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Open Book Society, reviewer Andra, is back this week with an all new interview. Here she chats with Anna Burke author of the Jessica Huntington Desert Cities Mysteries, A DEAD SISTER, in which they discuss the book, its characters, if the book were to become a movie, plot twists, more books in the series, new projects, and more. Enjoy!

  • Be sure to read or review for A DEAD SISTER here at OBS.
  • For more information about the author and her books visit her at her Official Website here.

a-dead-sisterAndra: I love Jessica.  Her character is evolving throughout the series.  How hard is this progression been to write given that the pace appears very respectful of the trials and tribulations Jessica has endured? Did you want to rush her progress or does this speed come naturally with the character?

Anna Burke: A series lets you take character development at a slower, more realistic, pace than a single book allows. How long it takes for someone to deal with a loss, like divorce, varies a lot. Sometimes a couple knows a marriage is over and signing those papers is a relief. They’ve done most of the grieving ahead of time. For Jessica it was different. She thought she was in a good marriage until she walked in on her faithless husband. A shocking way to end a marriage! She has so much ground to cover, trying to figure out what went wrong and heal from the bad way James Harper treated her. That she started divorce proceedings, immediately, says she’ll eventually move on.

The ‘it takes a year’ idea used to set the pace in the books comes from an old rule of thumb about dealing with loss. The notion is you need to go through an entire calendar year, dealing with all of the old dates—birthdays, anniversaries, major holidays, special dates you shared with the person you’ve lost. Reliving all those dates, under new circumstances, allows you to let go, little by little. Everyone is different and so are the situations surrounding loss. Laura who loses her husband Roger to murder, had begun let go of her husband and her marriage before he was killed. Still, nothing could have prepared her for murder. So, a year may not be long enough time for some kinds of loss, and too long for others.

I think Jessica and her friends would become boring if they didn’t grow and change over time. Jessica is being challenged by life to change and I think she’s up to the challenge. Time will tell—and a few more books, too!

Andra: If (or maybe when??)  The Desert Cities Mysteries become a movie, who would you envision as Jessica?

Anna Burke: Jessica’s a beautiful brunette [although she has blond highlights] with green eyes. She’s short and in her mid-thirties; smart and funny. Elisha Cuthbert is about the right age and she’s petite like Jessica. She has a comic edge to her that fits Jessica’s personality. Elisha Cuthbert is a blond, but hair color’s easy to change—blue eyes rather than green, oh, okay.

Erika Christensen from Parenthood would be great, too. She plays a lawyer in that show so has experience playing the role of a professional woman. She’s also about the right age and height. Plus she has those green eyes!

Jennifer Lawrence from the Hunger Games would be an interesting choice, too. Even though she doesn’t share the physical characteristics with Jessica, there’s something chameleon-like about her as an actress. I think she could capture Jessica’s spirit and bring her to life on film.

Andra: Once Mr. P and doc were introduced into the storyline, did you have difficulty coming up with the twists that would drive the reader wanting more?

Anna Burke: They’re such a creepy duo it was fun to write about their nastiness. The ultimate ‘odd couple’ in terms of their size, personality, and demeanor, they share a twisted view of life. I thought of them as almost “James Bond” level bad guys, bent on expanding their evil empire. That is, until Jessica Huntington goes after them.

Andra: So….two hunky guys when Jessica is clearly not ready (at least mentally)….how difficult was it to slow (with much teasing though I might add) the obvious physical attractions and be respectful of her need to heal emotionally from her divorce?

Anna Burke: Well, Jessica is impulsive, a romantic at heart, but also wounded. She’s been out of the dating game for a while and she’s feeling vulnerable, so it’s not surprising that she’s conflicted about her own desires. Diving back into the world of romance is, on the one hand, like walking into a candy store (or a bakery given Jessica’s musing about Frank and Paul in the next book, A DEAD DAUGHTER). Getting involved also means trusting someone again. Not to mention dealing with the issues each of these fine new men in her life bring with them. Frank has his bossy cop thing going on and those two kids of his to think about. Paul, the rich, debonair lawyer is so standoffish—an aspect of his nature made worse by the fact that he’s Jessica’s boss. Both Frank and Paul have some growing to do before either can become a more permanent part of Jessica’s life.

Andra: Will Jim have any future association with Jessica now that they are divorced in future books (if you can tell of course)?

Anna Burke: Funny you should ask…You know the old adage “a bad penny always turns up.” It’s hard to get rid of the guy. He and his Hollywood diva make another appearance in book 3, A DEAD DAUGHTER. There will be more James Harper, Esq. in book 4 too.

Andra: What future projects are you working on? Can you tell us anything about them?

Anna Burke: Book 4 in the Jessica Huntington series is in the planning stage: A DEAD MOTHER. I hope to have that book out by the end of the year.

I’m also working on a new series. Betsy Stark walks onto the stage in book 3 of the Jessica Huntington Series, A DEAD DAUGHTER. She is an old member of the Huntington household. As a troubled teen Bernadette hired her to help out around the Rancho Mirage house hoping to keep her out of trouble. Betsy and Jessica are opposites in many ways—Betsy grew up hard. She’s got an edge to her and a unique way of seeing the world. Betsy’s a survivor and has chosen to spend her life helping people as a social worker. When the homeless start turning up dead, Betsy Stark comes face-to-face with the Cleaner Man. The first book in that series, The Cleaner Man, should be out this year or next.

I’m also playing around with the idea of a shorter set of stories featuring Brien, Jessica’s wannabe surfer, pool boy. The first story I’m noodling around with is tentatively titled: The Case of the Bodacious Burger Shack. Brien won’t be alone in these stories. His partner might surprise you a little.

Andra: Who are your literary influences?

Anna Burke: My love of mystery stories goes all the way back to Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and The Hardy Boys. I devoured those books as a child. Classics, too, like Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, and the Father Brown Mysteries. In my teen years I loved hard boiled P.I. s like Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and other works featured in film noir. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet’s Maltese Falcon are great sources of inspiration.

I enjoy the newer series too. Mostly, those featuring women sleuths like Sara Paretsky’s V.I Warshawski and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone. Jonnie Jacobs’ Kali O’Brien and Rebecca Forster’s Josie Bates are series featuring sleuths that are women lawyers, living in California, like my Jessica.

The more comedic aspects of the Jessica Huntington series stem from the fun cozy mysteries I’ve read, like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series, and Lilian Braun’s The Cat Who series. There are so many of those out there it’s hard to figure out how the hundreds of mysteries I’ve read all contribute to the mix!

Andra: What is one thing you’d like your fans to know about you and your books?

Anna Burke: Like my character, Jessica Huntington, I hope to continue to grow and improve as a person and a writer. I’d like to get faster at putting pin to paper [or more accurately putting fingers to keyboard] and getting the stories out there, while keeping the quality of the work high. Feedback from you, Andra, and other readers is a blessing! So thanks!

Also, with the Jessica Huntington series, I like to set up the next book—not just with a cliff-hanger at the end, but leave clues here and there about the people, situations or settings that will turn up in the next book. Sort of like seeds planted that sprout later on.

Thank you to author Anna Burke for an amazing interview!