Let me tell you a little story. A few months ago, while walking the floor of ALA’s Mindwinter meeting, I spotted a book. I didn’t know much about what this book was about and at that point I hadn’t heard of the author. But judging from the (beautiful) cover I knew I needed to read this book! I have no explanation why, but I just knew I needed to read this book. That book was The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude.
I was lucky enough to be given an advanced copy of this book from the publisher (thanks Houghton Mifflin Harcourt!). A few short weeks later I read the book, my mind reeling and spinning in every direction. I loved it! But you knew that based on my review already.
Anyway, after reading I knew I had to chat with author Sarah Jude. And fortunately for me, and for you dear readers, she so graciously agreed to do an author interview!
Want to know what we talked about? Well, wait no more!
BookBandit (BB): Can you tell a little about yourself, and your path as a writer?
Sarah Jude (SJ): I think my Twitter profile sums me up best: Episcopalian, Mama, Authoress. My husband and I have been together since we were teens, and we have three children. If I’m not writing, I’m probably in the garden, curled up with my dogs, or at a stable getting in some horse time.
I’m open about having anxiety, panic attacks, and OCD. Writing is therapeutic. I knew very young that I wanted to be an author. Life derailed that dream when I lost my mom and had my daughter in short order, but after a few years, I tried again and signed with my agent, Miriam Kriss. In 2012, I began writing MQM. She pushed me to finish as she knew it would be the one.
BB: What was the inspiration behind your upcoming novel, The May Queen Murders?
SJ: MQM came from a few different places. I live near woods and water, and it’s a short ride before I find myself in the Ozarks foothills. The superstitions paved the way for the story to come about. It was the first time I’d ever written about female friendships and explored the ugly side of being close to someone.
BB: What kind of research went into writing this book?
SJ: I spent time talking to people who lived deep in the Ozarks. It’s a different way of life from the suburbs or cities. The appreciation for family stories and history is palpable. I also looked into off-the-grid communes where the people have solar power and hydroelectricity but lag in modern technology, along with some of the challenges they face when trying to be part of a bigger community.
BB: One of the first things I noticed, almost immediately, while reading, is the color red. What significance does this color hold in regards to The May Queen Murders?
SJ: Red is a lot of different things. It’s eye-catching. It’s blood. It’s life. It’s pain or anger. It’s fire and passion. We use red in our warning signs, and Ivy’s certainly looking for signs.
BB: Besides the color read, I also picked up on your character names – why did you choose to name your characters after various plant life?
SJ: The characters who live in Rowan’s Glen have a naming tradition, and it goes back to the generation that founded the commune. In trying to get away from their modern society at the time, they chose names from nature as a way to be close to the land.
BB: If you had to describe The May Queen Murders in three words, what three words would you choose to describe it?
SJ: Mystery, community, secrets.
BB: A big part of the May Queen Murders is the environment in which the characters were raised – an environment filled with superstition and aged traditions. Is there one superstition and/or tradition that you held on to that helped inspire the ways of your characters?
SJ: The Ozarks traditions obviously influenced me. The old-timers have interesting beliefs about everything from predicting the weather to bringing a murderer to justice. This one man, a retired horticulturist, took me out on a boat and spoke of how they’d watch the trees and the river to know what was coming, both weather-wise and event-wise.
BB: What was the most challenging aspect of writing the May Queen Murders? What was the easiest part?
SJ: MQM picked at my old scars. A friend of mine was murdered when we were young adults, the cousin of my oldest friend. We all grew up together and were like family, and then she was gone. Female friendships are complex, and one of the things Ivy has to do is take a step back and look at her relationship with Heather as a whole rather than one argument or one day of laughter. It’s a hard thing to do.
The easiest aspect was Ivy’s relationship with the land and enjoyment of a simple life. I try to get away from all the busyness of day-to-day life and find those quiet moments.
BB: Can you tell of any upcoming projects you are working on?
SJ: I have a few projects in my pocket, though I’m not ready to discuss them. I will always write darker stories of mystery and murder and people with secrets, stories that explore sexuality, psychology, and faith.
BB: What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?
SJ: One of the best things you can do is friend a critique partner or critique group who understand your writing and your story. Learn which people will give you feedback that resonates with you. Not everyone who reads your work is the right critic, but when you find someone who is, hang on tight. My main critique group has been together for over seven years. While our careers are busier and we don’t critique as much, we brainstorm, listen, and support one another. They are some of my dearest friends.
Well there you have it, dear readers! I don’t know about you, but after chatting with Sarah Jude, and learning more about the May Queen Murders, I want to read it all over again! And I hope it makes you want to run out and read this book!
Before signing off I just want to say THANK YOU to author Sarah Jude for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions! Please be sure to check out, not only her book the May Queen Murders, but also check her out online!