Nancy Jill Thames is a gardener, a traveler, a lover of beauty and an author, not necessarily in that order. Today on It’s a Mystery Podcast we talk about the inspiration she finds for her series of cozy mystery novels in her travels, as well as what motivates her feisty amateur sleuth, Jillian Bradley.
As with so many of my guests, Nancy Jill has the first book in her series available for free. You can find Murder in Half Moon Bay at Amazon and the other online retailers and give it a try at no risk. If you like it, there are nine others available in the series.
You can also watch the interview on YouTube.
Transcript of Interview with Nancy Jill Thames
Alexandra: Hi, everyone. I’m Alexandra Amor, and I’m here today with Nancy Jill Thames. Hi, Nancy Jill.
Nancy Jill: Hi, Alexandra.
Alexandra: How are you?
Nancy Jill: Doing awesome.
Alexandra: Good, good. I’m very happy to have you here to talk about your cozy mysteries. So let me give everyone a little bit of an introduction before we start. Nancy Jill Thames writes the Jillian Bradley mystery series, beginning with “Murder in Half Moon Bay” featuring a feisty garden columnist and her clue-sniffing Yorkie, and has been listed in the Amazon Author Watch Best Seller List.
When Nancy isn’t plotting Jillian’s next perilous adventure, she travels between Texas, California, and Georgia, finding new ways to spoil her grandchildren, playing classical favorites on her baby grand, or having afternoon tea with friends. So let’s start with the afternoon tea theme actually because that’s something that runs through many of your books.
Start by telling us a bit about Jillian, your main character. And I noticed in one of your reviews, this cracked me up. One of your fans said, “Finally! A mystery with a Yorkie in it.” The world has been waiting.
Nancy Jill: Well, I suppose so. Well, Jillian Bradley is, of course, my persona, a person that I am. I love beauty more than anything else. And it seems I love beauty in my home, in art, in the way I present food, books I read, my gardens, everything I do. Entertaining. I love pretty things. I have a teacup collection with 44 different teacups, and I use them.
Alexandra: Oh, wow.
Nancy Jill: I love beauty, and I love sharing that beauty with my readers.
Jillian is a feisty garden columnist simply because, at the time I wrote that book, gardening was my passion. I had 44 different varieties of roses and standards that we planted and had a lot of fun doing that. So at the time, that’s what I did. The dog happened to be a Maltese at that time, but the Maltese weighed 14 pounds and was a little bit too large to carry around in a tote. So I did a little bit of recalculation and used a Yorkie instead. But I imbued all of the things that we did with our Maltese into the Yorkie for all the actions.
And my husband wanted to be a part of the series, but I said, “No, she has to be single for love interest.” So he isn’t in there. “But I will name the dog after you.” So I named the dog Teddy after my husband.
Alexandra: I love it. Oh, that’s great. One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you today was, speaking of afternoon tea, was because your most recent Jillian Bradley book is set at The Empress Hotel, which is here in British Columbia, so very exciting. So I want to talk about that a little bit. And we should say it’s your 10th Jillian Bradley mystery, which is very impressive.
We’ll go back and talk about the other ones in a minute, but let’s start with this one. “Murder at The Empress Hotel” is set in Victoria, British Columbia of course. And did you travel to The Empress?
Nancy Jill: We did, we did.
Alexandra: Obviously, it inspired you to write this book, so tell us a bit about that.
I was so impressed with Victoria. What a beautiful, beautiful city it was. So when I had to come up with a new title, I thought, “Aha! That’s what I want to write about because it’s an outstandingly beautiful town.” So that’s what I did. And when I got into it, and the history of Victoria, I found out that there’s a lot of Native American Indian culture there and that interested me. So I read a little bit more and incorporated that into the story.
Alexandra: Interesting. All right, because just to prepare for this interview, I did a little research about the hotel itself. And I had known some stuff, but just for our listeners in case people don’t know. So the hotel, it looks like a big castle, and it’s set on the harbor in Victoria. And it was built right at the turn of the 20th century. I looked it up. It was built between 1904 and 1908.
And it’s got a gorgeous view of the Inner Harbour in Victoria, and it’s called The Empress because, of course, Queen Victoria was queen at the time, and she was the Empress of India. That was one of her titles. So if people get a chance, they should google it because it’s just a magnificent looking building.
In the book, how much of the story takes place in the hotel? Is the murder victim in the hotel?
Nancy Jill: Oh, yes. Because that’s where my protagonist is staying when it happens. So the murder does take place there, and the whole idea of how a murder can even happen and nobody be caught is also in there. Because nowadays, hotels have surveillance. They have locked windows, etc., and I won’t give away too much of the book, but I had to think about that especially with a hotel the age of The Empress Hotel.
Alexandra: Right. You had to think about how they’ve incorporated security and that kind of thing?
Nancy Jill: That’s right. And a way for my murderer to escape, for instance, without being seen since it does take place in a hotel.
Alexandra: Right. Okay, yeah, oh fantastic.
That would be super interesting for an author to have to figure those things out kind of behind the scenes. Do you like doing research?
Nancy Jill: I do. I love history. I wouldn’t want to take it again in school and have to be graded on it, but…
Nancy Jill: I’m interested in background and settings. When I was younger, I used to love to read James Michener’s books, who would take you from a seed on an island, fertilized by a bird flying over, and how that seed and that fertilized thing came to be Hawaii. I love stuff like that. I’m a voracious reader.
Alexandra: That’s a great trait to have when you’re a writer. I noticed that a lot of your books take place in different locations. So in the introduction, we mentioned that you do travel a bit. But some of the books…there’s one set on a cruise to Catalina Island there in California and one in London. Was that based on a trip as well?
Nancy Jill: Yes, it was. I also write to preserve my memories of my life. Presidents have their libraries for their legacies; I have my books that I can pass down to my children of all the experiences that I’ve had in my life.
Alexandra: Oh, what a great thing to do. That’s a fantastic idea. Oh, brilliant.
I’m interested in travel as well. Tell us more about the book set in London, England.
Nancy Jill: London, England was in 1983 when we were there. We did Great Britain and France. And the one hotel in London that we stayed at was not a hotel at all. It was friends’ homes. So I didn’t actually stay in a hotel per se, so I had to do research on a hotel very close to one of the castles there. And so that’s where I had the setting. I think it was called the Lanesborough Hotel.
So that’s what I did the studying on, but I incorporated a lot of my husband and my experiences when we were there as far as places we went like the Cheshire Cheese. When we were there, the London Eye had not been built, so that was something new that I hadn’t seen before.
Alexandra: And do you have future trips planned that you and Jillian can take part in?
Nancy Jill: Maybe a few, but as far as traveling out of the country, I don’t think so. We have seven grandchildren and counting, and I enjoy being with them more than anything. Now, our son has moved to the East Coast, and we have not seen a lot of the East Coast. He lives in Savannah, so we’re going to see Charleston in May. So I may do a book there, but I already have so many ideas for books, I don’t need to travel anymore to write the books.
Alexandra: Oh, okay. So you’re way ahead of yourself with ideas. That’s a good place to be in, yeah.
Nancy Jill: Although, one Canadian venue I would love to go to is Lake Louise, the Chateau at Lake Louise. My father had visited there. I’ve been enchanted with them, but I’m not a skier so I don’t know about that. It’s a winter resort for skiers.
Alexandra: Yeah, it is beautiful in the summer, though, too. And there’s lots of hiking around there.
Nancy Jill: Oh no, I don’t do outdoors.
Alexandra: You don’t do outdoors? Okay, all right then. Well, maybe they serve afternoon tea.
Nancy Jill: Maybe, oh I bet they do.
Alexandra: I think that hotel was built by the same people who built The Empress.
Nancy Jill: Yes, it’s the Fairmont chain.
Alexandra: The Fairmont chain, yes, yes, exactly.
Tell us a little bit more about Jillian and what motivates her. She started out, like in the first book, she is a garden columnist. Does that change over the course of the books?
Nancy Jill: No, it does not. She writes a column called “Ask Jillian”. And it’s a garden column. And it’s for the San Francisco Enterprise. Well, when she solves a couple of murders in book two, “The Ghost Orchid Murder,” her notoriety rises. And so the column is syndicated, which gives her more income, and the ability to go more places even.
So I do that, and I try to have a little bit of gardening tips in there for my readers. But she basically is motivated by the fact that she’s lonely. She’s a widow and was widowed early on, and they had no children. So she’s footloose and fancy-free.
However, all of the characters have developed in her books from the very first book, “Murder in Half Moon Bay”, from the valet, Walter Montoya who took her luggage in, and the housekeeper who helped her find Teddy. They eventually got married and have children now, and he’s a detective from her inspiration. So they now live in her Victorian house, and she has renovated a cottage on the back of the property so she can actually be close to two of her dearest friends who are almost like a son and daughter.
Alexandra: Oh, nice.
So those relationships have they evolved over the course of the books? As a reader, I love when that happens when I can follow characters through more than one book.
Nancy Jill: Right, right.
Alexandra: You must be the same if you’ve created that.
Nancy Jill: I like that. I especially like…well my favorite right now is Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey from Dorothy Sayers, who was one of the very first mystery writers, female mystery writers. And it’s fun. And, of course, Agatha Christie and Hercules Poirot, you know, all the way to his death. It’s fun.
Alexandra: Do you have a writing habit that you like to follow? Do you write every day? Write in the morning? In the evening?
Nancy Jill: My writing habit is scheduled. I schedule a book from start to finish in the timeframe that I want it to be finished. And then I know about how long it takes me to do that, from the plot, characters, backstories, the elements I want in my story, the outline. And once I have all of that, I start to write.
I can write about 1,500 words a day, four days a week. And on that schedule, I can write a book every six months if I choose, or a short story in less time. So that’s how I do it. I enjoy it. I’m footloose and fancy-free. I’m very blessed to not have to work outside of my writing. So I can pretty much schedule my own time. I just have to be motivated and finish that cup of coffee and get off of Facebook, and…
Alexandra: Yes, right. Yeah, exactly.
Nancy Jill: That’s a job, too is social media.
Alexandra: Exactly. Yes, right?
You’ve got some short stories and some short story collections, and remind me what they’re called.
Nancy Jill: There are two different anthologies. One is from my blog, “Cozy Mystery Magazine.” It’s an anthology with the other authors and there are three, “A Cup of Cozy” and those are holiday anthologies with recipes. And then the other anthology series just came out last Christmas, and it’s called “Happy Homicides.”
Alexandra: That’s the one I was thinking of.
Nancy Jill: And so those are coming out seasonally until the end of this year. I’m writing my last story for the year, “Raven House,” which takes place where Jillian lives in Clover Hills. So that’s going to be for the fall, so it’ll have a Halloween theme.
Alexandra: Oh cool. And the short mysteries that you’ve written involve Jillian as well?
Nancy Jill: Oh, yes. It’s the same flavor.
Alexandra: And do you find that a challenge, writing quite a short mystery?
Nancy Jill: No, I’m a Type A personality. I’m choleric, and I’m sanguine. No problem. I just make the word count shorter.
Alexandra: Right. How long would the short mysteries be?
Nancy Jill: Mine are about 15,000 words.
Alexandra: So it’s almost like a novella.
Nancy Jill: Yeah, they are. And then about 50 to 60,000 for the novels. Then I just run out of energy and desire to finish. I mean, the story ends. Only one book, I think it was book 6, ended with “to be continued.”
That’s because I just ran out of gas. I just couldn’t write anymore. And so it came to an impasse, and she has to choose between which man she’s going to marry. But you have to wait until book 7 to find out.
Alexandra: Yeah, well. Leave them hanging, that’s the best way to…
Nancy Jill: A few won’t like that, but once, it’s once.
Alexandra: And have you ever thought of writing another series in parallel with Jillian’s?
Nancy Jill: I have, but I’m old. And, as an indie author, I have to not only think about writing. I have to think about marketing. So I thought, “Well, with 10 books, I can now market.” Because I love art. I love creating banners, and tweets, and posts.
I’m going to be focusing on that a lot because my first book is currently free. So if people like that book, then they can order the rest, which many of them do. So I need to get that first book out there to my readers. So that’s what I’d like to focus on.
Alexandra: Okay, so at the time when you’re not writing, you’re focusing on promoting the perma-free book, yeah.
Nancy Jill: Right.
Alexandra: Yeah, good strategy.
You don’t ever have any other characters that wonder through your head or show up at unexpected times?
Nancy Jill: I had one, and it was based on my husband. And his name was Lawrence Rivers because our last name is Thames. Which is also the river in London. And I wrote this story, but it was a little bit lackluster. And I don’t want to say anything about him, but if you were to color him a color, it would be gray. And those are words from his mouth, “Color me gray.” So with that in mind, it didn’t take off, although there’s a lot of funny things about my husband. So if I did write another series, it would be the Lawrence Rivers series. But I don’t know if that would fly or not.
And you haven’t ever had any secondary characters who have wanted to branch off on their own?
Nancy Jill: Well, only one and that is her godson. His name is DJ. He’s named Douglass Julian because he’s a boy, not Jillian. But he is her namesake, and I want him to evolve into a curious little fellow. He’s only like three right now, but a curious little fellow that eventually becomes a famous sleuth just like his godmother Jillian.
Alexandra: Oh, okay so he might take over for her one day.
Nancy Jill: It’s a possibility.
Alexandra: Oh, nice. Well, this has been great chatting with you, Nancy Jill. It’s been so nice to meet you and to hear a bit more about your books. So tell people where they can find them.
Nancy Jill: It’s simple. It’s NancyJillThames.com, which will take you to my website, which is also my blog. And my books are available there, or on Amazon.com, Smashwords, which will take you to Barnes & Noble, it’ll take you to Kobo, and will take you to iBooks.
Nancy Jill: So there you have it.
Alexandra: Right. And as we mentioned, “Murder in Half Moon Bay” is free.
Nancy Jill: Yes, it is.
Alexandra: So people can try that one out and see if they like it at no risk.
Nancy Jill: Absolutely right.
Alexandra: Yeah. Well, awesome. Thank you so much for being with me today, and enjoy the rest of your afternoon.
Nancy Jill: Thank you so much, Alexandra.
Alexandra: All right. Bye bye.
Nancy Jill: Bye bye.