Wicked Wednesday: When Did You Decide on A Career in Crime?

WW Life of CrimeOn Wednesdays the Wickeds all weigh in on a specific topic. Today’s question: when did you decide to write crime fiction instead of another genre?

Jessie: I’m not sure it was a conscious decision. I love the structure of mysteries and the way they both reveal and conceal as part of the experience. The first chapter book I ever read was The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore and have been an avid fan of the genre ever since. It seemed only natural to write what I have always loved.

Liz: I’ve been a “fan” of crime my entire life – or should I say obsessed with it? Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden were my staple reads as a kid. My grandfather was a detective, and though he tried to spare my young ears from gory details, I was fascinated by his work. And I always had an affinity for reading about serial killers and true crime. When I started writing, it made sense to explore the subject matter that most interested me.

Edith and part of her garlic crop, circa 1993

Edith: I grew up reading mysteries. About twenty-two years ago I was home with my sons running a small organic farm and teaching childbirth classes. I was reading all the cozy mysteries I could get my hands on: novels by Katherine Hall Page, Susan Wittig Albert, Diane Mott Davidson, and others. My younger son went off to kindergarten, and for the first time in eight years I had every morning to myself. My husband at the time said, “You like reading mysteries so much, why don’t you write one?” Doh! Light bulb moment. He probably thought I’d actually make some money at it almost immediately. Wasn’t that a sweet and oh-so foolish idea? But hey, I dove in and have never looked back.

Barb: Thanks to my mother, I happened to be in possession of the first book I ever wrote.LightningIt’s about a boy named Billy, who wants a horse named Lightning. It’s really more a tale of longing than a mystery, thought there is one mysterious part where Billy’s father goes off in search of Lightning.

At first, Billy’s mother is bereft.

Lightning-1But then, immediately when you turn the page, she is so over it.

Lightning-2I was aware when I was little the grownups in my life found this passage hilarious, but I was much older before I understood why.

Anyway, Billy’s father makes it back.

Lightning-3Note that they all live. They don’t live happily ever after. Even as a child I had a horror of over-promising.

Lightning-4It took quite a while to get from Lightning to my life in crime, but I’m glad I did.

IMG_4945Sherry: I love your story, Barb. Because my parents were big mystery and thriller readers, I grew up reading them so writing them was natural. Like Jessie, I started with the Bobbsey Twins. Mom would read a chapter a night knowing that my sister and I would want to read more. I spotted these at a thrift shop last spring.

Julie: Years ago I took a class at Grub Street. I was writing a very boring story, trying to figure out how to solve that issue. During breaks and before class I would talk to one of the other writers, and we’d talk about what we were reading. I had just discovered Elizabeth George, and was raving about her books. One week I was lamenting the lace of narrative arc in my story. In other words, nothing happened. She said to me “I notice whenever you talk about books, your eyes light up when you are talking about mysteries. Why don’t you turn it into a mystery?” Sure enough, I killed someone off and the story got a lot more interesting. I read Nancy Drew as a kid, devoured Agatha Christie during my teenage years, and have always enjoyed the genre. Writing mysteries made me a lot happier than other writing I’d done. I’m just sorry it took me so long to figure that out!

Fellow writers, when did you decide to write mystery fiction? Readers, when did you decide that was the genre for you?

38 Thoughts

  1. Barb, I am cracking up at “they all lived.” What child doesn’t want a horse named Lightning? You latched onto universal longing at an early age.

    I read so many mysteries as a child. My favorites were set in England. There, the bad guy always drove a dark green Jaguar. I swore, when I grew up, I would not marry a man with a dark green Jaguar, and I didn’t. I married a guy who drove a red Firebird.

    1. You’re right, Ramona. Who wouldn’t want a horse named Lightning?

      Personally, thought, I would go for a forest green, 1953 MG.

  2. I’ve been a huge fan of cozy mysteries for a while….and currently I hate my real job with the fire of a thousand suns, so I’ve decided to try and start writing! I was a creative writing concentration in college, and I miss the feel of just sitting down and working on something. So, I’m in the process of writing my first cozy mystery. I attended Malice Domestic this year and really took a lot away from all the panels and meeting the authors.

    1. Awesome, Nasselin! We probably crossed paths at Malice and didn’t know it. Best of luck with your cozy. Have you also joined Sisters in Crime and the Guppies? A great source of knowledge in those groups.

  3. Fun discussion! Your mom did you a great service, Barb, by saving that compelling story about Lightning the horse. And, Edith, you never know what will get you started, do you? My dad read baskets of mystery stories while I was growing up and my job was to keep him supplied from the public library. And, of course, I was a big Nancy Drew fan too. No question that I would be drawn to writing mysteries. Mysteries are a really satisfying vehicle for exploring human motivation, the twists and turns of life and, in the most interesting mysteries, what each of us is really capable of. Just finished an old Ruth Rendell – now THAT’S a mystery writer!

    1. Ruth Rendell is really the person who brought me back to mysteries after years of wandering in the desert that was contemporary American literary fiction in the 1980s. I met her once. Terribly gracious.

  4. Barb, I can’t stop laughing and I have needed a good laugh this week. Thank you! Your story was so sweet and funny and I love that your mom saved it for you. I have been reading mysteries ever since I can remember beginning with the Meg Mysteries. My life of crime started when I worked at the morgue. A lot of empty hours to fill imagining how these people got there. And, of course, Dad’s job as a detective provided plenty of fuel, too.

      1. I loved the Meg Mysteries as a child. Every year at Malice I check with one of the book sellers who has been on the lookout for them. So far, she has come up with five. Actually, the first one I ever read revolved around letters that had never been sent. The morgue is a great…and quiet place to think.

    1. I have the 6 Meg mysteries and I’ve read them, but it’s been years. I should dust them off and reread them at some point. (Like I have time for more books on the TBR pile.)

  5. Yes, I went the whole Nancy Drew route. At that point a friend and I tried to solve a mystery based on a half-used box of Band-Aids under an apple tree. I also found a lost item by systematically retracing my steps.

    But as for writing any of it down? 1980-something. A dead-end job with a correcting typewriter and too much time on my hands. I started a story about a monk who was killed when a piece of stone in the cloister under construction fell on his head (or did it…?). I got three pages into it and had no idea what to do next, so I abandoned it and waited twenty years for new inspiration to strike.

  6. When I decided to try to write, I don’t think I ever considered another genre beside crime fiction. But my big “ah-ha” moment was not deciding to write mysteries but the specific type of mysteries. I kept trying cozy/amateur sleuth. And one day the hubby said, “But aside from Agatha Christie, you don’t READ that type of book.” Sure enough, my shelves are full of thrillers, suspense, procedurals, etc. I switched to procedural and have been so much happier with my writing results.

  7. I love Barb’s book…priceless! I have been a life-long mystery reader. I started with the Bovvsey Twins and Nancy Drew. Then came Agatha Christie and Charlotte Armstrong. As I got older–Diane Mott Davidson, Susan Wittig Albert…the list goes on and on. Thank you, Wickeds, for writing some of my favorite series.

    1. Thank you, Christi. I will be sure to leave it as juvenilia among the papers future literary scholars will no doubt comb through to find the origins of my genius, LOL.

  8. I like to joke that I found mysteries with picture books. One of my favorites was Nate the Great, about a kid detective who finds a neighbor’s missing picture. Actually, it’s very creative with clues that work for the age group. Still a wonderful read.

    In third grade, I actually set aside a Hardy Boys book in favor of the Chronicles of Narnia. But I picked them up again in fifth grade. Eventually, I moved on to Nancy Drew and then Trixie Belden. In high school and college, I spent my little bit of breaks reading a few mysteries but some historical fiction before finding cozies in my mid-20’s. I haven’t looked back sense.

    I’m sure I’d enjoy some fantasy and science fiction, but I can’t seem to get out of the cozy mystery genre. Not that I’m trying too hard with all the great books to read.

  9. Love reading your stories of how you started writing mysteries. We have Nancy Drew in common. All my books have a mystery, including my sci-fi romances. I love trying to figure out who-dun-its and I love humor so writing cozy mysteries made sense.

  10. When I was young, my aunt was a secretary for a school system. When a couple of schools merged, they must have had duplicate books, because my aunt got the entire Nancy Drew series. (I also started my working life as a secretary/office girl.)

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