Interview with National Award-Winning Journalist Julie McElwain

me-iiI’d like to welcome back Julie McElwain to Layered Pages! I had the pleasure of being the first person to interview Julie about her book A Murder in Time and she is here with me to talk about her second, A Twist in Time. Julie is a national award-winning journalist. She began her career working for a fashion trade newspaper in Los Angeles, and is currently a West Coast editor for Soaps In Depth, a national soap opera magazine, covering the hit daytime drama, The Young & The Restless.

julie-melwainHi, Julie! It is a delight to chat with you again! First, tell me how your first book, A Murder in Time was received from your audience.

Thank you, Stephanie. I’m thrilled to be chatting with you again, too! I have to say that I was honored and humbled by how well A Murder In Time has been received. Book bloggers such as yourself were so kind and encouraging with your reviews, and the librarians from Library Reads chose the novel as one of their April recommendations. Overdrive, the digital library that is connected to more than 34,000 libraries around the world, selected A Murder In Time as their mystery to read last year, and it became a finalist in Goodreads’ Best Books of the Year, in the sci-fi category. I’ve been so blown away by this journey, and truly grateful for all the support.

That is fantastic to hear, Julie and 34,000 libraries around the world is outstanding! 

Would you please give us a brief description from your first book how Kendra Donovan stumbled through time?

Kendra traveled to Aldridge Castle in England to take down the man responsible for getting many of her fellow team members killed on her last mission. I won’t give away any spoilers in case someone hasn’t read A Murder In Time, but this mission also goes awry, and Kendra is forced to flee through a secret passageway. That’s when things take a really strange turn. When Kendra stumbles out, she is in 1815. Kendra’s mother is a quantum physicist, so Kendra knows something about time travel. She can only surmise that she went through a wormhole or a vortex. She only has theories, but it was an extremely painful experience!

I remembered reading about Kendra’s experience travel through time. It was incredibly vivid.  Tell us about your book, A Twist in Time.

Kendra’s attempt to return to her own timeline fails, but before she can worry too much about her situation, she’s caught up in a new mystery. Lady Dover, who was introduced briefly in A Murder In Time as Alec’s mistress (he dumped her for Kendra) has been viciously murdered, and Alec is the main suspect. Kendra and the Duke travel to London to clear his name, save him from the hangman’s noose and a crime lord named Bear.

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How has Kendra adapted to the early nineteenth Century thus far?

Even with the Duke of Aldridge’s support, Kendra struggles with being in this time period. Her parents had very rigid expectations of her, and when she rebelled, they abandoned her. Kendra survived emotionally by becoming independent and self-sufficient. Yet she is thrust into an era where women had no rights; upper class women especially relied on the men in their lives — husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles — to provide for them. As a real-life example, Jane Austen never married, and her oldest brother, Edward, gave her the cottage she lived in.

Kendra also hates being treated like a child. The fashions of the day required assistance to dress. And as a young, unmarried lady, she needs to be chaperoned whenever she leaves the house. This loss of independence is incredibly hard on Kendra.

On the other hand, Kendra is now forced to depend on other people for the first time since she was a teen. It’s great to be self-sufficient, but not to be so closed off from relationships. Some cracks might be forming in Kendra’s protective shell.

You really brought together characters in your story from different classes/walks of life and I admired how you portrayed that. I still believe in today society we can still learn from that.

Thank you! And I completely agree with you about today’s society. America was conceived as a nation without a class system, and England today no longer has the rigid class system that it once had. Yet I think it’s human nature to create hierarchies and be a bit snobbish when we look at groups that don’t conform to our own belief system.

I love trying to figure out how people came to their viewpoint. I’m seeing way too much divisiveness in present-day society, and shutting down or shouting down someone else’s point of view. I think the joy of a being a writer is to get into characters’ heads to see a situation through a variety of perspectives. It’s fun to have people at odds, battle, and learn from one another’s differences. Sometimes they may change. Sometimes they may just have to agree to disagree.

You also touch on the fact that there was no real police force at that time. Did you find it a challenge to make the investigation believable? The process was surely brilliant in my mind. Without the technology we have today, their process was surely a challenge at times.

The lack of technology drives Kendra a bit crazy. She can’t utilize something as basic as fingerprinting. While fingerprints were known as a method of identification during this time — and earlier — it wasn’t used in law enforcement until the late 1800s.

Kendra also has huge problems with the lack of police procedure. In both A Murder In Time and in A Twist In Time, I mention the Marrs murders, which are also known as the Ratcliff Highway murders. This was a true crime during that time, in which a family and their servants were slaughtered. The public was allowed to wander through the crime scene to satisfy their curiosity. Can you imagine that today? Kendra is appalled by what actually was pretty standard practice for that time of civilians visiting crime scenes.

Thankfully, though, basic police work — interviewing suspects and eye witnesses, comparing stories, checking alibis — crosses centuries. In fact, basic police work today still catches more criminals than utilizing technology, mainly because most police departments simply don’t have the budget for the kind of technology we see on cop shows.

What challenged me the most is that my protagonist is a woman. Kendra can’t flash her badge to show her authority. She can’t haul a suspect down to an interrogation room. She has no official capacity. As I already mentioned, she can’t even go anywhere alone. She needs a lady’s maid to shadow her, or risk being ostracized. The Duke, of course, is her greatest asset in gaining access to the people she needs to interview, but it’s awkward for her to grill people in the ballroom.

Was there a scene you found humorous to write about?

Actually, there were several scenes that I had fun writing. I think the changes in language over the centuries lend themselves to humor. But also there are things that we take for granted now that were unknown back then, and that can be pretty humorous when you look at it through nineteenth century eyes. I won’t get into specifics, but at the end of A Twist In Time, the crime lord, Bear, views something that Kendra has done in a way that makes perfect sense from a nineteenth century perspective, but startles Kendra considerably. When I received the manuscript back during the editing process, I laughed when I came across the scene again. It’s just a little thing, but I hope readers will find it as amusing as I do!

Tell us a little about Sam Kelly. I have to admit; I enjoy reading about him. He is one of my favorites.

I love Sam Kelly as well! I feel like he’s a cop deep in his soul. You could take him out of the nineteenth century and plop him in the twenty-first century, and he wouldn’t change. He’d still be a bit rumpled, still love being a detective, and still love his whiskey. He may be puzzled by Kendra, but she earned his respect when she was nearly killed catching a serial killer. If she wasn’t a woman, I think Sam would try to convince her to become a Bow Street Runner.

Duke Aldridge’s prim and proper ways are entertaining to say the least but not in a snobby way. His open-mindedness does him credit. I am delighted you didn’t portray him as the stereotypical male we often see in stories such as this era. What are his attributes you find most intriguing to write about?

What I love about the Duke is that he is far more complicated character than anyone might suspect. He is a gentleman in the truest sense of the word, yet he’s not a pushover. He doesn’t trade on his wealth and title, but he will exert his influence if it means getting his way. The darkest period of his life came when he lost his wife and daughter — and that still haunts him — but the tragedy has made him more empathetic. He is enthusiastic and optimistic, which is a nice counterbalance to Kendra, who tends to be a bit more cynical and careful. The Duke recognizes that Kendra comes from a different time, but I sort of like that he does have an internal struggle on accepting Kendra’s more modern sensibilities. He loves the discussions he has with Kendra, but sometimes he is taken out of his comfort zone.

Can we expect another Kendra Donovan story, if so, how soon?

It will probably depend on how well A Twist In Time does. However, I can tell you that I am working on the third Kendra Donovan book, which I’m actually very excited about. There is a twist in it that I really don’t think readers will see coming, mainly because I didn’t see it coming when I was plotting the book in my head. If things go as planned, it should be out in bookstores April 2018.

Julie, thank you for this wonderful interview. It was a pleasure chatting with you. Please come back to Layered Pages soon. You are always welcome here.

Thank you, Stephanie. I spend most of my time writing, but when I talk to you, you make me think about the writing process. I love that!

Links: 

Author Facebook Page

Pegasus Books

Thank you, Julie! 

Interview with Julie McElwain

Julie MelwainI have the great pleasure and honor to introduce Julie McElwain to Layered Pages today, to talk with me about her book A Murder In Time. Julie is an award-winning journalist, who began her career as a business reporter at California Apparel News, a weekly Los Angeles-based fashion trade newspaper. She has freelanced for numerous publications from professional photographer’s magazines to those following the fashion industry. Currently, Julie is an editor for CBS Soaps In Depth, a national soap opera magazine covering the No. 1 daytime drama, The Young and the Restless. Julie lives in Long Beach, CA.

 Julie, please tell your audience about A Murder in Time.

A Murder In Time is about FBI agent Kendra Donovan, who goes rogue after her present day mission is botched. In her quest for justice, she infiltrates a costume ball at Aldridge Castle in England. When she encounters an assassin, she escapes through a passageway and encounters a terrifying phenomenon, which transports her back to 1815.

You could say that Kendra’s modern senses clash with Regency England’s sensibilities. She’s initially mistaken for a lady’s maid, but is quickly demoted to a below-stairs maid. When the body of a young girl is found brutally murdered, Kendra realizes that a serial killer is on the loose. Stripped of her twenty-first century tools, Kendra is forced to rely on her wits to unmask the murderer.

What are some of the courage and strengths of Kendra and possibly the isolation she may feel with these attributes?

As the offspring of two scientists who believed in positive eugenics, Kendra didn’t have a normal upbringing. Like an athlete, she spent her life “training” to excel in academics. Her intelligence has always set her apart from her peers, and made her feel isolated. She was only a young teenager when she went to college. Socially, she didn’t fit in with the older college students, which only made her feel more like a freak. When her parents abandoned her after she asserted her independence, Kendra was forced to develop a tough outer shell to survive. She became a loner, dedicated to proving herself in her chosen career, and deeply wary of emotional attachments because of her parents’ abandonment. As tragic as Kendra’s life was, I think it gave her the strength to deal with being transported to 1815, where she’s the ultimate outlier. I think a person with a more normal upbringing would have been driven insane or reduced to a quivering ball of fear!

A murder in time

What is the mood or tone your characters portrays and how does this affect the story?

 There is a great deal of suspicion between Kendra and her nineteenth century counterparts, which adds to the tension. The Duke of Aldridge, Alec, and Sam Kelly are aware that Kendra lied about how she came to England. They have varying degrees of distrust. They also regard Kendra’s manners, speech patterns and behavior as peculiar, to say the least, but they put it down to her being an American. For her part, Kendra has a difficult time trusting them with her big secret, and that has her proceeding cautiously. And she worries about screwing up the space-time continuum, which is something she’s never had to worry about in her previous murder investigations for the FBI! She can’t help but be skeptical over this group’s contribution to the murder investigation. She was always more advanced than her peers, but with these people, she’s centuries more advanced. It’s not that she thinks she’s superior… but she kind of does. It will be a journey for her to reach a different conclusion.

 Who are your five top antagonist? What motivates them?

 Kendra’s father, Carl Donovan, is an early antagonist. He plays a small part in the overall story, but he is crucial in Kendra’s development as a human being. As a scientist, he prizes intellect above all else, and believes that Kendra stubbornly refused to live up to her potential. His black-and-white view always made Kendra feel unworthy, and therefore more determined to prove herself.

I consider Mrs. Danbury — the castle’s housekeeper — a wonderful antagonist. She’s like the Old Guard protecting the status quo. The world of aristocrats, servants, working class, and merchants is what she’s familiar with, and she finds Kendra’s bold behavior — her lack of deference to the hierarchy — to be bewildering and rather threatening.

I really don’t want to give away the murderer’s identity for someone who hasn’t read the book, so I will put the following men in the antagonist category, with Kendra bumping heads with each of them. Alec’s brother, Gabriel, is a self-pitying alcoholic. Mr. Harris is the youngest son of an earl, who was appointed the village vicar, a station that he thinks is beneath him. Mr. Morland lives in a nearby estate and is the local magistrate, whose chauvinistic attitude towards Kendra is typical of the era. Mr. Dalton is a former surgeon, who inherited a nearby estate, and is insulted to be considered a suspect in Kendra’s investigation. Finally, Captain Harcourt is Gabriel’s friend, and is hunting for an heiress to replenish his funds. All of these men are motivated to keep their secrets from coming to light. Of course, no one is more motivated than the murderer!

 What inspired you for your main character to be an FBI agent?

 I really wanted Kendra to be in some type of law enforcement. She needed to have a specialized skill set — the ability to read a crime scene, to understand criminal behavior, and to be able to defend herself. Being an FBI agent was very organic to the story, which involves a serial killer. But it also felt right, given Kendra’s background. Her parents are driven, ambitious scientists who are at the top of their field. While Kendra chose a different path, which led to a chasm between her and her parents, she is as ambitious and determined to prove herself, and wants to be at the top of her field. Being the youngest agent ever accepted by the Bureau certainly put her on that path!

 Why did you choose 1815 for the period Kendra falls back in time too?

 I’ve always found this period in history to be utterly fascinating. It parallels our own era in so many ways. The war with Napoleon had just ended and the Industrial Revolution was just beginning. New machines were taking away jobs, creating a lot of simmering tensions between the haves and have nots. It was a time of contrasts — with great wealth on one side, and terrible poverty on the other; a silliness in its celebrity culture and yet a seriousness in the political upheaval. Of course, I’m also a big Jane Austen fan, and have enjoyed reading romances set during this era… I just wanted to write a mystery that actually had a modern day heroine — sort of Jane Austen meets Criminal Minds.

Does Aldridge Castle really exist?

 No, but I’ve traveled throughout England, Scotland and Ireland, and one of my favorite things to do is tour old castles and great estates. Aldridge Castle is an amalgam of many of the fantastic places that I’ve visited, including Dublin Castle, Kensington Palace and Leeds Castle, just to name a few.

 How much research went into your story?

 I did tons of research! I probably own every reference and history book on the time period. There are many wonderful blogs and websites by romance writers who specialize in the Regency era, which were invaluable. I also have a library of forensics books and police procedurals, and I did a lot delving into the subjects of quantum physics, wormholes, and string theory. This may be a piece of fiction, but it was important to me to be as accurate as possible.

What do you like most about writing a time travel story?

 I really liked the idea of taking a smart, modern person and tossing them back in time. We have a tendency to think that we’re so much more intelligent than our ancestors. But if you take away our modern inventions, just how smart are we? Would we be able to survive? Once my DSL went out, and I was forced to use dial-up to get on the Internet for about a week. That darned near killed me! I loved putting someone as clever as Kendra, as self-sufficient and independent, in a world that was totally alien to her, and watching how she would cope.

The time travel element also allowed me to offer dual viewpoints. Kendra was as much a puzzle and an oddity to her nineteenth century counterparts as they were to her. I liked being able to view the early nineteenth century through modern eyes, while at the same time, look at our own twenty-first century culture through the lens of the nineteenth century. We don’t blink an eye anymore at using profanity in casual conversation, but that would have shocked and appalled most people in 1815.

Time travel is pivotal to the plot, but this is not a science fiction story. Of course, Kendra thinks about the mechanics of time travel — how could she not? — but I’m more interested in the human element, on how we’ve changed as a people… and how we’ve stayed the same.

Will there be a sequel?

 It depends on how well A Murder In Time does, but I’m currently working on a sequel — so cross your fingers!

Who are your influences in writing?

I’m an avid reader, and am inspired by many authors. Some of my favorites are Karen Slaughter, Lisa Gardener, Tami Hoag, Tess Gerritsen, Nora Roberts, Dean Koontz, Lee Child, Ariana Franklin, Amanda Quick… the list goes on. I tend to be pretty eclectic in what I read, but I veer towards mysteries and thrillers. Let’s just say, I get motivated by anyone who can spin a good tale.

Where can readers buy your book?

 Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores, as well as online retailers like Amazon.

Links: 

Author Facebook Page

Pegasus Books

Thank you, Julie!