.
Jessie (06:35): Oh, that sounds like a lot of fun.
Debbi (06:37): It involved the throwing of popcorn. I remember at one point. It was all very strange. But very interesting. It was kind of fun. Shanghaied in Astoria. If you ever get to the tiny town of Astoria there on the coast.
Jessie (06:55): Wow. I definitely have to check that out. I’m going back out to Oregon in October, I do an annual writing retreat with Lori Lake and Judy Kerr and Mary Beth Benichi, MB Benichi. And we just gather at Lori’s house. She lives in Portland and it’s pretty much, we’re a pretty quiet crew as we’re sitting working on outlines or, or writing or researching stuff. And then we go and like last year I was out there and I did the Shanghai Tunnel tour. So can do some researching and stuff. So it’s a lot of fun. Of course you have to hit the food carts, too.
Debbi (07:31): Of course. Naturally. so what is Shay O’Hanlon like? What does she do? That concerns her mystery solving.
Jessie (07:41): All right. So, she needed a home base. So I gave her a coffee shop and it’s in uptown Minneapolis, which is kind of the, the hip neighborhood of Minneapolis, one of them. And I tried to give her a lot of qualities that were opposite me, because I didn’t want to write the main characters being me. So I don’t like coffee. So I put her in a coffee shop. She’s pretty outgoing. I’m not really outgoing. I can do on these kinds of things I can, but most of the time, you know, I like to kind of stick to myself and if I’m in a coffee shop writing, I usually write in Caribou Coffee or Starbucks. And if somebody starts to get to know who I am, then I switch coffee shops. I’m kind of weird, but so she’s very loyal and she’s got a family and friends who they’re her friends are her family. Her mom died in a car accident when she was very young and her dad owns a bar in a different neighborhood in Minneapolis and it’s called The Leprechaun.
Her mom died in a car accident when she was very young and her dad owns a bar in a different neighborhood in Minneapolis and it’s called The Leprechaun. And each friend or family member brings her different problems.
Jessie (08:48): And each friend or family member brings her different problems. In the first book, which was called Bingo Barge Murder, she’s got a six foot four chain smoking, vegetarian best friend named Coop. And he’s just a super polite guy. Very much anti-violence. He belongs to something called the Green Beans for Peace and Preservation and they go hug trees, so they don’t get cut down. And he comes to her and he says, Oh my God, the cops are after me. They think I killed my boss by whacking him over the head with a great big bronze bingo dauber, which if anyone plays bingo, it’s a bingo marker. And so the story goes is they’re trying to prove Coop didn’t do it. And the cops are after him or so they think, and she meets her love interest JT, who’s the detective on the case.
Jessie (09:41): And so chaos ensues from there. And of course in the end it all works out. But that was the kickoff to Shay. So the second book involves a little bit of Shay’s mother figure named Eddie and another character named Rocky, who’s kind of like a Rain Man figure. He’s in his forties. He’s mentally challenged. Super smart. Like if you drop a, you know, a box of, of the toothpicks kind of like Rain Man, and he kind of knows how many are there and he has all of these weird facts in his head. So he might mention something about this light green Buick driving down the road and he’ll pop off with 14 different facts about that particular car. So he’s, he’s interesting and unique. And he is in a little bit of trouble because he’s got a toy stuffed neon green snake that the Mexican cartel is killing people for.
Jessie (10:39): So they need to figure that out. And the third book which is yeah, I can’t remember the names of my own books. [laughter]. Pickle In the Middle Murder. It starts off at our Renaissance festival here in Minnesota with the dead guy on the privy with the pickle stuffed in his mouth. And Shay’s girlfriend, JT is, is arrested for the murder and she didn’t do it, but no one believes her. And so she is off to the chase there. And in the fourth book, which is Chip Off the Ice Block Murder, Shay’s dad who owns the bar is missing and it’s New Year’s Eve and Shay has called into the bar and it’s packed and there’s one bartender and her and nobody else, her dad is not there and she’s furious. And her dad has a little alcohol problem, even though he works in the bar, which kind of makes it worse.
Jessie (11:30): And so she’s thinking he’s off on a bender and she is just beside herself and then the other bartender walks off on her. So she’s by herself and she’s trying to help people. In the meantime, a Saint Paul police officer comes, a homicide detective asking for her dad who is obviously not there. And they have a big block of ice that was delivered to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival for ice carving. It’s a Minnesota tradition the Saint Paul Winter Carnival is. So you have a big carnival outside and carving ice is one of the things they do. In the big block of ice is a dead body and a gun. And the dead body is not Shay’s dad, but the gun belongs to Shay’s dad. So Shay is trying to figure out where her dad is and did he do it? Cause he’s got a very hot temper and Shay does too, for that matter.
Jessie (12:20): She’s so loyal. And so willing to stand up for people, the underdog, especially that sometimes she goes too far. So she calls that her, the tenacious protector inside her. So sometimes she gets a little off the rails and somebody’s got to pull her back in. But so that’s that book. And then in the fifth book, which was the most recent out in 2016 It’s called Blood Money Murder, and this whole story centers around a big secret that Eddie, her mother figure, with the neon high tops and the whacker has been keeping. And that secret is starting to bubble to the surface. And it is, it involves incredibly intimate information related to Shay. And it’s something that Eddie has been repressing for a long time. And when it comes out, it comes out, it explodes like nobody’s business.
She’s so loyal. And so willing to stand up for people, the underdog, especially that sometimes she goes too far. So she calls that her, the tenacious protector inside her. So sometimes she gets a little off the rails and somebody’s got to pull her back in.
Jessie (13:22): So major things happen. In the new book, Shanghai like I said, it involves coffees, some kidnapping there’s something called the Witch’s Castle in Portland, in a park and stuff goes on there and the Shanghai Tunnels and chaos ensues. So there’s a little bit of a few people going on in there. A little bit of a character named Tulip who’s Rocky’s wife. She’s kind of similar to him, but very adorable, very lovable. She had told some friends that she had all the riches in the world and what she meant was love and what her friends thought was money. So there’s some problem going on there. So we’ll see what else comes up with that.
Debbi (14:08): I was gonna say, do you have a plan as to where you’d like to take the series?
Jessie (14:26): You know, each book is just … They’re obviously related because it’s a series, but I don’t really have an arc as far as you know, where we’re in the middle and this is where it’s going to end. I’m going to write the series until I don’t want to write it anymore. And the one thing I can promise my readers is that I might hurt my characters, but I will never kill them. And I will not kill any animals, but it’s kind of an open-ended question for me. And the reason for that is because I started writing altogether because I had read a series of four books by an author. And I loved them. It was a mystery. I loved them. They became my best friends. When I finished that fourth book, I was pissed. I’m like, Oh my God, what are they doing? What’s happening. I was missing them. And I thought, well, if I write my own books, it doesn’t have to end unless I want it to end. So that’s kind of the, the viewpoint I am with that.
I don’t really have an arc as far as you know, where we’re in the middle and this is where it’s going to end. I’m going to write the series until I don’t want to write it anymore. And the one thing I can promise my readers is that I might hurt my characters, but I will never kill them. And I will not kill any animals, but it’s kind of an open-ended question for me.
Debbi (15:07): So, yeah. Yeah. I know how you feel now your new protagonist is Mikala [Mi-KAY-la] Flynn? Is that how you pronounce it?
Jessie (15:18): Yes. Yep, Mikala Flynn, and she goes by Flynn. She doesn’t like her first name very much.
Debbi (15:22): And what is she like? How does she get involved in solving mysteries?
Jessie (15:26): She’s very different. This first book, isn’t so much a mystery as it is a quest, a literal quest. And there’s a, a fair amount of suspense and there’s a lot of shadowing of what’s coming, foreshadowing, but she starts off as a kid, her mom dies when she’s very young. She’s about 18 months old when her mom dies. So she really doesn’t know her mom, and her dad is in the military and her grandma, her dad’s mom lives in New York City. And it winds up that Shay, or I get them confused here talking sometimes, Flynn winds up going down to Key West, because that’s where her dad is based for awhile.
Flynn winds up going down to Key West, because that’s where her dad is based for awhile. And one day—I think she’s about 15—she comes home and her dad has been beaten and is near death and in the kitchen. And he winds up dying in her arms.
Jessie (16:19): And one day—I think she’s about 15—she comes home and her dad has been beaten and is near death and in the kitchen. And he winds up dying in her arms. So there comes some heavy duty stuff there, and we don’t really get into it other than the fact that it’s happened. But then that, that spurs grandma to come down, her name is Tubbs. Tubbs comes down, comes down to Key West to get her and brings her back to New York City. Well, the two vibes of the two different cities are very different. You know, Key West is pretty slow and footloose, fancy free, and New York is hustle, bustle, move, move, move. Everybody is has opinions. And it’s very different from what she’s used to. So she winds up going to Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and she meets up with a gal and I won’t get a lot into her, but it becomes the love of her life.
Jessie (17:25): And time goes on. She wanted, they go off to college. They’re kind of going in separate ways. Flynn is always feeling very much like she is not enough. She comes from, you know, a blue collar family. And Kate is the name of her girlfriend and she’s, she comes from a very monied history. So there’s a big difference there. And she often feels like she’s on the wrong side of the tracks. She doesn’t belong with Kate. And Kate does everything she can to try to mitigate that. And Flynn tries and tries, but she like, she can’t internalize that. She just always has that little voice in the back of her head. So they go off to college, and Flynn doesn’t wind up doing what she expected to do. And she wound up taking another path. And she lands in a federal investigation service called the National Protection and Investigative Unit.
Jessie (18:34): And it’s, it’s kind of like the bureau of national intelligence. They look for homegrown terrorists and they try to kind of hunt them down. And so Flynn does this for awhile and for a few years, winds up in Aleppo, they wind up going overseas as well to rescue U.S. Residents who are being held captive or having issues and bringing them back home. And the operation goes wrong and things blow up. People die, and her entire unit is killed except for her best friend who is now paralyzed. And she feels she’s responsible for all of this because she’s the one who gave the, the go. You know, she said, it’s time to, let’s do it. And so she comes home to Tubbs’ house in New York, and she’s full of depression and anger and PTSD and angst, and, and she’s drinking like nobody’s business, she’s blacking out.
People die, and her entire unit is killed except for her best friend who is now paralyzed. And she feels she’s responsible for all of this because she’s the one who gave the, the go. You know, she said, it’s time to, let’s do it. And so she comes home to Tubbs’ house in New York, and she’s full of depression and anger and PTSD and angst, and, and she’s drinking like nobody’s business, she’s blacking out.
Jessie (19:34): And she winds up doing things when she’s in these blackouts that she doesn’t realize. And she wakes up after and she’s like, what happened? And so she’s trying to work through that. And along the way, there were some issues with Kate and Kate is not in the picture at the moment. So she is feeling very guilty about that. She didn’t handle it well. She is still in love with Kate and they wind up meeting back up again under the guise of helping a homeless lady who has fallen ill. And one thing leads to another and a dog becomes involved. And Kate can’t believe she’s looking at Flynn, Flynn can’t believe she’s looking at Kate. And pretty soon they’re having to figure out what to do with this dog. And a lot down the road, that’s going to be a big part of what continues on with the series, but in the end Flynn’s really got to make a decision as to whether or not she wants to stay on the path she’s on, which is basically self-destruction, or if she wants to find a way to redeem herself and find redemption in what she’s done and what she hasn’t done, that she’s taken on the responsibility for.
And a lot down the road, that’s going to be a big part of what continues on with the series, but in the end Flynn’s really got to make a decision as to whether or not she wants to stay on the path she’s on, which is basically self-destruction, or if she wants to find a way to redeem herself and find redemption in what she’s done and what she hasn’t done, that she’s taken on the responsibility for.
Jessie (21:04): And that’s the quest right there. So, and there’s a lot of other little things that are going on. But that’s kind of the overarching story.
Debbi (21:14): Very interesting. Sounds like your protagonist is dealing with a lot of issues that my latest protagonist is dealing with.
Jessie (21:21): It does.
Debbi (21:22): PTSD, drugs, alcohol.
Jessie (21:28): Alcohol, yeah. Addictions.
Debbi (21:30): Yeah, addictions in general. Yeah.
Jessie (21:32): And this book was really hard for me to write because, you know, I’m usually in on that humor groove, not this really heavy duty thing, I’ve never written anything like it. It took me three years and luckily my publisher was kind enough to keep giving me extensions on the deadline. But for a while there, I didn’t know if I’d write again. It was that … It got rough.
And this book was really hard for me to write because, you know, I’m usually in on that humor groove, not this really heavy duty thing, I’ve never written anything like it.
Debbi (21:54): I know that feeling actually. It was really hard to write the first one in this series that I’m working on.
Jessie (22:01): I believe that, whole-heartedly.
Debbi (22:03): A lot of the humor that I normally put in my writing was real, real edgy in this one.
Jessie (22:11): Okay. Alright. Yeah.
Debbi (22:13): When somebody is suffering.
Jessie (22:21): It’s hard. And when you’re dealing with the day after day yourself, I think that can affect you as well.
Debbi (22:25): For sure. No question about it. Let’s see, on the subject of writing, what are you working on right at the moment?
Jessie (22:36): So I’m, I’m outlining, I I’ve done one kind of real basic outline of the new Shay book, Blood Money Murder, not Blood Money Murder, Shanghai Murder. And so that needs to be refined. And then I’m hoping to get to actually writing it in the next couple of weeks in a perfect world, I’ll have it done by probably December and get it off to my beta readers. And I’ve got a few editor folks that I work with and then I’ll turn it into my publisher.
Jessie (23:10): And then after that, I have a third series going, too, called the Operation Series in the first book, and that is Operation Stop Hate. And that’s been, I think I got it out in 2015. And so people are really wondering what’s going to happen with those characters, too. And the one kind of fun thing is I have incorporated characters from each book into the other books. So the organization that Flynn winds up in, that NPIU, is the main organization in my Operation Stop Hate book. And so also a character from Shay winds up in Quest for Redemption, the new book. And so that’s kind of fun doing kind of those crossover things too.
Debbi (23:58): Yeah. Yeah. Both my series are set in Maryland, so I have the potential for doing that.
Jessie (24:03): You totally do. How fun is that? That’s cool.
Debbi (24:08): It’s great. Do you have a favorite artist or type of art?
Jessie (24:14): You know, I, it’s kind of funny because all through high school, years and years ago, eons ago that’s what my thing was, was art. And I realized I wasn’t going to make a lot of money doing it and I needed to find a real career. And so I stopped, I didn’t do any art and I just picked it up again here about two and a half years ago, but I went, I’d always done representational art, you know portraits, animals, you know, that kind of stuff. And I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to just be able to get color down on a canvas, shapes whatever. And so I wanted to try out mixed media, and I’ve never done that before. And I found actually a teacher where I live up just an hour and ten minutes North of Minneapolis.
Jessie (25:08): And that was, that’s her jam. She does the mixed media art. So I’m into stenciling, collaging painting spray painting, doing all kinds of fun stuff. And I love her work. Her name is Paige LaDue Henry, and she’s fantastic, you can find her on Instagram. And so ultimately I never have really delved into artists per se. I follow a few on Instagram that I really like the art. But my biggest influence is Paige and her artistic challenges she gives and the work she does. And it’s, it’s very bright. There’s a lot going on. It’s just, when you look at it, you feel happiness. It’s kind of like writing humor. How I, when I write the Shay series, I feel it’s, it’s good. And that’s how I feel with, with the mixed media stuff. So I don’t know what I would do without it right now. How do you spell her name? Paige? It’s P-A-I-G-E and then L-A-capital D-U-E and then Henry, H-E-N-R-Y.
Debbi (26:38): Thank you.
Jessie (26:39): Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
Debbi (26:41): Good to know. Yes. Do you have a favorite writer?
Jessie (26:47): I have a lot of favorite writers. So my utmost favorite person is J.M. Redmann. And she’s the author of those four books I had talked about before that started my writing journey. It’s the Mickey Knight series. And it’s set in New Orleans and it’s edgy. It’s, it’s fast, it’s deep. And the characters were just drawn so beautifully. Action-wise, Clive Cussler is one of my favorites. I’m so sorry he passed away, but of course, eventually we all do. But I, I wound up finding Raise the Titanic. It was the third or fourth book in his series, years and years and years ago. That’ll date me if nothing else does. And I found it in a Woolworth’s bargain bin and it was autographed and I read it and I didn’t realize it was a series, but I loved it so much.
I have a lot of favorite writers. So my utmost favorite person is J.M. Redmann. And she’s the author of those four books I had talked about before that started my writing journey. It’s the Mickey Knight series. And it’s set in New Orleans and it’s edgy. It’s, it’s fast, it’s deep. And the characters were just drawn so beautifully. Action-wise, Clive Cussler is one of my favorites.
Jessie (27:45): And then when I realized it was a series, boy, I bought all the books and I kept up with it for many years and it was the Dirk Pitt series. And I’ve since in the last 10 years or so, I’ve kind of not been able to keep up with him. And he’s known, he had worked with, I don’t know, four or five authors, maybe more in option series. And I, I have not read those, but he was a huge influence. And of course, you know, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and, and Encyclopedia Brown and Jupiter Jones. All of those guys too are huge influences and really, really favorites. Yeah.
Debbi (28:25): Absolutely. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we finish up?
Jessie (28:34): Not a whole lot to say. I guess, you know, thanks to you obviously, but to people who keep reading and who read books, I have no problem with, with you reading ebooks at all, but I think there’s just something about a print book that the feel of it in your hand, the smell of it, walking into a bookstore. Thank you for reading for supporting those of us who choose to try to entertain people with words and draw pictures with words. And as we go through the stress that’s happening right now, the pandemic and all the challenges associated with that, I hope that my books, your books, everybody, everybody’s books will give people a refuge and a place to go to for a little bit of peace and in entertainment.
Debbi (29:28): I think I couldn’t have put that more eloquently. That’s great. Thank you so much, Jessie.
Jessie (29:36): Thank you for having me on. I really appreciate it.
Debbi (29:39): It was my pleasure, very much my pleasure. It was good talking to you, and everyone, please remember that Jessie is giving away a copy of her latest novel and a mixed medium artwork. So all you have to do is go to my blog on my website, DebbiMack.com, click on blog, and you can find her giveaway post there. That”s a guest post and a giveaway.
Jessie (30:08): I will share that as well, so we’ll get it out as best we can.
Debbi (30:11): Fantastic. Okay. So while you’re there also check out the Crime Cafe link because you’ll find the Crime Cafe ebooks there as well as my Patreon page. If you support the podcast there and you’ll get copies of the Crime Cafe books, if you support podcast.
Jessie (30:30): That’s super cool.
Debbi (30:32): Thank you. Thank you very much. And I will also say thank you to everyone for listening. Please leave a review. And in two weeks, my next guest will be Ben Westerham. In the meantime, take care and happy reading.