A Conversation with: Jean Henry Mead
January 9, 2012
Author, Interviewer, Photojournalist—and Much More
I was lucky enough to electronically“meet” Jean Henry Mead while participating in the 2011 Mystery Writers Blog Tour organized by Anne K. Albert. During that tour I learned a lot of interesting information about all the participating authors[i]. It was a wonderful experience!
During that tour, I was immediately drawn to “wanting to know more” about Jean, because like with so many authors I’ve wanted to talk to, Jean wears so many hats. I just love that multi-interest, multi-focus ability that some among us can pull off. Consequently, energy and inspiration immediately filled my “electronic” aura of Jean. And, inconsequential as it may seem now in the re-telling, Jean has a picture on one of her blogs (indeed, she has five blogs![ii]), of the view from her “Mountain Top.” For me, a good photo can sometimes grab me, pull me in, and tell a story. The photographic view from Jean’s deck took me to a wonderful (albeit very cold!) and magical place[iii].
Welcome, Jean! I would like to start with one of your blogs. Just keeping one blog going is an uphill climb for me. I’m fascinated by your interviews on Mysterious Writers—some of the authors you interview I consider “rock stars” in the mystery world. My “how things work” curiosity prompts my first question. With their busy schedules,how do you “ask” well known top-selling authors to be interviewed? Clearly you have no problem, and I’m guessing your reputation as an interviewer proceeds you. And, how does your e-book Mysterious Writers dovetail with your blog?
Thank you for the invitation to appear here, Madeline. I was fortunate to interview Elmore Leonard because we were both members of Western Writers of America, and it was early enough in his career for him to still be accessible (1980s). So, when I began my Mysterious Writers blog, I re-ran the interview and included the link when I contacted other bestselling mystery writers for interviews. That gave me credibility and probably convinced Carolyn Hart, Jeffrey Deaver, Nancy Pickard and others to answer my questions. After I interviewed them, I was then able to add their names to my previously published list. I’ve been turned down by a few writers, including Janet Evanovich, but I’ve found that most well-known writers, such as Sue Grafton, are willing to submit to an interview if they have a new release and are currently publicizing the book.
Quite an accomplishment to have developed such a good reputation. Changing topics, I can see how you must love your mountain top—the solitude, the inspiration, the time to write. But, what about everyday life? Groceries, repairs(something is always breaking at my house), deliveries, mail, etc?
Our mountaintop home is only two years old and my husband is handy with repairs. Mail delivery is three times a week and our woman UPS driver only ventures up here at 7,000 feet if the road is ice-free, so we usually drive to the bottom of the mountain during winter to meet her. Grocery shopping is every two weeks. We have more than one refrigerator and freezer in our garage to keep us well supplied, as well as a large pantry. It just takes a little advance planning to keep things running smoothly. We also have snow removal equipment to get to the main road.
You make it all sound so easy! Well, while you’re on your mountain top, in a recent blog you talked about loving doing research, and when you visited my blog on our tour, you mentioned “I once read 97 years’ worth of microfilmed newspapers to research Casper Country, a central Wyoming centennial history book, which eventually became a college textbook.” I like doing research too, but WOW! I’m guessing you use the Internet, libraries, books? Do you also do interviews? And how much of your research would you guess is for what I call “underlying authenticity,” and how much for specifics?
My stint behind the microfilm machine was nearly 25 years ago, when I was young and foolish, and I’d never do that again. But the book sold well and I’m pleased that it became a college textbook. Most of my research is now conducted online, often at the Wikipedia—which is said by librarians to be as accurate as the Encyclopedia Brittanica—and my own personal large library of research books. But, I check the facts with other sources, especially historical events. I also interview “authorities” or experts in the fields I’m writing about, usually by phone or email. As for specifics, it depends on the book I’m writing. For my latest Logan and Cafferty novel, Murder on the Interstate, I interviewed a chemical engineer about sulfuric acid spills and he was most helpful. Ironically, he was recommended by my writer friend in Scotland, who knew him personally from a research trip to this side of the pond.
Funny sometimes how those “connections” work out. On your main website you have a page for photos, and you have a wonderful black and white photo of a butterfly. To my eye, it’s extremely lovely. I’m hoping you’re still involved in photography. How is photography fitting in with your writing-life?
I began my writing career as a news reporter-photographer and have a mini-museum of cameras I’ve used over the years. I still take occasional pictures, some of which have been used as background for my recent book covers, but since I’ve been devoting most of my time to writing novels, I take fewer pictures than I once did. However, when warm weather arrives, my husband and I will ride our ATVs along mountain trails to take photos of the mountain’s beauty as well as the abundant wildlife.
What fun! Switching directions on you again, I’m an ardent mystery fiction reader—nonetheless, your nonfiction title, Maverick Writers caught my interest? What is the back-story on that collection?
I joined Western Writers of America in 1979, after I had moved to Wyoming from my native California. When the large WWA convention was held in the city where we were currently living, I was asked to conduct the publicity. That led to my appointment as National Publicity Director, and as part of my job I interviewed members of the organization, including Louis L’Amour and Elmore Leonard. The interviews led to a book titled Maverick Writers.The following year, as part of my volunteer job, I established the Western Writers Hall of Fame, which is now housed at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming. I became interested in the Old West after I moved to my husband’s home state, which is rich in frontier history. My plan is to combine the two genres by writing Western historical mystery novels based in Wyoming, as Ann Parker has done with her Colorado Silver Rush series.
Now that we know some of your writing plans, and before you leave, I sure would like to know what else is on the horizon for you?
I’m currently putting together a second book of interviews from my Mysterious Writers blog site, titled The Mystery Writers, which includes interviews with Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, J.A. Jance, Julie Garwood, James Scott Bell and a host of other great writers, including yourself, Madeline. I’m also working on a fourth Logan & Cafferty mystery novel and a third Hamilton Kids’ mystery. I’ve been working sporadically on another western historical called No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy, a true story that I read about while sitting behind the microfilm machine all those years ago. I’ve been researching the novel for years and have visited the site to take pictures.
Amazing! You have so much energy. Going back to where we started, talking about interviewing–to quote you, “I enjoy interviewing ordinary people who have accomplished extraordinary things.” What a wonderful attitude to have when interviewing—I will remember. I just finished Murder on the Interstate, and I loved it. I especially liked how so much of this fast paced Logan & Cafferty adventure happens on the Interstate near me, which in sections is, or parallels Route 66. Especially since I just took that route to Left Coast Crime 2011 in Sante Fe, and to the International Route 66 Festival in Amarillo. So much of that area is still very fresh in my mind!
Thank you, Madeline. I’ve certainly enjoyed our visit. And speaking of people accomplishing extraordinary things, I have an interview book titled: Westerners: Candid & Historic Interviews with Extraordinary People. After my passing, I’ll probably be known for my interview books (five to date) rather than my novels, but I hope it will be the other way around because I much prefer writing fiction. (smile)
Thank you, Jean. Sure enjoyed talking with you!
Jean’s latest Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense novel, Murder on the Interstate, is available at:
[i] Anne K. Albert (organizer), (order of appearance on my blog) Wendy Gager, Alice Duncan, John M. Daniel, Pat Browning, Ron Benrey, Beth Anderson, Earl Staggs, Jinx Schwartz, Mike Orenduff, Marilyn Meredith, Jean Henry Mead, Jackie King, and Timothy Hallinan.
[ii] Mysterious Writers, Writers of the West, The View From My Mountain Top, Murderous Musings, and Make Mine Mystery!