Monday, October 19, 2015


Last Seen
by Jo A. Hiestand

To get us started, Jo A. Hiestand has graciously consented to an interview. Stick around for the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this interesting interview and post about the series. Here we go:

Caroline: Where did you grow up? Siblings? Locale? Were you considered a “bookworm” or a jock?  Married, single? Children?

Jo: Hi, Caroline.  I’m quite excited about talking with you!  I grew up in St Louis, where I currently live.  I’ve lived here all my life except for the year I spent in England – Bolton, Lancashire – when I was trying to get into folk singing professionally.  Through school, and even now, I’m a definite bookworm.  I love to get lost in mysteries or British history, imagining what things were like.  I’m still single but they say it’s never too late to marry!

Caroline: Who are your favorite authors and favorite genres?

Jo: Hmmm, that’s a difficult question about authors because I like so many.  My favorite mystery author is Ngaio Marsh, one of the Queens of the Golden Age of Mystery writing.  Her writing is beautiful, her characters are so well drawn that they jump off the page with life, and her plots are quite ingenious.  I also like Charles Todd and Peter Lovesey, as well as Ann Cleeves and Josephine Tey.  As you can tell from this list, I love mysteries!  Daphne duMaurier is another of my favorite authors in the romantic suspense category.  Bertram Fields, a lawyer who approaches historical mysteries from the direction of proving it in court, is outstanding when he explains and makes cases for those enigmatic subjects. And, while we’re in the history category, Antonia Fraser is also brilliant with her books on the Guy Fawkes Plot, Mary Queen of Scots, and Henry VIII’s wives.  Classic book author favorites are Charles Dickens, Alexander Dumas, and Charlotte Bronte. When I want to laugh, I read Richard Armour and Mark Twain. Throw in Walter de la Mare for atmospheric poetry, and you’ve got most of my favorites.

Genres are mystery, of course, British history from the Middle Ages through the Georgian period, nature essays and biographies on the Plantagenets, Tudors and people involved in court, such as Cecily Neville, William Cecil and Francis Walsingham.

Caroline: You’ve named some of my favorite authors. My husband and I love mysteries from the Golden Age of Mystery. What’s your favorite way to relax and recharge? Hobbies?

Jo: Music is always good to recharge my batteries and relax to.  Favored categories are American and British folk, Dixieland, classical and baroque, early virginal music, anything by Handel, and 1940s big band.  Hobbies run the gamut from baking and playing guitar to crewel embroidery and photography.

Caroline: Do you have a favorite quote that sums up how you feel about life?

Jo: Gol, that’s easy.  It’s “When Life gives you a rainy day, play in the puddles.”

Caroline: I love that one. How long have you been writing?

Jo: I’ve been writing seriously since 1996. My first published piece was an article in Mystery Scene magazine, about my tour of the Ngaio Marsh house-museum.  My first mystery novel was published in 2004.

Caroline: Where do you prefer to write? Do you need quiet, music, solitude? PC or laptop?

Jo: I’m rather traditional in my writing habits.  I sit at a desk in my home office and write on a 21” desk-style iMac.  I have a lot of maps, photos, and books that I refer to, so I need a place to spread out.  Plus, I like my office environment.  It’s filled with mementos of my trips to Britain and things related to my protagonist McLaren and the clan to which I belong.  It all creates a satisfying environment.  In general I like quiet, especially when I’m writing the first one hundred or so pages of the first draft.  I have to concentrate!  But I like music when I’m attacking the second draft – baroque, especially Handel or Bach, is my preference, because I tend to listen to vocals if they’re playing!

Caroline: I listen to classical music when I’m writing. Are you a plotter or a panzer?

Jo: I don’t outline, but I have paragraphs of notes, including what clues will be given when, or major events that should happen in specific chapters.  I have to plot the basic story, know where I’m going so I can focus on the outcome and get everything solved by then.  McLaren mysteries are easier for me to write than my police detective Taylor & Graham series.  In that one, since they are police officers, certain things have to be done in correct order by specific individuals.  I have time schedules and chain of command charts and who-does-what notes, and I still end up getting something wrong, which necessitates large edits.  McLaren, as an ex-police detective working on his own, can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and he can do things a serving officer can’t.  It’s great fun, but I still have to plot so I bring everything to a successful conclusion.

Caroline: Do you use real events or persons in your stories or as an inspiration for stories?

Jo: The short answer is yes!  The more clarifying answer is I use historical events for ideas.  In McLaren’s mystery LAST SEEN I used the Minstrels Court for the catalyst of the murder.  The Minstrels Court was an on-going extravaganza of musicians, jugglers, acrobats, dancers, and other entertainers who entertained at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire.  The event was so well loved and successful that it endured for more than two hundred years.  Leslie Smith, the curator of Tutbury Castle--where the Court took place--suggested it to me as the perfect launch to the murder.

Caroline: Do you set daily writing goals? Word count? Number of chapters? Do you get a chance to write every day?

Jo: Oddly enough, I have no goals.  I write most days because I love to write, not because I have any deadline.  I can usually get an 85,000-word manuscript completed, from plot inception to final corrections, in six or seven months.

Caroline: What a lovely and orderly office. Mine is embarrassing by comparison. What do you hope your writing brings to readers?

Jo: Entertainment, first of all.  Then I hope they loved McLaren as much as I do.  I hope they learn something of the place in which I place him, like Uther Pendragon’s Castle or the tides of Morecambe Bay, or the endangered black rhino.  I’m grateful, too, if they get immersed in the story and like it.  If they feel like they’re actually running through the wood or walking in the rain or poking through an abandoned house with McLaren, that gives me immense happiness.  I know then that I’ve written it well enough and poured out my soul.

Caroline: I confess you’re a new author to me, but I’m eager to read your series. What long-term plans do you have for your career?

Jo: I’d love for the BBC to pick up the McLaren series and produce them for television, and for PBS to air them in the States.  I can’t control that, but I’d be over the moon if that happened.  For my own plans, I’d like to keep writing McLaren mysteries as long as readers want them.  I’m toying with an idea for an historical series, but haven’t cemented it yet.

Caroline:  I hope that happens for you—and for your readers. Would you like to tell us what you’re working on now?

Jo: Actually, it’s an exciting project…at least to me!  But first a bit of explanation so you’ll understand what I’m talking about.  Each McLaren book features a song that’s important to the murder victim or to McLaren.  The lyrics are in the book.  Fine.  But I thought it’d be great if the reader could actually hear the song, thereby feeling the emotional connection to the victim or to McLaren.  So I contacted various St. Louis musicians and they’ve recorded the songs that go with each book.  These come on single-song CDs that I sell on my website.  Different musicians and different style songs for each book.  That’s the background.  As of this writing, I’m nearly finished with McLaren’s ninth book, FLIGHT PLAN.  I wanted something musically different for this book, so I asked my friend Robert Chamberlin, a nationally-known composer, if he’d write a two-piano piece for FLIGHT PLAN.  He came up with the idea of a six-movement piece, each movement based on a character or scene from the book. The world premier performance will take place in autumn 2016. 

LAST SEEN Companion Songs

Caroline: How exciting. What advice would you give to unpublished authors?

Jo: It sounds simplistic, but writing is subjective.  Just because one editor at one company doesn’t accept your manuscript doesn’t mean it won’t be accepted by a different editor elsewhere. Keep writing and keep submitting.  It can get discouraging, but if you stop, you’ll never get published.  You’ve decided your own fate.  Don’t lose the chance to see your work in print.  Keep at it!

Caroline: Excellent advice! Share a fun fact readers wouldn’t know about you.

Jo: At a Girl Scout camping competition I won first place in the log chopping contest.

Caroline: That is a fun fact. Share something about you that would surprise or shock readers.

Jo: I was bitten by a rabid skunk.

Caroline: Good heavens, how terrible for you. I know your book is a series but tell us about the series.

Jo: LAST SEEN is the second book in the McLaren Mystery series, featuring ex-police detective Michael McLaren, who quit his job over a great injustice done to a friend.  He now repairs dry stone walls in Derbyshire, England, and investigates cold cases on his own.  Six novels have been published by a former publisher, so my current publisher is revamping/editing/tweaking them and bringing them out as new editions under new titles (characters might be deleted, scenes are added, dialogue edited, sometimes chapters are switched around…).  The series originally had the word ‘song’ in all their titles, but this didn’t sound like the book was a mystery, so I’ve come up with new titles for all the books.  COLD REVENGE is the first book that’s reworked and reprinted; LAST SEEN is the second book out.  It’s 330 pages.  I have two completed manuscripts that haven’t been published, so they’ll be brand new to readers when they are published next year.

Caroline: Can you give readers a blurb about LAST SEEN?

Jo: Sure, I’m happy to!

One dark night, popular singer Kent Harrison goes missing after his performance at Tutbury Castle.  When his body's found in a forest, the police investigation focuses on Kent's ex-wife, a local herbalist, a covetous colleague, and even the curator of another castle who tried to lure Kent into performing there.  But his occasional singing partner, Dave Morley, seems to have the biggest motive.  He's dying to make his name, money, and the big time, especially at the medieval Minstrels Court reenactment, where Kent's appearance guarantees SRO.  Did Dave murder Kent to eliminate the competition...or had their partnership struck a wrong chord?  To entice him into investigating, ex-cop McLaren's girlfriend plays detective.  But Dena ends up in great danger.  Now McLaren must not only solve Kent's murder but also rescue her, a hard task when a blast of jealousy, anger, and lies mutes the truth.

Tudbury Castle

Caroline: How about an excerpt?

Jo: Here you go:

Rawlton Hall appeared hardly more than a silhouette against the fading evening sky by the time McLaren eased over the brick wall and dropped to the ground. The impact barely made a sound and he glanced at the dark shape before him, half expecting it to jump in fright. He crouched at the base, hardly daring to breathe, and glanced around. From his low angle, the turrets seemed to scrape the clouds that crawled out of the west, their bellies dark and holding the scent of rain. A shaft of moonlight spilled onto the crenellation and down the wall, and threw back pinpricks of light from the leaded window.

McLaren drew in a breath, trying to still his racing heart, and half stood. The sounds of crickets and owls remained unchanged, as did the splash of the brook. He glanced at the Hall, waiting to be bathed in spotlight glare or attacked by dogs. But the night remained unchanged. Nothing seemed upset by his presence. He snapped on his torch and made his way to the car park.

Other than two estate vehicles at the far corner, it was devoid of cars. No watchman appeared from the booth near the main road; no dots of torchlight marked the grounds. McLaren walked slowly as he swept his torch beam across the rock-strewn surface. Time crawled with him, having no presence other than his breathing and the sporadic calls of night birds. A breeze played across the grass and wound through the trees, bringing a drop in air temperature and the pending rain scent closer. He glanced at the sky as thunder rumbled in the west, then pushed on.

He’d covered the bulk of the area when a car slowed on the road. The headlight beams flicked to high as the car stopped on the verge. The purr of the idling engine bore into McLaren’s ears and he ducked behind the booth and turned off his torch. The motor stopped, a car door slammed, and a figure stepped across the stream of light, shutting it off momentarily. As the shape moved onto the verge the footsteps dulled. A muffled “Damn” floated over to McLaren, followed by the crunch of disturbed gravel.

McLaren crouched behind the booth, his palms against the wood surface, his stare on the moving shape before him. The form paused at the entrance to the car park and stopped for what seemed like an eternity. Waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, McLaren wondered? The gravel crunched again, moving toward the other end of the lot, coming toward him. The sound continued until the figure stopped at the point closest to the Hall. Moments later, a bright light snapped on, directed at McLaren; he flattened himself on the ground. The light holder seemed not to notice him, for the beam immediately shifted downward and began sweeping sideways in meter-wide arcs.

The examination of the car park lasted for nearly a half hour. McLaren shifted his position several times to keep out of the searcher’s view, for that’s what the person obviously was doing. Looking for something. But what? Or was it just nerves, perhaps returning to the scene of the assault to find something that might have been left behind? He could think of no other explanation that fitted this midnight visit.

The figure finished his hunt and retraced his steps, but more haphazard this time. He hurried, the light flitting over patches of gravel that looked newly disturbed. When he’d finished with the lot, he walked around the perimeter, venturing onto the lawn and periodically probing the grass. Several times he would straighten and throw something toward the Hall, a twig or stone or coin, McLaren thought. Once the figure even pried something from the soil, but dropped it with an angry “Hell.”

He stood at the patch the torchlight playing over the expanse of gravel in random bobs and jerks. It disappeared behind some trees, focused on the roots and soil around the trunks, then emerged to shine again at waist-level as it pointed at the ticket booth.

The footsteps moved faster this time, the crunch of gravel firm and headed toward McLaren.

He kept the booth between them, creeping as quickly as he could to the opposite wall as he corkscrewed around. The figure evidently didn’t hear, his light and gaze on the ground. When the light suddenly snapped off and only the rumble of thunder sounded, McLaren froze. Should he remain there or move? What was the person doing?

Despite the warmth of the night, perspiration soaked McLaren’s shirt. His pulse throbbed in his throat. He considered tiptoeing around the booth’s corner and jumping the man, but if he mistook the man’s position, coming face-on, and the man saw him…

The gravel shifted and the steps turned the way they’d come. McLaren stepped back as the light played into the lot. When the figure cleared the booth, McLaren lunged forward.

His fingers reached for the man’s clothing as he found himself falling. The torches crashed to the ground, and McLaren and his adversary were plunged into darkness. Arms and legs thrashed as both men fought for control. McLaren grabbed a wrist but felt it turn and slip from his grasp. His palm pushed against the ground to keep him upright, but he crumpled as a shoe kicked his side. He fell in a rush of pain and blackness.

Caroline: Ooohh, very intriguing. Where can readers find your books?

Jo: They’re available through and Barnes and Noble online, as well as my website.  I believe any bookstore can also order them.  For LAST SEEN, here’s the Amazon link:

Caroline: How can readers learn more about you?

Jo: Well, I’ve got a Facebook page and I have a website.  Those are, respectively:

McLaren has his own website, too!  He’s got touristy type articles of interesting spots in Britain, notes on music (no pun intended), occasionally there’ll be recipes, and there’s information on up-coming books and their companion CDs.  That site is

Caroline: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you?

Jo: I’m not sure they could stand any more!

Thanks for inviting me to chat, Caroline.  I hope you invite me back some time!  Jo

Caroline: Anytime, Jo, just let me know and you’ll be welcome.

Another LAST SEEN Excerpt:

She seemed to be floating in a bizarre landscape where time had ceased to function and the sole inhabitant stared mutely at her. For, framed in the open doorway, silhouetted against the florescent light in the hallway, stood a tall figure dressed in dark coloring. A rubber mask of a smiling Margaret Thatcher covered his face. His hands were gloved, the left holding a coil of rope, the right holding something dark that glistened in the light. He stepped into the room, not speaking, yet making his desires known with the gesture of the gun.

Jo A. Hiestand, Author

Jo A. Hiestand knew in grade school that she wanted to be a mystery writer.  But life got in the way: singing in a semi-pro folk group, traveling to New Zealand, working as a camp counselor, co-inventing P.I.R.A.T.E.S. (a mystery-solving treasure-hunting game), becoming a tour agent for a Scottish folk singing group, attending a citizen police academy and riding along with police officers…  But she needed to immerse herself in All Things British for her books.   England beckoned and she responded.

She bee-lined to Derbyshire, feeling it was the ‘home’ of her books.  Derbyshire also bestowed the essential English police contacts and transformed the St. Louisan into an Anglophile. 

She’s returned nearly a dozen times to Derbyshire, researching and photographing for her McLaren cold case detective novels.

In 1999 Jo returned to Webster University to major in English.  She graduated in 2001 with a BA degree and departmental honors.

Her cat, Tennyson, shares her St. Louis home.

Follow Jo and McLaren on these websites:


Jo A. Hiestand will be awarding a McLaren/"Last Seen" ceramic mug and a CD recording of the song featured in the book to several randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during the tour (International Giveaway).

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Rita said...

I liked the interview, thank you.

Jo said...

Good morning! I'm so glad Caroline invited me today. I hope you find this info interesting.

Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thank you for hosting

Jo said...

I'll log off now. Thank you again, Caroline, for having me on your site today. I enjoyed it! jo