A Soccer Playing Mom Who Solves Mysteries with Judith Arnold

Romance author Judith Arnold has given writing mysteries a try and she likes it so much that happily for readers like us she’s going to keep doing it.

Judith ArnoldI was going to use a line about kicking balls in the title of this episode but thought better of it. 😉

Judith’s amateur sleuth, Lainey Lovett, is a middle-aged teacher, a widow, a mom, and a ball-kicking soccer player.

Literally.

She uses her soccer skills to remain a member of her beloved Rockettes team, and also to take down the bad guys in these cozy mysteries.

In the intro, I mention that It’s A Mystery Podcast will be on hiatus for a few weeks while I pick up my microphone and move across Canada, back to my home province of BC. I plan to be back with the show in early November. Until then please enjoy this interview with the lovely Judith Arnold.

And happy reading!

You can find out more about today’s guest, Judith Arnold, and all her books on her website JudithArnold.com. You can also find her on Twitter @Judith_Arnold.

Click on any of the book covers to go to Judith’s books on Amazon

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.

Transcription of Interview with Judith Arnold

Alexandra: Hi, mystery readers, I’m Alexandra Amore. This is It’s a Mystery podcast, and I’m here today with Judith Arnold. Hi, Judith.

Judith: Hi. Hi, Alexandra.

Alexandra: How are you doing today?

Judith: I’m doing great. How are you?

Alexandra: I’m doing well also. So, let me just introduce our listeners to you.

Judith ArnonldUSA Today bestselling author Judith Arnold, knew she wanted to be a writer by the time she was four. She loved making up stories, not exactly the same things as lying, and enjoying the adventures of her fictional characters.

With more than 85 published novels to her name, she’s been able to live her dream. Most of Judith’s books are in Romance genre but, today, we’re here to talk about her Lainie Lovett Mysteries.

Let’s begin with talking about Lainie. She is a close to 50 mom, she’s a widow as well. And the thing that intrigued me about these books was that, she just seemed like sort of an independent and different character. Like, being middle aged, that really intrigued me because we often think of armature sleuths, especially in cozy mysteries, as being quite young like 20s and 30s. Or, you know, the Jessica Fletchers, Miss Marple kind of era.

Tell us a bit about Lainie and how she came into your life?

Judith: Well, Lainie actually is based on the fourth grade teacher my younger son had, who was a phenomenal teacher. She was widowed actually a few years after he had her, but she had two kids and was a soccer fanatic.

Judith Arnold Still KickingHe’s a long way past his fourth grade experience but I just thought she was a terrific lady. And she was always kind of burbling in the back of my head.

And when I decided it was time to write mysteries, I said, you know, they always say, write what you know. I mean the town of Rockford where she teaches is based on a town I live in. If you knew my town, you’d recognize that El Camino is actually Acapulco’s, and the Old Rockford Inn is actually the Old Wayside Inn.

It’s not image for image identical, but write what you know. It just made it a lot easier for me to create the world, the world of Lainie Lovett.

And obviously, she’s not exactly the same as my son’s teacher either, but I just loved that woman’s energy and her embrace of her profession, and her sharp, sharp mind. And I figured, you know, why does a cozy mystery sleuth have to have be an old lady with a cardigan and a catch. There are other things, too. So, she just said, “Write, write, put me in your book.” So, I said, “Okay.”

Alexandra: And does she know, are you still in touch with that teacher?

Judith: No, I have mentioned her to a few people. She’s long retired now. And, as it turns out, my next-door neighbor was a good friend of her daughter’s. So, I said make sure she knows this and I hope she does. I hope she sees it as the huge compliment I meant to be.

Alexandra: You mentioned the switch to mysteries from romance. Why did you do that? Why choose to write mysteries?

Judith: Well, I’ve enjoyed reading mysteries. I loved “Murder She Wrote,” even though of course I would never set foot in Cabot Cove, because if you do you will die. That’s the murder capital of the world.

Judith Arnold DropkickI love mysteries that are funny, that we can laugh at the murder. They’re not too grisly, they’re not dark, they don’t leave you. I love reading Dennis Lehane and Laura Lippman books which are very dark, but I don’t write very dark for the most part. And I like comedy, the world needs laughter.

And actually, I had read, I don’t know if I should say a bad thing about an author. I had been a huge, huge fun of Susan Isaac’s books for years. But her last couple of books I thought were a little bit weary and not as sharp as her earlier books. I mean, I have a shrine practically on my bookshelf for it after all these years, and some of her wonderful wonderful mysteries.

But I was getting a little tired of writing romances. I’ve written, actually it’s more than 100 now. I have written a lot of them and I said, “I have to try something else. I need to do something different.”

To make a leap to mysteries was a big, this was big for me because mysteries have to have plots. Romances, you really can fake it without plotting too much. The plot is built in to the whole concept of the romance. But suddenly, I had to figure out at a rather late stage of my career how to write a plot.

I had so much fun writing the first book, and it really sort of wrote itself. And I was stunned after I finished it and read it and said, “Wow, did I do that?” And then I said, “Well, I got to make this a series.”

I love Lainie Lovett and I guess Rockford will be the new murder capital of the world. Although I managed in the third book, I took out the murder out of Rockford, set it in a different town. So, the people were free from death and despair for one book there.

I realized it’s a stretch for me, it’s a challenge. They’re harder for me to write than the romances, because I still write romances too.

After I wrote the first Lainie Lovett book, I went back and wrote some more romances. And then wrote the second Lainie Lovett book, and I go back and forth now.

But it’s good exercise, it stretches my mind and I love being in this world with Lainie and her friends. And creating a little havoc, creating a little death.

I think one of the things that can make a mystery funny is that, I always try and make sure that the victim is not somebody who’s beloved. It’s gotta be someone that people don’t like that much and then we can sort of say, “Oh, good. Good riddance.” Stay on my good side or you could be the next victim in my next book.

Alexandra: Exactly, exactly. I think there are t-shirts like that for mystery writers, “Be nice to me or you’ll end up dead in my next book.”

Judith: Exactly.

Alexandra: And so, when you made that switch and you were having to write more plot heavy books then, as mysteries are.

How did you teach yourself to do that? Did you read books about how to write mysteries, or what happened there?

Judith: No, I didn’t really. I’ve been reading mysteries on and off through my life. And writing is just something I do.

I guess it would be like telling a jogger to just change his technique a little bit but still keep running on the road. So, it wasn’t a huge leap, I figured it out as I went along. And read other people’s mysteries also to kind of say, “Okay, that’s how you pace this or whatever.”

For instance, I don’t always know at the beginning of the book who the murderer is. I know who the victim is because the victim is usually dead by the end of chapter one. But it takes a while for me to figure out who the murderer is. And then I frequently have to go back and redo everything at the beginning to make sure I’m not cheating the reader.

But I sort of just stumble along and slog along, and hope it will all come out okay in the end. And so far, I’ve figured it out I guess.

Alexandra: Oh, for sure, yeah. I was reading some of the reviews for the Lainie Lovett Mysteries, and one of the things that kept popping up was people kept saying, they wanted Lainie to be their best friend. They liked her so much.

They wanted her to be their best friend and they say she feels like a real person to them.

Judith Arnold KickbackJudith: Well, that’s wonderful, that’s great to hear. Because when you’re writing, especially when you’re writing an amateur sleuth, you want her to stay believable. When you have an amateur sleuth who can suddenly figure out bizarre things that somebody else would have to have gone through detective training at the police academy, or the FBI to know, then you start wondering, “Really, really is that an armature sleuth?” So, keeping her real in that sense. Keeping her, knowing what you or I would know if we stumbled onto a murder. Maybe that’s what they were relating to.

Plus she’s a nice lady. She’s got a good sense of humor and she’s very grounded.

Alexandra: And a good group of friends. The Rockettes, which is her soccer team.

Judith: Yes. She has a few very close friends on the Rockettes. In fact, the fourth Lainie Lovett book [Kick the Bucket] which I’m just doing the final edits on right now. One of her Rockettes friends, Angie, gets her involved in solving a mystery at a senior citizens residence in town where Angie’s aunt lives.

So, the friends are good friends but they also get her a little bit in trouble sometimes, too. I think that’s another reason that readers respond to her that way. She’s got some really good girlfriends and their friendship is very, very important to her, and she’s a good friend to them.

Alexandra: Do you find then that you, I don’t know how to phrase this quite right, but sort of use a different part of your brain when you’re writing mystery versus romance?

Does it feel different? Do you go to a different location when you’re writing mysteries?

Judith: No, I think it’s pretty much the same. There are occasions where I’ll do something in one of my Lainie Lovett Mysteries where I think, “Oh, no, no, I really can’t do that here.” I mean, my romances are pretty sexy. And I know Lainie gets to have sex in these books, which is I’ve been told you’re not supposed to do in cozies. So, I’m not sure they’re specifically cozies.

I’ll tell these so that any readers who don’t want sex in their mysteries can avoid these books. But the sex is way toned down compared to what I have in my romances. On the other hand, what I can let Lainie do that I don’t do in the romances is she’s got two boyfriends. A little Stephie Plum thing going on there, I guess you could say.

Because Janet Evanovich pulled it off with Stephanie Plum and I’m not saying which of her boyfriends is better. She’s closer with one than with the other. The other one doesn’t even appear till book two. But that’s kind of a no-no in a traditional romance. You can have an ex-boyfriend and a new boyfriend, but not two at the same time.

I do have to tone down the heat level a bit in these books. I’ll say to myself, “Wait, this isn’t a romance. Let’s close the bedroom door now, thank you.”

Alexandra: You’ve said you’re just finishing up the fourth one, and so you plan to continue with the series then?

Judith Arnold Kick the BucketJudith: Oh, I do, I like it a lot. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun, so yes, Kick The Bucket is the fourth.

All the books have the word Kick in the title. So it’s Still Kicking…I brought my paperback editions down with me so I could refresh my memory. Dropkick, and Kickback, and the fourth one is Kick the Bucket.

So, because of her soccer playing, and she uses her soccer skills to save her neck whenever she gets into big trouble in each of the books, too. Yeah so being able to kick, it’s important. You know how you kick?

Alexandra: Okay. So when she’s dealing with the bad guy as it were.

Judith: Right, and yes. In one book, she has to head the guy. In one book, she actually finds a stray soccer ball and kicks it at the person who’s attacking her. So, in Kick the Bucket, there’s some really fancy foot work from her dribbling practices.

I should emphasize for readers who haven’t read this book. The Rockettes are like an amatuer community team. She’s not a professional soccer player. She’s a school teacher but she loves playing soccer and it’s a town recreation team. My town has all kinds of recreation teams for adults.

I am not an athlete myself. I admire athletes. I am a soccer mom, I have spent many, many hours on the sidelines watching soccer games. My husband coached soccer games, but that’s my knowledge. And, you know, I played soccer when I was a kid, too. But this is a recreation team and in my town, the adults who get in these recreation teams are really passionate about their teams.

Alexandra: Lainie is as well really passionate about her soccer. It seems to be quite a central part of her life.

Judith: Yes. It is. She basically I describe her as having three passions in her life. Her children, her teaching, and her soccer team. And in that order, I would say. But part of the soccer team, of course, is those are her closest friends, too. So, it’s the friendship as much as the sport that fulfills her.

Alexandra: Yes, yeah. And as we had mentioned earlier, the thing that I really liked or was drawn to her about is that she’s middle aged.

I wondered if you could talk about any specific challenges that she might be experiencing in middle age that increase the problems that she’s having in addition to the mysteries that are going on, and that kind of thing. I mean she’s dating obviously, so that’s one issue.

Judith: Well, she is. In the first book, in Still Kicking, that is when she first starts dating. It’s two years after her husband has died is when that book is opened. She has not dated until then.

It’s not a major issue for her. Well, for her it’s a major issue, it doesn’t seem like a major issue to most of us. But there is an informal age limit for the Rockettes. When you are 50, you are supposed to move up to the senior team, and she doesn’t want to play on the senior team. So, being in her mid-40s, this is a pressing concern of hers. Is she going to get aged out of the Rockettes?

But other than that, I think she exemplifies the best of middle age in that she is active, she’s busy, she’s not obsessed with her age. In the first book, there was a kind of a running sub text about her age. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying at the beginning of the book she hasn’t dated in two years. She’s just coming out of a two-year mourning. She had a wonderful marriage. Her friends refer to her late husband as Saint Roger because he was just perfect.

Among the continuing characters in the book are her in-laws who still meddle in her life all the time. They are very funny, interesting characters. But she, at the beginning of the book, she’s feeling a little dowdy, and middle aged, tired. And at the end of the book, she walks into the salon and says, “Do something with these grey hairs.”

She’s feeling rejuvenated now. She’s solved a mystery, she’s found a boyfriend, and it’s time to do something with the grey hairs. And I think that a lot of women who are not really, they don’t have the time or the energy, or the interest in obsessing about their age. But, you know, you get to a point you just sort of look and you say, “All right, time to do something with those grey hairs.”

For years, I would ask my husband, “Should I do something yet? Should I do something yet?” He would say, “No, no you look fine, you look fine.” And then one day I guess I was standing in really bright sunlight, he said, “It’s time.” So, I went into a saloon and said, “Okay, do something.”

But, you know, for the most part middle age is fun. You don’t have to worry about all the stuff you worry about in your 20s and 30s. You’re not too old to enjoy life, and middle age is a great place to be. Again, she has lots of energy and lots to live for.

And her kids are there in the books. Her daughter has just graduated from college but…what’s it called? Boomeranged back home because she’s underemployed and not making enough money. And so, she’s living at home and her son is still in college. But she keeps thinking, well, you know, it’s kind of nice when the house is empty but then when her kids are gone, she misses them. And when they come back and she thinks, “Oh, gosh, now I have to buy tones of groceries,” especially for her son.

Both my sons were like this. You know, they’re like 17-year-old locusts. Haven’t eaten in 17 years and they just absorb everything edible in sight. In one scene, Lainie is worrying about buying food for her son who’s visiting for the summer break, and she thinks…this is in the book I’m currently working on. She thinks, “If I don’t come home with the groceries soon, I’m gonna find him gnawing on a table leg.”

Her relationship with her kids is in a very transitional phase which is also a fascinating time in life. Your kids, they’re still your babies but they’re also adults. And she’s dealing with the thought that her children are having sex, and are they having sex in her house? And should she have sex in her house while her kids are there? So, you know, it creates all kinds of interesting dynamics. As a writer, it gives me a lot to work with, I’ll put it that way.

Alexandra: She sounds like she has a complex life. And I love that about a main character in a mystery novel.

Judith: Yeah. And in some ways, I tend to think of these books, they are mysteries, definitely.

But they’re also women’s fiction in a way, because they’re about a middle-aged woman whose life is in transition, and who’s figuring out what she wants to do when she grows up. So, a lot of the pleasures of women’s fiction, which I also love to read, are in these books, too.

Alexandra: Right. And you mentioned how Lainie was sort of loosely based on this teacher that your son had. And that the town that she’s in is loosely based on the town where you are.

Without giving yourself away at all, do any of the plot points come from real events in your town?

Judith: Well, not real events, but things that could happen in my town. There is actually in the first book, Still Kicking, a deer shows up very fortuitously in one scene. And my town is still semi-rural and sometimes when I’m out on a jog suddenly a deer will bolt across the road. And I’ll grab my phone, hoping to get a picture, but they are faster than I am. I’ve never been able to capture one in a picture.

The first book part of the plot has to do with, the murder victim is a guy who builds McMansions. These huge, huge sub divisions of big, big opulent houses. And there’s some concern in the town. He’s tearing up some old forest to put in a subdivision. And a bunch of environmentalists come in and they’re protesting. And when he turns up dead, of course people are wondering if the environmentalist, People for the Protection of the Planet, the PPP. That has never specifically happened in my town but, you know, there have been times when a new subdivision goes up and we all go…you know.

And actually, our town lately has been buying old farms. The land here is worth more than a farmer can get out of a crop. So, when farmers are ready to retire they will frequently sell them to developers because a developer can throw up, you know, $10 million houses there. We’re close to Boston is the problem and Boston is a very expensive city.

So, the town will buy some of these farms to preserve them and preserve the open land, it’s a conservation fund. So, you know, again, we’ve never had the kind of strife I’ve described in the book but it’s based on some concerns in town. “Oh, no, not another subdivision of big, ugly houses.”

And actually, in the fourth book, Kick The Bucket, it’s based a little on the assisted living residence independent living residence where my mother lives. Not in this town but in a few towns over.

I can’t wait for her to read the book because she’s gonna be saying, “I know that room, I know that,” and then she’s gonna yell at me because the director I created for that place is nothing like her director. She’s gonna be, “Oh, no, Helen is much nicer than that character, Brendon, you wrote.” Then I’ll have to explain to her that this is fiction and we are allowed to make things up.

But, you know, so I do borrow, and I will say that Acapulco’s, our Mexican restaurant, which, El Camino is the Mexican restaurant that Lainie and her friends go to after soccer practice to drink margaritas. I think people might recognize the electric jalapenos hanging from the ceiling. I don’t know if Acapulco’s still has them. They had them for years though. And I said I have to put electric jalapenos in a book at some point. So, you know, not specific incidents. Fortunately, we do not have a high murder rate here in town.

Alexandra: Excellent. Yeah, that’s perfect. I used to live in Vancouver, British Columbia. And there was a restaurant about half a block from me that was called El Camino’s.

Judith: Oh, okay. Yes.

Alexandra: Perfect. They had those little tiny tacos, you know? They’re just this big and you get like three of them. Oh, they were so good.

This has been amazing, Judith. Thank you so much for talking to me today. It’s been great talking about your unique, well, I think they are really unique soccer mysteries. They’re awesome.

Why don’t you let our listeners know where they can find out more about you and your books?

Judith: Well, they can come to my website, www.juditharnold.com, and they can sign up for my newsletter. I don’t send out tons of newsletters but when I have a new book coming out, or news to share, please sign up for the newsletter and that way you’ll know when the next Lainie Lovett book or my next romance is coming out, too.

I’m on Facebook, I think Judith_Arnold Author, something like that. Just do a search for Judith Arnold on Facebook and you’ll find many Judith Arnolds but I’m Judith Arnold Author. Or if you subscribe to BookBub, you can find me on BookBub, too. So, that’s a great way because they always… We’ll send you an announcement when I have a new book out. If you don’t want the newsletter, you can count on BookBub to pass the word along.

Alexandra: To let you know. And when can we expect the fourth Lainie Lovett Mystery?

Judith: I am hoping it will be out by the end of October.

Alexandra: Okay.

Judith: In the digital version. The paper back will probably take a little longer because I work with a publisher. A publisher handles my paperback rights but I publish the digital directly. So, that usually comes out first. But possibly mid-October, it’s gonna depend on when I can get the revisions finished and the formatting done. But I’ve got a gorgeous cover for it though. That’s already done and, yeah, it’s gonna be another very fun book.

Alexandra: Oh, great, fantastic. Well, thanks again for chatting with me today. Take care.

Judith: Thank you for having me.

Alexandra: Bye-bye.

Judith: Bye.

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