Joan Hetzler - Clean, Light Whodunits with Plenty of Twists and Turns

Joan Hetzler - Clean, Light Whodunits with Plenty of Twists and Turns

Joan Hetzler has been a freelance writer and editor for over twenty-five years. She has worked as a communications writer, newspaper journalist, and a technical writer for software companies. Her creative writing experience includes plays, poems, short stories, humor, memoir, and classic mystery novels. Her stage plays have won awards as well as her memoir writings. For eight years, she produced and hosted The Writers Show, a radio program devoted to writers and their readers at a local college station. From the coastal islands of South Georgia to the mountains of Northwest Georgia, Joan captures her experiences in stories and poems. She wrote the Megan O'Connell mystery series based in Atlanta, Georgia, about an investigative reporter who goes undercover to solve crimes with the help of her IT friends and a handsome homicide detective. These books are clean fiction that can fit in the Christian marketplace or secular as they are suitable for all ages. Clues appear throughout to give a reader a chance to figure out "whodunit." The characters are likeable and the villains, not so much. The second series begins the Megan and Derek mysteries as they start their honeymoon with a cold case to solve and a deadline for Derek to start a new future as a law student. With wit, love and intelligence they do their part to service justice and help find a killer. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, A Cold Case in July.

Please give us a short introduction to what A Cold Case in July is about.

One hot Fourth of July night, crowds filled the streets of a small rural Georgia town and fireworks exploded overhead. Adam Cranford sat at his office desk waiting on a visitor. Someone stepped inside and aimed a single, accurate deadly shot at Adam's head. Was it his political opponent? Was it his gentle wife who never argued until the day before he died? Was it the law partner who loved the widow from afar? Was it one of Adam's criminal clients who thought he knew too much? Or was it an unknown person to the small town where everyone knows everyone? Four years later, the killer is still at large. Tired of criticism against his department, Sheriff Tagger hires former Atlanta homicide detective, Derek Fielding, to reopen the case and take a new look at the evidence and the suspects. But he doesn't work alone. His new bride, Megan, and her tech-savvy friends offer their expertise.

What inspired you to write A Cold Case in July and start the Megan and Derek Mysteries series?

This series takes off where the three books in the Megan O'Connell Mysteries end. Megan and Derek meet and fall in love in the first series, and writing about them as a married couple allows me to continue their mystery-solving adventures. They are both witty and intelligent and committed to helping others.

The book is set in a small rural Georgia town. How did you choose this setting, and what role does it play in the story?

The location is essential to the story. I have lived in a similar small town. It is a small town where everyone knows everyone. An unsolved murder creates hidden tensions and lingering suspicions, because they assume the killer must be one of them. The lack of trust erodes a little more each year it goes unsolved.

Tell us more about Adam Cranford. What makes him tick?

Adam is a smiling villain. On the surface he is friendly, helpful, and not directly confrontational. However, while he smiles he stabs both his friends and enemies in the back. But it's hard to confront him because he does his stealing and meanness in a way that makes it appear to be the victim's own fault. So, it's not surprising, he is found murdered.

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

I have a law background so do pull in some legal questions here and there.

Can you talk about the dynamic between Megan and Derek as they work together on this case? What makes their partnership unique?

I think of Megan and Derek as the modern version of Nick and Nora Charles--without the martinis. Most people won't have heard of this witty and clever couple from the old Thin Man Movies and their little dog, Asta. A more modern couple is Jonathon and Jennifer Hart from the Hart to Hart TV series. My characters are a witty, slightly competitive couple who like to solve mysteries. Megan is an investigative reporter and Derek a former homicide detective.

What kind of research did you do to accurately portray the investigative process and legal aspects in the story?

I researched guns and also computers to a certain degree. However, this book did not need a lot of new research as other books I've written.

How do you ensure that the clues and red herrings in your mystery novels are both challenging and fair for readers trying to solve the case?

I do try to include some hints without being obvious. In this book, it becomes clear that others than just the family had access to the victim's private information. Also, any red herrings need to be valid possible solutions to the mystery.

You've worked as a freelance writer, journalist, and technical writer. How have these experiences influenced your approach to writing mystery novels?

I think the technical writer background pushes me to be accurate and exact while the creative writer in me wants to spin a good story. And, of course, I draw on my journalism experience to create Megan's skills. She is the type of reporter who wants to find the truth of a story, not just affirm her beliefs.

What is your writing process like for a mystery novel? Do you plot out the entire story beforehand, or do you discover it as you write?

I have a general idea of the plot, but there needs to be room for a story to grow and breathe on its own. Sometimes a clever subplot or dialogue wouldn't happen if it's too formatted out at the beginning.

What do you find most rewarding and most challenging about writing mystery novels?

I love using my mind, and I come from a family of storytellers. I think most Southerners have heard their parents and grandparents tell favorite family yarns. A mystery allows me to combine both interests. The most challenging is finding a plot that's new or has a new twist on it that's believable.

Your books are described as clean fiction suitable for all ages. How do you maintain this tone while still delivering a gripping and suspenseful story?

My characters are Christians who live their beliefs, but they are not one-dimensional. They have their flaws and challenges. For example, Megan questions whether her career for a major newspaper that she loved and sacrificed for is making her compromise her faith. Derek must choose how he wants to help find justice for others, still as a cop or by going to law school? There is no graphic sex, violence or profanities in my books.

What are you working on right now?

I'm working on the next book in the Megan and Derek Series. It's called A Civil Murder. Like most of my titles, it's an oxymoron, which means a contradiction in terms. The law is divided into either civil or criminal law. A murder by definition is criminal so the question becomes what is a civil murder? In this story, Adam has signed up to start law school but a neighbor and his wife go missing leaving their little dog at Megan and Derek's house. Derek has three days before classes begin, and Megan has an upcoming assignment to go overseas. Thus, they have limited time to find the missing couple who may be in danger.

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

My author's website is It offers a form to sign up for my newsletter, where I announce sales and new books. I also try to share info about other books on sale or free that month. There is also a comment form, if someone has questions or wants to share a comment.

A Cold Case in July
Joan Hetzler

One hot Fourth of July night, crowds filled the streets of a small Georgia town as fireworks exploded. Adam Cranford sat at his office desk working. Someone shot Adam. Was it his political opponent, his gentle wife, the law partner. a client, or a stranger? Four years later, Sheriff Tagger hires former homicide detective, Derek Fielding, to reopen the case and his new wife, Megan, lends a hand.

Kimberly Packard - Love, Identity and Determination in Tornado Alley
FEATURED AUTHOR - Kimberly Packard is an award-winning author of women’s fiction. When she isn’t writing, she can be found running, asking her dog what’s in his mouth or curled up with a book. She resides in Texas with her husband Colby, a clever cat named Oliver and a precocious black lab named Tully. Her debut novel, Phoenix, was awarded as Best General Fiction of 2013 by the Texas Association of Authors. She is also the author of a Christmas novella, The Crazy Yates, and the sequels to Phoenix, Pardon Falls… Read more