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Interview with Julianna Deering

Julianna Deering has always been an avid reader and a lover of storytelling, whether on the page, the screen or the stage. Her new series of Drew Farthering mysteries set in 1930s England debuts with Rules of Murder (Bethany House, Summer 2013) and will be followed by Death by the Book (Bethany House, Spring 2014) and Murder at the Mikado (Bethany House, Summer 2014).

Julianna, your latest release, a romantic murder mystery set in the 1930s, has all the elements of murder, mystery, and glamour. Would you share with us your approach for starting a new story, especially one set in a past era? How do you research for the time period? And if you watch old movies, which one would give your readers a "feel" for this latest mystery?
I suppose my research for this series has been a number of years of reading classic cozy mysteries (Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham) and watching movies from the 1930s and ’40, mostly a lot of romantic comedies of the period as well as 1930s film versions of classic books.

I’d have to say The Thin Man, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, would give a pretty good idea of the breezy, rather cheeky relationship between Drew and his sweetheart Madeline. Plus it’s a good mystery, to boot. Of course, that’s a very American version of the 1930s.

I have always been a great fan of the BBC’s presentations of classic mysteries: Poirot, Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion and, from a different era, Sherlock Holmes. I think I just soaked up the look in feel of what an English cozy should be like from them.

So, since my hero is British and my heroine is American, I relied on both kinds of stories for this series.

Can you give us a glimpse into how you come up with the mystery ideas incorporated into your books?
In this series, I wanted to have some kind of literary basis for each book. In Rules of Murder, it is Father Knox’s famous ten commandments for what not to include in a proper mystery story. In the second book, Death by the Book, Shakespeare figures into the clues. The third book, Murder at the Mikado, is obviously based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s works.

Writing a mystery is very much like a magician doing sleight of hand. He gets you to look at the unimportant and overlook what’s actually happening.

Was Drew Fathering inspired by anyone we would know?
Drew fairly much popped up fully formed and said I would just have to write about him. He’s not based on anyone in particular, though he is based on the classic “rich young man solves mysteries for fun” character type. He’s rich, handsome, intelligent and charming, but again, he isn’t going to be exactly what readers expect. Even he is surprised by things he finds out about himself.

Your book cover and the story summary bring to mind stellar movies from the 1930s, if you were the casting director and your book were turned into a movie, what actors from that time period would you cast as your main characters? And what actors of today?
Hmmm, that’s a difficult one because actors of the 1930s are usually famous for particular roles they played, so it’s hard for me to imagine them as my characters. But I’d say Drew would have to be someone charming and fairly laid back, perhaps a young Cary Grant or Errol Flynn or even Ramon Novarro. Young Myrna Loy could easily play Madeline, though I could see Maureen O’Sullivan or Loretta Young in the role.

As far as the actors of today are concerned, I’d love to see Orlando Bloom or Matthew MacFadyen or Johnny Lee Miller in the role of Drew. Or Richard “Be Still My Heart” Armitage. I can dream, can’t I? Actually, though, none of them is exactly like Drew. If it were up to me, I’d cast someone unknown in the role. He’d just have to be tall and sleek looking and quite charming. Maybe Jim Sturgess? I know nothing about him and I’ve never seen him act, but I saw a photo that made me think he might look more like Drew than any of the others I’ve mentioned.

I have a harder time choosing someone recent to play Madeline. Madeline is pretty, intelligent and witty, even cheeky, but she is also ladylike, and I think that quality is becoming rarer and rarer. I’m not sure I’ve seen enough of current actresses to know who could play her. I’d probably go with another unknown.

You've written these books under the pen name Julianna Deering. Can you share with readers why you decided to use a different name for these books and how you choose your lovely pen name?
Actually, the wonderful people at Bethany House suggested that I use a pen name for this series to differentiate it from my earlier books. It makes sense, too, since this series is very different from the medieval romances and the contemporary mysteries I wrote under DeAnna Julie Dodson. I chose the name Julianna to honor my father (Julian) and to honor his mother who wanted me to be named Julianna in the first place. I chose Deering because I originally wanted to keep my DJD initials, but every time I tried to pick three names it ended up being very cumbersome. So I ended up just keeping the J and the D: Julianna Deering.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
God. There just is no other explanation for how this all worked out. I never planned to be a writer when I was growing up. I always loved reading, but never thought I could write. But when I was in college, I had a sudden insatiable desire to read Shakespeare and then, to know more about the history plays, medieval English history. All of that was invaluable input for my medieval series. Yes, that seems the wrong way around, to do the research before even knowing there’s going to be a book, but as always, God wasn’t surprised.

What’s your biggest challenge in balancing writing time with your other responsibilities?
Interruptions. Interruptions. Interruptions. It seems to never fail that I plan a certain amount of writing time, and someone else decides that is when I must see to something else. But things seem to eventually get done.

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
I write from a Christian worldview. I have no other to write from, and I would not want any other. Yes, I can imagine and write characters who have a different take on life, and every book needs that variety, but the books themselves, what is portrayed as truth, will always be based on the Bible. I try to make the faith elements experiential rather than didactic, but they are there, stronger in some stories than others, but definitely there.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I suppose in some ways writing is like fingerprints. We all see the world through a unique lens, and each writer has a different skill set in portraying that world through our words. I like to take a well-used mystery theme, like murder at the old manor house, and give it a little twist. So just when the reader thinks he’s seen this before, it ends up being something different.

Writing is important to you because…
Writing is important to me because I feel it is my particular calling in life. My calling to write may not look like someone else’s calling, but it is what I was created to do. In the end, God is the only one I have to please with my work. If He tells me one day that it was well done, I will be satisfied. Besides that, it’s something I just can’t help doing. I love stories, and I love making them up the way I want them to be and then sharing them with others. I think I could be very happy for a very long time with nothing but a pencil and a lot of paper.

Any parting words?
Just thanks for letting me visit and thanks to everyone reading this. If you read Rules of Murder, I hope you’ll let me know what you think of it.

Thanks for sharing with us, Julianna!

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