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Interview with Mindy Starns Clark

Captain’s Log, Stardate 05.15.2006

Today I get to interview mystery chick-lit writer Mindy Starns Clark! Many of you might recognize her from her MILLION DOLLAR MYSTERIES series.

Mindy’s latest book is BLIND DATES CAN BE MURDER, a Smart Chick Mystery (book 2). Isn’t that title terrific?

Blind dates give everyone the shivers…with or without a murder attached to them. Jo Tulip is a sassy single woman full of household hints and handy advice for every situation. Her first romantic outing in months is a blind date—okay, the Hall of Fame of Awful Blind Dates—but things go from bad to worse when the date drops dead and Jo finds herself smack in the middle of a murder investigation. With the help of her best friend, Danny, and faith in God, Jo attempts to solve one exciting mystery while facing another: Why is love always so complicated?

And now, here’s my interview with Mindy Starns Clark!

BLIND DATES CAN BE MURDER just released last month. Tell us about the book, including important things like the body count.

The Smart Chick Mystery series features Jo Tulip, a household hints expert (and national columnist) who uses her knowledge and resourcefulness to solve crime on the side. BLIND DATES CAN BE MURDER begins as Jo sets out on a blind date, the first date she's had since her fiance jilted her at the altar six months before. Of course, nothing goes as planned: Her date is startlingly obnoxious and unattractive—and then he drops dead! When it turns out that the dead man had kidnapped her real date and taken his place, she tries to discover who the imposter was, what he wanted with her—and why other, unsavory characters are now after her, certain that she has something they want.

How did you come up with the idea for Jo Tulip's character?

Years ago, I read in a household hints column that if your batteries are losing juice and you need just a bit more, try taking them out, rubbing the ends with an emery board, and putting them back in. Immediately, I got the picture in my head of a resourceful, hint-savvy sleuth crawling along with a flashlight in pursuit of a murderer, and the flashlight begins to die. Quickly, she whips out the batteries and an emery board, does her thing, reassembles it, and keeps going. Seemed like a neat idea, because investigating (and the tight spots it can put you in) needs lots of resourcefulness! That single idea floated around for a long time until the whole character began to take shape around it.

What gave you the idea for the Smart Chick series?

Once I had the notion of a household-hint-expert-turned-amateur-sleuth, I tried to think of my character as a sort of female Maguyver. The series grew from there. Now that I've become a bit of a hint expert myself, it's getting easier to integrate the hints with the mystery.

Are you going to do any more titles for the Million Dollar Mysteries series?

The Million Dollar Mysteries ended with The Buck Stops Here, but I still get letters almost daily asking me to please continue the saga! My publisher and I have spoken about revisiting it in the future with a Million Dollar Mysteries Part Two, but that would be at least several years away. I'd love to see it happen eventually, because I miss spending time with Callie and Tom!

What was the funnest part in writing BLIND DATES CAN BE MURDER? Any favorite scenes?

I really enjoy penning the romance aspect of every mystery I write. In THE TROUBLE WITH TULIP, Jo's lifelong best friend, Danny, realizes that he's in love with Jo. In BLIND DATES CAN BE MURDER, he finally tells her how he feels. I knew my readers might expect me to hold that out until the very end, so I turned that on its ear by sitting them down fairly early on and letting him share his heart. It was so much fun to write that scene, especially because I've been waiting for him to tell her since the first book! The fact that she reacts in a way no one expects was just icing on the cake. Jo's a complicated gal, and though we know Danny is the perfect guy for her, she's so startled about picturing this friend in a new light that she doesn't know what to do. It was a kick.

Shaping the character of Lettie was also very interesting to me. She's an identity thief—which is an awful thing to be—but I had to make her as sympathetic as possible, despite her criminal ways. That was a real challenge, but I think (I hope) I succeeded. Though you hate what she's doing, you can't help but love her even as she does it.

Do you have a favorite scripture verse for your writing?

It changes all the time. This month, I have posted 1 Peter 4:10 over my desk, which is about letting God shine through me and not trying to shine for myself:

"God has given gifts to each of you from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Manage them well so that God's generosity can flow through you."

Finish this sentence: Writing a novel is...

…an absolute blast and an enormous amount of hard work and an utter necessity for me.

I love dogs--including my own butt-headed mutt Snickers. Tell us a fun/embarrassing/hilarious story about your Shih Tzu, Cosette. Also, how did she get her name?

Cosette is named for the character in Les Miserables, (so that we can sing to her from the musical), but she's pretty low key, especially for a Shih Tzu. Actually, I have a better story about my last Shih Tzu, Koko, who was completely neurotic and had a hysterical pregnancy.

According to the vet, Koko was pregnant with one pup. She gained weight, she went into labor, she lactated…but nothing was ever born! Another trip to the vet revealed that somewhere early on (and unbeknownst to us) she had miscarried—but her body didn't realize it. Back home, as we waited for her to get back to normal, she adopted a little toy rubber pig. For hours on end, she would "nurse" the pig. If you took it away, she would whine and moan and then get really crazy. She cared for it day and night, keeping it warm, licking it clean, nursing it some more. It was heartbreaking! From what I recall, it took about a month for her to get over what had happened and begin to let the little pig out of her sight. So sad, but also pathetically funny in a way. When people would come over, we'd have to tell them all about it and insist that they not touch the pig for fear of making the dog go nuts.

Do you watch any TV shows? Which are your favorites and why?

As a family, we never miss Survivor or The Apprentice—and we watch both very vocally! As to why, I think I love Survivor because it's such a fascinating study of sociology. It's sad that so many people dismiss the show as mere "reality TV", because it's full of life lessons and great glimpses into human nature. It's also a wonderful jumping-off point for conversations with our teens. Thursday night is family night in our house, and Survivor is the perfect starting place for that.

I think I love The Apprentice because I'm fascinated by the tasks and how they carry them out. The marketing/PR/artsy beast inside of me would love to get my hands on some of those tasks and see if I could do better! I would stink at the political maneuverings and double-dealings of the castmates, but I'd love the work itself.

My husband and I also watch 24, which we adore (except for the torture scenes; thank goodness for the fast forward button.) Some of the plot devices can get a bit repetitive, but I still think it's one of the best TV shows ever made, from writing to acting and everything in between.

Otherwise, we don't watch much TV. We catch Scrubs when we can, but for some reason the time's not very convenient. I think My Name is Earl is wonderfully written (from a structure standpoint), but it started getting too profane for me. Cable is one thing, but I think network TV needs to keep it a lot cleaner than that.

I love 24! It's our family's most exciting night of TV. :)
Where was your favorite vacation?

I used to be a travel agent, so I've done a lot of traveling, much of it in first class and for free! :) I miss that so much. (Back in the 80's, travel agents could go on any cruise for $25/day—in the nicest cabin that was available at sailing time. We also got tons of free flights and half price hotels and cars—even free parking at the airport. From what I understand, the business isn't at all that way anymore, so I guess I hit it at the right time.)

The best trip I ever took, though, was several years after I left the travel industry. We spent the summer before my husband started law school backpacking through Europe. From beginning to end, that trip was amazing. I wish everyone could do something like that before they become encumbered with jobs and school and kids and life. It was the vacation of a lifetime, especially because he and I travel so well together. Some perfectly-happy couples can fall apart on trips, but we've always been extremely compatible travelers, so our vacations are peaceful and relaxing and enormous fun wherever we go, thank goodness.

You lucky girl! You may or may not know that I LOVE food--in fact, a couple weekends ago we went to Crustaceans, which is a Vietnamese-fusion restaurant in San Francisco that serves to-die-for (haha) garlic crab with garlic noodles! Yum! Do you have a favorite ethnic food?

The only ethnic food that does it for me is Cajun, and that's 'cause I'm a Louisiana girl. Otherwise, I stick with pretty boring, mostly-American fare. Give me a steak and a baked potato and I'm good, as long as you remember the ketchup and the sour cream. :)

Okay, you're off the hotseat! Thanks for the interview! Any parting words?

Just a big thank you for all that you do for the writing community! You're a real blessing, Camy, and it's been a pleasure.

Camy here: Aw, thanks! :) :) :)

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