By the Letter
● By Claudia Mosby
Writers’ Profiles: J.B. Hawker and Gary Muir
After her husband’s murder, Leveline ‘Bunny’ Elder is thrust into the middle of a whodunit, first as sleuth and later as suspect. Newly widowed, Bunny is pulled onto a path leading both to a serial killer and her long-lost first love.
Readers first meet the faithful (and it turns out, adventurous) heroine in “Hollow,” the first of a four-book series of Bunny Elder Mysteries by J.B. Hawker. Books two and three follow Bunny to Italy, where she gets mixed up with the Italian mob, and back again to Oregon, where she is pursued by sex traffickers who want possession of a chest she found washed up on the beach after a storm.
Hawker is completing book four (featuring a honeymoon among Somali Pirates), which will be released in May.
“She’s not Miss Marple,” Hawker says. “Definitely not someone who’s interested in finding out who did it, and yet she keeps stumbling into these mishaps.”
Although Elder and Hawker are not one and the same, the two do share some similarities. A former pastor’s wife, Hawker returned to Tehama County after divorcing and says about starting over in her 50s, “It was a real leap of faith. I had nothing. Bunny is also on her own for the first time in her life and finding her way after her pastor husband’s death.”
And what about character? “There is a lot of my personality and my convictions in Bunny,” says Hawker. “To a certain extent, her life parallels mine, but there are differences. For example, I have children and she does not.”
As an independent author, Hawker publishes her books digitally using Create Space through Amazon, allowing readers to order either as Kindle or a print-on-demand paper copy.
“With the first book it was like, ‘Oh, gee, it would be nice if I published this someday,’” says Hawker. “It wasn’t something I trusted. I sent the manuscript out and received it back with a ‘No, thanks. Not quite what we’re looking for.’” Ultimately, she decided self-publishing was the best option for her.
It has worked well; Hawker receives 70 percent of her Kindle sales and a lesser percentage for print copies. She also receives royalty checks from Amazon for international sales, which last month came from Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom and Italy.
“I think it’s a great thing for all frustrated authors to get their books out there in print,” she says. “There’s not such a snob factor anymore as to whether or not you have a ‘real’ publisher or you self-publish. Whether or not you go through a publishing house, you’ll still have to do your own marketing.”
What’s next for Hawker after the final book in the Bunny Elder series? “I really don’t know,” she says. “It depends on the response of the readers. If they want more Bunny and Max, I’ll try and find a way to make that interesting.”
After a pause she adds, “Otherwise, maybe a story about life in the parsonage. Or maybe Bunny’s young niece who is married to a university professor, a encryption specialist, with government contracts. Or maybe…”
One evening while watching a moth flutter around in the light, Gary Muir started experimenting with rhyme: “Go to the light like the moth, be not lazy like the sloth. Be ye strong like the ox, don’t be cunning like the fox.”
The children’s author and poet counts Richard Scarry and Dr. Seuss among his primary role models. Although he has been writing for more than 20 years, it was his moth observation that particular evening that inspired the first in a series of nine animal-themed picture poetry books.
Many of Muir’s animal characterizations come from his observations of wildlife, and each book offers a moral or ethical lesson from the everyday natural world.
His first book, “Learn From Others: Family Friendly Fun Facts,” he says is enjoyed equally by children and adults. Each page features a different carnivore, herbivore or omnivore with accompanying poetry and fun fact as well as the animal’s lifespan, diet, height, weight and, where applicable, paw print.
After writing daily for two months, Muir began searching for an illustrator but came up empty and finally decided to render the drawings himself.
“I went through six boxes of colored pencils to create the illustrations,” he says. “I started with two drawings a day and worked my way up to 13.” Preferring to complete the writing of the whole series before publishing, Muir says it has taken him a little more than 12 years to write and illustrate all nine books.
His second book, “Aware of Others: Paws, Claws & Jaws,” which follows the structure of the first book, features additional animals. Both volumes include a CD with the poetry read in Muir’s voice.
“It’s easy to pop in the CD and follow along with the book, but readers get to hear the sounds made by each animal as well,” he says. Each book also has seven oversized illustrations in the back.
Muir’s most recent book, “Mr. Blue Jay Saves The Day,” will be published later this year. All books can be found at Amazon.com, the Shasta and Tehama public libraries and Enjoy The Store.