Guest Author

 I mention last month that I attended an Bookstock  Author's fair which was held at the main public library.  I meet a few of the  published authors and I have invited them to Imaginings to talk about their last books.
Today I have the pleasure of  introducing you to Dr. James Paavola author of the Murder in Memphis Series.

Dr. James “Jim” Paavola is semi-retired, but for over 40 years, he has been a practicing psychologist. His primary focus has been children, adolescents, families, and the education system as well as participated in numerous projects involving law enforcement. Paavola used that experience to create rich characters such as Memphis police Lt. Julia Todd, the heroine of his Murder in Memphis series. Book three, Which One Dies Today?, was recently released joining The Chartreuse Envelope and They Gotta Sleep Sometime. The stories hook readers by setting the action around hot-button issues such as the financial collapse, bullying, the scandalous side of the health insurance industry, and sexual activity in retirement homes. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Paavola is writing about our hometown.

Good morning Jim, I want to first thank you for agreeing to this interview.
I'm delighted to be here, Glynis.

Tell me how did you come up with this fearless female sleuth? 
We raised our four children to believe their options in life were not limited by their gender. And, having worked with several female law enforcement officers, I chose my lead character to be a woman. Of course, my antagonists are often women as well.

What inspired you to write your first crime novel, THE CHARTREUSE ENVELOPE?
 I had cut back on my post-retirement work hours and was recuperating from my second surgery in fifteen months. I was sitting on my artificial hip while elevating my recently repaired Achilles tendon when an email came in from my brother. He’d attached a draft of his first book. I read his manuscript and give him feedback. It got me thinking: If he can write a book, maybe I could. That was the push I needed. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, and I wanted to educate the public about psychological principles. I chose trauma, resilience, and family dynamics to be prominent influences in character development. At this time the country was heading into an economic crisis. The bottom fell out of the stock market, retirement funds disappeared, and unemployment climbed. This became the backdrop for my story. Being a fan of mysteries, I chose a murder mystery genre. And lastly, I set the story in the mid-south—Wall Street meets Main Street, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Do you have a specific writing style? 
My editor tells me I write “soft-boiled” mysteries, reminiscent of the style of Sue Grafton or Charlaine Harris. Once I have a pretty good handle on the general concept of a story, I begin filling it in with characters. I enjoy the times when the juices are flowing and I can sit at the computer and just write. I ask myself: What might a selected character do or say in a given situation? How would another character react? What happens next? What piece of information should be revealed at this point, and how might it be discovered? I also tend to have short chapters (sometimes only one page). I think that comes from my experience in the Memphis City Schools where paperwork was measured by the pound. A half-page email was a godsend.

Which came first, the character's story or the idea for the novel?
 Definitely the idea for the novel. And a good conceptual idea for a story is highly motivating. I wanted to weave threads of psychological tenets, the stock market, and greed, using Memphis as the setting . My challenge was creating the general concept of a story that would make sense. My characters appeared and evolved in the process of filling in the story.

Can you tell me a little about your main character,  seasoned police lieutenant Julia Todd?
 Julia is the kind of person who seems to be able to fit into any group, adjusting to the climate of the situation. She’s competent, confident, and intelligent. She is driven to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Her actions in the field have earned her respect from fellow officers, and the fairness with which she treats her team engenders cohesiveness and loyalty. She’s athletic, jogging and regularly working-out at the neighborhood gym. Her one challenge is finding the right man—one who is equally competent, and not threatened by her.

A practicing psychologist, I wonder how much of this book is realistic? 
The histories of family-based trauma are composites of real situations, as are the examples of resilience. I have feedback from a high-ranking female police officer enjoying the mystery and praising the depiction of Julia. Similarly, a former New York City hedge-fund manager confirmed the existence of the psychology of power which affected Charleze, the fictional hedge-fund manager in the story. Mental health professionals who deal with child abuse suggested that this novel would be helpful to non-offending parents in households dealing with family violence.

Are any of the characters based on actual patients and events in your own practice? 
Like most writers, characters reflect bits and pieces of people we have known or known about, including ourselves.

What was the hardest part to write in the book(s)?
 My biggest challenge was to make the psychological aspects understandable to the reader within the story, as opposed to presenting them in a lecture format. This is a skill I found in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. She was able to describe in non-psychological terms examples of mental illness, effective mental health therapies, stages of social development, as well as the importance of relationships and empowerment. I do not claim to be as proficient as she, but she is certainly a role model for me.

We all hate to edit but it is unavoidable, can you tell us what you left on the cutting room floor?
 Author Stephen King wrote that he expects to edit out as much as fifteen percent of every manuscript. That was certainly the case with The Chartreuse Envelope. However, my experience was primarily a matter of trimming excessive narrative, as opposed to deleting pearls of prose as I’m certain King does. I’ve grown up with learning disabilities. One result is that my brain refuses to help me spell words, understand how/when to use commas, or understand the nuances of grammar. I depended heavily upon my editor to help me with these issues.

Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp? 
Of course, I hope readers enjoy the novels. Within each story is lots of information. Issues of the day, such as the financial collapse, the stock market, aging and the elderly, bullying, Alzheimer’s Disease, Asperger’s Syndrome, spin doctors and the health insurance industry, Iraq War veterans, the homeless, car bombings, and HIPAA. Psychological issues include trauma, fear, loss, and revenge, as well as the human capacity to be hopeful, to be resilient, to recover. There are many examples of the influence of family, positive and negative. I suppose deep in my stories is a message that we can overcome adversity with the help of at least one person who takes the time to care.

Who designed your covers? 
Our daughter, Shannon Paavola, designed the covers. She is an artist and graphic designer. It has been fun watching these book covers blossom through her creativity.

Can you share a little of your current work with us? 
My third book, Which One Dies Today?, was released last week (October 22, 2012). I was inspired by former Memphian Wendell Potter’s national best seller: Deadly Spin, An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out On How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans (2010, Bloomsbury Press, New York). Wendell was gracious in giving me feedback on my depiction of the scandalous side of America’s health insurance industry. People are dying when health insurance companies are more focused on making money than on covering the cost of essential medical treatment for their policyholders—a powerful motive for murder. This story is punctuated by car bombs. One Iraq War demolitions specialist works to catch another.

What might pique the reader’s interest in They Gotta Sleep Sometime? 
This novel highlights the consequences of bullying, not only for the victim, but across generations. The investigation of hospital deaths of elderly patients leads Julia and her team back to the Central High School graduating class of 1948.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to my readers?
 I would encourage those of you who have yet to write your first novel, or memoir, to begin. Take it from a person who waited 65 years to publish his first book, now is as good a time to start as any. Just be sure to have fun doing it. It will make all the work worthwhile.

Thanks so much Jim, can't wait for the next book in the series.
 Glynis, thank you for inviting me to be interviewed for your blog.

If you would like to know more about James Paavola or any of his books you can contact him at
For those in the Memphis area, Jim has a book signing scheduled for 2:00 pm, December 15, 2012 at the Booksellers at Laurelwood (former Davis-Kidd).

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book ( They Gotta Sleep Sometimes) will go to the Memphis Police Department's 501(c)(3) charity to support training: