Jeanne Burrows-Johnson - Visions, False clues, Murder and Hints of a Priceless Treasure

Jeanne Burrows-Johnson - Visions, False clues, Murder and Hints of a Priceless Treasure

Author Jeanne Burrows-Johnson embraces experience in the performing arts, education, and marketing. Academically, she became a member of Phi Beta Kappa while completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in history at the University of Hawai'i. During graduate studies and a teaching assistantship, she joined Phi Alpha Theta. She's also a member of Sisters in Crime, Arizona Mystery Writers, the National Writers Union, and is a Lifetime Member of the British Association of Teachers of Dancing, Highland Division. Jeanne's love of storytelling lies in her theatrical training and the colorful tales of the myriad characters in her life. Having been a resident of Hawai'i for 20 years, it's no surprise that her mysteries are set in its lush environs. While sampling Island life and pan-Pacific history, her readers examine puzzling deaths and the haunting visions of her heroine. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Murders of Conveyance.

Please give us a short introduction to what Murders of Conveyance is about.

Journalist Natalie Seachrist and her boyfriend, private investigator Keoni Hewitt, are delighted to join a Chinese New Year scavenger hunt across the island of O`ahu. Experiencing varied tourist sites, a classic Hawaiian lūau, and classic Chinese feast are appealing, but when her vision of a mid-twentieth century murder parallels a crime outside their Honolulu hotel room, they again volunteer to aid their friend, Honolulu Police Detective Lieutenant John Dias. Although separated by sixty years, the trio considers whether the crimes are connected. Expanding visions, a false scavenger hunt clue, and the potential discovery of a priceless Kuan Yin statue in Chinatown hint at a single murderer with long-hidden secrets.

Why did you pick a Honolulu Chinese New Year scavenger hunt as the backdrop for your story.

When I moved to Tucson, Arizona, I wanted to have a unique holiday celebration for my friends and professional acquaintances. Since the late-eighteenth century arrival of the Chinese in Hawai`i, the week-long Chinese or Lunar New Year has been a popular holiday in the Islands, so it seemed an ideal choice. And, I sought an ideal way to remind former as well as potential visitors of the lush environs and rich multi-culturalism of Hawai`i.

What makes Natalie and Keoni such a great team?

Retired homicide detective Keoni Hewitt is a gentle man who is respectful of Natalie’s myriad gifts...even her visions which yield surprising results in the crimes they help his former partner solve. Semi-retired and compatible both professionally and personally, they are an ideal pair as Natalie researches varied topics and Keoni monitors legal issues and keeps her safe.

Why do you write Murder Mysteries? What drew you to the genre?

Having loved mystery books, plays, and movies since childhood, it was natural for me to launch a mystery series. Rhythmic and sophisticated language, plus snippets of history, romance, and the paranormal round out the characteristics I have enjoyed in classic literature and feature in this series.

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

You can check out for most of the details. The aspects of my training in theatre and dance from childhood and my Bachelor of Arts degree in history have usually been featured in my professional work. For several decades I’ve provided research, consultation, and writing for branding and marketing clients. This grew out of freelance writing projects during the two years I lived in Newport, Rhode Island, where my husband was an instructor at what was then known as the U.S. Navy Training and Education Center. Hobbies have included interior design projects, flower arranging and designing custom jewelry.

Which of your characters was the most challenging to create?

None of my characters has been difficult to shape for my books. But, when recording the audio edition of Prospect for Murder, I found it challenging to create the voices of so many male characters.

Was there anything in particular that inspired this story?

In many respects, this book is a continuation of subthemes from the previous books. Placing part of the scavenger hunt in Chinatown made weaving in the history of the Chinese in Hawai`i an ideal element. And with one character, Pearl Wong (from Shānghai) having unique antiques and some skill as a translator, I was able to expand her personal story and have her assist Natalie in the investigation.

This is book 3 of a series. Can it be read as a standalone?

With care to describe the backgrounds of each characters and Island settings, my books are all standalone volumes within the series. Of course, it’s nice to follow the sub-themes and continuing stories within each book. Take for example, Natalie and Keoni’s relationship. In the first book, Prospect for Murder, Natalie is hired to do some research by Keoni, who then helps her investigate the odd death of her grandniece. The duo is a romantic pair in Murder on Mokulua Drive and have become life partners in Murders of Conveyance. In the recently completed Yen for Murder, they examine the re-appearance of an antique statue of the Shākyamui Buddha that was stolen in Keoni’s last major case before his retirement. And of course, there’s Natalie’s inquisitive feline companion Miss Una (Hawaiian for tortoiseshell), who acquires a wee kitten to mentor in Murders of Conveyance.

When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?

I wish I could say that all the years I spent in advanced writing classes in high school, performance in the theatre, and undergraduate and graduate courses in history refined my composition of fiction. One thing I was taught for success in taking exams is writing an outline with a thesis statement, points of proof, and a concise closing. Unfortunately, while that is something I follow in non-fiction, there is no set pattern to my writing of fiction. I always have several books in development, and float from researching aspects of each and composing sections.

The only thing I do consistently in writing my books (once I am actually reading to seriously begin composing a story) is to write a comprehensive prologue vision. After that I reduce it to the bare minimum for the beginning of the story...and thereafter shape expanding visions that will appear throughout the work.

What did you have the most fun with when writing Murders of Conveyance?

The most interesting (and challenging) aspect of writing Murders of Conveyance was researching and writing passages about the mechanisms of a hidden compartment for the secreted white jade Kuan Yin statuette. Having described delicate crystalline accents on its edges, I had to ensuring its hiding place was appropriate to keeping it safe, as well as being mechanically sound.

What is the best writing advice you have ever received?

Like many authors, I was always encouraged to write about what I know. While I agree with that, too often today I see the sad results for authors following formulaic rules of so-called literary experts. I certainly support adherence to good grammar, but one of the worst elements of “modern” writing I see is the concept that there is no reason to use a verb other than “said” in describing conversation. In my opinion, the language used in a piece of fiction enriches the reader’s experience and educates the writers of tomorrow. Even in writing a screenplay, choices in verbs and adjectives provides the actors and director with clarity for character development.

Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?

As I previously mentioned, I start my mysteries by writing a detailed prologue. There’s nothing else that occurs consistently, although I generally write chronologically, dropping in chunks of research along the way. Unfortunately, I now face hours of writing marketing and promotional material, which interferes with my research for, and composition of, the stories themselves. And, when placing descriptions on my websites, blog and Facebook, I sometimes encounter errors that can’t be removed once a work is published...oh, well.

What are you working on right now?

I have recently completed my final edit of the fourth NS mystery, Yen for Murder. It centers on an international antique auction featuring a ancient statue of the Shākyamui Buddha stolen when a Buddhist minister was killed at her altar. I’m now writing the fifth mystery, A Spineless Murder, highlighting Natalie’s visions of a ghost who became wealthy as a madam in the red light district of Honolulu during World War II. I’ve also completed Conversations with Auntie Carol: Seven Oral History Interviews with Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox DeLima Farias. Carol was a descendant of Hawaiian nobility and royalty who was raised in upcountry Maui in the early twentieth century. She was the grandniece of one of the last Hawaiian revolutionaries who fought for restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom, a cousin of the first woman registered to vote in the Territory of Hawai`i, and a professional dancer of hula in Waikīki on Saturday, December 5, 1941, the night before the attack on Hawai`i that launched America’s entry into World War II.

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

I love to hear from my readers and others interested in my mysteries and miscellaneous writing projects, and even Island Recipes, which allow me to introduce their contributors! Your readers can contact me in many ways. I periodically post on Facebook and there are contact forms on my websites. Books can be purchased through local bookstores, Amazon, Apple Books, Audible
Barnes and Noble and other literary websites. Contact me directly at: 

Public Email: [email protected]
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