Q&A With Jill Orr

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Q&A With Jill Orr 

Jill Orr is the author of The Good Byline, The Bad Break, The Ugly Truth, & The Full Scoop which are the four books in the Riley Ellison Mystery series. They sound like books I want to read, great mysteries and a great female lead! Publishers Weekly calls the books “delightfully comic” and “highly amusing”. It was through Jake Adelstein that we were connected through email and I’m delighted that Jill and I are doing this Q&A today! 

Q: Jill, would you please give the readers a brief description of each of the books in the Riley Ellison series? 

A: The Good Byline is the first in the series and it’s where we meet Riley Ellison, a library assistant in the small town of Tuttle Corner, VA, who is obsessed with obituaries. When her childhood best friend Jordan commits suicide, Riley is asked to write her obituary. But as she starts looking into Jordan’s life—and death—Riley begins to think this wasn’t a suicide at all. Compelled to seek justice for her friend, Riley finds herself thrown into a shadowy world of organized crime, secret lovers, and suspicious taco trucks! 

The Bad Break, The Ugly Truth, and The Full Scoop each have an “upfront” mystery that Riley is drawn into via her work as an obituary writer, but the series has an overarching mystery of what happened to Riley’s beloved grandfather, a famous obituary writer himself, whose unexpected death has always haunted Riley. In The Full Scoop, that is the mystery Riley attempts to solve. In books 1-3 we learn a little more each time about her grandfather’s life and death, and then in book 4, we get the full scoop 😉

Q: Where did the idea for the Riley Ellison series come from? 

A: Facebook actually! A post popped up in my feed that said, “This is the best obituary ever written.” Naturally, I had to click on it. It took me to a website called and the obituary for a man named Harry Stamps (you can look it up; it might just be the best obit ever). I read it, then read another, then another and before long, I’d fallen into a rabbit hole of obituaries—each one containing a perfect narrative arc: beginning, middle, end. And then I started to notice that the same names were popping up in the comment section of each obit, and I realized these were not friends or family of the departed but rather FANS of obituaries, who read them for fun! I was instantly fascinated and started doing research on obituary enthusiasts. This whole subset of people intrigued me so much, I knew I wanted to write a book about one!

Q: I love reading mysteries and I know you enjoy writing them. What made you choose to write in the mystery genre out of all the other genres out there?

A: Although I went to Journalism school and worked as a grant writer, I’d never done much fiction writing (they tend to discourage fiction in grant writing & journalism lol). I’d always been a reader, though, and one day when my children were young, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. I actually wrote two romantic comedies, which were not very good, and I was not able to find a literary agent to represent them. So I shifted to trying to write a mystery, my favorite genre to read. I found the structure of a mystery is very friendly to beginning writers. You have all these tasks you have to accomplish as the author, right? You have to have a sleuth, a crime, clues, red herrings, a bad guy, a twist, a reveal… all of these elements become like pegs you can hang your story on. They provide you with that elusive sense of pacing and propulsion that is much harder to create in a “regular” book. So, when I finally wrote The Good Byline, it was my third completed novel, but my first published one. 

Q: Typically, how long does it take for you to write a book?

A: Ah, that depends on whether or not I have a deadline. I’d say I can write a book in about 9-12 months. Who knows, I might even be able to write much faster if I had to. Journalism school does a good job of training you to write on deadline. With series, publishers generally want you to write one a year, so that’s what I did with the Riley series. 

Q: Are you currently writing book 5 in the Riley Ellison series or are you writing something totally different?

A: Right now, there are no plans for a Riley book 5. I felt I was able to tell her story to completion in four books—and while I did leave the door cracked open in case I decide to go back in at some point, I feel the series is pretty well wrapped up.

Right now, I’m working on a romantic comedy called Denial: A novel about love and health insurance, in which a chronically ill woman develops a relationship with a man who works for her health insurance company (and keeps denying her claims). It has been really fun to explore the inherent comedy of health insurers circular logic, the absurdity of the whole system, and how it impacts people’s lives. And, of course, it’s been fun writing a will they/won’t they dynamic. The Riley series has elements of romance, but in this new project, I’ve gotten to lean into that a little more. 

Q: In your opinion, what makes a perfect mystery for anyone wanting to write a great mystery story? 

A: I think I probably answered this in my response to your earlier question without knowing it, but I will add to what I said about structure that one of the comments I get a lot with The Good Byline is that people don’t know who the bad guy is until the very end. And I think that’s because I, as the writer, didn’t know either! I am not someone who outlines my books, so I am following the story much like a reader would—and in fact, as I wrote TGB I kept changing my mind about who committed the crime! After I finished the first draft, I went back in and made sure all the clues were there so it’s fair (I hate when authors make it impossible for readers to guess). But I think since I write without knowing exactly where things will end up, it creates a sense of that for the reader as well. 

Q: How does it feel knowing Publishers Weekly calls your books “delightfully comic” and “highly amusing”? That must be an honor & a dream come true getting a compliment from Publishers Weekly. 

A: Humor is so subjective, so whenever anyone finds something I wrote funny, I am honored! Some of my favorite books are funny: Where’d You Go, Bernadette, The Princess Bride, The Thursday Murder Club, Can You Keep a Secret… so I think I try to bring that element into my writing as well. I love writing completely silly things— like Regina H., the upsell queen of the concierge dating service, in The Good Byline—and peppering them in between the rest of the narrative. It hopefully gives the reader a little comic relief in between the weightier parts of the book. 

Q: If your Riley Ellison books were to be turned into movies or a television series, who would be your dream cast? We need new ideas in Hollywood instead of remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels & spin offs. 

A: I agree! (Netflix, are you reading this?) If the Riley series were to be dramatized, I could see her being played by Kiernan Shipka (Sally from Mad Men), for Jake maybe Rushi Kota. Ryan I could see as Tanner Buchanan. And Flick is totally Jeff Bridges.