The Lighter Side of Mysteries

Sixteen years ago, my first book appeared on the mystery scene. And Then She Was Gone was a sad tale of a lost child that had anything but a happy ending. My second novel, Overkill, concerned a school bus shooting. Hardly breezy and uplifting, I know. I wrote both long before I had a child of my own, and I doubt I could write such books now as the mother of a toddler. The world is bleak enough. My brain doesn’t need to create tragedies that I have to live with night and day until my next deadline.

After dabbling with writing dark, I signed with HarperCollins to pen a series of funny mysteries. Blue Blood (2004), the first of the Debutante Dropout books, introduced my crazy mother-daughter duo of Andy and Cissy Kendricks. Chanel-wearing society dame Cissy still harbors disappointment in her only child for refusing to debut at eighteen, after the sudden death of dear old Daddy. Andy’s still rebelling a dozen years later and trying hard to be her own person while stumbling over her fair share of dead bodies.

I had never written humor before but I so loved One for the Money, the first Evanovich riot, and I hoped that I, too, could write books that made people laugh. My sense of humor has always leaned toward smartass, and I love poking fun at the insanity of pop culture. Thank God, the Debutante Dropout Mysteries allowed me to unleash my inner goofball and go for it. Dare I say it was cathartic?

I killed off the sleazy owner of a restaurant called Jugs in Blue Blood, snuffed an obnoxious lifestyle guru in The Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, regretfully dispatched a pair of sweet old ladies in The Lone Star Lonely Hearts Club, clubbed a stripper in Night of the Living Deb, and iced a beauty queen in Too Pretty to Die. No, I wasn’t writing Shakespeare or prose worthy of a Pulitzer, but it was a great ride that folks seemed to enjoy…until the ride abruptly stopped.

Things happened in my book life and my real life that forever changed my path. I found myself battling breast cancer and getting married, and my priorities shifted. I had a strong urge to write books that stirred me, emotional and magical tales of women and families, mixing equal parts drama and humor. It felt right at the time. Still, I missed my mystery roots, though every book I ever wrote had threads of mystery running through it.

And then—oh, baby!—I got pregnant at 47 and had a beautiful, healthy child. I was filled with joy (and fatigue) and, not surprisingly, I didn’t ever want to write about death again. I wanted to celebrate being a first-time mom at such a ripe, old—er, wise—age, which led to my decision to take a sabbatical from writing. Perhaps I didn’t quite understand what sabbatical meant as it only lasted a month or two until the resurrection of the Debutante Dropout Mysteries as e-books put me on the USA Today bestsellers list.

Before I knew it, I was revising three cozies I had socked away in my basement, which became the Helen books with HarperCollins, starting with To Helen Back. I was asked to concoct another Deb Dropout Mystery as well, and said, “Yes,” figuring it was time for Andy and Cissy to return after a seven-year hiatus. I was still getting emails from loyal fans asking about the pair, and it was good to finally say, “They’re ba-a-a-ack!”

“So you’re going back to writing light books?” I was asked, like it was a demotion, and I was reminded of my early mystery days when it was drummed into my head that only the dark mysteries won awards. Hard-boiled writers made fun of soft-boiled authors and covers with cats and crosswords and cake. But I don’t care. There is no shame in writing humor. In this day and age when the nightly news seems more and more like a horror flick, I’d rather make people laugh than make them squirm.

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