Q&A With Christina Estes

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Q&A with Christina Estes

Christina Estes is a journalist for the NPR station in Phoenix Arizona & her reporting has appeared in NPR & CBS. Christina also released her current debut mystery novel Off The Air. 

Q: Christina, would you like to tell the readers of the blog and I about your debut novel Off The Air

A:   Off the Air introduces Jolene Garcia, a Phoenix TV reporter investigating the suspicious death of a controversial radio talk show host. My main character was named after Dolly Parton’s famous song, but you can also call her Persistence. It’s what makes her a good reporter but also leads to trouble.

When Larry Lemmon unexpectedly dies during a radio broadcast, the last thing Jolene expects is to be fighting for her job and her life. At first, she’s ahead of everyone because she conducted Larry’s last interview. But when national media descend upon Arizona with bigger budgets and better scoops, Jolene struggles and that leads her to push too hard to break the story—too hard for a trusted source who turns on her and a killer determined to keep her quiet.

Q: Reading your blog Off The Air is inspired by your journalism career. Would you say that the main character is loosely inspired by you? 

A: Like Jolene, I grew up in the Midwest and arrived in Phoenix feeling like an outsider. I’d spent my whole life surrounded by grass and trees and seeing the desert landscape and mountains was totally foreign. It was also the first time I’d been exposed to colleagues from southern California and they seemed so glamorous compared to me. Also, at that time, the local TV news market was very competitive, so I call on those memories and feelings while writing Jolene. In fact, there’s a reference in Off the Air to Jolene losing an Emmy that directly relates to my experience. As for Jolene’s personal background, I rely on my experience as a former foster parent.

Q: What made you want to write Off The Air? 

A: I’ve always loved reading mysteries, especially series. There are so many wonderful series set in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago and New York and, when I read J.A. Jance’s Ali Reynolds series, set in northern Arizona, planted the seed for my Phoenix-based series. Then, Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Jane Ryland series, featuring a Boston reporter, helped it grow. 

After I finished writing Off the Air, I realized it’s a love letter to Phoenix, where I’ve lived for more than 20 years, and local news.

Q: Are you currently writing a sequel to Off The Air or will your next book be a standalone?

A:  I’m crazy excited to be working on a sequel to Off the Air! It’s early in the process, so I don’t want to share too much because details can change, but you can count on Jolene to be chasing  her next big story.

Q: What’s it like being a journalist for NPR and having your reporting appear nationally on NPR & CBS?

A: To be clear, I work for the NPR member station in Phoenix, not the national outlet. One way to think of it is like your local TV station that’s affiliated with a national network. I love working in public radio because I get to cover stories that impact my community, like policies and funding to address police and fire, transportation, homelessness, economic development, and more. Having my work appear on national outlets is appreciated because I care about local news, and any time a larger audience is exposed to what’s happening locally is a good thing.

Q: How did you juggle journalism and writing your book? What advice would you give to anyone wanting to be an author and a journalist?

A:  After a day spent researching and writing for my reporting job, I don’t always feel like writing at night. Some authors are of the mindset that you must write every day and, if that works for them, that’s great. I would like to be able to work on my novel every day but so far, it hasn’t happened and that’s okay. I’ve discovered that just because I’m not putting words on paper does not mean I’m not working. Writing involves a lot of thinking about plot, characters and setting. Going forward, I hope to have a better system where I’m able to devote a specific amount of time each day to my novel. I’m still new to the process and think I’ll get there.

As for advice? Ooh, that’s tough. I don’t feel experienced enough as someone with a full-time reporting job and a first-time author to offer advice since I’m still trying to figure out what works for me. Maybe that’s the advice? Figure out what works for you. Many authors have full-time jobs and, of course, everyone has responsibilities beyond writing, which makes juggling everything pretty challenging. For me, I’ve learned not to beat myself up if I’m not writing every single day while also knowing that I would like to get there.