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Pioneer Profiles: Murder mystery author to speak

Who else would promise her writing competition a good time, laughs, honesty and an informative workshop than professor and mystery writer Jess Lourey?

During a recent phone interview, Lourey, who is the author of the mysteries set in the real town of Battle Lake, Minn., lives with her two children and teaches sociology and creative writing at a college in St. Cloud.

During Lourey's workshop from 9-11 a.m. Saturday at the Bemidji Public Library, she will show aspiring writers and authors the how-to's of getting a book noticed by those who are in the position of making it all happen.

The nice lady that she is, she'll save you the time and energy, and stop you from going down the wrong path, with her suggestions. The workshop is a how-to and why-to, experience and hard-won victories expose' on the publishing industry.

Lourey is so candid that on her website she admits to having 423 rejections and six novels to her credit. And what is so interesting about that fact is she used the rejections as a lesson in how to get a book accepted by an agent and publisher and then printed.

Another workshop that Lourey gives is "Creating Minnesota Mysteries," also slated for Saturday in Pine River. She said that people are interested in knowing how writers get their ideas. And that is what that workshop is about: how she gets her ideas and how she turns those ideas into books.

"Most writers do not take creative writing classes because one can go to a class and have the teacher take all the joy out of it," Lourey said. "There are guidelines and assignments, it's no longer this escape, it becomes like everything else. The reason why I teach these workshops is because unlike a college course of 16 weeks which requires outcomes, I don't have to lay down the rules, I can empower them."

"Non-fiction outsells fiction," said Lourey, "but genre fiction also sells so mysteries and romances are always on the best seller lists. I think it's the self-help industry which is so huge in the states and biographies, people really like those."

For example, Lourey realized that when selling a mystery to a publisher, it's a series they want and not just one story. Hence the genesis of the Murder-by-the-Month series with "super" sleuth Miranda (Mira) James who can't seem to get her act together until forced to do so by circumstance. James was floating through life as a student and part-time waitress at a Vietnamese Restaurant in the cities in the first book, "May Day." James agreed to housesit her friend's doublewide on the shores of Whiskey Lake for the summer. And that was when she discovered that this sojourn in the country would be exciting and healing at the same time.

The first book, "May Day," released in 2006 to critical acclaim, was followed by "June Bug" in March 2007 and then "Knee High by the Fourth of July" in September 2007 when Lourey hit her stride. The books came faster and funnier to anxious readers who wanted to see what mischief Mira and her friends got her into during her absence from the book scene.

Lourey will be signing copies of her newest the latest in the series "November Hunt" from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Book World in downtown Bemidji.

In this book, Mira James, settled into the community, has a love interest and is banking hours for her private investigator license. She works as a librarian and part-time reporter for the town's newspaper and has an octogenarian as her best friend. Mira's car heater is not working so she uses an ice house heater to heat her car during an extended sub-zero November in Minnesota.

Lourey's descriptions of what it is like in northern Minnesota during the winter are funny and "bone chilling" at the same time.

Move over, Stephanie Plum, Mira Jones is smarter, she cooks and loves to eat (roasted garlic bagels with green tea), she enjoys flowers and gardens and has buddies at the nursing home who mentor her and supply much needed historical background of the area for this fledgling sleuth.

Lourey is a member of sisters in Crime, The Loft, Lake Superior Writers and serves on the national board of Mystery Writers of America.

Her workshop is a free Legacy Program funded with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota, which dedicated funding to preserve Minnesota's art and cultural heritage.

For a complete schedule of Lourey's workshops in the region, visit the Kitchigami website at and select Legacy Events.