I’m so delighted to feature an accomplished mystery author, editor, and craft expert who’s also an MFA graduate of the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction program. As was true for me, Seton Hill had a major impact on Andrea’s growth and development as a writer.
Below are her responses to my interview questions, followed by her bio, contact info, and buy links.
First off, congratulations on your just released Deceptive Justice, the second book in your cozy Victoria Justice mystery series. Can you tell us about the book and what inspired you to write the series?
Sure. Thank you very much, Lynn. I started writing this series because I used to work in the California court system, and I always wondered, “What if the silent but all-seeing trial stenographer, not the cops or the attorneys, solved the murder and saved the day?” And since I couldn’t find any novels out there that walked that line between amateur sleuth cozy and legal thriller, I set out to create my own and set it against the colorful seaside backdrop of the famed Delmarva Peninsula.
And I think the audience will really get a kick out of Deceptive Justice because although the plot focuses on a bombing that occurs at the courthouse where Victoria works as a stenographer, the heart of the story centers on her love life and how she navigates learning to trust in the wake of losing her mentor, which occurred in the first book.
Since your character is a court stenographer and you are a former court reporter turned freelance entertainment writer for the women’s lifestyle website Popsugar, I’m wondering how much of your characters and plot lines are drawn from your own life and work experiences.
Quite a bit with regard to plot. That is to say, I have used snippets of trials to inspire wholly fictional situations. For example, one of the opening images of Poetic Justice puts a funhouse mirror up to the 2014 Delaware drug lab scandal, and Deceptive Justice contains an arson case that’s complete fantasy but whose details grew out of the real-life trial of a man who rode around on his bicycle setting fires.
As for my characters, all of my friends assume Victoria Justice is my alter ego because her work mirrors my time as an official stenographer here on the East Coast. However, that’s really where the similarities end. If anything, we are polar opposites. Victoria loves her job and, despite the early childhood hardships of adoption and bullying, she is optimistic about working in the court system since that’s primarily what she wants out of life. I, however, wasn’t a cheerful or disciplined court reporter because I knew my destiny lied elsewhere. I am much happier as a writer, but I love that the time I spent in the steno world will be memorialized in this series.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? Any favorite books/authors who inspired you as a child? As an adult?
I had a brief interest in writing as a kid when I heard that Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis wrote Ghostbusters in two weeks. I thought that was amazing and set out to create my own comedy opus, but I quickly lost the notion because I feared I wasn’t clever enough to write good dialogue. It wasn’t until I became a stenographer—where you do nothing but listen to people hem and haw all day—that I realized fictional dialogue is infinitely easier than real dialogue since the rules of cause and effect keep the structure logical and manageable.
You earned your MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. How did the program help you grow and develop as a writer?
I knew nothing going into the program other than I wanted to write mysteries. I attribute everything I’ve earned to that school and encourage any writer looking for knowledge or a support system to join the Seton Hill tribe. Starting a publishing career really does take a village, and there’s no better community out there.
Tell us about your writing process: Are you a pantser, plotter, or somewhere in-between?
I am a plotter. I think you have to be with mysteries since they are puzzles. So like a puzzle, I begin with the end in mind. In other words, I think about the ending, the unmasking, the final showdown, or the image I want the audience to remember, then I work my way backward from there asking myself, “What needs to happen in order to get the result I want?”
What advice would you give to aspiring cozy mystery writers?
Find an author you love and emulate their style until you develop your own voice.
Historically, Black writers have had a much tougher time breaking in to the white-dominated publishing industry. While there is still so much work to be done to level the playing field, have you seen signs that things are improving?
I belong to a handful of different organizations devoted to black genre writers, and in the last two years, they have posted numerous opportunities where publishers have stepped up with open manuscript submissions, paid internships, and mentorships for Black professionals. In that respect, I can see that there are efforts being made toward opening more doors. But when you look at their sales pushes or even the way Black books are still being marketed with regard to the ambiguous “African-American Fiction” shelf, which acts as an unorganized catchall that robs genre writers from being placed with their content peers (i.e. put Alexia Gordon beside Joanne Fluke, not Belle Hooks), I still wonder if any progress is being made at all.
What are you currently working on writing-wise?
Well, I wanted to say something during the writing process question, but I can now proudly say I am working on a series of how-to books. Being creative during the pandemic proved tough, so I focused on honing my skills. That personal project eventually turned into sharing what I’ve learned about crafting cozy mysteries, legal thrillers, self-editing, and comedy. The first book in the Craft Killer Fiction series, How to Craft a Killer Cozy Mystery, will be out February 2022.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I love reading Entertainment Weekly, US Magazine, OK Magazine…you name it. Celebrity gossip is my guilty pleasure. Sometimes I think I am the only person still buying supermarket tabloids.
Anything else you’d like to add, or wish I’d asked that I didn’t?
Just that it has been a pleasure chatting with you and that folks should message me on Twitter if they’d like more information about my books.
Thanks so much for visiting today, Andrea!
Andrea J. Johnson is a writer and editor whose expertise lies in traditional mysteries and romance. She holds an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and a copyediting certification from UC San Diego. Her craft essays have appeared on several websites such as CrimeReads, Litreactor, DIY MFA, Submittable, and Funds for Writers. She has also written entertainment articles for the women’s lifestyle websites Popsugar and The List Daily. Andrea’s novels consist of the Victoria Justice Mysteries, a cozy courtroom whodunit series whose stories focus on a trial stenographer turned amateur sleuth. Think Murder, She Wrote meets The Pelican Brief. When Andrea isn’t writing, you can find her sipping lemon-ginger tea while checking her DVR for new episodes of E! TV’s Daily Pop.
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