An Interview with Harley Jane Kozak
Author of A DATE YOU CAN'T REFUSE
Author Harley Jane Kozak’s latest mystery to feature "alternate" greeting card designer Wollie Shelley, A Date You Can’t Refuse was published March 2009. This is Kozak’s fourth novel to feature Wolley, a truly lovable heroine. Kozak graciously agreed to an interview with us at MostlyFiction For more information about Harley and her light-hearted mysteries go to her website.
MF: Please describe Wollie Shelley for our readers.
HARLEY JANE KOZAK (HJK): Wollie is an L.A. greeting card artist and serial dater who stumbles over a corpse in book one, and just . . . keeps stumbling. She has no obvious crime-solving aptitude, like most of us who read mysteries (well, me, anyway), which makes her a fish-out-of-water as she encounters guns, thugs, and espionage.
MF: For those who haven’t read A DATE YOU CAN'T REFUSE yet, would you give us a synopsis?
HJK: Wollie takes a job as a social coach for a media-training organization that specializes in foreign celebrities. What this means is, she’s a combination bus driver, babysitter and dating therapist for a trio of eastern Europeans: a heavyweight boxer with substance abuse issues, a Soviet country & western singer, and an evangelical diet book author who’s lost 237 pounds. She’s also been recruited by the FBI to report on the group’s suspicious activities, which are endless. Fun ensues.
MF: Without giving away plot here, at the end of the novel Wollie is facing some enormous changes in her life. How much of Wollie’s life do you have mapped out?
HJK: I always knew that Wollie would arrive where she does at the end of Book #4, but I didn’t have a clue how she’d get there, or with whom, until a few months prior to writing it. It’s like a landscape that comes into focus only as you drive closer to it.
MF: Becoming a published author came after being an actress. Did you ever imagine you would become a writer? What led you to begin a writing career?
HJK: I was always writing compulsively, but I never thought I’d do it professionally as I was in love with my acting career. But somewhere in my mid-30’s it began to change and the process of writing became more and more fun and also creatively fulfilling. At some point, writing my first novel overtook acting as my pastime of choice. I started by taking extension classes at a local college, and ended up at UCLA.
MF: When did you first dream up Wollie?
HJK: In a hotel room in Toronto, while on location shooting a film called The Android Affair. She popped into my head nearly fully-formed.
MF: You’ve been a waitress, an actress, and an author. Which profession is more difficult?
HJK: They all have their moments, but real terror is waiting tables in Beefsteak Charlie’s in New York City during the lunch rush on your first day.
MF: Are you similar to Wollie? Is she your alter ego?
HJK: Yes, we’re often mistaken for each other, but I’m a bit more athletic, and she’s younger and a natural blond. But I have thicker hair.
MF: Your mysteries avoid violence and gore (it occurs off the page). Did you make a deliberate decision to steer clear of the nastier details of crime, and if so why?
HJK: I like to play around with the “yuck” factor, but you’re right, both sex and violence, in my books, are not graphic, visceral experiences. It’s partly a convention of the genre, which runs from hard-boiled to . . . poached, I guess. My books are fairly soft-boiled. What interests me is character development, plot cleverness, and tone, and while I work to make the story accurate, it’s a question of where to point the camera and how close to move in. I’m more interested in Wollie’s inner life than on making a reader lose her lunch.
MF: If you had to delegate a percentage of your novels to crime, romance, and humour, what would you guess those percentages to be?
HJK: I’d say 40% crime, 35% humour and 25% romance. But those numbers are misleading, because there’s a lot of overlap, as I find danger romantic and sex funny.
MF: There’s a long section of the book that describes Wollie shooting guns. Did you have to research this? Did you go to a shooting range?
HJK: I’ve had to shoot guns dozens of times as an actress, but since I don’t own guns, I have to re-research them every single time. So yes, I spent an afternoon at the shooting range with my good friend Nancie. For me, it’s like driving a stick shift. You can learn it and fake it for a movie, but if you don’t do it habitually and acquire the muscle memory, it doesn’t stick. So to speak.
MF: A DATE YOU CAN'T REFUSE is, I think, the funniest of your novels to date. Do you agree? Do you have a favourite?
HJK: It’s definitely my favorite, but I think that’s a natural function of it being the most recent. I’m happy you think it’s the funniest. I was worried, because I think the climax was more disturbing to Wollie and that the ending was more poignant than funny.
MF: Would you tell us about Book Tarts?
HJK: I’ve been blogging for a few years on The Lipstick Chronicles with fellow authors Nancy Martin, Sarah Strohmeyer, Elaine Viets, Michele Martinez, Lisa Daily, and reader-extraordinaire Kathy Sweeney. It’s a very popular blog and most of my social life these days. [Note: the byline of the blog site is Where Book Tarts talk love, laughter, laundry and the mysteries of writing life.]
MF: Wollie relies on the companionship of Fredreeq and Joey for objective, common sense advice, and the relationships between women in your novels are definitely a lot less problematic than Wollie’s relationship with Simon, for example. Just how necessary do you think relationships are between women?
HJK: For me, absolutely vital. I have 4 sisters and a lifetime collection of best friends, without whom I couldn’t function. I love men, but it’s my sisters, biological or otherwise, who get me through the hard times.
MF: What’s next?
HJK: A non-Wollie book, a sort of metaphysical thriller. But I miss Wollie and imagine I’ll return to her eventually.
MF: Yes, we'll miss Wollie, too! But we look forward to the new one! Good luck and thanks for the interview.