LAURA JENSEN WALKER – Agatha-Nominated Cozy Mystery Author

Laura Jensen Walker knew she wanted to be a writer ever since she read 103 books in Miss Vopelensky’s first-grade class.

A lifelong lover of mysteries, I never dreamed I’d someday be writing them!

Eager to see the world, I joined the Air Force at 19 and headed off into that wild blue yonder flying a typewriter across Europe. Although my clerk-typist job was boring, traveling was bliss. By the time I was 23, I had visited 15 countries and fallen in love with tea and the land of my heart—England. Later, I majored in journalism, but it took cancer at age 35 to push me to follow my writing dreams of becoming an author. My first book, Dated Jekyll, Married Hyde (non-fiction humor ala Erma Bombeck), came out in 1997. Since then, I’ve written ten humorous non-fiction books and ten novels (chick lit and cozies.)

Murder Most Sweet (Crooked Lane), featuring baker, breast-cancer survivor, and writer Teddie St. John, is my first cozy, released last fall during the pandemic. I wanted to see someone like me in a mystery—a woman who chose to “go flat” after having two mastectomies and is now living her best life. Breasts don’t make a woman. An early editor who read and loved my manuscript, said diversity is important in crime fiction, but diversity isn’t only about color. To my delight and gratitude Murder Most Sweet is nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Such a lovely surprise and honor.

Deadly Delights, the sequel to Murder Most Sweet, is my third cozy and twentieth book. (I never dreamed I’d have 20 books under my belt, and still more to come.)

August in Lake Potawatomi, Wisconsin, always means one thing: the annual baking contest. Picture The Great British Baking Show, writ Midwestern. Naturally, bon vivant baker-turned-mystery writer Teddie St. John has a pie in the ring. The white baking tent boasts an array of folding tables housing each entrant’s daily baked good. And at one of those tables sits the corpse of the lecherous head judge, his face half-buried in a delectable coconut cream pie with Teddie’s distinctive embossed rolling pin by his side…covered with blood. With the help of her friends, Teddie must concoct a recipe to clear her name–if the real killer doesn’t ice her first.

I’m thrilled by the great advance reviews Deadly Delights has received.

“Lively characters complement the twisty plot.”
—Publishers Weekly

Deadly Delights moves along at warp speed… [Walker’s] writing and story development is top notch.”
—New York Journal of Books

The ironic thing about the ‘warp speed’ comment is that I wrote Deadly Delights in two-and-a-half months. For many, March and April 2020 were a scary, anxious time as we tried to understand and cope with this crazy pandemic, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in more than a century. Added to the overall anxiety, I have comorbidities that put me in a higher risk group. Scary. I couldn’t focus on anything, including writing and reading. I tried to escape in a good book—some I’d been eagerly anticipating for months—but couldn’t concentrate. Reading has been a joy and great escape my whole life. Except this time. Such a weird feeling—one that I’m happy to say has passed. I also didn’t write a single word on my third cozy during those first two months of the pandemic. The cozy that was due to my editor July 1. Luckily, I managed to get a two-week extension, then wrote like the wind to make that July 15 deadline. My journalism background of writing tight and fast saved me.

My second cozy, Hope, Faith, & a Corpse, a clerical mystery featuring the first Episcopal woman priest in Faith Chapel’s 160-year history, was released in January.

Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve written non-fiction and chick-lit in the past and plan to write more non-fiction and also historical fiction.

What are you currently working on? I’m writing a “Pandemic Postscript” to the memoir I wrote a few years ago that my agent loved but couldn’t sell due to my lack of platform. In non-fiction, it’s essential to have a “platform” of some kind, whether it’s being on the speaking circuit and regularly speaking to large groups around the country who will then buy your book at the back of the room, having a YouTube channel with a zillion subscribers, or having a large/decent social media following.

At the time—prior to signing my cozy contract—I’d been out of the writing/publishing world for more than a decade and no longer had a reader following. I’d stopped public speaking, wasn’t on Twitter, and only had a couple hundred Facebook friends. Multiple editors at several publishing houses told my agent how much they loved the writing in my memoir, but regretfully had to turn it down since I had no platform. Hopefully (fingers crossed) now that I have readers again, a monthly newsletter with a decent number of subscribers, a larger FB presence, and a (small) Twitter and Instagram following, my memoir, the book of my soul, will finally sell.

I’m also started working on my first historical fiction—the book of my heart, set in WWII England—but I’m not ready to say anything more about it yet.

We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? Oh, they run the show. Before I began writing fiction when I’d ask a novelist about how their work-in-progress was going, and they’d respond with something like, “I’m waiting for my character to reveal what’s next,” I’d inwardly scoff and think, “You’re the writer; you’re in charge!” Then I started writing my first novel. Ha! In fact, when I started writing my first cozy (now shelved), one of the minor characters, an Episcopal woman priest, let me know she was a major character deserving of her own book. Thus, Hope, Faith, & a Corpse was born.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Outline is a dirty word in my house. I’m a total pantser. Mostly. Before I begin my WIP, I usually need to know what the ending is. That way, I have a starting point and an end point, and I fill in the middle. However, in both of my Bookish Baker mysteries, the endings I’d initially envisioned (including the murderer in one—I won’t say which one) changed as the story unfolded.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Hopefully, more cozies in both my series, the Bookish Baker Mysteries and Faith Chapel Mysteries and contracts for the book of my soul (my memoir) and the book of my heart (the historical fiction I’ve been yearning to write for more than three decades.)

How do our readers contact you?

Please contact me through my website, www.laurajensenwalker.com (if you sign up for my newsletter, you get a free gift!)
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/laurajensenwalker/
Facebook Laura Jensen Walker | Facebook
Readers can also connect with me on Twitter @LauraJensenWal1

5 Comments

  1. Glenda Carroll

    Following your dreams at any age, whether you’re 35 or 75, is the only way to go. Good for you!!

    Reply
  2. Lynn

    Thank you for your service and developing a character who doesn’t define herself with body parts.

    Reply
  3. Jennifer

    I swing back and forth between which series I like more – the Bookish Baker mysteries or Hope, Faith and a Corpse. I like mystery plots in the HFC, but I love Teddie. I think she’s inspiring and offers a fresh perspective in the cozy world. Many readers will appreciate her because many women are either breast cancer survivors or have had a breast cancer scare. Teddie turns it into a reason to change her life, and I love that.

    Reply
  4. Kathy levernier

    Your fabulous?
    Love your writing. We lived in Wisconsin, and
    Enjoy the British baking show. So so fun.
    Your cover’s are both such great fun.
    CONGRATULATIONS 20 books.

    Reply
  5. Michael A, Black

    Yours is a truly inspiring story. Good luck with your writing and thank you for your service to our country.

    Reply

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V. Z. Byram – Latvian-American Writer – MFA in Creative Writing – Goddard College

KIRKUS REVIEW: An authentic and tense portrait of everyday people dealing with war.

V. Z. Byram was born in a displaced persons camp in post World War II Germany of Latvian parents. They immigrated to the USA when she was three. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, has won numerous writing awards, and taught literature and writing as an adjunct professor. She is a past president of the Philadelphia Writers Conference and currently sits on the board of Gulf Coast Writers Association in Fort Myers, Florida.

WRITER’S DIGEST JUDGE’S COMMENTARY: This was a powerful and beautifully written epic novel with historical significance. After reading to the end, I had to sit for a little while to digest it all, wiping away the tears. This novel is a moving tale of struggle and loss in a terrifying and often seemingly hopeless situation. I love the heroine, Mija, who is a testimony to the strength and power of women. She inspires us all with her determination to help others as well as her own family, risking her own safety in the process. As a parent, I can’t imagine what it’s like to try and protect your children in a war-torn, occupied country with such callous, ruthless enemies, first the Russians then German forces. The author succeeded in pulling us completely into the story, as I was worried about the kids throughout. I also loved the horse, Big Z, who became a character in his own right. Some of the scenes are superbly written, for example when Laima gives birth – I was transported to that room in 1940s Latvia. The pacing was fast and tense and kept me turning the pages. I also loved the setting, it was very interesting to learn about Latvia – it encouraged me to do further research. I like the cover and the author has written one of the best one-liners I’ve read in a while: “with her husband’s name on a hit list, the fight got personal.”

What brought you to writing? In July 1990, I stepped off a plane in Riga, Latvia for my first visit to my home country. Latvia had been under communism since the end of WWII. My first impression was that I walked into a time warp. Almost everything was just as it was at the end of World War II. The rubble was still there. Nothing had been rebuilt. The same trolleys and trains ran. Store shelves were bare. The few restaurants in existence did not have a menu. You either ate the meal they offered that day, or you didn’t eat there. I stayed with relatives and learned what my life would have been like if I had grown up there. I am very grateful that I grew up in the USA.

I had no idea I would go on to write a novel about Latvia during World War II. I was a computer programmer then. But between the stories I heard growing up in the USA and what I saw in 1990, an idea was born that wouldn’t go away and led to my writing Song of Latvia. I also went back to school for my MFA in Creative Writing and am now a full-time writer.

In 1991, Latvia regained its freedom. I go back to visit every couple of years. Every time I go, Latvia looks more and more like any other European country. Everything has been rebuilt. Before WWII, British writer Graham Greene dubbed Riga the “Paris of the North”. Travel writers are calling it that again and with good reason.

Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I started writing historical fiction, which culminated in my debut novel. I also write poetry because sometimes I get an idea or thought that can only be expressed in a poem. I never thought about Memoir but like my novel, Memoir came to me. My younger daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a fierce three-year battle, she passed away in July 2019. About six months later, I was so filled with grief that I thought I would explode. In an effort to lessen the pain, I started writing. First came a prose poem about her death. Then I started writing stories about her life, about when she first told me, about my experiences helping to care for my grandchildren who had asked me questions like, “Is my mom going to die?” Then I started writing about my own life as an exiled Latvian. A new idea was born. My daughter Tara loved Latvia as much as I did. We took a number of trips there together. Our last trip was the summer of 2018, a family trip with Tara, my husband (her Dad), her husband and their two teenaged children. I am now writing a Memoir which holds the intertwined stories of Tara’s battle with cancer and my own life as an exiled Latvian.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? The main characters in Song of Latvia are based on the personalities of people in my family and many of the things that happen to them happened in real life. However, I didn’t want to tell the story of one family. I wanted to tell the story of the whole country, so all of the minor characters are based on research I did about what happened to other people. Although many events are based on things that really happened, the writing is my own version of events and my book is truly a novel.

Do you outline or are you a pantser? I am both. I start with a rough outline that changes as I write. I know the beginning and the end. I have some vague ideas about what will happen in the middle. However, in the writing, my characters lead me in directions I don’t expect. For instance, I didn’t expect that my two main characters in Song of Latvia, Aleks and Mija, would wind up having their own chapters. I started with Mija as the main protagonist. And then one day I wrote a chapter in Aleks’ point of view. He refused to have just one chapter. I went back and gave him a voice in all the appropriate places.

What kind of research do you do? For Song of Latvia, much of my research involved traveling to Latvia and visiting the places I wrote about, interviewing relatives and other people, and visiting archives in Riga to look up records. I also did historical war research online and read period books written by Latvians and others. I did the research as needed, relative to where I was in the writing. When I got to the end of the novel and realized Mija would have to go to a particular town, I took a trip to Latvia just to visit that town for a few days. I walked the streets and talked to various people who lived there.

Looking in the future, what’s in store for you? After I completed Song of Latvia, I started writing a post WWII spy thriller based on the personality of my father, titled The Reluctant Spy. It starts in Germany (where I was born), moves to Brazil, and finishes in the USA. I am still working on it while I also work on the Memoir. I’m not sure which one will be finished first, but I know they will both come in their own time.

Order book: https://www.amazon.com/V.-Z.-Byram/e/B081LFL3NC

How do readers contact you? https://vzbyram.com

 

 

17 Comments

  1. Irene Gendron

    I loved Song of Latvia from the beautiful cover to the last page. It was so well written it swept me along through the trials and heartbreaks faced. Looking forward to Vee’s next book.

    Reply
  2. Vee

    Thanks, Bob.

    Reply
  3. Conrad Person

    Great insight into the historical novel writing process. I can see how having friends and relatives who lived through those catastrophic times would enrich the story far beyond the documentary record.

    Reply
    • Vee

      Thanks for your comments, Conrad.
      Vee

      Reply
  4. Cass V Collins

    Congratulations on the review. I look forward to reading more of your writing.

    Reply
    • Vee

      Thank you, Cass!

      Reply
  5. David Milley

    This interview’s a pleasure to read. Good insights into your writing process!

    Reply
    • Vee

      Thank you David.
      Vee

      Reply
  6. Neva Hodges

    I’m so happy for you for the good reviews you’ve received! They’re well deserved.

    Reply
    • Vee

      Thanks for your comments, Neva.
      Vee

      Reply
  7. Thonie Hevron

    Great interview, VeeZee. So wonderful to hear your story although I’m so sorry the loss of your daughter is part of it. Seems a long time ago we met at the 2011 SF Writers Conference. Glad to see your success, friend!

    Reply
    • Vee

      Hi Thonie,
      Wow, that conference was 10 years ago. I remember it well and the nice dinner we had. Thanks so much for your support!
      Vee

      Reply
  8. Michael A. Black

    You are an inspiration to us all. The account of your life moved me to tears. Too often we forget the human suffering that is attached to war and its aftermath. Best of luck to you with your writing.

    Reply
    • Vee

      Thanks very much, Michael.
      Vee

      Reply
  9. Violet Moore

    Great Writer’s Digest commentary for your intriguing historical fiction book.

    Reply
    • Vee

      Thank you, Vi.
      Vee

      Reply
  10. Bob

    Great review for a fantastic writer!

    Reply

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