N. J. Lindquist is an award-winning writer, inspiring
speaker, and popular writing teacher. Like fellow-Canadians Louise Penny and
Giles Blunt, N. J. has an engaging writing style and a unique worldview. Her
choice of setting is the city of Toronto, whose multi-cultural, eclectic nature
is wonderfully reflected in her books.
Publishers Weekly called
N. J.’s first Manziuk and Ryan Mystery, Shaded
Light, “captivating,” and said she “updates the Golden Age template with
modern police techniques. ” In reviewing Glitter
of Diamonds, her second mystery,
Library Journal called Lindquist a “master of plotting.” Midwest Book Review said, “Humor,
complications, and characters so real that you can just about touch them and
smell their sweat.”
N. J. is currently working on her third mystery. She also
has a number of short stories, several of which you can read on her website.
Welcome N.J. and thanks for being my guest on Tuesdays with
Tell me something
about N.J Lindquist. For example, what do you like to do when you’re not
writing, or conducting workshops?
Read. Mostly mysteries of all types, but some fantasy, books
by friends, books about writing… Use my Wii Fit programs. I love Wii Fit! Shop
(for clothing, not food. My husband took over the meals about 9 years ago. So
) Watch baseball, curling, basketball. Listen to music. Watch the odd movie…especially
comedies… the old ones.
Tell us a little bit
about your Manziuk and Ryan mystery series?
I’m a big fan of many of the “Golden Age” authors –
Allingham, Christie, Heyer, Marsh, Rinehart, Sayers, Tey, Wentworth, et al.
Basically authors who wrote in the 1920’s and 30’s. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a
fan of all types of mysteries, but my favourite are the classic style, where
there’s a puzzle to be solved and the reader tries to guess “whodunit” before the
author reveals the truth. So, when I started writing a mystery, it seemed sensible
to try to write in that style, but in today’s world.
My first mystery actually started with my walking through a
Japanese garden many years earlier, and thinking it would be a perfect setting
for a body to be found. (Why I thought that, I don’t know, but I’ve read
mysteries all my life, so….) Years later, when I decided to try my hand at writing
a book, I remembered that garden, decided whose body would be found.
I set the garden on an estate north of Toronto, owned by a
successful corporate lawyer. I added a team of detectives I felt were realistic
for the city of Toronto at that time—Paul Manziuk, a somewhat tired career cop,
and Jacquie Ryan, a young black woman with an MA and a chip on her shoulder. I
spent hours and hours and hours figuring out all the clues and alibis, and so
forth. And when it was published, under the title Shaded Light, many reviewers, including Publishers Weekly, compared it to the best of Agatha Christie. What
more could I ask for?
For my second mystery, I thought about the phrase, “Write
what you know.” Well, I’ve been a baseball fan all my life, so I decided I knew
enough to write a mystery set in the world of baseball and the surrounding
media. So Glitter of Diamonds, which
also has Manziuk and Ryan in it, is about baseball and the influence of the
media and the lure of fame. And it, too, has been compared to the Golden Age
novels, by Library Journal and many
You can meet Paul and Jacquie and read the first chapter of
each of my mysteries at http://manziukandryan.com
I saw on your website
that you also write coming of age stories for teenagers. Can you tell us a
little bit about those?
I honestly don’t know why, but when I first sat down to
write seriously, many years ago, the voice that came out was that of a teenage
boy. I’d been teaching high school and I’d worked with teens in other areas, so
I really was interested in them. Why a boy and not a girl, I’m not sure. I
think it may have been because I thought boys were more interesting. Or maybe
because I’d read Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys so many times.
Anyway, I wrote two novels and a bunch of short stories, all
from teen male perspectives, between the time I got married and the time the first
of my four sons came along. And then my writing kind of ended for a while.
Years later, when my youngest son was five, and I’d become
frustrated trying to find really good books for my older sons—especially books
with good role models—I pulled out my old stories. My first novel has actually never
been published, but my second became the book, Best of Friends. It’s about a very average, ordinary teen who
discovers that who you are inside is more important than who you are on the
outside. I eventually wrote three more books about the same characters.
My other teen novel is In
Time of Trouble, and it’s about a very different teen who has really messed
up his life and is wondering if everybody would be better off if he wasn’t
around. My site for them is http://comingofagenovels.com/
What’s the biggest
difference between writing for the adult market and writing for the teen
I’d say it’s probably harder to write for teens. Adults are
more forgiving, more willing to make excuses. Teens tend to have a shorter
Do you have a
favorite character? Come on you can tell us. We won’t think badly of you if you
like one of your creations more than the others.
Well, I have four sons, and they’re all my favourite,
although for different reasons. But, to be truthful, I do have a favourite
character: Shane, in In Time of Trouble.
I modeled him after several students I taught in high school, and so in one
sense he reminds me of those days. But a bigger reason is that there are so
many people like Shane, who don’t really know who they are, who put up barriers
(humour, rudeness, toughness, smart answers, indifference, etc.) as shields to
protect themselves; who won’t allow other people to get close; and yet who have
all kinds of talents and abilities. I wrote In
Time of Trouble for those people, as well as to show that just because
someone acts like a bully or a jerk doesn’t mean there isn’t a hurting child
Who’s your favorite
Oh, there are so many! I’ll go by writers whose books I
collect: Dead: Tie between Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Sayers, and Agatha Christie. Living: Tie between P. D. James, Donna
Andrews, Robin Burcell, T. Jefferson Parker, and Peter Robinson. But I’ve read thousands of books, and
there are many more I love.
What do you like to
Mysteries and more mysteries. I prefer those closest to the
classic style. Not really into the very hard-edged or the very cozy. But if
it’s well-written, I’ll read almost anything that’s called a mystery or a
thriller. I also like some fantasy. My second son is a huge fantasy reader and
he loans me the ones he thinks I’ll like. He’s also writing and one of these
days he’ll have books out. I really like what he writes, too. J
What authors have
influenced you most in your writing career?
Louisa may Alcott is number one. I read Little Women when I was eight, and I totally identified with Jo.
I first read the stories of Hans Christian Anderson and the brothers
Grimm when I was seven. I continued to read them through the years. Alice in Wonderland. A Child’s Garden of Verses. Peter Pan. I
had very few books, so I read them over and over and over. I can’t say
specifically how they influenced me, but I know they did, and I don’t know how
I would have survived without them.
I recently wrote an article about the importance of books in
my life and got two awards for it. You can read it online at http://hotapplecider.ca/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/The-Diamond-Ring.pdf
I started reading mysteries when I was about 9 or 10. Julie
Campbell (who wrote a number of Trixie Beldon, Ginny Gordon, Cherry Ames, and
other youth books) definitely made an impact. I related to those books in ways
I never did to Nancy Drew. I identified with Trixie – believed she could be
real. That’s how I try to write.
I read all of Jane Austen’s books when I was about 12. Then Agatha
Christie, Earl Stanley Gardner, and John Creasy. Then on to Emilie Loring, Dorothy
Sayers, P. D, James, Desmond Bagley, Josephine Tey, Dick Francis, P. G.
I learned much of my history from authors such as Thomas
Costain, Pierre Berton, and Louis L’Amour. Loved the plays of Anton Chekhov,
George Bernard Shaw. Blown away by Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment which I read just after my first son was born.
I’ll never forget the “oranges” story in John Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath or the true story of David Wilkerson in The Cross and the Switchblade.…
I know they’ve all influenced my writing, but in subtle
ways. I like to incorporate a mixture of everything. Life is never all somber,
or all funny, or all deep, or all mundane. It’s a mixture. And I try to put
that mixture in my books. So you have “real life” with it’s mixture of the
simple and the complex, the profane and the sublime, the gritty and the
humorous. And always, deeper meanings if you look for them.
Believe it or not, many of the writers I’ve studied and
loved are poets. I double-majored in English and psychology, and my area of
choice was the 16th and 17th century! So Shakespeare,
Milton, Donne, Herrick, Herbert, and many others. Totally into the metaphysical
poets with their complex metaphors! J But I also loved
Robert Browning, Robert Service, Robert Louis Stephenson, e.e. cummings…
And I’d have to add Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Ian Tyson,
and other songwriters. Blows me away how they can put a whole novel into two
lines! Songs like “Kawliga,” “Apache Tears,” “Irving Berlin is 100 Years Old
Today….” To get more recent, Johnny Reid’s “Kicking Stones.” Wow! I get a lot
of ideas from songs. And I write with music playing. Songs, I mean; not just
What is the best
writing advice you ever received?
back in first year university, I got something like 45, maybe less, on my first
essay in English and thought I was doomed. No one had ever taught me how to
write an essay. I honestly had no clue. But in addition to the mark, the
professor had written what I had done wrong, what I hadn’t done, what I had
done right, etc. on the sides and back of the pages. On my second essay, I got 50.
More writing. The third was 60. More writing, explaining to me what I was
missing, and what was good. The fourth essay mark was 75.
never looked back.
the end of that year, I tied with one other person for the highest mark in
first year English; and when I graduated two years later, I got the medal in
English. All because someone showed me what I was doing wrong and encouraged me
to do more of what I was doing right. So I learned that if I wasn’t doing
something right, I could find out what I was missing and fix it.
I always asked to see the changes editors made in my work when they published
it, so I could learn from them.
What advice would
give to a new author?
1. Read good writing, books on writing, and whatever it is
you most want to write.
2. Try all kinds of types of writing. Don’t limit yourself
out of the gate.
3. Start small. Short stories, columns, articles, etc. Build
up a resume and learn what you’re doing before you start a book.
4. Join a professional organization for writers and get
involved. You can learn so much more from people who are successful than you
can from people who are also aspiring writers.
5. Find someone you
respect who can point out what you’re doing wrong and encourage you in what you
are doing right. You might have to pay for this, but it’s usually worth it in
the time and energy it saves you. An objective person who knows what to look
for can spot things you might never see on your own: because we “know” what we’re
trying to say, it’s very hard for us to see we haven’t quite said it.
What’s the one thing
you wish someone had told you when you first started writing?
"You’re a very good writer and you need to just keep
writing, and try all kinds of things.”
I was “writing” in my head before I went to school. But my
English teachers throughout elementary school and high school, with
(thankfully) a couple of exceptions, were quite rigid and had no appreciation
for creativity. So I was the quiet, obedient student who never made waves, but
locked my “real” self away. Later, as an English teacher myself, I tried so
hard to encourage and excite my students. My parents were supportive, but I was
an adopted child and they had no framework to understand me, so they couldn’t
help in practical ways.
If you were
shipwrecked on a desert island and you could only have five things, what would
they be and why?
Well, besides lots of food and water, and things like combs
and tooth brushes, and clothes, and blankets, and tools, and a first aid kit… A
Bible. Maybe an AlphaSmart, because it runs on batteries. And some way of
playing music. I could live without books (because I can make up stories all
day), but I can’t live without music. And some way to exercise. A treadmill or
stepper or a stability ball or at least a couple of handweights.
Tell us a little bit
about your newest book and when it’s coming out?
Good question. I’m currently working on a memoir. Or I should
say “trying to work on a memoir.” I’m hoping it will be done some time this
year. I think this is the book I “have” to write to just get it done so I can
get to all the other fun things. It’s basically about growing up gifted and
creative with people who had no clue who I was or what to do with me.
I also have a fantasy for children that’s nearly done, and
which I have no idea what to do with. My younger granddaughter, for a solid
year, kept asking me to write something for “her age.” So I did. And now she
wants a second one!
And I’m working on my third mystery, Opaque Rays—and I ache to just get lost in it. It will be another
Manziuk and Ryan mystery, and it has another unique setting—a floor of a
high-rise where a group of individuals live. All are over 75, and all have been
involved in some aspect of the arts. In their retirement, they wanted to
control their own destinies, so two of them built a high-rise with one floor
designed with individual apartments plus a large lounge and dining room, with a
live-in staff and other daily or weekly staff. When one of the residents is
murdered, Manziuk and Ryan have to follow a trial that leads to events from the
past. Or does it?
I have a page on my Web site where you can check on my Works
in Progress and see how they’re going. http://www.njlindquist.com/wips/
Okay, last question.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to talk about in an interview, but no
one’s ever asked?
Perhaps the role my husband plays. He’s been a huge support.
My biggest fan. My first (substantive) editor. I’d likely have given up years
and years ago, except he wouldn’t let me.