E.M. Kaplan grew up in Tucson, Arizona where there were no sidewalks but plenty of tumbleweeds. She attended Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts where she majored in English Lit with a minor in Philosophy. She later earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. She’s also been a Girl Scout, trombonist, toilet-cleaner, beginner ninja, and subversive marketeer. You can visit her at www.JustTheEmWords.com.
ACW: Congratulations on the publication of The Bride Wore Dead! Care to give readers a taste of what it’s about?
EM: Thanks! It’s been a long time in the works—more than 10 years because of, you know, kids and dogs and jobs—so it’s great to have it out there finally.
The Bride Wore Dead is a mystery about a bride who dies under suspicious circumstances on her honeymoon—anaphylaxis, actually, from a bee sting. Josie Tucker, who was a fill-in bridesmaid at the wedding, goes to Arizona to find out what, exactly, happened.
Josie is a unique protagonist: she’s a loner at heart, but she’s a people-magnet. I wanted to make her walled-off, kind of standoffish, but then, it turns out people like to talk to her. They spill their guts to her because she’s a good listener. She’s a person of many contrasts. She’s a food critic who can’t eat. She’s a tiny little thing who gets into physical scrapes. Ethnically, she’s mixed, but her family is not. She’s able to cross social and economic boundaries fairly easily.
ACW: Based on the book’s subtitle, A Josie Tucker Mystery, is it safe to assume you have more books in the series planned? Is it too early to ask for a sneak peek at what’s next for Josie?
EM: I have started another one. It has to do with her friend Susan’s Silicon Valley sweetheart, who got a one-line mention in first book. The working title so far is Dim Sum Dead.
People who like to eat dim sum think of it as a Chinese brunch greasy, pig-out kind of thing. But some people say it was actually created by a Chinese emperor for his lover. It was supposed to be eaten very slowly, morsel by morsel. It means “heart’s delight.”
ACW: On a somewhat related note, did you set out wanting to write a series of books featuring the same
character, or did Josie just turn out to be one of those characters who wouldn’t let you go after the first book was done?
EM: She’s definitely one of those characters who stays in my mind and keeps me thinking about what might happen next. Plus, I’m a people pleaser, so if the first book has entertained people, I absolutely want to create another.
When you write a mystery, you don’t have to worry too much about world building, as you would with fantasy. But still, there is a small amount of it, determined by level of humor, violence, and subtle things about the setting, and even my writing style. There are some givens already established about Josie’s world. It’s nice to pick that back up in a second book.
ACW: Mystery novels, even more so than other genres of novel, frequently rely on striking a very delicate balance between giving the reader enough information that they feel like they might be able to figure out whodunit, but not giving away too much too quickly, so they remain intrigued and keep turning the pages to see if they’re right. That being the case, it seems like it would be hard to be a pantser, but I have to ask – did you outline and plot everything in advance, or are you secretly a criminal mastermind/world famous detective, allowing you to naturally write a mystery plot on the fly?
EM: Ha! I don’t know if I’m capable of being a mastermind.
I’m a character-driven writer. I love creating characters and dialog probably more than any other aspect. That said, I always have an outline—like a wire frame, as software people would say—of where I want to end up. But often, surprising things happen on the way there. I have to be able to break from the itinerary if I want my trip to seem spontaneous, so to speak.
ACW: By day, you’re a mild-mannered technical writer. Does your day job have any impact on the way you write fiction? Do you draw on those skills, or do you find yourself having to switch gears completely and shut off that side of your brain when working on fiction?
EM: Tech writing has 100% changed how I write fiction. I used to write fiction so my words would sound pretty, erudite, and mysterious—more poetic, like my husband’s (JD Kaplan). Tech writing is about making people understand you, using as few words as possible. The kind of writing I do for Motorola and Google is casual and friendly, and just the teeniest bit sly. And of course, succinct—you have to be economical when your page size is two by four inches. When I write fiction now, I sometimes have to go back and layer in the more descriptive elements and to slow down the pace. Plump it up a little.
ACW: What’s next for you? Other than more Josie Tucker mysteries, is there anything else you’re working on you want folks to know about?
EM: I have a reader friend taking a look at the first draft of a fantasy novel I finished. I started it during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and finished it about a year later, so it was kind of a NaNaWriYear for me that year. With any luck, I can get it out this spring. I think you’ll like it. It has ogres. Everyone loves ogres.
ACW: Thanks for dropping by!