Today, I’m pleased to have as my guests Peggy Williams and Mary Joy Johnson, who together write under the pen name M. J. Williams and are the authors of Books One and Two of the “On the Road …” mystery series, On the Road to Death’s Door and On the Road to Where the Bells Toll.
Q. Welcome to you both. Mystery is a genre that seems to appeal to both young readers as well as adults. Personally, I love them, though I haven’t written one myself. So, tell us what’s unique about your stories.
A. Our “On the Road …” mystery series features a retired couple, Emily and Stan, who travel in an inherited, second-hand RV. The most frequent comments we get about our main characters are that they are the kind of people our readers would “love to sit and have a drink with.” We’ve sort of flipped traditional roles and put Emily in the lead when it comes to investigating, because of her law enforcement background. Stan, a retired history professor, is research oriented and more contemplative than his action-oriented wife. They are also grandparents, and in our second book, On the Road to Where the Bells Toll, which takes place in Boston, reviewers have consistently mentioned enjoying the interaction between Emily and Stan and their granddaughters, one of whom is a typical—if moody—teenager.
Q. That’s funny. So, it sounds like you are really contrasting the two generations which, I’m sure, makes for some interesting conflict. Since there are two of you, can you tell us a little bit about the writing process?
A. The process of writing is actually an evolving process of learning how to write as a team. We do all our initial brainstorming and plotting together, something we happened onto while writing our first book, On the Road to Death’s Door. We depend hugely on outlining—using a day-by-day and scene-by-scene outline format that we’ve designed. And we’ve just started using Google docs so that we can work simultaneously side-by-side or from wherever each of us happens to be at the moment. However, once we have a detailed enough outline, we each take a chapter and begin writing solo, often leapfrogging one another from one chapter to the next. When the first draft is done, we sit down together again and our individual voices pretty much automatically meld into one voice as we revise and edit subsequent drafts, just as we’ve done for this interview.
Q. Wow, you’re both way more disciplined than I am! In terms of the theme, what are the one or two things you are hoping the reader will come away with in each book?
A. Because we set our stories in colorful, current-day settings with the mysteries having historical connections, we hope the reader comes away with a deeper curiosity of a time and place, as well as the satisfaction that comes with a good whodunit. Relationship is another important theme for us. We find ourselves exploring the transitions that come later in life. However, readers of all ages can empathize with the interactions between Emily and Stan and between the couple and their friends and family.
Q. What are you working on now, and is it in the same vein as your current mystery series?
A. We are hard at work on the third book in our series, On the Road to the Deadly Apostles, which takes Emily and Stan and their RV up to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior, just off northern Wisconsin. There they become ensnared in a sting involving Native American artifact trafficking. We are not quite sure how it all turns out yet.
Q. That sounds exciting! Best of luck to both of you, and thank you.
In this second book in the “On the Road …” mystery series, Stan and Emily pack up the RV and head to Boston for some R & R with the grandkids and a chance to immerse themselves in colonial history. But their Fourth of July celebration comes to an abrupt halt when they stumble over a body on the Boston Esplanade and then another hanging in the tower of the Old North Church. Now the couple must unravel a tangle of forged clues and flush out the perpetrator before their own untimely epitaphs are written onto the historical landscape.
About the Authors
M. J. Williams is the pen name of sisters-in-law Peggy Joque Williams and Mary Joy Johnson (nee Williams). Peggy is an elementary school teacher and freelance writer. Mary Joy is a retired college professor and professional quilter. Their “On the Road…” mystery series features RVers, Emily and Stan Remington. Both writers live in Madison, Wisconsin.