Interview with Jean Erhardt, author of “Deep Trouble”

Hi, Jean–nice to have you here. Sit back, grab a couple of macaroons, and let’s start in.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? For instance, do you have to have a day job as well as being a writer?

Yes, like many writers, I have a day job. I work full time as a sales manager for a funeral home and cemetery in Portland.

That job in itself would be a pretty good story.

Who are your three (or four or five) favorite authors?

I adore Kinky Friedman. He writes the funniest mysteries on the planet. I enjoy and greatly admire Robert B. Parker, Joy Williams, Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Portis. Of course, there are many more.

What are you reading now?

Right now, I am reading straight through the last three issues of Tin House which is arguably the best literary journal out there. On deck, I have 99 Stories of God by Joy Williams.

What is the most valuable advice you’ve been given as an author?

Long ago, I was taught by Joyce Thompson (How to Greet Strangers: A Mystery) that one must learn to write without the muse. A real writer doesn’t wait for inspiration or the right mood to strike. Also, I had the great fortune to study with Joy Williams who taught me that if you have found “a trick” in your writing, you must lose it.

Interesting advice. My problem is not the muse, it’s the time needed.

What’s next? Are you working on your next book?

I am currently at work on the next installment in the Kim Claypoole mystery series. I have also just begun to write a new mystery series featuring Portland PI, Haley Hammel. I will be drawing from my years of experience as a criminal defense investigator. The tone of this series will be far more serious than the Claypoole mysteries, although not without some levity.
Love it! And if you’re talking Portland, Oregon–well, that makes it even more interesting, since that’s my part of the world.

Is there anything that prompted your latest book? Something that inspired you?

I have spent a lot of my lifetime in the Great Smoky Mountains and I knew that I wanted to set the series in and around Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  As far as the inspiration for my protagonist, Kim Claypoole, I gave her some of my attributes.  For example, we share a similar sense of humor and have a penchant for damsels in distress.  For years, I worked as a private investigator and personal protection specialist aka bodyguard. On one memorable occasion, I was holed up for two weeks in a high-end, high security hotel situation with a loaded .38 and a female client from a country which started with I. She was in the process of divorcing her crazed, psychopathic husband who was richer than God. She chain smoked long, rainbow colored cigarettes, drank gallons of Persian tea and carried on lengthy boisterous phone conversations in Farsi at all hours of the day and night. By the end of the two weeks, I was almost hoping that her husband would show up and shoot me. But things turned out well for both of us. I got a big paycheck and she is now living happily ever after under an alias enjoying her multi-million dollar divorce settlement in an exotic, sunny locale. 

And another story rears its head. What a crazy situation!

When did you know you wanted to write? 

I wrote my first story in the fourth grade.  It was a mystery story and the protagonist was a squirrel. It had a very cheesy ending.  I have been writing seriously for about twenty-five years.

I’ll bet someone stuck that story to the front of the fridge for years, though.

Do you write in a specific place?  Time of day?

Generally, I write in my study at home.  Mornings, always mornings, usually very early.

More power to you. I can’t get two syllables to agree with each other until at least 9am.

When you aren’t writing, is there any other creative activity you enjoy? Have you ever written about it?

I am a professional painter, working primarily with oil on wood. I also enjoy gardening and listening to all kinds of music.

Gardening! Yes!

Is there any genre you would love to write?

For many years, I wrote and published short stories, mostly with themes of betrayal and loss. Real upbeat stuff, eh? There is nothing more satisfying than reading or writing a beautiful and strange short story.

What are you working on at the moment? Can you discuss it or do you prefer to keep it a secret until it’s finished.

Currently, I am working on the fifth book in the Kim Claypoole mystery series. I have completed books three and four, and they are in the can! I have also started to write a new mystery series featuring Portland PI Haley Hammel. For years, I worked as a PI here in Portland and I will be drawing on some of my experiences and crazy adventures.

Are there any words you’d like to impart to fellow writers?  Any advice?

Read great books.  Read outside of your genre.  I like to read great poetry from time to time.  And write whether you feel like it or not!

Good advice!  Thanks for joining me here, Jean.

Now for the particulars:

About the Book

The Fourth of July isn’t going at all as Kim Claypoole expected. It starts with a bang, including a run-in with a dead body, and ends with her juvenile delinquent nephew, Little Bucky, disappearing from her double-wide trailer on a souped-up Suzuki.

When Little Bucky fails to return and no one seems concerned but Claypoole, she sets out to find her wayward nephew. Nothing ever goes easy for Claypoole, and her investigation soon involves several trips to Krispy Kreme, a visit to Jesus Our Savior Bible Camp and some nasty encounters with a series of backwoods characters, including hillbilly counterfeiters and a major league Smoky Mountain dope dealer. In the midst of this chaos and while Claypoole is desperately trying to keep a rocky romance on track, her kooky mother and redneck cousin Alonzo show up for a surprise visit. Relatives, murder and love—all ingredients in a recipe for Deep Trouble.

About the Author

I was raised in the small rural town of Amelia, Ohio, about twenty five miles out of Cincinnati. My younger brother and sister and I had a pony, a horse, many great dogs and a couple of motorcycles. We raised a lot of hell. My father served in The Big One at 17 and, after riding a motorcycle around Europe, became a lawyer and later a judge. My mother worked as a homemaker and nurse, a skill she had to use a lot with all of the injuries my siblings and I subjected ourselves and one another to.

I wrote my first mystery story when I was in fourth grade. It was about a kid a lot like me who heard strange noises coming from the attic and became convinced that the attic was haunted. Eventually, the mystery was solved when she investigated and found a squirrel eating nuts in a dark corner. It wasn’t a terribly exciting conclusion, but my teacher gave me an A anyway.

As a teenager I worked at a lot of different jobs. I worked at a gift shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which is a frequent locale in my books. I was a swimming instructor and a lifeguard where my primary goal was to never get wet. I did a stint in a stuffed animal gift shop at the Kings Island amusement park where I actually sort of met the Partridge Family when they shot an episode there. After graduating from high school, I went on to attend Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee, a stone’s throw from the Great Smoky Mountains. There was some more hell raising at college and I made some very good friends and occasionally we have our own private reunions.

In high school and college I played basketball and I graduated from Maryville College with a degree in Phys Ed. I went on to teach at Amelia Junior High, the same junior high that I had attended. There was something a little weird about passing by my old school locker every day when I walked down the hall as a teacher. Plus, some of the teachers I’d had back when I was in junior high were still working when I started to teach. Some of them had been none too fond of me as a student and I don’t think they were much fonder of me as a teacher! I coached the girls’ basketball and volleyball teams which was the best part of my job.

In my late 20’s I moved to the West Coast to get a broader perspective on life or something like that. I ended up working in retail security, or loss prevention, as it is now known, at an upscale Northwest retailer. I kept getting promoted and with each promotion, the job became less and less fun. It was a lot more fun catching shoplifters than sitting in endless meetings and crunching budgets. After ten years of that, I quit to try my hand at some serious writing. I wrote two books of fiction (not mysteries), Benny’s World and Kippo’s World, as well as a book of not-especially-reverent poetry called A Girl’s Guide to God and numerous short stories, articles and poems which have appeared in The Sonora Review, The Quarterly, Word of Mouth, Blue Stocking and 8-Track Mind.

After that, it was time to go back to work. I got my private investigator’s license and hung out my shingle. At first, I took a lot of the cheaters cases. It seemed to me that if a guy thought his woman was cheating, he was usually wrong. On the other hand, if a woman thought her guy was cheating, she was almost always right. Eventually, I moved on to take mostly criminal defense investigation work which often involved trying to figure out what the client did and didn’t do and then minimize the damage of what they usually did do. There were so many crazy ways that people could get themselves in trouble. In one case, the attorney I was working for represented a wife who had gotten so enraged about all of the time and affection her husband lavished on his pet iguana that she shot the poor iguana and killed it. The husband was furious and wanted the district attorney to press charges. The wife was eventually charged with reckless endangerment and took a pretty sweet deal because even the DA felt sorry for the fact that she was married to such a schmuck.

It was an interesting ten years. Somewhere in this time period I began to write the Kim Claypoole Mystery Series, which was a great distraction and a lot of fun. I liked the idea of having many of the same characters appear in each book. So here I am now, working on the fifth book in the series.


You’re a very interesting gal, and “Deep Trouble” sounds like a lot of fun. Where can we go to buy it?

Hope everyone’s enjoyed this interview. I’m sure the author would love to field any questions you might have. Please leave a comment, and we’ll get back to you.

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