The Trouble with Tulip, A Smart Chick Mystery #1The Trouble with Tulip, A Smart Chick Mystery #1
Mindy Starns Clark
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It seems wherever advice columnist Josephine Tulip goes, trouble follows. When a body is found next door and her neighbor is arrested for murder, Jo and her photographer friend Danny investigate. Will they untangle the mystery before the killer strikes again? Can Danny muster the courage to tell Jo how he feels about her? 300 pages, softcover from Harvest.
     

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Mindy Starns Clark

2nd Timothy 1:7, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline."

 Our Interview with Mindy Starns Clark:

How did you get started as a writer?

IĎve been writing my whole life, but being a novelist was always my big dream. My degree is in writing from Clemson University where I graduated in 1982. I thought it would be about a year or two and I would have a best seller and it would all just fall into place, but it didnít happen quite that quickly! It took another twenty years before I held my first novel in my hand. During those years, I wrote computer software manuals, shorter pieces, articles, copy writing, marketing, public relations and plays--everything except the one thing I really wanted to do, which was to write novels. During those years, I wrote several novels that werenít good enough to try and sell, but I kept learning and practicing. When I finished writing ďA Penny for Your Thoughts,Ē I thought that this one could fly--and sure enough it did. It was very exciting.

How did you choose the location for Trouble with Tulip?

It was so hard. In my first series, each book had a different location because my protagonist was a traveling investigator. For this one I went back and forth: Did I want to set it in a real place where I am? Did I want someplace fictional? Should it be somewhere from my past or somewhere in my present? I struggled with that until the book was finished, believe it or not. Once the book was done I kept going back in and changing where it was and I finally decided it had to be Pennsylvania. Itís the life I know so I just locked it in there. Some stories belong to a certain place, but this one was more about the characters than where they were. In the end, I guess itís meant to be everytown U.S.A. without a lot of regional stuff, which was very different for me because a sense of place is usually huge for my books.

Do you to prefer write suspense and intrigue fiction? Do you plan to explore any other genres?

Well, I write mystery rather than suspense; there is a difference there. A mystery is like a puzzle that gets solved. Suspense is more just exciting action but you usually donít have any questions as to who the bad person is. In a mystery you find out. Thereís like a detective or an amateur detective who is solving this puzzle. The question comes up a lot because a lot of people donít know thereís a difference, and in Christian publishing they really donít differentiate much. You know we really get lumped in together, but to a reader who really loves mystery or loves suspense there really is a difference.

I do have other genres that Iíd like to explore and I think in a way theyíd be a relief because they would be faster and a little bit easier for me--like womenís fiction, just general contemporary stuff, stories that appeal to women that arenít necessarily chick-lit or arenít suspense or thriller. I have one that I was working on a while back about a woman whose husband and son are killed in a car accident, and the story is about her long journey of recovery from that. That would be interesting to finish. Though Iíd like to try new things, I think Iíll always come back and do mysteries because that what I like to read. Generally, you should be writing what you like to read because thatís what youíll write best.

What are some of the challenges you face as an author?

Wow, well certainly never enough time, because thereís always more you could do if you had the luxury of all time in the world both story-wise and promotionally speaking. Some authors hate the promotional part of the job, but I enjoy it. I love speaking engagements. I love meeting readers. I love conventions. But you canít do it all. You have to kind of pick and chose whatís worth the time, whatís going to really fun and rewarding and then narrow it down from there. So I would probably say the time issue is my biggest challenge.

How long did it take you to write Trouble with Tulip?

About nine months. My first series came out every six months. For a mystery, that was too hard because thereís so much research and you have to plot so carefully in a mystery. I mean, you have to plant clues but you donít want them to be too obvious. Itís a little more intricate than just a straight story-telling. I think if I were writing straight out womenís fiction, or whatever, I could probably do it faster. But with mysteries, they needed to be a little further apart.

How much research did Trouble with Tulip take?

I have about twenty books of household hints. Believe it or not, choosing the right hints was the biggest part of the research, and it was fun. I love household hints. My house may be a mess, but boy I know some stuff. When I wrote the Million Dollar Mysteries, I kept putting myself in a situation where I had to go and do a ton of complicated researchólike about the NSA, cryptology, art theft, security. That was so much fun to write but it was so hard because there was so much to research. So, with the Tulip series, I specifically set out to make it less research-heavy and more about the people and the characters. As it turned out, the biggest research was coming up with the household hints. I did have to test a lot of them because a lot of them I didnít believe; just because something is printed it doesnít necessarily mean itís true. Also, I had to research con games a lot. I loved learning about how they con you at a carnival or a fair. Every time I go to a fair, I always try to figure out what it is theyíll really doing here thatís probably making sure that my money is going in their pockets and not coming back as a prize.

How did you think up your characters?

It started with their relationship. My husband and I were best friends for many years before it ever dawned on either one of us that we were in love. I always thought that would make a good story. It certainly makes the best basis for a marriage! So, for this series, I started with the idea of two people who were wonderful life-long friendsóbut who would move into something more than that. I guess for Jo, her character had to come out of what sort of person would write about household hints. She would be resourceful, obviously, and real problem-solving, sort of pragmatic. Then I wanted the male character to be a little more of a dreamer, so I made him a creative person, and fairly ambitious. Thatís where the whole photography thing came from. He does actually get to succeed a bit as he goes along and that comes between them too.

Who is your favorite character?

I like them all, to be honest. At different times, different days, depending on who Iím writing about, thatís who I like the best.

How personal is Trouble with Tulip?

You mean as in drawing from my own life? Iíve never come up against murder or cons or anything like that. It came more out of my imagination. As for the characters themselves, Iím really interested in psychology, in looking into how a person will change and grow. Itís about the evolution your characters have got to take from the beginning to the end. In a book, something must have changed from beginning to endóotherwise, what was the point in telling their story? Thatís probably my favorite part of writing: Where do I want them to get to, where do I want them to start from, and whatís in between that gets them there?

How many books are in the Smart Chick Mystery series?

There will be two more. Itís a series of three.

Do you have anything planned beyond finish of the series?

Yes, but they're still in the discussion stages right now; some exciting stuff.

Are all the books in the Smart Chick Mystery series involving the same family?

Yes, itíll be the same people continuing where it left off at the end of this one. Iím getting to be sort of known for my cliff-hangers. My loyal readers always write me and say they love me but they hate me.

The fourth book of my last series ends on a deadly cliff-hanger and my hairdresser told my husband that she wasnít going to read the third one until she had the fourth one in her hand. He told her she could read the third one but just donít read the fourth one until she had the fifth one in her handÖor sheíd kill me.

Who is the person who most influenced you with your writing?

I would have to say both of my parents. They raised us to be very creative. Some people grow up in a creatively stifling environment; ours was the opposite of that. Music, writing, drama, whatever we wanted to do there was opportunity and encouragement. You know, everybody is creative as a child, but a lot of folks learn to turn that off as they grow. In my house, however, nobody ever turned that off. It just stayed with us. My older brother is in music still. It just kind of stays with you and it becomes a more adult expression of that art.

What were your favorite books as a child?

James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; I loved those. I also loved every one of the mysteries that came from Junior Scholastic Book Club, through school. My mother let me order as many as I wanted. When the other kids were turning in an order for one or two, I was ordering like 20. Whatever I wanted that I could buy, I just ate those things for lunch. I read them and saved all of my favorites. They cover three bookshelves in my hall now. I read them with my kids and some of them are ridiculously outdated and some of them are just fabulous.

What message would you like your readers to take from Trouble with Tulip?

There are different messages coming from different characters. I would think number one would be Joís own struggle. If you want to have intimacy with other people it really needs to start with intimacy with God. Thatís sort of the path sheís going to have to be on now. Sheís obviously picking men for all the wrong reasons and I need her to find out why.

I was visiting with a lady this past summer and I mentioned that my new character was going to be someone who moved around a lot as a child. This ladyís whole demeanor changed, she got very serious, and she said that if I really wanted to know what that was like, she would tell me, since she had been a military daughter. She ended up writing me about a four page letter describing what it was like to go from place to place throughout her childhood and never really connect with anyone. Her insights and honesty added so much dimension to Jo Tulip. Some things I kind of figured out on my own, others it would never have dawned on me--for example, that for some people it can be very hard to find intimacy with God, because they put up a wall with everybody including Him.

What is your goal or mission as a Christian writer?

You know, it started out as merely ďto entertain.Ē Originally, the choice to make my work Christian was more of a writerís choice; my faith is so important to me that I couldnít figure out how to tell a story without faith. But what Iím finding in the response from my readers is that just by telling my stories and putting faith into them, I am helping other people who may be struggling with how to live a Christian walk day-to-day. So now, my goal is ďto convey through fiction the Christian walk: its struggles, its joys, it triumphs, and its rewards.Ē I hope that every story I tell accomplishes that!

Don't Miss the Million Dollar Mystery Series!
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