Friday, June 9, 2006

Author Interview: Jennifer Apodaca

Jennifer Apodaca has published five books in her sexy mystery series featuring reformed soccer mom, Samantha Shaw. An author not afraid to blur genre lines, Apodaca writes fast, funny, and sexy mysteries - making summer the perfect time for readers to jump on the bandwagon. I recently asked her to chat with me, and she graciously agreed.

Wendy: You started out with aspirations to become a historical romance writer, but ultimately found success writing a cozy mystery series about former soccer mom, Samantha Shaw. What led you to switch focus?

Jen: It was sheer frustration that drove me to murder. I was tired of trying to fit into the Historical Romance genre, trying to keep my voice “romantic” enough. So I decided to kill off a few people in my next book. I wanted a heroine who had made mistakes, learned from them and kept growing. It sounds a lot simpler now than it really was. But the truth is that I literally sat down and wrote the kind of book I would want to read. The Samantha Shaw Series is a little edgy for the cozy genre, so I’m still having trouble fitting in!

Wendy: Tell us a little bit about Sam. Why do you think she appeals to readers?

Jen: Samantha has a little bit of Every Woman in her. She’s a woman who wants to feel attractive, she wants to be a good mom to her two boys, she adores and worries about her beloved Grandfather, and she wants to do a job that makes a difference in peoples’ lives—whether that is helping them find love with her dating service, or find a murderer with her private investigating sideline. Those are things women can relate to. Plus, Sam says the things we all wish we had said!

Wendy: ::cough, cough:: I’ve been lucky enough to follow Sam’s adventures from the beginning (my unpaid reviewing gig does pay off occasionally), and I’ve noticed that over the course of the series you’ve really started to blur genre lines. Sure we have mystery, mayhem and laughs – but the sexy factor has increased as well! Talk about the men in Sam’s life.

Jen: Oh wow, you’ve caught me, Wendy! Actually, the sexiness is a natural growth. Sam repressed her sexuality in her unhappy marriage, and now she’s growing as a woman. I know there’s an endless debate out there on sensuality in books. But there’s nothing more intimate than sex, and it reveals so much about both a woman and a man. It shows their true vulnerabilities, their ability to trust, and how they cherish or abuse the trust of the person they are with. It shows a progression of their relationship. Take the men in Sam’s life….

With Gabe Pulizzi, Samantha is drawn to the strength in him. Gabe has a bad boy streak in him that he controls—that is really sexy to Sam. Gabe is hot, he’s five years younger and because he’s lived it, he understands danger in a way that Sam can’t. But the aspect of Gabe that is truly sexy to Sam is the fact that he believes in her. He knows her flaws, but he still knows she can do whatever she sets her mind to. He has helped Sam learn to view herself as a competent and sexy woman. And he protects the people she loves, her sons, her grandfather, even her best friend Angel. The bonus is that Sam’s mom doesn’t approve of Gabe. Sam has just enough rebellion left in her to like that.

Detective Logan Vance is the other side of the coin. He’s smooth, sophisticated, has a “respectable” job, and is exactly the kind of man Samantha’s mom thinks she should be with. Vance and Sam have a love/hate chemistry. Neither one of them would choose the other, but they are powerfully attracted to one another. What makes Vance sexy is that, at first, he pegged Sam for a blonde bimbo. But with every book he’s finding more and more depth to her. He’s impressed with her against his will. He’s coming to respect and care for her, but he knows they can’t be friends. He wants her too much, and he’s still annoyed by that. So far, nothing has ever happened between Sam and Vance. Sam wouldn’t betray Gabe, she’s been betrayed and won’t do that.

The irony is that when I first started writing the Sam books, I had no intention of having romantic entanglements. But you know, they are just so much fun! They complicated the plot, and really wring out the characters emotionally. It’s a fun way to torment them!

Wendy: The series takes place in Lake Elsinore, a locale familiar to many residents of Southern California. Do you find it challenging to write about a “real place” or does it make life easier?

Jen: At first I was challenged by it, particularly in deciding what to use from the city that is “real” and what to invent for the sake of the story. Eventually I settled on using interesting landmarks, a little history and the atmosphere that is unique to the city, then make up places where bad things happen. That’s worked out pretty well. Over time, it sort of divided in my mind into two different cities: Sam’s Lake Elsinore, and the real Lake Elsinore.

Wendy: I’ll admit to being a little bummed out that Sam’s taking a vacation for while, but you’ve still been busy writing. What can readers expect from you next?

Jen: I’m really excited about my next book, a romantic mystery titled The Sex On The Beach Book Club. It will be out in January 2007. I’m still blurring genres, and this book is even sexier than the Sam books. Holly Hillbay is a kick butt private investigator, and Wes Brockman is a serious hunk of a bookstore owner with a dangerous secret. On the trail of a cheating husband, Holly goes undercover in a book club and uses a little Sex on the Beach (the drink!) to pump Wes Brockman for information. But when a book club member is found murdered in Wes's locked bookstore, the danger heats up, nothing is what it seems and Sex on the Beach might not just be a drink after all...

Jen, thanks so much for chatting with us!

Wendy's Notes: Another author interview that will (very shortly) be running on my in-house work blog that y'all can't see.

I really love the Samantha Shaw series, as it appeals to the both the mystery and romance reader in me. The first book, Dating Can Be Murder, is especially strong, as Sam discovers that while she was playing dutiful PTA-soccer-mom, her worthless dead husband was cheating on her. She exacts her revenge by giving herself a total life makeover, only for reality to come calling when a hired goon threatens her over some money her dead husband reportedly has stashed somewhere.

Many comparisons have been made between Samantha Shaw and Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series - but outside of the humor and tone of the stories, there are notable differences. Sam is a Mommy, giving her a totally different dynamic, and while there is a bit of a love triangle, Sam is committed to Gabe. Frankly, with each new book I half expect her and Detective Vance to kill each other. Also, while Stephanie continues to blunder around doing stupid shit (Hello? Try taking the gun out of your cookie jar!) - Sam will scratch out your eyes if you dare have the nerve to threaten her loved ones. She blunders around a bit, but back her into a corner and the claws come out!

Strong appeal for romance readers and lighter mystery readers. You can learn more at her website. Apodaca is also a contributor to a group blog called Murder She Writes.


Erika said...

Loved your interview with Jennifer Apodaca, she's one of my favorites. Thank goodness for or else I never would have found her.

I completely agree with you about the comparisions between Shaw & Plum. Two completely different type of characters. Although, I am also a Stephanie Plum junkie.

Wendy said...

Hey, a new commenter! Soon, they will all be mine ::maniacal laughter::

ktzmom - I'm still a Plum junkie too, although I no longer live and die by the series. Frankly, I've only hung in this long because I need my Ranger fix. I'm all about Ranger ::drooling::

And I love Jen's books too!