A relentless snoop and mystery seeker since childhood, Julie Hyzy gets to play detective by writing amateur sleuth adventures. She’s thrilled to have won the Anthony, Barry, Lovey, and Derringer Awards, and still can’t believe that she has “New York Times Bestselling Author” across the front of her books. Julie writes the White House Chef Mysteries and the Manor House Mysteries for Penguin/Berkley Prime Crime, the most recent of which, HOME OF THE BRAISED (she has THE BEST titles), was just released January 7. Lisa Alber and Lori Rader-Day, partners in Deb Ball crime, co-interviewed her for today’s post.
So…have you ended up on any special watch lists because of your White House series?
Ha! I have no idea, but I imagine I have. There are only so many times one can Google “White House,” “terrorist,” “bomb,” and other such terms and remain under the radar.
Well, thanks for getting us on the lists now, too. What kind of research have you done to get the White House and its kitchen right? Do you ever feel extra pressure about getting it right because it’s the White House?
I research constantly and try to read as many books about the White House, the presidents, the current chef, and all the first ladies as I can. I have an awesome reader—who, over the years, has become a good friend—who sends me books about the White House when he finds them. There have been a bunch of great ones I might have otherwise missed. I also try to talk with real people who have worked there, and, of course, I research as much as I can online.
Do I feel pressure to get it right? Absolutely! I’ll track down a small detail—for instance, knowing how many pieces of Truman china they have in inventory—just so that Ollie can speak knowledgeably about it. And yet, I sometimes have to invent protocols, or create new job descriptions, to fit the story. Imagine my surprise when I wrote a line about how the White House handled guests who over-imbibe (totally fabricated) only to discover later that I’d gotten it exactly right!
How does your White House research compare to your prep work for the Manor House series?
They’re very similar. I have floor plans from a variety of mansions I’ve visited over the years. I’ve used these to create my own floor plan for Marshfield Manor, and I keep that nearby while I’m writing so that I don’t have rooms switching positions from book to book. The one really nice thing about writing for Marshfield is that it doesn’t have those pesky Secret Service agents running the show. Getting through security is far easier at Marshfield—which is why so much more happens on-site in those books.
You said recently that the Manor House series “was your heart.” Tell us why?
After my mom died, we found out that our grandfather of record was not really our grandfather. Both on-paper-Grandpa and real-Grandpa had died before I was born, but this was still quite the revelation. I did a bit of homework and discovered more interesting tidbits about my mom’s family from when she was growing up—things she never shared with me and my brother. Some of these form the basis for Grace’s story.
OK, but the titles of the White House Chef series are the best. What’s the process for those? Do you get a say?
I’ve been lucky that most of those I turn in are given a thumbs-up by the marketing department. One of my friends came up with Buffalo West Wing (which remains my favorite title to-date). Another friend, Judy Bobalik, suggested Fonduing Fathers. Readers (and others) love to send me ideas and I love getting them. One of the ones I came up with on my own, All the President’s Gingerbread Men, didn’t make the cut. That one became Hail to the Chef.
What’s it like to be able to say “New York Times bestselling” in front of your name? Do you use it wherever you go? In what ways has it changed things, and what ways has it made no difference at all?
I love, love, love, love being able to have “New York Times bestselling” grace the front of my books. Let me tell you I never expected to be able to say that. It’s absolutely wonderful. I get giddy thinking about it, always. I rarely tell anyone, mostly because my husband jumps in and does it for me. <grin>
As for what’s changed … not much. It’s not as though anyone recognizes me (I’m okay with that), and it’s not as though I’m suddenly flush with sales. Life is exactly the same as it was before Fonduing Fathers hit. But one thing has changed, I guess. When I won the Anthony in Indianapolis for State of the Onion, my friend Raymond Benson was one of the first to congratulate me. Know what he said? “Congrats, Julie! Now you have an obituary!” Made me laugh out loud. But he’s right. And now the NYT distinction gives me another line!
You’ve written dark. You’ve written light and fun. What haven’t you written that you’d like to try?
I don’t think I’m very good at funny, but if I work at it, I may be able to change that.
We think you’re delightful, Julie! Thanks for talking with us!
Bring on the witty titles! Readers, do you have any ideas for titles for either the White House Chef Mysteries or the Manor House Mysteries?
GIVEAWAY! Comment on this post by noon EST on Friday, January 31st, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Grace Under Pressure, the first in Julie’s Manor House Mystery series. U.S. addresses only, please. Follow The Debutante Ball on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries—just mention that you did so in your comments. We’ll choose and contact the winner on Friday. Good luck!