Saturday, October 15, 2011

Interview with Jayne Self

I'm glad to have Jayne Self here today. I recently interviewed Jayne about her writing and her new mystery, Murder in Hum Harbour.

Tell us a little about yourself and where you're from.

I am Canadian. I’ve lived coast to coast (Vancouver Island to Labrador) so it’s hard to say where I call home. I’ve been at my present address in southern Ontario for sixteen years—the longest I’ve lived anywhere. Our house is a two-storey, red-brick, century home, adjacent to the church my husband pastors. My upstairs window overlooks the church’s stone wall and the old apple tree in the back yard. Very inspirational.

My life experiences are as varied as the places I’ve lived. I’ve been a chambermaid, a telephone operator, a nurse, grocery clerk, pastor’s wife, mom and, most recently, a grandma. Through it all, I’ve written. And I’ve dreamed of the day I’d have books published.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Although I had difficulty learning to read, I’ve always loved story. As a teen I fell in love with Lloyd C. Douglas’ The Robe, and decided to write my own sequel. The project never made it past four foolscap pages of character names, but I think that’s when God planted the vision in my heart.

Years later, I struggled with the teaching that imagination is wrong (2 Cor 10: 5) and set the vision aside. It was a difficult period in my life, characterized by an emptiness I couldn’t understand. It wasn’t until God reignited His call, confirming imagination was His gift to be shared, not buried, that I started writing seriously and the emptiness fled.
I am so thankful.

What inspired you to write your first book?

1998—I’d been toying with a time-travel idea that revolved around the millennium. Now seemed the perfect time to put that story on paper. I bought a dozen little hard cover books from the dollar store and began writing my epic. By hand. I wrote and wrote until I ran out of ideas. I attended Christian writer’s conferences, made contacts, sent out queries, amassed rejections. Some were quite lovely, but they were still rejections. I’ve rewritten that book a dozen times, though I can now type. Each draft gets better and maybe some day that book will be published. As, I hope, will the four other novels I have filed away on my computer.
Murder In Hum Harbour is the fifth novel I’ve completed and the first to be published. I guess God rewards persistence.

Tell me about the book.

I set out to write a cozy mystery for a specific publisher who was looking for cozies.
Reviewing my previous novels I recognized some commonalities. My stories were set in small towns. The main character struggled to belong. There was always a health-related subplot. And there was humour. With those in mind, I created my amateur sleuth, Gailynn MacDonald, my setting, Hum Harbour, and my cast of quirky characters.

Unlike many mystery series, I want my protagonist to develop over time. I believe growth is at the heart of our Christian faith. Any characters who don’t grow through the challenges they face, aren’t a helpful reflection of a follower of Jesus. Does that mean my characters intuitively avoid mistakes, making only Spirit-inspired choices in their march toward ever-growing maturity? Hardly.

For me, that’s one of the “funnest” parts of story writing. Creating disasters that teach.

Is Hum Harbor a real place? If not, where did you get your inspiration?

As for Hum Harbour, I created the fiction village from a composite of Nova Scotian communities. (We have summered in Nova Scotia for over twenty years.) The village’s name is derived from the HMS Humphrey which ran aground in 1779  while transported a motley group of Scotish settlers to the new world. The survivors waded ashore and went no further. Like Hum Harbour, the HMS Humphrey is fiction, derived from fact.

Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s ten provinces and three territories, is known as Canada’s Ocean Playground. Although the province is only 357 miles long (smaller than West Virginia), it boasts 4,600 miles of spectacular shoreline. Its rolling, sometimes mountainous countryside is mostly forested; its people are down-home friendly. Culture flourishes in Nova Scotia. Her people are fiercely loyal, and their art and music reflect the provinces strong Celtic and Acadian roots.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I write from an outline. Before I begin each scene I copy the scene’s goal, conflict, and disaster, from my outline cards to the top of the page. The outline keeps me on track, but is thin enough to allow discovery as I write. Sometimes, if I venture too far from the original plan, I have to redo the outline. But it’s important for me to do the plotting homework before I start writing. I find if I don’t have an outline, I stall. If I ignore the scene goals I write myself into implausible corners. Then I have to start all over again.

I don’t insert chapter divisions until the manuscript is completed. Once the first draft is finished I pass it along to a trusted reader who vets the plot, pointing out the inconsistencies and errors. I rewrite, making the necessary changes, and repeat the process.
Sometimes I grow weary of the details but I never tire of the process. I love writing.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Three words that describe me? I polled my family on this one.
Caring, said one son.
Light-hearted, said another.
Smart, said my husband.
I’ll add short. Although, perhaps I could all be summed up in one word, with all its connotations: blonde.

You can learn more about Jayne's book and read my review on today's Inkwell Inspirations blog.


  1. Interesting interview... and I'm intrigued by the idea of stopping to observe the trends and focuses in what we write, to help shape the next story. That will give readers a consistent experience as they follow Jayne from book to book, and I can see how it would help in the writing.

    Murder in Hum Harbour is a fun read, and Jayne really brought the setting to life.

  2. Hi, Janet.
    Thanks for stopping by. Interesting point.

    And Hum Harbour is a fun read. Sometimes when we talk about craft, we forget that very important aspect.

  3. A cozy set in any part of Canada AND near any body of water--I'd find that intriguing. Maybe I'll check this one out.

  4. I hope you like it. And did we mention, it was a fishing village?

  5. How lovely to meet Jayne (pleased to meet you, Jayne!), and I agree with GoneFishing... any mystery near water appeals to me, too. So, I am really looking forward to this one. And now I'm wondering if, living near the water, you do -- or don't -- like boats.

  6. Can you give us a link (for the terminally lazy. I like one-click shopping)

    I'm sold on many points. Nova Scotia, a cozy, and your interview Jayne. Thanks Barb!