JSFJulia Spencer-Fleming’s mystery series featuring Reverend Clare Fergusson and Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne is a favorite of a number of AAR staff and readers. The first in the series, In the Bleak Midwinter, received a DIK review here at AAR.

I’ll have to admit that I haven’t read the series; initially it didn’t sound interesting to me. But, I’m always up for a book signing. When I learned that Ms. Spencer-Fleming was going to be in town promoting her latest entry in the series, One Was a Soldier, I decided to learn more about the author and her latest book which also received a DIK at AAR.

The signing was hosted by my local mystery bookstore, but was held in an adjoining space as they expected a large crowd. In the minutes leading up to the event it became clear that even the larger space wasn’t adequate. The staff moved in extra chairs and benches but many still had to stand in the back of the room or sit on the floor. I discovered several people had driven from adjoining states, over 100 miles away, to hear Ms. Spencer-Fleming speak.

Ms. Spencer-Fleming was late for the signing, which apparently is typical. She started by saying, “I used to be late but now it’s an artistic temperament.” Several people who had attended previous signings referred to the lateness as “Julia time.”

The format of this signing was slightly different than most others I’ve attended. After she was introduced, Ms. Spencer-Fleming spoke for just a few moments, and then said she had “run out of steam” and asked for questions from the audience. I was a bit nervous about this format as I attended to learn more about the author and her books. A few of the initial questions — in actuality gushings of praise — didn’t really help with my quest. Thankfully, this quickly changed. Ms. Spencer-Fleming would expand and talk at great length (and often off-topic) after each question from the audience.

I went away feeling as if I knew a lot more about Ms. Spencer-Fleming and her mysteries. I also walked away with a signed copy of In the Bleak Midwinter. Some of the more interesting things I learned at the booksigning follow below.

Clare Ferguson is a former army helicopter pilot, and Ms. Spencer-Fleming began thinking about writing One Was a Soldier by wondering what Clare’s reaction would be to the war in Iraq. Would she protest? Would she re-up? This question resulted in an exploration of what life is like for soldiers who return to a small town after war.

Ms. Spencer-Fleming did six months of research prior to writing the book. She noted that this is the “first Internet war” and spent a lot of timing reading solders’ blogs to get their perspective on the war. She commented that this amount of research is very unusual for her.

One of the first questions was the traditional, “How did you get into writing?” Ms. Spencer-Fleming began by saying that, “I had a reading background.” She never thought she would write, but got involved with an online science fiction writers group as a hobby. However, she “failed at science fiction” and was told that her ideas were “hackneyed and cliched.”

She didn’t read mystery as an adult. When she decided to switch from writing science fiction to mystery (after all, her failed science fiction novel had a murder in it), she went to the library and checked out 30 mysteries that had won major awards and read them all.

Ms. Spencer-Fleming said she starts each book with characters, not plot, and feels her way as she goes along. This fits with her comment that what interests her about crime is not the commission of the crime, but its effect on everyone.She did try outlining one book but it turned out far too long and required extensive editing. While she doesn’t outline, she does know where she’s going with Clare and Russ’s relationship.

Someone asked why she picked the fictional town of Millers Kill, New York as the series’ setting. Ms. Spencer-Fleming said that it’s the area of the country where her mother came from, and that she spent summer vacations there before her family eventually relocated to the area. Ms. Spencer-Fleming did note that, “if you lived in Millers Kill you’d be leaving because it has an incredibly high murder per capita.”

Another reader asked about the cars that Clare drives. Ms. Spencer-Fleming said, “I drive a mini van so Clare is going to drive fun cars.” She said that if Clare ever switches to driving mini vans, you’ll know that she (Ms. Spencer-Fleming) is finally driving a fun car.

She told us that her daughter doesn’t read her books — she likes books with vampires — but that some of her friends do. At one of her daughter’s slumber parties one of these friends read all of the sex scenes from the mystery series out loud. Her daughter commented later to her mother, “I wanted to die.”

She also told us another funny story about her daughter. While on tour, Ms. Spencer-Fleming received a call from her daughter who was incredibly excited because she had just attended a Rick Riordan signing. Her daughter was especially excited because Riordan signed a book for her, and wondered if her mother could believe that an author would do such a thing. Ms. Spencer-Fleming tried to explain to her daughter that she was doing that right then, but it just didn’t have much of an impact.

Finally, for those who worry that the series will be ending soon, Ms. Spencer-Fleming said that she has signed a contract for three additional books in the series and has already started writing the next one.

So all in all, an informative, and enjoyable event. I’ll be back here with an updated list of booksignings in a few weeks.

– LinnieGayl AAR

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