I would like to introduce bestselling author Marilyn Jax who has agreed to this online interview with me. Marilyn is the author of two five star novels. The first is The Find and the second is Road to Omalos.
Please welcome: Marilyn Jax
Fran: How did you create the character of Claire Caswell in your first novel?
Marilyn: I pulled strongly on my close to a twenty-year background as a senior government enforcement investigator when I created my main character, Claire Caswell. She is similar to me in many respects but also has her own unique persona. I am still getting to know her, and sometimes she surprises even me.
Fran: The Find centers around two brothers separated by circumstances beyond their control. What happened to these brothers? What was found at the site of an environmental cleanup?
Marilyn: The brothers were separated when the Nazi’s took control of the area where they lived during WWII. One brother escaped the evil control by hiding out; the other was captured, put on a train–together with their parents–and transported to a concentration camp.
Fran: How did you create the character of Gaston Lombard and how did these two characters meet?
Marilyn: When The Find opens, the reader becomes immediately aware that Claire Caswell and Gaston “Guy” Lombard are in a romantic relationship. The two met while working on cases together–Claire as a Florida State Enforcement Investigator, and Guy Lombard as a Miami-Dade State Attorney–and now share their love of the law and justice, and also their love for each other.
Fran: How did they uncover the hidden artifact and a forty-year-old murder?
Marilyn: Interesting question. While on vacation in the Caribbean where The Find opens, the two stumble upon an ancient relic while hiking through an elaborate underground tunnel system. After serious consideration, Claire and Guy take the piece back with them to Miami–using surreptitious means–to find out more about it, and, unbelievably, the relic plays a role in an age-old murder the two are assigned to solve.
Fran: What is the significance of the murdered man and the necklace and the coin hanging around the remains?
Marilyn: Without divulging the identity of the murder victim, I will say that a coin from the very distant past–hanging on a chain around the murder victim’s neck– becomes the major clue in a case that has very few.
Fran: How is all of this linked to ancient Greece and Palestine?
Marilyn: Identifying the strange coin, and its place of origin, lead Claire Caswell and Guy Lombard down an interesting path in their journey to solve the crime.
Fran: Why does Claire become suspicious when inspecting the site? Who is Lawson and what part does he play?
Marilyn: Lawson is a colorful character who owns the property where the remains of the victim were dug up during an environmental tank pull. Lawson has illegally padded invoices on other properties he owns in the past–when pulling damaged tanks, and asking for state reimbursement of his expenses–and, after finding a full can of gasoline hidden in a dilapidated shack on the property, Claire suspects he plans to engage in fraudulent activities on this site, as well. She watches the situation carefully.
Fran: What was this ancient relic and why did the dealer who appraised its value lie to them?
Marilyn: An Aztec idol; a rare object of worship from the Aztec empire. The dealer recognizes its value at once and has other plans for the piece.
Fran: Who is Detective Penwright and how did he help tie this all together? Why was meeting a dying man crucial to the investigation? How did meeting with him spark his mind and keep him alive?
Marilyn: Brilliant Detective Penwright, now retired from London’s Scotland Yard, worked on a missing person’s case many years earlier during his noteworthy career. It was the one and only case he had been unable to solve.
Now, he is called upon and given a final chance, aided by Claire and Guy, to put the case to rest once and for all. Detective Penwright recalls a certain witness to the crime who may remember something of significance to help them, but the witness is in a hospice center, and close to dying.
Time becomes of the essence. They must speak to the witness before his life is over. But nothing could have prepared Claire, Guy, or Mr. Penwright for what they were about to hear. The dying man musters all the strength within him to push on–to stay alive–to tell the story of his life that, until then, he has kept hidden. A story that will break the case wide open.
Fran: How does the Holocaust come into play in this novel? What messages or issues are brought to light in this novel?
Marilyn: Both brothers—separated during WWII—were victims of the Holocaust, but in very different ways. Each survived a personal hell. They were cruelly separated, re-united, and then pulled apart once again. This story brings the past into the present in a compassionate and compelling mystery. In this novel, the message of survival is brought to light; the issue of blood and family first; and the controversial topic of vigilante justice.
Fran: In Road to Omalos you bring back our two main characters from The Find. Please give our readers a brief summary of this novel.
Marilyn: In my second book in the series, Road to Omalos, veteran investigator Claire Caswell and her longtime partner, former State Attorney Gaston Guy Lombard once again find themselves at the center of a mystery fraught with danger. Having established a successful private investigation firm in sultry Miami Beach, the sleuths are masterful at solving the assemblage of tangled cases that come across their desks.
When an armed man–distraught and desperate–threatens the two at gunpoint, then implores them to travel to Greece to retrieve the merciless fugitive responsible for the deaths of his son and wife, the investigative duo feels obligated to bring the fiend to justice.
Traveling to the island of Crete, the Greek island of romance and mystique, the duo quickly discovers that finding the notorious and much-feared charge is more difficult than they expected. What they don’t know is that they are not the only ones hunting the elusive target; a secret society of calculating men is seeking to exact their own brand of justice. The question is who will find George Zenonakis first.
Fran: Who is the 62-year-old woman who wants Claire and Gaston’s help? What happens to her and why?
Marilyn: Mrs. Otto seeks to hire the renowned investigators to determine exactly what happened to her one and only child–a son, who is missing. Early in the story, Mrs. Otto dies unexpectedly, presumably from a broken heart.
Fran: Who are the four men that play an integral part in this book and why did they form a vigilante squad?
Marilyn: A four-man vigilante squad is a group of interesting characters, each with a unique and compelling story. Years earlier and just before college graduation, the quartet had entered into a somber blood pact, each promising the others to carry out vigilante justice as a team on an as-needed basis when the courts failed to mete out appropriate justice.
Fran: Who was terrorizing the storeowners and how was this being addressed? Who is Mr. Otto and why did he hire the two investigators?
Marilyn: George Zeppano, a man living in the US, but of Greek-Cretan heritage, was extorting money from the business owners for protection of their businesses. His name in Crete: George Zenonakis. Mr. Otto appeared at the offices of Caswell & Lombard Private Investigation after his wife mysteriously died. He had lost his son and his wife and now only cared about justice who the person responsible for destroying his life.
Fran: What is vigilante murder and did you do research about this topic before writing this novel?
Marilyn: In Road to Omalos, the vigilantes are a group of men in the private sector who illegally mete out what they believe to be appropriate justice to lawbreakers who have escaped the punishment of the courts. Yes, I did research on vigilantism during the course of writing this novel.
Fran: How much of this novel or your first is based on real-life cases or incidents?
Marilyn: Readers will see my experience as a long-time investigator come through in my books. To date, I have not used real cases or incidents in my novels, but my investigator skills are apparent throughout my stories.
Fran: Who is George Zenonakis and why was everyone after him?
Marilyn: George Zenonakis is a man without a conscience. In the book, the reader learns how he developed into the monster he became. Tearing through life and leaving a path of destruction behind him wherever he went, those damaged wanted nothing more but to see him pay for his crimes.
Fran: Why were the storeowners afraid to speak up and what hold did this man have on them?
Marilyn: Fear is a mighty force. It can paralyze people, causing them to cower in terror. Threats of killing family members and destroying the lives of store owners who failed to cooperate worked like a charm for George Zenonakis; that is, until Chadwick Otto stood up to him.
Fran: What does happen to William Otto and why did George seek refuge in his grandfather’s home? How did his grandfather feel about him and how did George treat him and why?
Marilyn: William Otto, the son of the Otto’s, is killed in an explosion set by George Zenonakis to retaliate for Chadwick Otto’s refusal to submit to extortion. Immediately after the blast, Zenonakis retreats to the protection of his homeland—the Greek island of Crete—to hide out until the smoke blows over and he is free to return to the US, to Miami, Florida.
His grandfather in Crete is not at all happy when George returns to his birthplace. Unable to control the growing signs of evilness in his grandson as he grew into adulthood, Nikos Zenonakis was happy to see George leave Crete and move to the US. It had been many years since he had heard from him. Since fiendish acts always trailed behind his grandson, Nikos feared something monumental had driven him back to the family home.
George treated his grandfather with ultimate disrespect, making it clear to the man who basically raised him throughout his childhood that money and power were all that mattered to him and he would mow down anything and anyone that stood in the way of obtaining both.
Fran: What kind of research did you do before writing this novel? How did you come up with this title? What is Raki and why did the characters enjoy drinking it? What are the hidden qualities of Raki?
Marilyn: I spent time in Crete, observing and touring the land and the people, learning the customs and history, eating the amazing and healthful Cretan food, and visiting with native Cretans. I even got a rare glimpse into a native Cretan village up in the hillsides, normally forbidden to visitors. The title, Road to Omalos, is a treacherous road on the island. I traveled the road and have not been the same since.
The Cretan Spirit, Raki
This process will continue until the recipient stops drinking the raki mid-drink. Raki–the Turkish name, or “tsikoudia”–the Cretan name, (both used interchangeably in Crete), is made from the must residue of the wine-press (the residue of grapes left over after making wine).
Some of my book characters enjoyed drinking raki; others had a hard time swallowing the burning liquid. It is said that a few glasses can actually make your head very clear; and can also produce vivid dreams.
Fran: From start to finish how long did it take you to complete your first novel and decide the plot, the characters and the direction to take the story?
Marilyn: My first novel came about over an approximate ten-year period of time. I was working full time as an investigator and worked on it whenever I had the time (and energy). Like a good wine, my first story seemed to age over the years and take form. My characters jump out of my head and carry a name with them. I never question the name they bring along with them. As I continued to write my first novel, the storyline developed.
Fran: Did you write your novels from an outline, notes or chapter outline or did you just start writing and stop when finished?
Marilyn: While most writers I know use an outline, I do not. I just write and watch my stories develop. My advantage is my investigative background. I completed so many investigations over the many years that I know the routine.
Fran: What advice would you give new authors that are just starting out?
Marilyn: I would say, pursue writing as a career only if it is your passion. Writing is hard work, and marketing is hard work. It is a career that demands much more than forty hours a week. But, if you love it, you must follow your dreams!
Fran: Tell our readers about your career as a senior government enforcement investigator.
Marilyn: I was a senior government enforcement investigator for nearly twenty years. I investigated fraud and other violations of the law in the areas of real estate, franchising, and environmental cleanups. I worked with the FBI, County Attorneys, the Attorney General’s Office, Postal Inspectors, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), and the IRS-Criminal Division when criminal violations were present.
Fran: Do you write about any of your real cases?
Marilyn: To date, I have not. But I do not rule out the possibility. So far, my main characters use investigative techniques I learned over the many years in my profession, but I have steered clear of using actual facts from any real case.
Fran: What is your next project and will you continue with the same main characters?
Marilyn: My next novel, due out soon, is Sapphire Trails. Yes, the same two main characters—Claire Caswell and Gaston “Guy” Lombard—appear in this mystery, as well. I plan to write a series of novels, each time presenting Claire and Guy with a new complicated and compelling case to solve. Each of my books stands alone, however, and they do not have to be read in any particular order. Each has a definitive ending of its own.
Fran: Where do you see these two characters going and will they ever get married?
Marilyn: This question makes me chuckle. I’m asked it so often. The answer is, I’m not sure yet. I don’t think Claire Caswell knows what she wants to do just yet in that regard. Right now, the two are in a committed extraordinary relationship.
Fran: Do you hear from your readers and what kind of feedback do you get?
Marilyn: I hear from readers all of the time, and I love to hear from them! They make my writing worthwhile and I take their comments seriously. Most tell me that eating, sleeping, and working got in the way of their finishing my books. I even hear that some readers have called in sick to finish reading one of the novels, and that kind of comment brings a silent smile to my face. It is a very gratifying to hear that! It makes all the work connected with writing a novel worthwhile.
Fran: Do you model your writing after any author? If so, which one?
Marilyn: I do not. I believe it is important for a writer to find his or her own voice; own style. I go about writing and never consider how another author may craft a story. Although, I think good writers are avid readers. So, I do think it is important to read from a variety of genres on an ongoing basis.
Fran: Does the Internet help boost your sales and your writing career? If so, how?
Marilyn: A serious writer must have a website. I often hear that readers go to my website. It is a great and easy place for people to learn about an author, and also find out where the author will appear in upcoming events. I am also an advocate of LinkedIn as a great place to network with other businesses. Amazon.com also boosts my sales in a tremendous way, as well as other online major and smaller bookstores.
Fran: What type of marketing do you do and tell our readers about your book tours and where they can get both of your novels? What is your website?
Marilyn: When I am not writing, I am marketing. Marketing never ends. It is a continual process. My books are available on Amazon.com, and from most all other online booksellers. They are also available at bookstores. My website is: www.marilynjax.com. My books can also be ordered through my website. I speak at every opportunity, sign books at numerous events, and teach Mystery Writer’s Workshops.
Fran: Do you work with a mentoring group or anyone that supports your writing or helps critique your work?
Marilyn: I am a part of a small group of award-winning Minnesota authors. We meet regularly and all of us plan group events that we can all participate in—this in addition to the individual events we each do. We brainstorm on targeting our audiences and discuss anything and everything to do with book writing and marketing. We are a good support system for each other.
Fran: What are five things that you would tell new writers are essential before beginning? How did you get a traditional publisher to publish both books?
Marilyn: Drive, passion for writing, having a good command of the English language, ability to tell a creative and intriguing story, and perseverance. I am not with a traditional publisher. I am with a professional publisher who holds my ISBN numbers, sets up my editors, proofreaders, designers (for book cover and interior layout), printer, and stores my books to send out to book buyers and individual purchasers.
Fran: Why do your books deserve five-star reviews and what makes them stand out above the rest? Why are they unique and different from other mysteries and murder novels?
Marilyn: I try to write interesting stories that also contain a mystery. My goal is to leave my reader with a tale that will long be remembered after they finish the last page, and make the reader salivate for more of my novels.
Fran: What events do you have coming up?
Marilyn: I am teaching a series of Mystery Writer’s Workshops throughout the month of October—national mystery month. I will also be appearing at many events to sign books up to the holiday season. All upcoming events are listed on my website.
Fran: What advice would you give new authors that need some encouragement?
Marilyn: Never give up! Again, if writing is your dream and if you are good at it, push onward. Never look back. Always look forward. Anything worthwhile takes time.
Fran: What is the one obstacle you face as a writer?
Marilyn: I would say not being able to devote more of my time to writing. Marketing is a continual challenge for all writers and takes up a tremendous amount of time.
Fran: What is your greatest success?
Marilyn: Hearing from readers that they couldn’t put my books down.
Fran: What is one questions that no has asked you that you would like to ask and answer?
Marilyn: Probably whether I’d do it all again—that is, jump into the arena of mystery writing if I knew all that it entailed ahead of time. And, yes, I would…in a heartbeat.
Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I hope that many authors/ writers and readers will join in the discussion and ask questions of this week’s featured author.