Some Mysterious ‘Muse’

J. Ivanel Johnson Author Interview

Just a Stalemate follows a woman traveling to visit her godson, who winds up helping out in a murder investigation. What was the inspiration for the setup of your story?

The first book in this series Just A STILL LIFE, (really the last, as the rest are all prequels) was first drafted by my grandmother more than 75 years ago. So P.J., the elderly godmother in 2023’s Maxy-Award Runner-Up for Mystery/Crime Just A STALE MATE  is loosely based on that grandmother who loved to travel, but was equally as happy as a homebody typing her manuscripts. And the place she’d called ‘home’ her entire life was either in the village of Straffordville, Ontario (Sandytown in the book), or on a country estate just 2 miles outside the village. Grandma really understood the often close-minded vision and gossip-mongering of villages like this, and as I grew up with her,  experiencing the same village, I decided I wanted to set the second whodunnit novel right there. There are lots of interesting things about that area as well: it was famous as tobacco country but on the shores of Lake Erie, which is practically like growing up near an ocean; it has a lot of railway history and I grew up overlooking the train trestle bridge which features greatly; it isn’t far from many Canadian early innovations and inventors, also mentioned in the book, and which many might assume to be wholly American. 

​With so many interesting characters in this novel, who was your favorite character to write for and why?

While I write many diverse characters into my plays and novels and thus delve into research and have sensitivity editors from most marginalized communities, the development of the Cowan family sprang from a childhood pal, my ‘twin’ (we were born together, our parents already great friends) and seemed to take on a life of its own. Without giving too much away, my ‘twin’ had asked to be a central character and since I like anagrams and wordplay as clues and red-herrings, her name and the fictionalized background of the Cowan family came to mean a lot to me, and to the plot. And as I’m (dis)Abled, I wanted to make one of the family members representative of that particular group, too.

However, I love creating who D.I. Philip Steele’s partner will be in each book. In ‘Still Life’, it was a former Black journalist turned cop, who likes spouting literary quotes, but usually gets them humorously wrong. In ‘Stale Mate’, it’s Trevor, a member of the LGBTQ community who is afraid to come out as, in 1969 Ontario, he’d surely have been fired from his position. In the third in the series, which is set in the Yukon in 1967, Phil’s partner is a female Inuit based on a fine superwoman I met when I lived there in the 1980s.

When you first sat down to write this story, did you know where you were going, or did the twists come as you were writing?

I really have to laugh when I get asked this. Because Just A STILL LIFE took 75 years to see the light of day, with many versions and drafts having crossed the ocean and the continent several times with me in the form of hard-copy manuscripts and copious notes, it’s unbelievable that its award-winning sequel/prequel took only a matter of weeks to write and revise to what Literary Titan has called “a polished and sharply-written novel”, and to be published hot on the heels of the first novel, (again by Black Rose Writing of Castroville, Texas). I’ve always struggled and labored a great deal over all my works, whether short or long; many have been decades in development. We’ve all heard authors and playwrights say ‘it just wrote itself’, and I’ve always thought that was ridiculous. But quite honestly, Just A STALE MATE had some mysterious ‘Muse’ writing through me. Perhaps it was my grandmother, dead 30 years now. She likes to keep her hand in, I guess.   

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

One of my book groups was organized through International Thriller Writers, and the very experienced best-selling authors in that group are encouraging me to work on another Yukon-based manuscript which I’ve had in my writing trunk for decades. It’s called ‘No Fair Game’ — I’ve had to add prefixes to all my original two-word/double-meaning titles now; as I’ve waited so long on them, there are countless others out there with the same name — and it’s more a suspense/adventure yarn than a mystery. Then I’ve got a full-length two-act historical musical called Rough Notes in development that’s had a professional workshopping of it last autumn and needs to keep going forward. So these two projects (as well as promotions/tours, etc. for everything else!) are taking up a lot of my time. While the general plot and characters for the third book in the JUST (e)STATE mysteries are in my head, I don’t know when I’ll be able to actually start bringing them ‘to life’.  Or, since it’s a murder mystery – ‘to death’ !

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook |

When P.J. Whistler leaves her Appalachian village of Victoria, New Brunswick in the summer of 1969 to visit her godson’s family in south-western Ontario, she isn’t prepared for her keen observational skills to be in demand for solving a murder.
But when her godson, homicide consultant Inspector Philip Steele, and his mother Lary, who is now running their family farm, the “JUST (e)STATE”, as one of the first therapeutic riding schools in North America, ask P.J. to help with the investigation of a young man who fell to his death from a railway trestle, she is happy to oblige.
The many suspects, from as far as Yorkshire, who are staying at the rural retreat outside Sandytown all seem to have a motive. Or, at least a secret. And what of the constant Dickens references behind which they all hide? Will Phil and P.J., along with Detective Trevor Ames (closeting a secret of his own), be able to ‘unearth’ the killer? Or, is what’s buried on the retreat’s property destined to remain there forever?

About Literary Titan

The Literary Titan is an organization of professional editors, writers, and professors that have a passion for the written word. We review fiction and non-fiction books in many different genres, as well as conduct author interviews, and recognize talented authors with our Literary Book Award. We are privileged to work with so many creative authors around the globe.

Posted on May 20, 2023, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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