Thursday, June 2, 2022

Wendy Church

Wendy Church has been a bartender, tennis instructor, semiconductor engineer, group facilitator, nonprofit CEO, teacher, PhD researcher, and dive bar cleaner. Her first suspense novel, Murder on the Spanish Seas, is set on a luxury cruise in the Iberian peninsula, and introduces amateur sleuth Jesse O’Hara, whose adventures are partly informed by Church’s expertise and international travels.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Originally I really liked Shipfaced for the title, as I thought it conveyed the context (lots of drinking on a ship) and the humor concisely. But cooler heads prevailed, and we took a more direct, Snakes on a Plane marketing approach, eventually settling on Murder on the Spanish Seas, which makes more sense to use for an unknown, debut author. And should the novel be published overseas, it’s likely a more universally digestible title.

What's in a name?

This book is the first in a series of Jesse O’Hara novels, so I had to feel pretty solid about the name of the main protagonist, as she’s going to be around for a while.

I knew I wanted her to be of Irish descent, and after looking at my own family tree, and a map of Ireland’s historical surnames by county, I settled on O’Hara. For the first name, I wanted a two-syllable name that sounded like a non-traditional woman who wouldn’t mind the occasional physical altercation. I thought “Jesse” sounded kind of tough, and I could imagine a “Jesse” sitting at a bar, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, putting away a beer and a shot.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self wouldn’t be surprised at all at this novel, and probably could have written it. I loved crime/humor shows as a kid, starting with Get Smart, and including the Naked Gun movies, Psych, and The Heat, to name a few. I currently own all of the Get Smart and Psych episodes on DVD, the set of Naked Gun movies, and The Heat, and I rewatch them fairly regularly.

As an aside, I cleaned out my basement the other day and found some original pages of some stories I wrote when I was ten. I haven’t decided yet whether I’m embarrassed or proud of the fact that my writing voice hasn’t changed much since then.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings for me are much, much easier to write than beginnings. I’m an extremely impatient and goal-oriented writer. I want to get to the cool stuff pretty quickly, and I strive to put the reader into the suspense, mystery, and danger as quickly as possible. So for me the beginning of a novel is fraught with tension between my desire to get on to it, and the need to establish enough story and character foundation.

This is on top of the fact that there is a lot of pressure to make the beginning sentence, paragraph, chapter, really great. Many people make a decision to read on, or not, based on the beginning, which puts lots of pressure on those first words. This is one reason I really like the Page 69 Test.

By the time I get to an ending it’s pretty easy to construct, and my only challenge is that I usually have several that I like, and have to make the choice.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My primary inspiration/influence for my Jesse O'Hara series is television, including the aforementioned original Get Smart series. I fell in love as a kid with funny, imperfect/bumbling heroes, and nothing about that has changed. Bugs Bunny, George of the Jungle, Frank Drebin, Shawn Spencer, I can’t get enough of these guys. I’d like to think I’m adding to that group with Jesse O’Hara, as well as bringing in a little gender diversity to the group.
Visit Wendy Church's website.

The Page 69 Test: Murder on the Spanish Seas.

--Marshal Zeringue