Jean Heller

The Someday File

The Someday File - Jean Heller

I've always loved detective thrillers. I started out young with Agatha Christie and have since also grown to love Jonathan Kellerman. One of the aspects to detective stories that I love the most is that I don't have to think. 

Now, I know that some people love to try to figure out whodunit all on their own before the author gets to the end of the book, but I enjoy letting the author's words carry me along on the journey. It's a relief from life, a break from over thinking, and just a general period of rest and relaxation for me. 

Heller's book The Someday File was an excellent example of this. (And yes, I realize that Deuce is a journalist and not a detective, but her research and actions are extremely similar to what you might see from a detective character, so I'm comparing them.) 

I'm not sure that there were enough clues throughout the book for the readers to fully piece together the story or not. Looking back, I don't think I would have been able to piece it together, however, one character continued to stand out to me. Without giving anything away, let's just say that I took note of this character as soon as their name was mentioned and they ended up being central to the plot. 

The writing is excellent, the dialogue is smooth and natural, and I fell in love with the characters. Deuce is funny, likable, and easy to relate to. It didn't take long for me to grow attached to her. And the struggle is realistic. I love watching her fall down the rabbit hole, so to speak, as she finds herself digging deeper and deeper into the investigation. 

Some Bio Information

Most of Jean Heller’s career was as an investigative and projects journalist and editor in New York City, Washington, D.C. and St. Petersburg Florida. Her career as a novelist began in the 1990s with the publication of the thrillers, MAXIMUM IMPACT and HANDYMAN by St. Martin’s Press. Then life intervened and postponed her new book, THE SOMEDAY FILE to publication this year. Heller has won the Worth Bingham Prize, the Polk Award, and is an eight-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.


1. How much research do your books require?

It depends on the book. If it’s a technical story, the research can take months, starting from well before I put a single word on a page, and it often continues right through the writing process. I had to scout locations for THE SOMEDAY FILE the way a film producer scouts locations for a movie. I thought I knew Chicago well, but I still had to do a mountain of research on the city and its history. Since my background is as a newspaper reporter and editor, getting it right is extremely important to me. If I get it wrong, people who know better would flinch, and that flinch could destroy the creative tension and suspension of disbelief I worked so hard to build.

2. What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

I could say, “finishing,” but that wouldn’t be true. Finishing is satisfying, but my favorite part of the process is doing one day’s worth of writing that soars, that makes me think when I read it the next day, “Wow, did I write that?”

3. Who’s your favorite author?

Have you got a week? I like so many authors for so many varied reasons. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are incomparable. They are mysteries, not thrillers, but it doesn’t matter to me. I love Alan Furst, Dennis Lehane, James Lee Burke, John Burdett, Lev Raphael, and 300 or 400 more.

4. Where do you draw your inspiration?

That’s pretty easy for a journalist. We see so many different stories every day, meet so many different people in bad situations, that material is almost limitless. Part of the joy of living in Chicago is discovering the enrichment I can give to a story by making Chicago one of the main characters. To be more specific, the idea for my first novel, MAXIMUM IMPACT, was drawn from one single statement made by a U.S. Congressman during the Watergate hearings. It stayed with me forever, knocking on the inside of my head, growing and evolving into a book. The idea for HANDYMAN grew out of stories I read about the hunt for the real Florida serial killer, Bobby Joe Long. The man who led that manhunt actually helped me with the technicalities of the search for a killer. There was nothing specific that germinated into THE SOMEDAY FILE. The idea simply developed over time until it became such a passion I had to write the story. I think those are the best kind.

5. Was there a specific incident that led you to becoming a journalist/writer.

When I was a child, reading inspired me to write. I loved the escapism, and I wanted to bring that to others. I tried writing my first novel when I was in the third grade, the story of people who lived at the center of the earth. When I discovered what it’s really like at the center of the earth, the story went up in flames, so to speak. But just that writing exercise hooked me. My parents were incredibly supportive, which encouraged me. I became a journalist quite by accident. I met one inspirational college professor who turned my career path on its head. And that was it.

6. Can you explain your writing process?

Frankly, no. I’m not sure I have one. If I do, it goes something like this: When an idea is sufficiently aged and kicked around, I start doing research to make certain it’s viable. There’s nothing worse than not doing the legwork and finding six months into the writing process that the idea won’t work. I don’t seem to get writer’s block, but there are times when I’ve really got my head in the game, and times I don’t. When I don’t, I don’t try to write. When I do, I will stay up all day and all night writing. I try to wring everything I can out of those moments of inspiration because I never know when another will come along. 

7. Describe your favorite place.

Granite peaks that soar thousands of feet into the sky. A rushing river with water as clear as glass. A cobalt blue sky so intense it hurts to look at it. And a brilliant sun warming me. I’m standing on the bank of the Snake River with a fly rod in my hands. Jackson Hole, Wyoming.