The Sally Jean Chalmers Editorial Mysteries

Poster for Janis Bolster's Sally Jean Chalmers Editorial Mysteries

There are currently two books in Janis Bolster's Sally Jean Chalmers Editorial Mysteries: Murder in Two Tenses and The Lost Daughters. A third book, Emily Dickinson in the Attic, is expected in 2015.

Janis has also published an out-of-series mystery, Doubles, and is currently finishing another book, Artifacts.

Interview with the Author

Tell us a little bit about your series protagonist, Sally Jean Chalmers. How does she change from book to book?

Sally is a young editor with wild red hair and a sharp sense of humor. She starts out ambitious, eager to get ahead in publishing. After the events of Murder in Two Tenses, her goals change. She’s still curious, still intrigued by history and the written word, but by the time of The Lost Daughters, she no longer equates work and career.

When, she falls in love with Gil O’Brien in Murder in Two Tenses, it feels to her like the most reckless thing she’s ever done. Riding that particular roller coaster gets less attractive as time goes on, but as hard as she tries to get Gil completely out of her life, events work against her. In the forthcoming Emily Dickinson in the Attic, her love life is a nightmare snarl – until one of the potential lovers gets killed.

How do you research the historical components that are so central to the plots in this series?

I read books for background and general sweep and troll the Internet for answers to specific questions. Because I tend to write and research simultaneously, I let myself in for a lot of rewriting. For Emily Dickinson in the Attic I’ve read three or four biographies, as well as Dickinson’s poems and letters and even some critical analysis. Right now what’s on my desk is a book called Emily Dickinson and Her Culture by Barton St. Armand, which has given me new ideas for working out the plot.

Your mysteries have been praised for their realism. What in your experience prepared you to write these mysteries?

I’ve been an editor most of my working life, with projects all too reminiscent of the chaos Sally confronts in Murder in Two Tenses. Like most writers, I put characters together from bits and pieces I’ve encountered along the way, and that definitely includes workmates and bosses. I’ve been a production editor, a copy editor, an acquisitions editor, a developmental editor; I’ve worked for university presses and textbook publishers and trade houses. It’s all useful.

What prompted the switch from the Editorial Mysteries series to Doubles, your most recent book?

Twins have fascinated me all my life. The basic story line of Doubles occurred to me long ago, and before Murder in Two Tenses ever saw its first word I’d written chapters of an early version of Doubles. I set them aside, wrote (and rewrote and rewrote) Murder in Two Tenses, and started The Lost Daughters. When I bogged down, I went back to those early chapters. Even though I (rightly) trashed them all, I stayed interested in the project.

It hasn’t been a permanent shift away from Sally Jean. The book I’m at work on now picks her up a year after the end of The Lost Daughters, when she finds a stash of letters written to Emily Dickinson – and, inevitably, a murder.

What's the biggest challenge you face in writing?

Interesting question. I’m not a natural researcher, and that can be tedious. For the Sally Jean books, which always include a historical story as well as a contemporary, it can be tricky coming up with two stories that have some sort of connection. But the sneaky, truthful answer is that writing gives me more satisfaction than any other part of my work life.


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