Ten Questions with Cynthia E. Hurst (Okay, Eleven)

Welcome back to another chapter of “Ten Questions With –.”  Today, I am honored to have the chance to speak with author Cynthia E. Hurst.

Ms. Hurst is quite the globe-trotter, flitting back and forth between England and the U.S., but she somehow manages to find time to write and publish her unique and addictive Zukie Merlino Mysteries series, as well as The R&P Labs Mysteries series.  Today, she also made the time to answer a few questions from me.

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AJ: Cynthia, welcome to A Goode One.  It’s always a pleasure to chat with you.  Let’s get started.  What can you tell me about your newest book?

CH: My newest book, which was released on February 10,  is Zukie’s Detective, the fourth in my Zukie Merlino Mysteries series. Zukie is an Italian-American widow of a certain age, whom I describe as being “seriously snoopy, totally tactless and a magnet for trouble.” In this book, she enters a competition to write a slogan for a fast food product, which inevitably leads to a murder and complications only Zukie could manage, such as blowing up a microwaved meal and chasing a villain through a car wash.

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AJ: I think I like Zukie already. She sounds like fun. How would you describe your books?

CH: They are what I’d describe as traditional mysteries with a modern twist. That is, they have a fair amount of violence and sex, but it tends to happen off stage, rather than being shoved in the reader’s face. There’s some romance, a lot of humor, and one of the nicest things I’ve been told by a reader was that over the course of the series, my characters had become like family to her. I don’t call them “cozy mysteries” because those always seem to involve cats, cakes and really horrendous puns in the titles.

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AJ: I understand that you spend a great deal of time going back and forth between England and the United States.  Does that ever make it confusing for you as far as using English vs. American spelling or terminology? 

CH: The spelling isn’t usually a problem, but having lived in the UK for 30 years, I have picked up a lot of British phrases and speech patterns and don’t realize when I’m using them. Since my books are all set in the US, I have an American beta reader who politely reminds me that characters are “exhausted”, not “shattered”, and that in the US, a trolley is not something you push around a supermarket.

AJ: What made you decide to go with self-publishing rather than traditional?

CH: I originally tried the traditional route and got the usual, “It’s not what we’re looking for”. I happened to see a magazine article about self-publishing through Amazon and thought I’d give it a go. (Is that a British phrase?) Anyway, that was a little more than three years ago and although my sales are modest, I’m having a great time.

AJ: I think the American version of that would be “give it a shot,” although I like your way better. What has surprised you the most about becoming a published author?

CH: In all honesty, I’d have to say I’m surprised that total strangers read and enjoy my books, although of course, that’s what I hoped for. The other thing is, that having written for daily newspapers, where your work usually is used to wrap the garbage or line the cat tray the next day, it’s exciting to think your books might end up having a permanent home on someone’s bookshelves or in their e-reader.

AJ: How does your family feel about your writing?

CH: I don’t think my husband or my sons have actually read a word I’ve written, largely because they don’t read mysteries. So I’d say they find it vaguely amusing that I write books that people occasionally pay real money for. However, I have several other relatives who have been very supportive.

AJ: Is there a project you want to write but haven’t started yet for some reason?

CH: As it happens, I recently finished a project I had been working on sporadically over the past seven years. It involved completing and editing a science fiction novel my late father had written many years ago. I’ve just published it, and I hope he would have been pleased with the result. I’d also like to write historical fiction, but at the moment I’m too lazy to do the necessary background research. Maybe some day.

AJ: You told me a very interesting story about yourself and what made you start writing.  Would you be willing to share that here?

CH: I had worked as a journalist for years, so I had been writing for a long time, but in 2009, I went to stay with my mother for two months after she had a minor stroke. I was climbing the walls with boredom, so I decided to write a mystery novel, setting it in a small research laboratory like the one where my parents had both worked. I had spent a lot of time there during my childhood, so I knew how it functioned and thought there would be a reasonable amount of material for plots. Over the next two years, I wrote five scientific sleuth novels, so by the time I discovered KDP in 2011, I had a series (the R&P Labs Mysteries) ready to go. There are now ten novels and four short stories in that series, and the Zukie books are a spin-off of those. I’d also add that there are a lot of scientists in my family, and one of my goals as a writer is to portray scientists not as jargon-spouting geeks, but just normal people who happen to work in that field. In the R&P books, many of the projects the staff take on are ones actually done by the lab where my parents worked.

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AJ: If you could have lunch with any “big time” author, who would you choose?

CH: I’d have to say Carl Hiaasen. Not only would I get a trip to Florida out of it, but I love his books and his off-the-wall sense of humor. He’s a newspaper journalist as well as a novelist, so we could also discuss how much newspapers and journalism in general have changed over the years.

AJ: What was the last book you read?  Would you recommend it?

CH: I just finished Don’t Point That Thing At Me, which is the first Charlie Mortdecai novel by Kyril Bonfiglioli. I like my mysteries to have some humor, and this one certainly does, although the downbeat, cliff-hanger ending seems out of sync with the rest of the book. Since there are two more books in the series, I assume Charlie finds a way out of his predicament by the time the second one starts. The writing style is a little too over the top in places, but yes, I’d recommend it, because it’s different from the average mystery.

AJ: What advice would you offer to aspiring writers?

CH: Read a lot. Learn the basics of spelling, grammar and punctuation – it doesn’t matter if you have the best story in the world if readers are distracted by your errors. Read a lot. Be prepared for critcism and don’t expect to make a fortune. Read a lot.

Cynthia, thank you again for taking the time to talk to me and share some of your wisdom with all of us. Best of luck to you with your newest Zukie Merlino Mystery.

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If you are an author or blogger who would like to be interviewed for “Ten Questions With –” please contact me at AuthorAJGoode@gmail.com.

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