Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Writer Wednesday: Nancy Lynn Jarvis

I’ve been a Realtor for the past twenty years in Santa Cruz, California; I still own a small real estate company with my husband, Craig, although we haven’t been actively working for the past couple of years. Before that, my career was checkered. After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, I worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News, as a librarian, and later as the business manager of Shakespeare/Santa Cruz. My work history reflects my philosophy: people should try something radically different every once in a while. That said, before 2007 it never occurred to me to try my hand at writing, especially not a book.

You know what happened to real estate in 2007: it began an unprecedented decline. Even in modest downturns the market becomes a cruel, painful and frustrating place for sellers and for buyers; I didn’t want to work through a collapse because like my protagonist, Realtor Regan McHenry, I tend to become emotionally involved with most of my clients and I knew I would be as unhappy as they were. I decided to take a time-out.

Within a week I got bored with my elected break. I was doing Sudoku and watching Friday night mysteries on PBS — maybe that’s where the idea came from — but somehow the thought crept into my head that it would be an entertaining puzzle solving exercise to see if I could write a mystery.

I had just finished reading all of Tony Hillerman’s books and loved that he let the reader explore a real location, the Big Reservation, and learn about a culture through the eyes of his protagonists, Leaphorn and Chee, two Navajo policemen. I decided to set my book in Santa Cruz, a location I knew well after living there for forty years, and make the protagonist a real estate agent because the world of real estate certainly is its own culture and most people don’t know much about it. Also, I had a stockpile of funny, interesting, unusual, and odd things that had happened during my twenty year career to use as background material.

I had a Realtor friend whose family had originally come to America from Iran after the Shah fell in 1979. He told me he once had a seller client who disappeared two weeks before escrow was to close and was never heard from again. For me, that was all I needed. I decided to put my friend and his background in a story and use my imagination to figure out what happened to his vanished seller. The result was The Death Contingency.

Writing a mystery turned out to be more fun than anything I had ever done before — so much fun that I immediately started on a second book, Backyard Bones. But writing, you’ll remember, was a game for me. I never intended to do anything with what I wrote.
That changed when a friend who always wanted to see her name in print was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. Possibly because my husband and I had a long history of being small business owners, we decided to set up a micro publishing company, dedicate The Death Contingency to her, and get some copies of out so she could have her wish fulfilled before she died.

We know a woman who was an editor in a former life; we got her to edit the book. We designed a cover and found elements for it that were either free or very low cost. Craig is a computer whiz; he formatted the PDF’s necessary for copy and cover. We bought a bank of ISBN numbers, trademarked everything, and went with a bare-bones POD printer who only charged for printing. Our first run was 100 books, about ninety more than I thought we would ever need. Charlotte had a book in hand and saw her name in print before she died three months after her diagnosis.

And I was hooked on all aspects of being a writer. The actual getting a story I want to tell on paper is unbelievably fun, but so is cover designing, getting publicity, and talking at book signings. The fact that I enjoy speaking at book signings and on the radio is a real surprise to me because when I don’t have a book in my hand, I’d rather die than open my mouth in public.
It’s because of surprises like that and all the other marvelous surprises I’ve had along the way that I’ve made my time – out permanent. What are some of the surprises I’ve had? The hundred books sold in a day. Every bookstore owner I’ve met is nice. If you do goofy things it’s possible to get on the Toilet Paper Entrepreneurs website. Costco Magazine will do an article about you but not allow your books in their stores. (Go figure.) People will buy your books when they are on Amazon! Strangers will send you email and say nice things about how much they enjoyed reading the story you wrote. You will become friends with people you would never have met if you didn’t write.

The biggest surprise I’ve had and one of the most entertaining things I’ve experienced during this adventure is that sometimes the characters I make up take control of the story I’m writing. In Backyard Bones for example, it turns out the character I thought was the killer wasn’t. The real killer had been giving me clues to his identity throughout the book, but just like my protagonist, I missed them for a time. What a kick.

But then, you write; you know what I’m talking about don’t you? Aren’t we lucky to be writers?

Read the first chapters of The Death Contingency and Backyard Bones at

Buying Murder, the third Regan McHenry mystery will be out later this year — the first chapter will be available for you to read soon. Just for fun, while you are at the website you may want to pick up a free recipe for “Mysterious Chocolate Chip Cookies.” Regan is a Realtor… Realtors are known to bake cookies at open houses. ..and so it goes.

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Thank you Nancy for being this week's Writer Wednesday guest and sharing your journey and your sweet recipe. Thanks to all who stopped by today. If you would like more info about this series, please see Writer Wednesday: The Intro

Kristin : )


  1. I just laughed out loud at:

    "Just for fun, while you are at the website you may want to pick up a free recipe for “Mysterious Chocolate Chip Cookies.” Regan is a Realtor… Realtors are known to bake cookies at open houses."

    I started out as a "foodie" so I always love a new recipe. And mysteries are my favorite genre. I loved hearing your story, Nancy. Of course the first book did well ~ you were reaping the good karma of your motivation for printing the book for your friend. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing. dani

  2. What a great story, Nancy. You've come a long way, and you did it all on your own too. Thanks so much for sharing with us...I plan to check out your books soon. :-)