Wednesday, September 20, 2017

An Interview With Jeri Westerson

by Grace Topping

Recently, my daughter stayed at a hotel in Atlanta where Dragon Con was taking place. She returned home with some very interesting stories. Dragon Con bills itself as the world’s largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction & fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe! More than 80,000 people gathered in Atlanta for the event.  

At the same time, Jeri Westerson was reporting on Facebook about her involvement as a first-time Dragon Con attendee and presenter. Jeri posted pictures and recounted some of her experiences there to promote her new book, Booke of the Hidden. It sounded as though she had stepped into a different world. So when I had the opportunity to read Booke of the Hidden, and interview Jeri, I jumped at it. Jeri, well known for her award-winning Crispin Guest series, was making a leap into the fantasy genre with Booke of the Hidden, and I wanted to find out more. 

Welcome, Jeri, to Writers Who Kill.

Jeri Westerson
Kylie Strange from Booke of the Hidden relocates to a village in Maine, only to find herself facing down demons, succubi, incubi, Wiccans, a motorcycle gang, and one unfriendly villager. What is it about Kylie that enables her to hold her own facing such great odds? 

The woman’s a fighter. Her mother had just died, too, and there comes a time when you either pick yourself up and strive on, or you fall apart completely. She has her moments of falling apart, but she IS the heroine, after all, and we’re rooting for her. It’s important to me to have her come across as the everyperson. I want the reader to think, “Now what would I do in this instance?” She goes above and beyond, that’s for sure. Readers want resilience in their protagonists, and she’s got it in spades. She’s in for a bumpy ride.

Booke of the Hidden is a story of intrigue, murder, romance, and the supernatural. How would you categorize it?

It falls very close into the “Urban Fantasy” category, where the emphasis is on the paranormal, and where a feisty (they’re always “feisty” or “plucky”) heroine—in a contemporary setting—does her best by supernatural means to fight the baddie. Though it isn’t too “urban” being set in a small town, there are still some gritty elements to the story. And it’s a little bit of a mystery, too, especially in the second book, Deadly Rising, when it starts to get a little more into the whodunnit range.

To me, Booke of the Hidden is like a bit of Harry Potter for adults. Kylie’s magical crossbow empowers her a bit like Harry’s magic wand empowered him. What is it about the supernatural that makes reading about it so compelling?

It’s fun! Who wouldn’t want a little magic in their lives? And a chthonic crossbow just when you need it? Except that the kind of magic Kylie encounters is decidedly deadly. The magical book she finds bricked up in the wall of her tea shop is a Pandora’s Box of sorts, because when she opens it, she unleashes creatures and forces beyond her ken, and she alone is responsible for putting it back to rights. And it isn’t easy. People are dead because of it. But just like J.K. Rowling’s magical world, there are certain rules that an author creates. The reader soon gets the hang of that world and what the heroine can and cannot do. That’s the fun of it for the reader, knowing that she’s cornered and “how is she gonna get out of it this time!” She can’t just wave a wand. It involves smarts and quick thinking, and a lot of hutzpah.

This is a serious, faced-paced story that includes physical battles and characters killed by having the life sucked out of them (those damn demons), but you still managed to insert touches of humor, which I loved. The excerpt below made me laugh out loud. Did the humor just creep into your story or did you use it for a bit of comic relief?

I looked around for a possible weapon and ended up grabbing a bag of tea. “Allergic, [to tea] right? Just how allergic?”
He pulled up short with a look of horror on his face. Aha! His kryptonite!
“Don’t come any closer,” I warned, brandishing the cellophaned tea. “I’ve got Earl Grey and I know how to use it.”
Humor is all a part of life anyway, and Kylie is a bit snarky, so as ridiculous as her situation is—and she knows it—she has to inject that humor in there just to keep sane. There’s nothing light-hearted about the story, but I do keep coming back to the aspect of what would I do in similar circumstances, and yeah, I’d be cracking jokes and snarking a bit, especially to keep the fear down. Even the Crispin books have their moments of humor because that’s life. And I wanted a little of that Buffy humor in there, because I think that readers expect it.

Kylie finds herself split between two possible love interests: a pleasant and appealing sheriff and bad boy Erasmus Dark, a mysterious demon. Why is it that women find bad boys so appealing?

It’s the danger they exude. The excitement. Most of us have pretty mundane lives with mundane jobs and meet some pretty mundane people, so when someone shows up in full color to our black and white drab, we tend to sit up and take notice. Didn’t we all like Spike in the Buffy series? Or Eric in the Sookie series?

Modern-day Kylie is a big departure from your medieval Crispin Guest series, which has loyal followers. What do you think your Crispin Guest followers will make of Booke of the Hidden?

Some will come along for the ride because they are intrigued by the concept and seem to enjoy my writing style, and some won’t because their only reading interest is in the medieval, and that’s okay. But it is tough striking out in a whole new genre, pretty much starting over trying to promote your book to an audience that hasn’t yet heard of you. And there’s very little help out there. You are kind of on your own. Now, your readers will be seeing this interview after I come back from Dragon Con. I was pretty excited to be invited on a panel there. Ever since I heard of these cons, like Comic Con, I wanted to go to them as an author, and now I’m getting my chance. I hope it introduces Kylie, Erasmus, and the gang to a whole new audience.

It’s funny, but readers tend to categorize you as much as publishers try to, as writing the one kind of thing. But I’ve been reading and enjoying sci fi and fantasy since I was in high school and that is a very long time indeed. So finally writing it is a little like old home week for me, getting back to my roots of what I enjoyed reading. So I hope that most of my readers will give it a try.

Booke of the Hidden is set in modern day Maine, while your Crispin Guest series is set in 14th century London. Which do you find more challenging to write, the historical or modern-day stories?

There’s no question that the Crispin Guest books are far more challenging, because when you are writing historically, it’s up to you to get the history right on which to hang your fiction, and that is some heavy-duty research. But even though Booke of the Hidden is contemporary with the liberal use of fantastical creatures and happenings, there is always a basis in truth or at least in the myths and legends of these creatures that people might be familiar with, so yes, there is still research. What’s the use of just making it all up? J.K. Rowling did her research on the myths of the past to inject them into her stories—the familiar, if you will—just to ground the reader and then take off from there. Stephanie Meyer started with what we think we know about vampires and werewolves in her Twilight series and gave it her own twist, her own rules. I’m having a lot of fun researching all the kinds of creatures Kylie will encounter that come out of the Booke in subsequent novels in the series. And, of course, I researched the heck out of Maine, what the cops wear, place names and surnames, the colloquialisms, and so on. Just like my historicals, I want it as real as I can make it.

What inspired Booke of the Hidden? Is this a new genre for you, or have you written other books in this genre?

I haven’t written these kinds of books before but I have enjoyed reading them. The Sookie Stackhouse novels, the Greywalker series by Kat Richardson, the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton, the Buffy series on TV as well as Grimm and Supernatural—all urban fantasies. So this is a brand new genre for me to write and market. But let me tell you what inspired it: I had a dream. No, really. I dreamed the plot in that Kylie was there, opening a big, ancient book and released baddies into the world. And there was a demon who was sort of helping her, and some of the Wiccans to help her, so all the flesh of the story was there. And it was very entertaining. It was sitting down immediately after the dream to write down all I could remember and filling in the gaps in the synopsis, that I realized I had a series. And I wanted to stretch my writing wings anyway, not just to get out of the medieval for a while, but also to get out of the midlist. Some authors have found amazing success in this genre. But you never know. I thought Crispin Guest, a hardboiled detective in a medieval setting, was original enough to get some attention, but that didn’t happen. We’ll see what happens once Booke of the Hidden takes off.

Now that you’ve written books in different genres, do you find one pulling at you more than the others?

No, not really. My agent wasn’t keen on my sneaking into another genre. He was more comfortable with marketing me as the “medieval gal” and encouraged me to write more medieval mysteries—and I will, eventually—but let’s face it, it’s a pretty niche market. And a writer has all sorts of stories in their heads. Why should they be relegated to only one kind? I have more paranormals up my sleeve, including a paranormal mystery series. One idea I had might even be a mash-up of paranormal and medieval mystery, not that there aren’t already little hints of paranormal in the Crispin books, but this one will be more blatant about it. But that’s all in the planning stages as the Crispin books wind down in a few years.

Your books have garnered all kinds of accolades. When you were starting out and a member of the Sisters in Crime Guppies, did you ever think your work would be so well received?

I was hoping it would be, and I certainly worked hard to get it out there, but I still have a long way to go. The series has been nominated 12 times for industry awards for 9 books so far, but I have yet to win any of those awards. So far, I’m the Susan Lucci of mystery awards!

A Maiden Weeping was released in the UK before it was released here. How are your books received in the UK and in other parts of the world?

It’s funny, but UK readers—or is it publishers?—think Americans can’t write historicals. We’re uneducated boobs, I guess. But the readership is growing in the UK. And the books have been translated into Italian, French, Polish, and Russian, so far. The interest is slowly growing.

You’ve written a popular series and been nominated for twelve awards, including the Agatha and Shamus. I understand that you still find it difficult to get into some bookstores for public appearances. What is it about publishing now that makes promotion and book selling so difficult?

Money is so tight and if a bookseller doesn’t think they can sell an adequate number of books, they don’t want to invest the time and effort, and believe me, I understand that. I have sat in bookstores at a signing and did not sell one copy. 

And the Internet has made it far easier and cheaper for consumers to get their hands on books they never would have known about before. Still, a personal appearance is a great way to hand sell a book. I do a lot of library events throughout the year, and I’ll be doing some specifically on my book tour in November and December after the book comes out.

Is Booke of the Hidden available for pre-order?

It’s always available for pre-order on Amazon, but might I suggest you call your local Barnes & Noble or independent bookstore and pre-order it there? It will be releasing on Halloween and my in-store appearances will begin the first weekend in November. Check to find my appearance schedule, or come to my Facebook Virtual Booke Launch for two hours of spooky fun and giveaways. That’s on November 1st. And don’t forget to check out my book trailer. It’s pretty fantastic. You can see that on my website.

What’s next for Kylie Strange? Will there be a sequel to Booke of the Hidden?

Oh yes! There will be six books in the series, and the next one is Deadly Rising, where a kelpie, a demon horse, is luring young women to their doom in the swampy marshes outside Moody Bog. Kylie must figure out a way to stop this new fiend without following its siren song herself, except she’s preoccupied with thoughts of another demon—Erasmus Dark, even as things heat up between her and Sheriff Ed. The Ordo [evil bike gang] is up to their old tricks, and a new danger only stirs up more questions about the hidden secrets just below the surface of Moody Bog.

Being a real Crispin Guest fan, I can’t help but ask, what’s next for Crispin? I hope we’ll see more of him—and of Kylie Strange.

Crispin will return in the tenth book, Season of Blood, releasing on New Year’s Day, which, I have to tell you, is now one of my favorite Crispin books. It’s full of the kind of twisty plot I like to write with some really fun characters and a love interest: Embroiled in a war of relics between a country monastery and Westminster Abbey, Crispin finds himself shielding a former sheriff and old nemesis, Simon Wynchecombe, from a charge of murder while entangling himself with a mysterious and beautiful woman caught between Church politics and the dangerous intrigues of King Richard’s court.

Thank you, Jeri.

Booke of the Hidden Trailer Video:

Amazon link:

Booke of the Hidden Jacket Copy
To get a fresh start away from a bad relationship, Kylie Strange moves across the country to open a shop in a seemingly quiet town in rural Maine. During renovations on Strange Herbs & Teas, she discovers a peculiar and ancient codex, The Booke of the Hidden, bricked into the wall. Every small town has its legends and unusual histories, and this artifact sends Kylie right into the center of Moody Bog’s biggest secret.

While puzzling over the tome’s oddly blank pages, Kylie gets an unexpected visitor―Erasmus Dark, an inscrutable stranger who claims to be a demon, knows she has the book, and warns her that she has opened a portal to the netherworld. Kylie brushes off this nonsense, until a series of bizarre murders put her, the newcomer, at the center. With the help of the demon and a coven of witches she befriends while dodging the handsome but sharp-eyed sheriff, Kylie hunts for a killer―that might not be human.

Los Angeles native Jeri Westerson is the author of ten Crispin Guest Medieval Noir novels, a series nominated for 12 national awards from the Agatha to the Shamus. Her first in the series, Veil of Lies was named Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society Review, her third The Demon’s Parchment received a coveted starred review by Library Journal, and her sixth, Shadow of the Alchemist, was named Best of 2013 by Suspense Magazine. Also in 2013, her fifth novel Blood Lance was named one of the "Ten Hot Crime Novels for Colder Days" by Kirkus Reviews. For her debut urban fantasy series, Booke of the Hidden, releasing this Halloween, Jeri was invited as a paneled author to prestigious Dragon Con. Jeri was featured on two local NPR shows, ‘My Awesome Empire” and KVCR-Arts. She has served two terms as president of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, as vice president for the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and twice president of the Orange County Chapter of Sisters in Crime. She frequently guest lectures on medieval history at local colleges and museums, and lives in southern California with her home-brewing husband, a complacent desert tortoise, and 40,000 bees. See more about Jeri at or visit for exclusive content about her new series and a fabulous “Booke” trailer.


  1. Jeri, I love your Crispin Guest books and look forward to reading this new series. So glad you enjoyed Dragon Con. Grace, a great interview.

  2. Thanks, Paula and Warren. It's different from Crispin but just as fun.

  3. Thank you for a great interview, Grace and Jeri. "I’ve got Earl Grey and I know how to use it!" LOL! I love your sense of humor and I'll be looking for the Kylie books

  4. Both series sound like fun! Thank you for introducing me to another author (and adding to my TBR pile!)

  5. Thanks Shari. I just love writing that stuff. And KM, sneak on over to both websites and take a look. If you like medieval, there's a lot of books there for you. Hope you enjoy!

  6. Grace, great interview! Looking forward to meeting Crispin and exploring your other series as well.

  7. Great interview, and I think this is a series I would like to read.

  8. Give it a try, Gloria. Did you see the book trailer? It came out really well.

  9. Sounds like a wonderful new series, Jeri. Good for you, for writing in another genre.

  10. Thanks, Marilyn. You've got to stretch your wings in order to fly (boy, does that ever sound like an inspirational poster!)