Interview with Author Joyce T. Strand ( @JoyceTStrand )


Congratulations on publishing your fourth mystery novel. Tell us about HILLTOP SUNSET?

HILLTOP SUNSET introduces the attractive, smart Brynn Bancroft as a protagonist who faces a stalker, a recent divorce, murder, and an unsettling new love affair, while transitioning from financial executive to winemaker. She appeared in my previous three mysteries as a minor character in the role of chief financial officer, secret lover of the chief executive officer, and the boss of Jillian Hillcrest.  As her stalker accelerates her efforts to reach Brynn, her new lover embroils her in his own unclear and troubled life. This is the first of three mysteries to feature Brynn. I hasten to add for my Jillian Hillcrest fans, that Jillian hovers in this book; she’s just not the star.

What was the inspiration behind the book?

As with all my mysteries, I drew the crime plot from a real California case, suggested to me by a retired FBI agent who actually helped solve it. I don’t want to tell you too much about it, for fear of “spoiling” the mystery, but it involved an embezzlement at a major company in the San Francisco Bay Area and a murder in the 1980s. As for the characters, such as Jillian Hillcrest and Brynn Bancroft, I created them out of composites of colleagues I knew as a public relations professional for more than 25 years at several biotech and high tech companies in Silicon Valley.

What inspires/motivates you to write?

For me, writing is fun! Writing satisfies me and makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. When I create characters and envision surroundings and mischief to thwart their progress—out of thin air—well, how could I get more fulfilled! I’m in control. I manipulate their backgrounds, hand out shortcomings, and plot their rescue. And, the more I write fiction, the more stories I visualize. I see them everywhere! As for the discipline of completing a book, well, I’ve worked at writing throughout my career, so I guess it’s just part of my background.

Has your writing process changed from when you first started?

Yes and no. I still base my mysteries on a real case, which I track down before I begin writing. And I still know the opening and concluding scenes before I write. However, in my more recent books I reveal character traits much more slowly, allowing my characters to develop over the pages, and using those traits to move the plot forward. I also enjoy experimenting with various character-driven vs plot-driven approaches, and delight in mixing the two approaches. For example, HILLTOP SUNSET drives the development and transition of Brynn’s character while simultaneously presenting clues and situations to solve a mystery.

Are you a plotter who outlines or a “pantser” who prefers to see where an idea leads you?

For my mysteries, I am mostly a pantser. Before I start writing, I know the crime to be committed and my opening and closing chapters. Often, I will also create a few scenes to help connect the two. But mostly I let my characters take the lead. I do develop fairly lengthy biographies for my characters before beginning to write, so my characters can direct their reactions to situations. Further, the mysteries are set in a world I know, making backstory easier to visualize.

However, I’ve just written the first draft of a new story set in 1939 Ventura, California. Because of the time period, I researched the history and discovered a need to develop a fairly detailed outline of scenes and background to create the period atmosphere.  I allowed characters some latitude but had to reign in my narrator who wanted to control the entire story, which is not about her at all, but about the Judge.

Do you ever get writer’s block and how do you get through it?

Sometimes I can’t figure out how to get from one part of a story to another, and I’ll just go ahead and write another part of the book and worry about bridging it later. I find writing any scene helps to trigger ideas for other parts of the book.  I also have a rule when in writing mode that I will write a minimum of 3000 words a day, no matter what. It might be trash, which I’ll discard the next day, but that doesn’t matter. It keeps me in the mode, and again often prompts ideas. Finally, when writing, I usually don’t quite finish a scene that I know how it will end. So when I come back to it the next day, I have something to start on without having to think too hard about it, which draws me into the story.

Is there a message in your work that you want to convey to your readers?

I do not start a book with a message in mind. However, my characters often produce statements on values. In HILLTOP SUNSET, Brynn evolves from an emotion-challenged, promiscuous woman to someone who embraces feelings and eventually family and friend relationships. In FAIR DISCLOSURE, one of the characters realizes that to be true to his own code, he has to confess his “unfair” disclosures. The Judge in my next story espouses the value of rehabilitation over punishment of juveniles. But the messages come from the characters, not from me. Well, OK, maybe I do shape them a little!

What books and/or authors have most influenced your life?

Reflecting on this question, I am surprised to discover which books influenced me versus which books I most enjoyed reading. Although I am an avid mystery reader, other than Grisham, they have not influenced my life. I read them purely for entertainment and the pleasure of solving a puzzle. I recall those that influenced me the most when I was in my teens. For example, I read Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, which describes the plight of the few dozen people alive following the devastation of a nuclear war. It made me painfully aware of the threat of nuclear warfare and influenced my career decisions that led to my PhD in international relations. I also wanted to be an attorney based on the many Erle Stanely Garner books about Perry Mason. Studying a law case book for five minutes cured me of that career goal. In more recent years, John Grisham’s The Appeal, about a verdict against a chemical company in Mississippi, caused me to begin to more carefully research the background of judges up for elections.

As for which books influenced my own writing, I’d place To Kill a Mocking Bird at the top of the list. I love the point of view, the hero Atticus Finch, and the way the story is told. James Clavell’s Shogun is my favorite novel largely because of his clever and intricate storylines in medieval Japan that he integrates into a well-played and fascinating fictional chess game.

Now for a little fun, which character (if any) would you most like to invite over to dinner?

I’m assuming you want to know which of my own characters would I invite for dinner. I would enjoy talking with Brynn Bancroft. She overcame a difficult childhood to become a successful executive. She reaches conclusions and takes action based on openness and analysis, not on political or emotional bias. Her focus on sex as a solution to avoid emotions makes her fallible, but intriguing. And her realization of the shortcomings of that approach make her likeable. We would have frank discussions without concern for propriety—and that would be fun!

Can you tell us what is coming up for you and where can we find you online?

I plan to publish two books in 2015—in June/July “The Judge’s Story” set in 1939 Ventura, California and in November, the next Brynn Bancroft mystery. “The Judge’s Story” is the first of a series of books about “Unheralded Heroes.” Although fiction, they will be based on real people who have made a positive difference in our world. The next Brynn Bancroft mystery will start where HILLTOP SUNSET ends, although like all books in the Jillian Hillcrest series, it will be standalone and drawn from a real crime.


 A mystery set in wine country pitting financial exec Brynn Bancroft against a determined stalker, a troubled love interest, and career clashes. Brynn Bancroft learns that a former employee who beat her nearly to death has returned to stalk her and her friend, Jillian Hillcrest, also a former victim.  Recently divorced, Brynn turns to a new love interest only to encounter additional unwelcome entanglements. Meanwhile, short-timer Brynn, who has resigned from her Silicon Valley company, becomes bored fulfilling her remaining responsibilities there. She begins to prefer supporting the launch of her ex-husband’s new hilltop winery while waiting to move to her next position. Between her stalker and her new love interest, Brynn faces a series of life-threatening events.


About Joyce T. Strand

 Joyce T. Strand is the author of who-done-it mysteries set in the San Francisco Silicon Valley and Napa-Sonoma wine regions of California.

Her most recent novel, HILLTOP SUNSET, is the first of a new series featuring protagonist Brynn Bancroft, a financial guru in transition to winemaker from corporate executive. Brynn Bancroft is a minor character in Strand’s novels ON MESSAGE, OPEN MEETINGS, and FAIR DISCLOSURE—three mysteries solved by Jillian Hillcrest, a publicist whose boss was Chief Financial Officer Brynn Bancroft.

Much like her protagonist Jillian Hillcrest, Strand headed corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in California’s Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder in her career. She focused on writing by-lined articles, press releases, white papers, and brochures to publicize her companies and their products.

Strand lives with her two cats and collection of cow statuary in Southern California, and seeks out and attends as many Broadway musicals and other stage plays as possible.

She received her Ph.D. from the George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA

HILLTOP SUNSET is available on Amazon (Paperback and Kindle) and Barnes and Noble’s Nook. For a peek, check out an excerpt at:




Amazon Author Link

Barnes and Noble Nook Author Link  –

Web page




Twitter @JoyceTStrand


Interview with Author Corinne O’Flynn (@CorinneOFlynn)

Corinne Headshot

Tell us a little about yourself. When did your interest in writing begin?

I’ve been drawn to books for as long as I can remember. Like many authors, my love of great stories drew me in early. I grew up in a family of readers where books were always important. I began to take writing more seriously in high school and then college, but didn’t aspire to write novels until I was in my twenties.


Tell us about your YA Fantasy Adventure, THE EXPATRIATES.

I had a blast writing THE EXPATRIATES. It’s the first in a series that follows teenager, Jim Wales, who can communicate telepathically with animals. He discovers his family has been hiding him because they know he’s a scholar—one who can manipulate energy using magic—and someone is hunting all scholars.


What was the inspiration behind this book?

Oh, it’s the ultimate cliché! The kernel for the idea of this series came to me in a dream, almost 14 years ago. It was a little scene in my head where this dark-haired kid is walking through a meadow of golden grass with a tiger and there’s a falcon hovering in the air over him, and he was communicating with the animals with his mind. It is still so vivid, all these years later.


Is there a message you hope to relate through your books?

I didn’t write the book with a message in mind, but after the book was finished there were many themes that emerged. This book is about what makes a family and a home, friendship, trust, and, taking a stand—even when that’s scary.


What is the most important thing for you when writing your novels—the characters or the plot?

I think there needs to be a balance in a book—especially adventure and quest stories—between the weight of the plot and the characters.  When I’m planning out the story, I find the plot takes the lead, but the twists and turns are only meaningful because of the how they impact the characters. So, I think it’s important to give both equal time and attention while writing.


Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you outline/plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea leads you? Has your process changed from when you first started?

I am a converted plotter. I first wrote THE EXPATRIATES as the pansters do. No outline, nothing but my mind to guide the next thing. Believe me when I say that I made every single mistake you can make. The whole thing was a mess. Rewrites took years, and finally I had to stop, outline it as if it were a new story, and start over. That process was laborious and took another few years to complete, but I can honestly say that it’s made me a much better writer. Now, I plot using a whiteboard with color-coded post-it notes, which allows me to plot but also lets my inner pantser make some changes along the way.  I try not to make it too rigid.


Do you ever get writer’s block?  If you do, how do you get through it?

I find that when I get stuck in my writing, it’s usually because something isn’t working. If that’s writer’s block, then yes, I totally battle with it. I believe the subconscious mind is constantly tinkering and when it needs time to percolate over something, it will put on the brakes. I’ve discovered that I get through it more easily when I don’t stress over the block. I put my writing energy into something else and let the mental knots tease themselves out until the aha! moment arrives. And it usually does, so that’s always good.


What books and/or authors have most influenced your life?

I read most of the usual things as a kid, but I remember discovering Stephen King when I was a tween. I was sick, home from school, tucked into my parent’s bed in our apartment in the Bronx, reading SALEM’S LOT. I was totally freaked out, and completely hooked. Then came THE MISTS OF AVALON by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I love everything about this book and its ties to the women of the Arthurian tales. After that, it was anything supernatural, magical, or creepy. Dean Koontz, Neil Gaiman, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Rice, Harry Potter, LOTR, and His Dark Materials. I also adore PILLARS OF THE EARTH and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.


If you could go to lunch with one of your characters who would it be and why?

I’d have to pick Hollis. He’s a minor character in THE EXPATRIATES who’s intrigued me from the moment he appeared. I’m looking forward to seeing some more of him in book two!


Can you tell us what is coming up for you and where can we find you online?

I’m busy with book two at the moment, finishing up all the plotting and starting to get the words in order. I’ve been working on some short stories, some related to this series and some not, that I hope to release as well. I blog at I am also on and Twitter @CorinneOFlynn




Next week, Nov 17-23, Corinne will be taking her book across the web on a blog tour with giveaways via Xpresso blog tours. Bloggers can sign up here:  Readers should visit her website for links to participating blogs.


What readers are saying:


“Told in a beautiful, flowing style full of colorful images and adrenaline-pumping action.”

 “Pop some popcorn, sit back … and enjoy the thrill ride, right up to the end, which leaves you begging for more.”

 “Captures your attention from the start and then guides you through a roller coaster of adventure, drama, mystery, magic and young love.”



About Corinne

Corinne O’Flynn is a native New Yorker who now lives in Colorado and wouldn’t trade life in the Rockies for anything. She loves writing flash and experimenting with short fiction. Her novel, THE EXPATRIATES (Oct. 2014) is a YA fantasy adventure with magic and creatures and lots of creepy stuff. She is a scone aficionado, has an entire section of her kitchen devoted to tea, and is always on the lookout for the elusive Peanut Chews candy. When she isn’t writing or hanging with her family, Corinne works as the executive director of a nonprofit. She is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Mystery Writers of America, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The Expatriates is available on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble. She blogs about her adventures at