Jill Orr is the author of the new mystery novel The Ugly Truth, the third in her Riley Ellison series, which also includes The Good Byline and The Bad Break. She lives in Columbia, Missouri.
Q: How did you come up with the plot of The Ugly Truth, your third Riley Ellison mystery?
A: I start each book knowing who dies and that's about it. I seriously do not even know who did it when I begin writing. Since I am not a plotter, the story grows organically as I follow Riley around after she learns about whatever crime she's writing about for the paper.
I think that's one of the reasons why readers tell me they often can't guess who the "bad guy" is-- I can't very well give it away if I don't even know who it is myself!
In The Ugly Truth I knew I wanted Riley and Holman to have to question whether one of their own in Tuttle Corner was involved in the murders, so that's where I began.
Q: In our previous interview, you said of your character Riley, "She's definitely still figuring out what she wants from life and what she's willing to do to get it, but with each passing challenge, I think she's getting closer to answering those big life questions." What direction do you see her taking in this third installment?
A: In this book, Riley and Holman disagree on a central aspect of the story they're reporting on for the newspaper. I wanted Riley to struggle with asserting her professional independence, and since Holman is her mentor and friend, it was uncomfortable for her to have to confront him when she feels his judgement is clouded. By the end of the book, I think Riley is a stronger reporter for having that experience, which is what I wanted for her.
I also placed her in situations that tested her emotional maturity, which she's been working on over the course of the series.
Q: Your novels are very funny. What role do you see humor playing in your writing?
A: Thank you! Humor is such a subjective thing, so I am always glad when I hear that someone thinks the books are funny. For better or worse, I think I am incapable of writing something without a humorous bent. It's just how my voice comes out.
I do work hard on the email interludes, trying to make them as funny/ridiculous as possible. It was really fun revisiting Regina H in this book!
Q: What are some of your favorite mystery novels?
A: I read all types of mysteries from the very dark to the very light. Some of my favorites are the hugely popular Alan Bradley books featuring Flavia de Luce and Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books, but I also love reading books by lesser known writers like E.C. Diskin, Susanna Calkins, Hannah Mary McKinnon, Karen Katchur, and Laura McHugh.
These are some of the fabulous women authors I've had the privilege of getting to know through mystery writer conventions. There is so much good work out there and it's always fun discovering a great book that is flying under the radar.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just turned in book four in the Riley Ellison series, The Full Scoop. It will come out June 2020. It's with my editor now, so until I hear back from her, I have a little bit of a break!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Well, I don't want to spoil anything, but The Ugly Truth ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. (Sorry!) But readers should rest assured that all will be revealed in book four regarding Riley's grandfather and what really happened all those years ago...
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jill Orr.