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Demystifying ‘Juneau Black’
The duo behind a new mystery series talks about the creative process, benefits of co-writing and tips for publishing.


Nov. 2017

Left: Jocelyn Koehler / Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Koehler.
Right: Sharon Nagel / Photo by David Szymanski.

Two years ago, “Shady Hollow,” the first book of a planned mystery series with local ties, was released. The charming novel conjured the spirit of Agatha Christie with a twist: Its protagonist, Vera Vixen, was not only a foxy reporter turned amateur sleuth but also a fox, and the shady suspects who inhabited the village of Shady Hollow were all woodland creatures too. Much like a “Masterpiece Mystery!” episode, the witty puzzle provided a delightful escape on a chilly day, and this month readers can look forward to the follow-up, “Cold Clay.”

We recently chatted with the two behind the whodunit: Jocelyn Koehler, a Milwaukee native now living in Philadelphia, and Sharon Nagel, a longtime bookseller at Boswell Book Company on the East Side.

How did you come up with the pen name Juneau Black?

Nagel: “Juneau” is in reference to our Milwaukee heritage — Jocelyn is from here, and I’m a transplant — and “Black” refers to (Harry W.) Schwartz Bookshops, which is where we worked, though never together. “Schwartz” is the German word for black.

You wrote both novels during the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo challenges participants to write a 50,000-word novel in November). How did that work?

Nagel: We (wrote) every other day, so it’s like a fancier version of that game where someone starts the story and then someone else has to pick it up. We would email it at the end of the day to the other person.

What I like about NaNoWriMo is that you’re pushing yourself, but you know it’s not forever. (The novel is) not perfect, but you have something that you can work on.

Did anything surprise you about co-writing?

Nagel: I’m surprised by how well it seems to meld, because after I read it over I’m sometimes not sure whether I wrote something or Jocelyn did.

Koehler: Oh, that’s true.

Nagel: And I’m pleased by that, because that’s what we want.

Koehler: Yeah, you want it to feel like it’s written by one person, and I think it does.

How does working with a co-writer help?

Nagel: It definitely keeps me on point, knowing that Jocelyn is waiting for my part of the manuscript.

Koehler: It’s an incentive.

Nagel: It really is. In my own writing, I can be lazy, because there’s no one (snaps her fingers).

Koehler: I like having a co-writer to bounce ideas off, and knowing that someone’s going to be reading it the next day gives you that extra push. Writing is a very solitary thing most of the time, so it’s nice to have someone who’s in the same boat.

Did you do anything different  with “Cold Clay”?

Nagel: We tried an outline. It gave me a bit more structure than I’m used to, which was helpful.

Koehler: Sharon’s definitely more of a pantser, and I’m more of a plotter.

For (“Cold Clay”), I would finish my day and then include a few sentences of what I thought might happen next for Sharon, and then she did the same thing.

Nagel: I was getting up at 5 to do my writing before I went to work, so it was helpful to have anything coherent on the page.

After NaNoWriMo, then what do you do?

Koehler: I do most of the editing. That’s my favorite part of the process. Once I get the edited draft done, then I’ll send it to Sharon so she can look it over again and make sure I didn’t miss anything. Then we’ll send it to beta readers and do all the proofing.

Tell us about “Cold Clay.”

Koehler: It picks up soon after “Shady Hollow” ends. We wanted to avoid getting into a “Murder, She Wrote” situation, where every time our detective wanders into a place somebody dies, so we thought it’d be fun to have her solve a cold case. A body is discovered, but it’s clearly not a recent murder, and so she has to go back into the past of Shady Hollow to figure out what happened.

Do you have any tips for self-publishing?

Koehler: It is imperative that you pay for an editor. Even though I edit our books, I hand them off to another editor who is not me or Sharon. Also, pay for a professional cover designer. You can do everything else on your own, but you have to pay for those two things.

“Cold Clay” will be available Nov. 21 at Boswell. To sign up for NaNoWriMo, visit

This story ran in the Nov. 2017 issue of: