This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Janice Richardson, the cozy mystery author of the Spencer Funeral Home Series. I read the first book in the series, Casket Cache, in which we meet Jennifer, a funeral director in Niagara (Canada). While she is trying to solve a compelling mystery, she also has a funeral home to run. Not your most common profession, I grant you, but…it made for a very interesting, different, and most of all, appealing read.
I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to expect when I decided to read it, and I was hesitant at first. Like many people I read to escape, and a funeral home wouldn’t be my first pick. However, it turned out to be a lovely read. Written with emotion, this is not your typical cozy; the stories of Jennifer’s workdays and the grief of her clients feel very real. But Jennifer is compassionate, empathetic and kind, and a wonderful protagonist to follow.
Welcome Janice! To start off, can you tell us a little about the Spencer Funeral Home Series?
Recently I watched the PBS special Into the Night: Portraits of Life and Death. What a beautiful and compelling documentary. As baby boomers age, people are confronted with their discomfort around death and dying and learning to face their fear and uncertainty. It was an uplifting, gentle, positive and at times, sad documentary.
It is for those reasons I wrote the series. First—to educate readers. Not everyone has been in a funeral home, or had to speak with a director or plan a funeral. It is a traumatic and difficult time. Second—to present a portrait of a funeral director in a way that was realistic and endearing. Last, but not least, I wanted the story to entertain without being silly or disrespectful.
Since the series was published I have noticed more funeral directors have jumped on the bandwagon and are writing fictional stories about the funeral profession and helping to allay the fear, secrecy and unknown. There are memoirs galore by funeral directors (The Making of a Funeral Director is my non-fiction contribution), all of which make for interesting reads, the fictional reads open new doors for readers who don’t like non-fiction.
What made you start writing?
The memoir was written in the ‘90s and put away. With the advent of self-publishing, I chose to spruce it up and put it out there. It is serving its purpose, I have students and individuals who are looking at funeral service who write me to say the book helped them. That means the world to me.
As for the cozy mystery series, it just sort of happened. I moved from the northern part of the province to the south, leaving behind my life as a special needs mom. For a while I felt lost. I did not plan to write a book, let alone a series. It just happened, pouring out onto the keyboard over a two year period. Being alone became a pleasure, my special needs children are happy and well cared for, so it was time to move on. The books helped me with that process, almost writing themselves.
Just like Jennifer, you were a funeral director yourself. What made you choose the profession?
When I was eight, my adopted mom took me to a relative’s funeral. She was a realist, an old school nurse who didn’t sugarcoat life lessons. She explained everything to me. I loved the solemnity of the funeral home and service, the peaceful atmosphere and the support the funeral director provided. My instinct was to comfort people who were crying and sad. At the graveside, as I watched the committal, I knew then and there I wanted to be a funeral director. It was years before I was able to go to college and pursue my chosen career. I have no regrets.
What is your writing ritual?
Ha ha – it’s 90 miles an hour, up to 12 hours a day. Add to that half the night chasing plot bunnies. I do like absolute quiet, which is possible since I’m retired. I sit in an easy chair, laptop on knee, fingers flying. Stopping to eat, stretch or go outside and sniff the air is an inconvenience. That method does make for some serious rewrites and edits, but it’s how I write.
You write about the place where you live (Niagara). What do you love most about your home town?
The Niagara region is beautiful. I moved here six years ago and often wonder why I didn’t move south sooner. The peninsula has a temperate climate (for Canada), the Niagara region known for its wine, fruit, and tourism. Toronto is a few hours north, Niagara Falls is 25 minutes away, the US border is ½ hour away. My town is on the old Welland canal, similar to the Erie Canal across the border. When I want excitement, I go to the Falls for the attractions, casino, and shopping. I love the vineyards and orchards and lavender fields.
Are you and Jennifer much alike?
Hmmm. I would like to think so. Jennifer would be the ideal funeral director. She has her weaknesses, she is driven, doesn’t like to ask for help. As we get older, as the years pass and we reflect back, there are chapters or paragraphs in our lives that we wish we could rewrite. An author is given a chance to do just that in their characters. I think Jennifer is a composite of several people I admire and respect and the type of person I wish I had been sometimes. In the last book she faces some major challenges. I left it up to the reader to decide how the story ends. I know how I wanted her to face the future and I love it when readers share their version of how it should end.
What do you like most about being an author?
Encouraging new authors is one the best jobs an author has. Now that I have published five times and my books are doing well, I enjoy encouraging and supporting others. It can be as simple as retweeting or liking a post or offering support by reviewing a book. We are a community. Attending Facebook events, local author events or signings is part of giving back. I am so grateful for the support I received when I started from beta readers, my editor, authors, bloggers and friends.
This is so very true. Support within our community is invaluable.
It was very kind of you to interview me and review Casket Cache, Lucia. Your Dunnhill series is a delightful read and I look forward to reading more of your work.
Thank you Janice, that warms my heart! And thank you for sharing your story. It was wonderful to hear more about you and your work, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.