Writing Mysteries from the Heart and Finding Humour in the Challenges of Aging with Julie Seedorf

When we think of amateur sleuths from cozy mysteries we might not always think about someone named Granny.

Julie SeedorfAuthor Julie Seedorf writes two different mystery series, and today she’s here to talk to me about her Fuchsia, Minnesota series featuring her feisty and independent heroine, Granny. In my experience, as readers we all love characters who live a little outside normal. Granny certainly fits that bill.

Julie’s books are witty and whimsical, and it goes without saying that Granny is full of spunk. But Julie does not shy away from touching on the serious issues that confront us as we age. And as she points out in this interview, she does so with a light touch to shine a light on issues like memory loss.

Julie is also clearly someone who does everything from a deeply heartfelt place. A very recent example is the GoFundMe page she started for mystery blogger and reviewer Lisa K. You can click here to read Lisa’s story at Julie’s blog. Almost daily I tweet links to Lisa’s cozy mystery book reviews – her site is a great source for finding new books and authors to read. I was honoured to be able to contribute a few weeks ago to the fund Julie started to help Lisa and her sister.

You can find out more about today’s guest, Julie Seedorf, and all her books on her website JulieSeedorf.com. You can also find her on Twitter @JulieSeedorf.

Links and resources mentioned in this episode

  • Click on any of the book covers to go to Julie’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 Julie Seedorf

Alexandra: Hi, mystery readers, this is It’s a Mystery Podcast, and I’m Alexandra Amor and I’m here today with Julie Seedorf. Hi, Julie.

Julie: Hi, Alexandra. How are you?

Alexandra: Very well, how are you?

Julie: I’m good. It’s a beautiful day in Minnesota today.

Alexandra: Lovely. It’s freezing here in Ontario, which is kind of unusual but there we go.

Julie: Well, we had over-the-top heat for the last two days and humidity, so this is nice today.

Alexandra: You’re getting a bit of a break from that, are you?

Julie: It’s not usually like that in June in Minnesota. So I don’t know what August is gonna bring.

Alexandra: Exactly, yes. Well, let me introduce you to our listeners.

Julie Seedorf says that as human beings we are always a work in progress. From birth to death we live, hurt, laugh, cry, feel, and with all of those emotions we grow as people, as family members and as friends. Julie is a dreamer and feels blessed to have the opportunity in her writing to pass those dreams on to others. She believes we are never too old to dream and to turn those dreams into a creative endeavor.

Julie lives in rural Minnesota, and is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She writes cozy mysteries with characters that defy the expectations that society has for us today.

I must say that’s one of the deepest author bios that anybody has ever sent me.

Julie: Well, you know, I think the older I get…I spent a lot of years being who everybody else wanted me to be and doing what everyone else thought I should be doing, and I finally realized that God created me to be me. And I don’t care what people think anymore.

Being a dreamer is hard sometimes, because your dreams don’t mesh with reality, and other people can’t see that those dreams can become reality. So I want to encourage people. In all of my writing, I want to encourage people. Whether it be to laugh, or to think about who they are and what they want out of life.

Alexandra: I have to say that really comes through, and when I was doing the research before our call today, just in everything about your books, and in the things you say about yourself online, and the blog posts.

I really noticed that there was so much depth to what you’re offering.

There’s an interesting paradox that maybe we can talk about, is that your Granny books are quite light-hearted. And yet they seem to be coming from this really heartfelt, purposeful place. Maybe you could talk a bit about that.

Julie: I never intended to be a writer. I never intended to have a book published. It was a dream, but not one that I’d ever been encouraged to follow. And Granny came out of nowhere for me.

And then I realized after a while that Granny really was part of my mother. My mother was a tough woman. She and I never always got along, but as I got older, I saw what a strong woman she was and how she had to be the way she was.

Society paints older people as decrepit, not being able to do things, their mind being feeble. Just look at all the commercials for elderly people, Depends… We need all those things, but a lot of times we are portrayed positively and when people get to be my age, I’m 67, people think that we need to lay down and give up on life.

I don’t want to see that happen. And then I add Fuchsia to the mix, because one of my…I think outside the box. And one of my biggest pet peeves is all these grand ten houses that pop up. And all the rules and restrictions we have in the communities that we live on our own property, that we didn’t have when I was growing up. So, there is a depth there.

What made Granny the way she was. She’s this cantankerous, crazy woman that doesn’t listen to anybody. But there’s a story behind that and there’s a story behind every single character in my books that tells what led up to being who they are at this point in life.

Alexandra: The stories take place in Fuchsia, Minnesota.

Tell us how Granny gets started in the very first book. Why does she become a detective?

She’s a detective because…and her kids don’t know she’s a detective. She works undercover because her kids think that because she’s the age she is…and I never really mention her age, because I want my readers to decide how old she is. So sometimes they think she’s 90, sometimes they think she’s 65.

But her children think perhaps she belongs in the wrinkle farm, which is another word for nursing home, because she’s getting older. So she lets them perpetuate that, but she’s really this cunning person and the police chief knows that. So who would suspect an elderly woman that can barely walk, which is kind of a ruse, to be catching thieves? So she blends in very well, but she gets herself into some really tough, funny situations.

Alexandra: My sense was, and you can tell me if I’m wrong, that over the course of the five books that are in the series so far, that your understanding of Granny and who she is has deepened as well.

Would you say that’s true?

Julie: I would say that’s true, because it’s interesting when I’m writing that I don’t know what she’s going to do. I wrote in one of my books she was getting the key to the city from the mayor and she dropped like an apple to the floor. And I had to stop writing because I had no idea why she did that.

But I do explore her depths. Someone said there was a couple of people that criticized my first book because they didn’t feel there was any depth to the characters. And I do that with all my books, no matter what series. It builds up over time because, you know, it’s like us.

We don’t ever reveal totally who we are, even if someone’s known us for 60 years. We all have secrets and Granny does too. And she’s hid them all her life because she’s done the right thing. She’s done what everybody thought she should do. She’s raised her kids in the way she should, she’s been this perfect person. And underneath she wasn’t.

Alexandra: Fascinating, I love hearing that. And so the one thing that struck me too is that often writers… When we create characters we sort of create younger, better-looking versions of ourselves.

Granny seems to be maybe an older, wiser version of yourself. Would you say that might be the case?

Julie: I don’t think she’s an older, wiser version of me. She’s who I maybe would like to be. I would like to be like her, because as much as I always went back and said I don’t want to be like my mother, I do want to be like my mother now that I’m that age, because she’s got grit.

Alexandra: And Granny has that too, I’m assuming.

Julie: She does, she does, absolutely.

Alexandra: And she not only has grit, she has a fiance in the first books, or a boyfriend?

Julie: Yes, she does. Franklin. Well, she meets him in the first book.

She meets him in the first book and it eventually leads up to that, but she’s not sure about him and he’s not sure about her. She drives him nuts. And the reason is because she’s just like his mother, and his mother just drove him nuts. But there’s so much more to come with that, and I…You know, fiance one day? Maybe, or not. Or not.

Alexandra: Exactly. When I’m writing books, and I talked to somebody on the show about a couple of weeks ago, that when we’re writing about amateur sleuths specifically, we often have to find excuses for them to go out into the world, to leave their jobs or whatever it is they’re doing and go out into solving their crimes.

Do you think there are particular challenges writing about someone who’s older?

Julie: You know, I don’t. I haven’t found any challenges, but I don’t ever worry about them.

My books are so silly and fictional, they’re really a satire on reality, that…I don’t ever worry about that, I guess. I just write. And I write what’s in my heart and I write what goes down on paper. My books aren’t planned. When I start a book, I don’t know how it’s gonna finish, I don’t know how…what’s gonna happen in the middle. I have an idea, but I don’t have any idea.

Alexandra: So you definitely write by the seat of your pants, then.

Julie: I do. Sometimes I regret that because I miss things, but…like now the book I’m writing right now, I had to go and read the first 50,000 words this week to make sure I had everything lined up and then go back to my old book and make sure things matched up, things like that. But still, by the seat of my pants, I don’t know the ending yet.

Alexandra: It’s a surprise to you as well as the readers.

Julie: It is a surprise to me, and I always leave clues in my book for the next book, or the next books. So sometimes I end on a cliffhanger and my editor doesn’t particularly like that. One time she said, “You can’t end it like this.” And we had a good argument and I added one paragraph and it was fine. But I like books with cliffhangers because I want to read the next one.

Alexandra: Exactly, me too.

When you begin a book, then, do you begin with a picture in your head, or a scene, or an event? How does it start?

Julie: I have an idea, and then I go from there. In fact, the book that I’m writing now called “The Discombobulated Decipherers”, it’s the second book in my “Brilliant, Minnesota” series. I have characters in there that from the first book that I had not planned on making them such an integral part of the story.

I had an idea when it started, because I have to go by how I ended the book, and then I go from there. I wasn’t even sure when I started this book what the puzzle in the mystery was going to be. But it’s pretty set in stone now.

Alexandra: Give us a little teaser about the “Brilliant, Minnesota” series.

Julie: Brilliant, Minnesota’s 20 miles from Fuchsia, Minnesota, very different from Fuchsia. Brilliant was built by the Brilliant brothers, named everything in town Brilliant, and then they lived in town for a couple of years, they established the town and then they totally disappeared, them and their families.

The only people that lived in Brilliant at that time were the Brilliant brothers, there were seven of them, their wives and their wives’ families. And no one knows why they disappeared yet. But they left behind…come to find out, they were puzzle makers. And they left behind a puzzle, more than one puzzle. And someone from out of town is the one that found the puzzle.

And of course then we have Jezebel and the Pendergast neighborhood, and they start putting this puzzle together because the robberies and the murders were happening in their neighborhood. And so in the next one, the puzzle takes place downtown Brilliant because we have the lackadaisical library, they renamed it, and we have the Brilliant bistro, and we have just total different names, we have wonderful cemetery, I have a thing about cemeteries.

Alexandra: Do you plan to alternate those books with the Fuchsia, Minnesota ones?

Julie: I do, I absolutely do, because they’re close together. Actually I don’t know if you knew who Allen Eskens is. He’s a new bestselling author. And he lives 30 miles from me, and he’s a friend of mine.

He suggested I put Granny and Jezebel together, because they don’t know each other. So I think I’m gonna do a little bit of an off-shoot and have Granny and Jezebel go on vacation with their friends, and they’ll accidentally run into each other some place up in Northern Minnesota.

And then the next Granny book the idea came to me, she’s going to want to build an amusement park in Fuchsia but she has to visit the Mall of America to check it out before she goes back to build it. And I’m probably gonna add…there is a third Minnesota town called Allure. I’m not really sure exactly what that town’s gonna be about. But eventually there’ll be a series about that too.

Alexandra: Great, that’s fantastic. So more for your fans to look forward to.

Julie: I hope so.

Alexandra: You have a series of sort of guests posts on your website from other mystery authors.

Julie: I do, I started that recently, yes.

Alexandra: That obviously came from a love of mystery novels, did it?

Julie: It did. It just comes from a love of people. My world has expanded so much with my writing and the fact that authors are such generous people, and I’m in awe that some of the people that are now my friends are people I was reading all these years. And so, I want to give back.

I want to give back to those authors. I’ve two different blogs.

One that’s all about writing, and the other one is Sprinkled Notes, and that I blog about anything. You never know what’s going to happen. But I’m also going to expand it to people who aren’t just mystery authors, because I started working for a newspaper again doing human interest stories. And I want to get a little more serious, I’m doing one now on domestic abuse. So you’ll see some of that out there too.

Alexandra: I’ll put links in the show notes to both your blogs so people can check those out. And check out the interviews with the other mystery authors.

One thing that really struck me about the Granny books was the illustration on the front.

Did you have a hand in creating that, or how did that come about?

Julie: I let God. No, I didn’t, actually. My publisher hired someone to do the cover and it came back just as I pictured Granny. And it was interesting, I couldn’t…she was so familiar to me.

One day I was going to a book signing and I had my Granny T-shirt on, and I start thinking about my grandma, who died when I was six years old. And I realized Granny looked just like my grandma. I went home, I got the picture, my cousin from California was here.

Now, my grandma died when I was six years old so there’s no reason I should’ve even been thinking about my grandma. Down to the hat, nose, hair, and dress. And so I call that God.

And then by the 3rd book I wanted…and it was just basically a stock photo that they changed. But by the third book I wanted Granny standing up. So I asked my publisher and she said, “If you can hunt down the real person that drew that, we’ll get him to draw us one.”

So I found him. It was really hard too, people wouldn’t give me his name. And so it’s interesting, because when I contacted him he said he’s from Kansas, and he said, “Do you write for the ‘Albert Lea Tribune’?” And I go, “Yes, yes I do.” And he said, “Well, I’m from the Waseca Albert Lea area. I have lots of relatives there and I read your column.”

Alexandra: Oh my goodness.

Julie: So he drew the Granny that’s in the other three books. And right now, he just drew me a Jezebel that’s going to…I’m gonna redo the cover of my “Brilliant, Minnesota” book and my next one that’s coming out. So Jezebel’s gonna be on there, right along with Granny, and then I have cups and T-shirts and things with them on too.

Alexandra: Right, that’s amazing. She’s so great. I love her high top sneakers especially.

Julie: Those were my ideas. My publisher asked me and I said, “She’s gotta have red sparkly high top sneakers.” She should maybe have flip flops too because, you know, she has to hide her flip flops from her kids, because they don’t think she should be wearing them.

Her kids really have ideas, like when we get older our children do, about how she should be living, what she should be wearing. She has a lot of nooks and crannies where she hides things in her house.

And of course in the first book they don’t realize she has this menagerie of pets that all of a sudden she’s adopting. They’re very surprised when they find that out. But her son actually understands who Granny is. It’s her daughters that have a view that she shouldn’t be by herself.

Either that or they want her to go into the wrinkle farm because she’s a little forgetful. Forgetfulness is a ruse.

Alexandra: Okay, all right.

Julie: But let’s talk about that a second because I did get criticized about that. I had a reader write me after my first book and say, “How can you make fun of memory loss? You know there’s nothing funny, if you ever had anyone that had Alzheimer’s you would not be making fun of it.”

Well, I had my mother, I had my mother-in-law, I had my sister-in-law, I had my brother-in-law. And they all have had Alzheimer’s. My mother didn’t always know who I was when she was 94 and I came to see her in the nursing home. So I decided, they would never choose to forget me. But the only way to get through that and not cry all the time was to find humor in the situations. And that’s why I did that, with that book.

Alexandra: You weren’t poking fun, you were bringing it to the light in a way and not making light of it, but trying to see the light side, perhaps.

Julie: I was, and in my 5th book, we actually do address Alzheimer’s.

Alexandra: Okay.

Julie: As Granny ends up in the wrinkle farm in the fifth book, the place she didn’t want to be, and there is a lady in there who has Alzheimer’s. So we put a few things in there, and places where you can go for help if you have someone with Alzheimer’s.

Alexandra: Lovely. That’s great. Well, this has been amazing, Julie, and I’m so happy that we got to connect today.

Julie: This is wonderful.

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

Julie: They can find more about my books at julieseedorf.com. Don’t put the www in front or you will not get my page. I’m on Facebook, JulieSeedorf.author. I’m on Instagram, Julie Seedorf. I’m on Twitter, Julie Seedorf. I’m on Goodreads, Julie Seedorf.

And I have my two blogs, the one is on my Julie Seedorf website, it’s called Mysterious Musings. The other one is sprinklednotes.com. And that one, I write about anything because my column is something about nothing and that’s how it got started, writing about nothing.

We all have something that needs to be said in the nothings that we talk about. We talk about the weather, and underneath the weather there’s something more that needs to be said.

My books can be found on Amazon, they can be found on barnesandnoble.com. There’s some other sites, a lot of small bookstores carry them. Also on Barnes and Noble stores, you can order them from Barnes and Noble if you go into the stores. Some stores carry them, some don’t. So, wherever books are sold except for Walmart and those types of stores.

Alexandra: Well, thank you so much for that, Julie. I really appreciate it and it was great meeting you.

Julie: It was wonderful meeting you. Thank you for having me. I hope we meet again.

Alexandra: Me too. Thanks. Bye bye.

Julie: Bye.

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