Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Guest Post: Joyce T. Strand: From Spin to Spillane

Today's guest is not only an accomplished author, but a great resource in the literary community. She has been a huge help to me, and her knowledge and work ethic are truly amazing.

Joyce T. Strand

Mystery author Joyce Strand, much like her fictional character, Jillian Hillcrest, served as head of corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder. Rather, she focused on publicizing her companies and their products. Joyce received her Ph.D. from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

She currently lives in Southern California with her two cats, a collection of cow statuary and art, and her muse, the roadrunner.

Purchase sites – Amazon.com

Book Blurbs: Jillian Hillcrest Mysteries

Murder intrudes on PR Executive Jillian Hillcrest's routine as head communications executive at a small Silicon Valley biotechnology company. When someone near to her is murdered, a determined San Francisco police inspector involves her in the investigation, convinced she is key to solving the crime. She co-operates fully only to find that solving a murder is more hazardous than writing press releases. ON MESSAGE is the first in the Jillian Hillcrest mystery series. As with all the novels in this series, it was inspired by a real California case.

On Message
Ebook:  http://tinyurl.com/crog4om

Jillian Hillcrest returns as a PR Executive to join with a local Silicon Valley reporter who is uneasy about the supposed DUI death of an informant. He solicits Jillian’s help along with that of her neighbor, a retired police officer, to look into events in his hometown north of the Napa/Sonoma wine country. Jillian’s ex-husband grows more and more certain he wants to re-marry her.  OPEN MEETINGS was inspired by a network of criminal ex- and current police officers in the broader San Francisco Bay Area.

Open Meetings


From Spin to Spillane
By Joyce T. Strand, Author

Most of us are not born authors. We start out earning our living in a variety of ways. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician. Stieg Larsson and Michael Connelly were successful reporters – Connelly even was a finalist for a Pulitzer for his coverage of the 1985 Delta Flight 191 plane crash. Nora Roberts was a legal secretary, albeit briefly.  Mary Higgins Clark worked as a secretary, copy editor and stewardess. Isaac Asimov was a biochemistry professor.  Raymond Chandler decided to become a writer when he lost his job as an oil executive during the Depression. Our host – Ahmad Taylor – was involved in law enforcement. 

I was a public relations specialist practiced in the art of spin. I am currently a mystery writer ala Mickey Spillane.  Hence – “From Spin to Spillane.”  Well, I’m not claiming to be as good at creating a story as the artful, down-to-earth Mr. Spillane.  But I am a former spinner of products turned current writer of mysteries.  

Many authors exploit the experience from their work environment to tell their story or enhance the credibility of their characters. Kathy Reichs created Temprance Brennan—known on TV as Bones—patterned on her own career of forensic anthropologist. Ahmad uses his background in law enforcement to create credible government agents. Lawyer Erle Stanley Garner created Perry Mason. John Grisham practiced law for more than 10 years before starting to write his legal thrillers.

When I decided to write mysteries, I set them in the world I knew for more than 25 years as a Silicon Valley PR pro. Jillian Hillcrest is basically just doing her job when she is thrown into criminal situations where she must respond. Of course, I had to check with law officers, psychologists, and other experts to help with those parts of my novels not covered in the career of a PR executive. But I was able to reach into my work experience to define characters, create situations, and lead readers astray.

How important is this real-life career experience to the credibility of any story? We know if we’re writing historical fiction, we rely on research for back story and characterizations. And certainly those writing fantasy and paranormal don’t need the benefit of experience to enhance their stories. But for modern day fiction, is the added insight of practical experience significant? 

I truly believe that Grisham’s legal thrillers are greatly enhanced because of his career in the law. And certainly Kathy Reichs’ degree and work in forensic anthropology contributed to the credibility of her books about Temprance Brennan. Being a crime reporter most likely helped Michael Connelly deliver a more believable Hieronymus Bosch and Mickey Haller.

But how helpful was Tom Clancy’s insurance background to his detail-oriented spy novels? For Micky Spillane, how useful were life-guard duty or trampoline artist at Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus? 

OK. So maybe we don’t NEED the added insight offered by real-life experience for successful story-telling. However, I do believe that we readers benefit when a story is set in an author’s familiar environment or includes characters from his/her profession.  In my genre of mysteries, for example, we can broaden and deepen the clues, red herrings, and characters with knowledge based on experience. 

Bottom line: There are many aspects to creating a good story. We readers can benefit just a little bit more with stories that exploit an author’s background.


  1. Wow! Thanks so much for the kind -- I'm not sure deserved -- words. Also, I appreciate the opportunity to post my article on your Darkside Musings blog. Although Jillian Hillcrest has not yet gone to the Darkside, she certainly respects those who do!

    1. Well we couldn't have been more pleased to have you, and we look forward to you stopping by again soon to share more with us...

      And maybe you can even bring Jillian along.

  2. Great title for this post, and a really interesting question. Thanks.