Friday, February 1, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Mystery Author, D.A. Butler

D. A. Butler, Author
Welcome mystery author, D.A. Butler ("D.A. Butler did it"), who joins us to discuss her first published novel JOPLIN JUSTICE. As described by one reviewer, “fans of comedies and mysteries alike will delight in this amusing tale of small town corruption and suspense.”  Her protagonist, reporter Hailey Fox, joins the local sheriff, an ATF agent, a new lawyer in town, and even her mother to investigate the murder of a judge.

D.A. Butler created Hailey Fox with some authority. She served as a newspaper reporter and feature writer for newspapers in Missouri and Kansas. She currently works as a contracts administrator in Florida, and has a son who is a Navy pilot.  

Don't miss the excerpt following the interview.

Q: How important is the setting of your mystery in Joplin? Why did you choose Joplin?

D.A. Butler: Joplin is very close to my hometown, Pittsburg, Kansas, where I worked as a news reporter many years ago, and so the Joplin area is familiar territory.  It’s bigger than Pittsburg, and just the right size for a novel that brings the flavor of a small city, not too big, but not too small.  It has essential elements for the story:  A place where you know most of your neighbors, you run into your friends, people talk about each other so information is easily shared, but there are new faces from time to time because the city is growing and developing.  With due respect to all the difficulties Joplin has had due to the tornado, and the injuries, loss of life and destruction, we are all aware that it is a city of good people who are showing how strong and resilient they are.  (My novel was written before the storm.)

Q: What inspired you to write your novel?

D.A. Butler: Just for my own amusement and to exercise my brain, I started on a couple of novels and left them on my computer.  My son, who was home from college, found one and read it.  College-aged children rarely offer their parents compliments, but he did so without knowing he was doing it.   He asked me, “Mom, there’s this novel on the computer, but it’s just five chapters.  I want to read the rest. Where did you find this?  It’s great.”  He was very surprised to learn that I’d written it.  I think his reaction was:  “No way.  You wrote this?  Really?  Mom, you have to finish it.”  It was quite a moment when suddenly I wasn’t just a mom to him.  His unexpected compliments inspired me to keep going.  He’s so supportive of my writing efforts.   That helps, although my latest project may not interest him as much.  I’m working on a novel that is in the Nicholas Spark’s genre, a tragic romance.

Q: How much are you or people you know part of your book?

D.A. Butler: I didn’t use anyone I know as part of the book, every character is entirely fiction, drawn from the ether.   However, I was a newspaper reporter in a nearby small town quite a few years ago, and those experiences gave me the concept of what it would be like to be a young woman reporter in a similar, small community today.  I stay away from using real people in anything I write, but I might borrow a characteristic, a quirk, a passion, a look, or just a general personality type.  It’s like this:  You may pick up the essence of someone, for example their peccadilloes or the way they speak, and combine it with traits from someone else.  

By way of illustration, several friends in grade school had mothers who were always gabbing (the proverbial over the fence gossip routine), but they knew what was really happening in our small town, and it left an impression that led me to develop Hailey’s mother in my novel.  I honestly can’t point to anyone of them and say Hailey’s mother is like that woman (nor do I remember any of those women, specifically).  So, you could say, I remember their friendships, and the phones ringing, and people talking, which led to this character being like the telephone operator of gossip in my novel.  

My character, Charley just sort of came to me.  I could actually envision him, but he’s not like anyone I actually know.  I was able to picture this sarcastic, jovial, but endearing figure, probably, unconsciously stringing together a variety of traits from people I’ve met.  I’m quite sure other novelists do the same thing. 

Frankly, the only real “person” in the novel is my ghost, Teddy.  That’s based entirely on something that happened to me when I was about 24 – I lived in a haunted house, and it was quite something.  Here again there is a difference:  Teddy is a little nicer than the ghost I experienced, but some of the things (ringing phones, re-arranged canned goods) actually happened.

Q:  What is your favorite part of being a writer? 

D.A. Butler: I love creating something out of thin air.  As a former reporter, when I wrote for the newspaper, I had to stick to the facts and not dramatize, yet there’s loads of drama in the real world.  With fiction, I’m able to develop characters, put them through twists and turns and have fun with the make-believe drama.  Either way, I love words.

Q: What makes a hero/heroine? What makes a villain?

D.A. Butler: A hero or heroine must have the characteristics of an ordinary person who reaches deep and finds the strength to overcome something, to soldier on in the face of difficulties, to rise to the occasion.  They don’t disappoint us; they have admirable traits that we may seek to attain, whether it’s kindness in the face of cruelty, humor in times of worry, or the ability to help another person. 

Villains are somewhat easier and a lot of fun.  I attended a writer’s conference where the speaker said to let it all out with a villain, just put on your bad guy hat and let go. 

Q:  How do you convince your readers to care about your characters, esp young newspaper reporter Hailey Fox?

D.A. Butler: I hope I make my readers care by providing them with a character who is not perfect, who is relatable, who falls down from time to time.  Hailey forgets things, makes funny leaps in judgment (such as thinking that she has a gluten sensitivity without really looking into that), gets lost in a cave without her phone and forgets about ordinary maintenance on her vehicle.  She has a sense of humor that carries her through.   Here inability to chose between two men is another endearing trait because she doesn’t want to hurt Dale or Arrow.    The sheriff is lovable because he has a great sense of humor and he’s stepped in to be a father figure to Hailey.  We care about Dale because he is good to Hailey, and is a steady, reliable sort, and we don’t want to see him hurt if she picks Arrow instead.  These are emotions that we find in real life, so we can relate to the characters as we see their plight develop.

Q:  Do you write largely for entertainment, or do you also try to deliver a message?

D.A. Butler: I’m writing to entertain, with no agenda or message, and I want to give the reader a break from their day, to let them have some fun.  Novels written by James Lee Burke helped me immensely when I had some health problems – his work got me through hard times, with his ability to immerse the reader in a scene.  Remember the old commercial:  “Calgon, take me away”?  That’s what I mean.  For ordinary stressful days, a novel can be an oasis in a storm (sorry for the clichĂ©).  That is my goal, to entertain and provide that respite.

Q: What do you like most about the mystery genre?

D.A. Butler: I like that it’s important to not just develop characters, but to thread through the story minor clues and to throw the reader off often, so the end result is a surprise unless they’ve picked up the clues.  It’s like building a game for the reader.  I also like taking a sudden turn just when the reader is getting comfortable and expecting the story to go another way.  An unexpected person knocks at the door, or there is some other unexpected event.  And, building in the ghost aspect was just for pure fun.  But, the mystery genre is much harder than I expected, just keeping track of leads to be sure everything is sewn up and addressed at the end.

Q: What tips would you give to others considering a career in writing?

D.A. Butler: If you love to write, go for it.  Enjoy the process, enjoy the creativity.  But, don’t do it only if your only reason is to make a million or be a run-away hit because there are so many aspiring writers now.  If you enjoy writing and seeing someone light up over your words, then you may have what it takes.  Be persistent. 

If you write a few chapters and then lose interest, plot out the next twist and change things up.  Often people stop after getting a good start because they don’t have an idea planned out past that point.  I love writing with the flow, when you’re in a groove and the words are just coming out of nowhere, but I also must have a general idea what I’m going to do and a few plot devices in mind.   Don’t overburden your reader with unnecessary details all lumped together to get the background material out of the way; seed these things through the novel.  And, learn to accept honest criticism because you stand to benefit from it and improve from it.   

One last suggestion, listen to people and how they speak so your dialogue will sound real.   If you can write dialogue, you are well on your way. 

Q: When you’re not writing, what do you do? Hobbies? Sailing? Knitting? Standup comedy? Feed the cats? Favorite music?  Favorite authors? Do you have a muse? Pet the cats?

D.A. Butler: My favorite authors (writing now) are Lee Child, James Lee Burke, and Janet Evanovich, so obviously I like a wide variety of fiction.  I read a lot, although less when I’m writing.  I’m taking up ballroom dancing at a center near me, but I’m sure I’ll be falling over my own feet.  I’m buying a house, so there will be plenty to occupy my time there and I love to garden.  I enjoy a wide variety of music:  Jazz (Coltrane), current hits, young country and even zydeco.  I always have music playing while I’m writing, always. 

About D. A. Butler

D. A. Butler is a former newspaper reporter and feature writer for newspapers in Missouri and Kansas.  She has a bachelor's of Science degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a paralegal certificate from Rockhurst College.  She lived and worked in Kansas City area for over 30 years before layoffs sent on a new adventure and she’s now a contracts administrator for a large Orlando, FL company, enjoying the sunshine state.  In her mid-twenties, she actually lived in a house haunted by a pesky ghost, and the ghost is featured in one of her novels, JOPLIN JUSTICE.  She is the mother of one son, a Navy pilot.

Completed novels:   JOPLIN JUSTICE (available for Kindle) and “Two Lane Highway.”

Current projects:  Developing new novel “Under the Bougainvillea” (working title).

Mystery, Humor, and Romance alá Missouri
By D.A. Butler
(D. A. Butler Did It)
When the quiet of a small Missouri city is disrupted by the murder of a federal judge, a young newspaper reporter, Hailey Fox, starts an investigation that leads to the discovery of shady transactions involving the judge and others in the community.  With the help of a mysterious ATF agent, a good-old-boy sheriff, the new lawyer in town, and even her own mother, Hailey sets out to solve the judge’s murder and unravel the criminal enterprise in which he was involved – despite the peril to her own safety.  When Hailey’s former lover becomes a suspect, Hailey continues her dogged pursuit of the facts.  And with all of this swirling around her, she manages to find romance along the way.  But what about the ghost haunting her apartment?

JOPLIN JUSTICE– Excerpt from Chapter 5.

The B&C smelled of cigarettes, booze, and disinfectant, as always.  From the jukebox, a new country song followed the end of another.  The tough-looking bartender, a handlebar mustache dripping over his lips, watched her move past the busy tables towards the far end of the bar.  She found Dale Jargis and Charley Hoyt deep in conversation in one of the booths there and took a seat next to Jargis, forcing him to move over.  She slapped her new book on the table.

Charley drew out a pair of reading glasses and perched them on his nose. He looked at the title:  “Ghosts in the House, a Compilation of Sightings and Encounters From Another Dimension.”  After riffling through a few pages, he wrinkled his nose and stared at Hailey over the top of the readers. “You spent good money on this?”

She sighed.  “I’m not the only person with a ghost is all.”

“Right.”  He closed the book and looked over at Jargis and then back at Hailey. “Did you kiddies have fun this afternoon with the Bronco?”

“If not for me, she’d be out on a hot date with Bob at Buster’s Tow,” Jargis said.

“Old Bob’s a treasure, ain’t he?”

A slim, sandy-haired waitress sashayed over to their booth.  Charley ordered Hailey a scotch on the rocks and nachos.  “You’re going to eat.”

“Charley, I can’t eat nachos, you know that.”

“All in your head.  Just like this stuff.”  He pointed a finger at the book on the table.  “You don’t have a ghost.  You have an overactive imagination.”  He turned to Jargis.  “She calls him Teddy.”

“Have you ever come home and found all your underwear in a heap in the middle of the kitchen floor?”

Charley laughed out loud.  “No, can’t say that I have.  But if I keep drinking anything is possible.”

Goodreads link

Twitter link: @DAButlerAuthor


  1. Love how just that brief excerpt is so atmospheric.

  2. Responding for DA Butler: "I tried to make the scenes in the book feel real so the reader fells as if they are in the scene. Thank you for commenting!"