Liz here, happy to welcome Lee Hollis to the blog today! Lee is here to talk about his super fun Desert Flowers series – and his history with the real Golden Girls! Take it away, Lee!
First of all, I am thrilled to be doing a guest post for the Wicked Authors, especially since I am a native New Englander, having been born and raised in Downeast Maine. My Hayley Powell Food & Cocktails Mysteries, which I co-author with my sister Holly (she provides all the columns and recipes), takes place in our hometown of Bar Harbor. Every time I sit down to write a new story, I am transported back to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, and the memories of my childhood spent there. This is always therapeutic when I am unable to travel back home, especially this past year during the awful pandemic. But when my editor at Kensington asked me to come up with a new series, this one featuring a team of Golden Girls-like detectives, I decided to set it in my current home town of Palm Springs, California. Palm Springs could not be more opposite from Bar Harbor, although both are bustling tourist destinations, just during completely different seasons, winter and summer respectively.
If you’re not familiar with the Desert Flowers mystery series, the lead heroine is Poppy Harmon, a retired actress from Hollywood who moves to the desert with her fourth husband, Chester. When Chester dies unexpectedly, Poppy discovers he had for years been hiding a crippling gambling problem, and has now consequently left her penniless. Forced to find work, Poppy decides to become a private investigator. How hard could that be? She played the secretary on a long running TV detective show in the 1980s called Jack Colt, PI. Poppy figures she has plenty of formal training. She appeared in every episode, after all. She teams up with her two best friends, Iris and Violet, and they open up shop as the Desert Flowers Detective Agency. Unfortunately, they quickly discover that women of a certain age are not always taken seriously as hard-nosed gumshoes, so they enlist the help of pretty boy Matt, the boyfriend of Poppy’s daughter and an aspiring actor. He adopts the stage name of Matt Flowers so he can be the face of their agency, assuaging any misogynistic concerns. Business picks up, and in a nod to Remington Steele, the ladies do all the work while Matt soaks up all the credit.
After two successful cases, Poppy and the gang return in Poppy Harmon and the Pillow Talk Killer, which was a joy to write because this case involves the filming of a reboot of the cheesy romantic comedy Palm Springs Weekend, one of my favorite guilty pleasures. A mysterious stalker is shadowing the beautiful young star of the movie, and so she hires the Desert Flowers Agency to protect her and find the creep terrorizing her.
I have worked for over thirty years in the TV and film business, and so it’s always fun to write about what I have learned in Hollywood. Write what you know, as they say. In this book, when the beautiful young star ends up murdered, smothered by a pillow, the crime scene evokes haunting memories for Poppy of a series of killings that took place during her heyday as an actress in the 1980s. Does this mean the never caught Pillow Talk Killer is back after all these years? As the team dives into the investigation, I do something I’ve never done in a book before. I use flashbacks. By transporting Poppy back to that heady period in her young life, the summer of 1985, I was able to give more context to what was happening in the present.
This brought back so many of my own Hollywood memories. I was 24 years old at the time, when I began my writing career on The Golden Girls in 1988. That show was the first job I ever had that actually paid me to write. And what a show to cut your teeth on. I will never forget the table reading of my first script, co-authored with my writing partner at the time, David A. Goodman, who is these days the president of the Writers’ Guild. Those actors, Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, women I grew up watching on classic TV shows like Maude and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Estelle Getty, just knocked our jokes out of the park, and made them sound sharper and funnier than they actually were. I remember sitting back in awe, thinking, “My God, how did I get here?”
I assumed at the time that it would always be like that. Ha! There were plenty of shows after that first, some good, many not so good, a few downright terrible, but I will always be grateful for that indelible first experience. Those memories were key in the writing of Poppy Harmon and the Pillow Talk Killer, which is why this particular mystery has become my favorite book to work on to date. And so I hope you enjoy reading this latest Poppy Harmon installment as much as I loved writing it. And don’t worry, if you haven’t read the two previous books, you can jump right in and start with this one! Just promise me, if you like it, go back and try the others!
Readers, what do you think – love the series? Love the Golden Girls? Leave a comment for Lee below!