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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An Image is Worth a Thousand Words or . . . a Novel?

The Birth of The Mona Lisa Sisters

Ten years ago, I was managing Safety and Security for Palm, Inc. A few months later, Hewlett-Packard acquired Palm in what is often referred to as a disastrous acquisition. Not long after, H-P began the layoffs. I got a weekly list of those to be laid off the following week. When the notice came for my team, I gave them the week off to start on a job hunt. A few weeks later, I learned I would be terminated the following Monday. I cleaned out my office but hung around in case there were any problems.

Then began my introduction to how rampant age-discrimination had become. After three months, it was so obvious; I started a spreadsheet. I recorded 140 applications after that. Often, I could swear the hiring company had used my resume as the requirement for the position. My mistake was being honest. I included that I was a Vietnam War Veteran. Any H/R person in the world would spot that and know I was at least sixty years old. I got one interview. I walked in, business suit, tie, and white hair. The two people I talked with were wide-eyed twenty-somethings. They were polite in their T-Shirts, torn pants, and sandals . . .for about five minutes. Then, “Thank you for coming in, George. Have a good day.”

Early 2012, I saw that the local senior center was offering a writing class. I figured it might help with a new resume—wrong. It was a fiction writing class. I was learning creative writing, and I loved it. After a month or so, the instructor passed out random pictures to each student. The assignment: “Study the image, take fifteen minutes, and describe the scene.”

I took one look at my picture, two girls looking up at the Mona Lisa, and ignored the assignment. In those fifteen minutes, I knew I would write a novel. I had notes on paper, the story in my mind, and the title. And it all came together to form the genesis for The Mona Lisa Sisters.

That began an eight-year journey.

I enrolled at Las Positas College and took writing classes. Unlike my earlier college years, it was no longer drudgery. I earned straight As. The assignments lead to multiple revisions of my novel.

In a class taught by Karin Spirn, I read about a fantastic instructor at UC Berkeley who did not have a doctorate. Instead, he held an MFA. In another class, I was introduced to the work of Native American poet Joy Harjo. She was recently appointed to a third term as the U.S. Poet Laureate. I began following her on social media. I saw that Harjo was a guest lecturer at the Institute of American Indian Arts, MFA Program. An enrolled descendant of the Karuk Tribe of California, I called IAIA and applied. Five days later, I received an acceptance notice for the Low-Residency MFA Program. IAIA, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

For the next two years, my manuscript was my thesis paper, The Mona Lisa Sisters. I rewrote, revised, and learned. My mentors were terrific and have, over time, become much more to me. One area that I got dinged on was when I brought my characters to the dinner table. The settings often lacked enough detail to draw the reader into the scene. Ismet “Izzy” Prcic, roared “People don’t go to dinner and leave. They eat. What the “F” are they eating—saying?”

Mona Lisa is set in the early 1890s. So, I had much research to do before bringing food to the table. I did it—overdid it—added several thousand words.  Izzy, “I don’t need to know every single effen thing they ate and how it was prepared.” I subtracted words to please him.

Each addition or subtraction required rewrites.

The program required a great deal more than working on my manuscript. I attended lectures, readings, workshops, and read and wrote critical reviews of over forty books. Two authors I had held extreme distaste for became favorites—Albert Camus and Joyce Carol Oates. Most of those forty books are full of underlining, highlighting, and writing in the margins. My mentors and I collaborated on the selection of books. Native Americans wrote at least half our choices. I was introduced to the work of such great authors as,

  • Debra Magpie Earling (Bitterroot Salish) – Perma Red
  • Louise Erdrich (Chippewa) – The Round House
  • David Treuer (Ojibwe) – Little
  • Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo) – Ceremony

I met many who shared their world and writing. I met Joy Harjo and chatted over cafeteria dinner. Tommy Orange, There There, was a contemporary, as was Angela Trudell Vasquez. Angie is the Poet Laureate of Madison, Wisconsin.

When I faced the challenge of my thesis/manuscript, one of the questions came from another, fantastic teacher and author, Pam Houston. Her first question had to do with the scenes set in . . .  the dining room. I shouldn’t have, but I laughed. I know Izzy put her up to it.

This year, I finished the twenty-third revision of The Mona Lisa Sisters. Agent queries had been returned with polite rejections.  I sat back, told the manuscript, “I’m starting to hate you. I’m finished.”

I reached out to Paula Chinick of Russian Hill Press and told her I was done and wanted her to publish the bloody thing. She agreed. I figured my work was done—wrong.

The cover design took months. Getting back-cover reviews became urgent. I was stuck until I recalled a talk where a young author mentioned he sent out requests to known authors and asked them to read and write reviews. “What have I got to lose?” I asked myself and sent out four requests. Three agreed to write reviews. I even had one person, out of the blue, offer to write one.

I used two. Ramona Ausubel wrote one. I love her novel No One is Here Except All of Us. The other, by playwright, editor, and UCLA instructor Victoria Zackheim. I also used a Kirkus review.

Violet (Vi) Moore came on board as the editor. She forced me to pick up the manuscript and read it line by line and make corrections before she would touch it. I’m glad she did. Over two months, we made more corrections and changes than I will ever admit.

Then the galleys came, and Paula made me do it all over again. The editor is usually done by then–nope. Vi called and ordered me to reread it. I know we missed at least one typo. One of my readers sent me a note informing me of my oversight.

Paula, Vi, and the cover design team were all very reasonable in the charges to bring the project to fruition.

Amazon released The Mona Lisa Sisters on August 14, 2020. A little over eight years after the instructor handed me a picture of two young girls looking at the Mona Lisa.

I met and have become friends with so many fine people as the result of my diving into the world of fiction writing. I have been and will forever be blessed for having started the journey when I couldn’t find a job.

19 Comments

  1. Shelley Lee Riley - Author

    There are times when I wonder if I should know more, and then I ask myself…do I need to know it all? In this case, more was definitely better. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  2. John G.Bluck

    As I read his blog, vivid images popped into my mind of novelist George Cramer and his team at Palm when they suddenly lost their jobs. This began his journey to write a book. In a few short pages of his blog he clearly paints word pictures that showed me his decade-long effort to write “The Mona Lisa Sisters” . . . and how he first decided to write, how he chose to learn, and how he worked through multiple edits in his process to create his novel.

    The story of how he accomplished the feat of writing an excellent piece of literature is inspiring and is a must read for any aspiring author. Maybe Cramer will write a memoir as well. He has the talent to do it.

    Reply
  3. Marilyn J. Dykstra

    Thank you, George! You have walked a long path to write a novel. Glad you arrived and finished one!

    Reply
  4. Violet Moore

    Fred Barnard, an advertising executive during the early 1900s, is credited with this saying from a magazine ad he wrote to attract new customers, but the origin is centuries older. Perhaps backstory, your journey to publication, will birth a new phrase, “One picture is worth a novel.”

    Reply
  5. Dennis Koller

    George — the blog shows what a great writer you’ve become. I’m off to get my copy of The Mona Lisa Sisters.

    Reply
  6. Kat Wilder

    I love this backstory of YOU, George! Thank you!

    Reply
  7. Connie Hanstedt

    Such dedication to your craft and then publication. Congratulations!

    Reply
  8. Jim Hasse

    It is interesting to know the backstory and how seeming disappointments can lead to great success in the long run. The front cover is beautiful and eye-catching, and the reviews tipped the scales in your favor. The Mona Lisa Sisters is the best book I read in 2020. Your persistence paid off for you and readers like me. Congratulations, George.

    Reply
  9. Jordan Bernal

    And we are blessed to have you as a writer—fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, you do each genre proud.

    Reply
  10. Carole Price

    Impressive!! You persevered and now here you are, a published author.

    Reply
  11. Deven Greene

    Thanks for giving us a ringside seat to your foray into becoming an author. If everyone knew how difficult it was, few would ever dip their toe in. As it is, most people become slowly acclimated to the onerous situation, like the frog in a pot of water being slowly heated.

    I found your description of age discrimination illuminating. Of course I’ve read about it, but haven’t been faced with it myself (that I know of). Ever think about writing an article (or perhaps a book) on that?

    Reply
  12. Michael A. Black

    Great recounting of your journey to publication, George. It’s inspiring, and having read The Mona Lisa Sisters, I’m glad you persevered.

    Reply
  13. John Gulick

    Maybe the acquisition of Palm will turn out to be a fortuitous event!!

    Reply
  14. Mark Clifford

    Thanks for sharing your journey, George. It is as inspiring as it is a validation of the writing process. So many people minimize an author’s efforts to take their work to publication. Ninety percent of America’s claim to have a story in them. One percent bring their dream to fruition. Writing is daunting, riddled with reasons to quit. You did it!

    Reply
  15. Marilyn Meredith

    What a fantastic journey and you definitely were rewarded at the end.

    Reply
  16. Patricia Schudy

    Congratulations–On publishing and persevering!

    Reply
  17. Julie Royce

    I loved this blog. Sometimes backstory is as interesting as the main plot. I am glad you attended that class at the senior center, and that it opened new windows of opportunity. Keep writing.

    Reply
  18. Julie Royce

    I loved this blog. Sometimes backstory is as interesting as the main book (Although the book was great). I’m glad you attended that class at the senior center, and I’m glad it opened new windows of opportunity. Keep writing.

    Reply
  19. Margaret Mizushima

    It’s amazing what it takes to bring an idea to print, isn’t it? I loved reading about your journey to publishing, George, and am looking forward to reading The Mona Lisa Sisters!

    Reply

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