Interview with Joyce and Jim Lavene

Interviewed by Alice Klein

Best selling authors and award-winning photojournalists, Joyce and Jim Lavene, are a husband and wife team who started out writing novels in 1999 and have had more than 40 books published. They also wrote a book about writing (THE EVERYTHING GUIDE TO WRITING A NOVEL) as well as hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. Somewhere along the way, they decided to write mysteries and since then, they have been hooked on that genre. They currently write four mystery series, and work for a small newspaper in Stanly County, North Carolina. When they aren't promoting their books, coming up with new ideas for books or taking photos of sweet potatoes that look like guinea pigs, and congressmen who look like sweet potatoes, they spend time with their family (3 children, 5 grandchildren), their dog, Bear and their cat, Quincy, who 'help' them write. Contact them at or P. O. Box 26, Midland, NC 28107.

What did either of you do before becoming writers?

Like many other writers, we had a variety in jobs, including working for the Forest service and computer technology. We opened an office supply company that lasted 15 years until we retired to write full time in 2000.

How long have you been writing?

Joyce has been writing since she was 9. Jim has only dabbled since he was 18. We have written together since 1995.

Did you write separately or always together?

Except for some short articles and stories, always together. Our novels are written together.

Do you write full time or do either of you have another job?

We write full time. Joyce dabbles with some newspaper work.

Who or what has influenced you in your writing?

We are more influenced by telling a good story, the way oral storytellers do, than anything else. We are both very influenced by our love of family and small town southern life, even though we both grew up in Chicago. We have always had a love of reading that translated into a passion for writing.

What attracted you to the genre of mystery?

Justice and solving puzzles. In mystery, you always have a chance to set things right that you don't always have in real life. You can always solve the crime and be sure the right person is blamed for it. Mysteries are a lot like solving puzzles for us; finding exactly the right pieces that go in the right places.

How long did it take to get published?

We were very fortunate in that our second try was published. We started writing together in 1995 and had a book accepted by Silhouette, A FAMILY FOR THE SHERIFF, in 1996. In 1999 we had that book plus five other romances and our first mystery published. We enjoyed writing the mystery so much, it became our favorite.

Where do you get the ideas for your books?

Everywhere! From snippets of newspapers, things we hear other people say, things we see on TV and just talking about life in general. The trick is to figure out which idea will work; first to become a whole book then what will sell.

Who is Peggy Lee? Is she autobiographical? A conglomeration of people you know?

Peggy Lee is a conglomeration. We knew a woman who ran a shop called the Potting Shed not far from our home. She wasn't anything like Peggy (except about plants) but she got a big kick whenthe first book ws published and there was a VP from Bank of America found dead inher garden shop!

What made you want to write as a team?

We wanted to do it together. We'd run the office supply business and wanted this to be a joint venture as well. The hard part was figuring out HOW to do it. It's one thing to say you're going to do something and another to do it. It took us a few tries to find a way to create a single voice from both our voices.

Who does what while writing?

Our process is to find an idea we both like that seems to work. Then we drive around until we come up with a LARGE synopsis that takes in all our ideas. After that, we sit across from each other and tell the story until we have a rough draft. Then we revise. And revise. And revise.

Okay, who is the gardener?

We are both Master Gardeners.

Do you have a special place you like to write?

We have a small office we share with our dog and cat.

Do you write every day without fail? One of you? Both of you?

We both write together six days a week unless one of us is sick. We usually write half a chapter or more each day.

How much do you read?

Whenever we get a chance. We don't read while we are writing rough draft and hold all books until we get to the revisions or time between books. Jim is currently waiting to read the next Christine Feehan book and Joyce is impatiently waiting to read the next Simon R. Greene novel.

Who are your favorite authors and why?

We both love so many different authors and genres, it would be hard to say. Probably whoever we are reading at the time.

What mystery writer inspired you to choose the mystery genre?

No one in particular. We both liked Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Isaac Asimov as children. Jim loves Jim Butcher books; Joyce likes historical mysteries.

What are your feelings toward reviewers?

We are neutral. Neither one of us has ever read a book because of a review. But we have met some very nice reviewers in our travels.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Get a feeling for what you want to write. Write something every day. Be persistent in sending out your best work. be willing to fall down over and over again and get back up.

What are your thoughts on today's publishing industry?

It's filled with many different opportunities for writers.

What books do you have planned for the future? Any preview?

The second book in the Stock Car Racing Series comes out in February, HOOKED UP. The fourth book in the Peggy Lee Garden Series comes out next May, PERFECT POISON. We just finished THE TELLTALETURTLE, the first book in the Pet Psychic Mysteries, which will be out next July. And we are in the process of finishing WICKED WEAVES which is the first book in the Renaissance Festival Mystery Series. It will be out next September.

Do you intend on staying with Peggy Lee Garden Mysteries or branch out? Which other genre?

Yes, we have written the first four books in this series and hope to have many more but we are always looking for something new and exciting to write!

Do you have any book signings/appearances in the future?

Please check our website events page as this would be too numerous to mention here.

Is there anything else you would like to mention that I haven't asked about?

We would like to thank all the fans who write to us and come to see us when we travel. You guys make our writing life great! And our family who puts up with us always coming up with new ways to kill people.

Read the review of Pretty Poison by Jim & Joyce Levine