Jane had been my constant companion, my most secret friend for years. She spoke only in the silence of my mind, but she knew me as no one else could...or wanted to.....
She'd begun ranting with fervor since Sam appeared on the scene, scarcely paused for a breath between words. How insupportable! What an insufferable creature! The nerve of him to cross your path again after what he did!
I let her continue her tirade of antiquated English insults a while longer as I gulped the rest of my drink. I pushed the smoky air out of my lungs, scanned for a good spot to squeeze in at the bar and edged up to the corner of it...
***from According to Jane
In the mystery world—you’d know who we meant by Sara or Sue or Janet. No last names needed. In the romance world, Nora. (In Hollywood: Marilyn. Or Cher.) You see where I’m going. And in literary fiction, there’s a first-name-only-needed author who’s as big as they come. Jane.
Contemporary novelist Marilyn Brant knew a brilliant idea when she had it. A proud member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, Marilyn’s debut novel is ACCORDING TO JANE. It’s the story of a modern woman who gets dating advice from the spirit of Jane Austen.
I will pause now while we all say: Drat. Brilliant. We should have thought of that. But, as it turns out, we didn’t. Marilyn did. Brant, not Monroe.
As it happens, ACCORDING TO JANE is not a mystery. But we’re equal opportunity readers around her, right? And as it turns out, Marilyn (Brant, not Monroe) has been thinking about mystery authors.
MARILYN: Mystery writers were my childhood heroes and, even now, I’m more than a little in awe of them. The year I was in 4th grade, I read no fewer than 48 Nancy Drews. I later moved on to gothic romances by Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney, both of whom had their novels shelved in the “Mystery” section of our tiny library, and then onto Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum, Jack Finney and countless others. I watched Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie and Colombo with rapt attention alongside my dad (a chemist who’s a huge mystery fan) and, for fun, I tried to solve those math puzzles where there were seven houses on seven streets and seven cars of seven colors, all belonging to seven owners, and you had to figure out which went with which…
However, much as I loved mysteries in all forms, I never succeeded in writing a publishable one. I tried once. I drafted this novel about a school teacher (I’d been a teacher for eight years) who lived in Wisconsin (I grew up in Wisconsin) and who, coincidentally, loved ice cream (I’m an unfaltering Ben & Jerry’s devotee). This ice-cream-loving teacher (who bore no resemblance to me whatsoever) resided in a community where the town’s biggest crime was that someone was pinching school-district funds, and the local chemist-turned-ice-cream-maker (who bore no resemblance to my dad) was oddly entangled in the caper.
Yeah. Hard-hitting stuff, I know.
Writing it was great fun, however, even though it never won the heart of an acquiring editor. It gave me an excuse to dream up some wildly implausible but kind of goofy love scenes involving whipped toppings and hot-fudge sauce. And, despite a number of extensive revisions, the honest feedback from my CPs was that it was a “funny” story, but hardly a “gripping” one, and maybe I should just concentrate on my romantic comedies and light women’s fiction...
Still, I persist in trying to slip a few mystery elements into each book I write. I believe novelists in every genre should employ some of the tactics seasoned mystery writers use to such great effect in their books, from the cozies to the serious thrillers and suspense novels.
When I think back on what made the mysteries I read as a kid so appealing to me, it was that the writers in question had succeeded in keeping me guessing about what would happen to my protagonist next. They made me wonder what the motives of the antagonist were. They cleverly left real clues and tantalizing red herrings, managing to get me to hold my breath until the conclusion and making me marvel all the while at the surprising resolution of the plot.
In that way, mystery writers are *still* my heroes. I look to them to teach me how to be a more effective novelist as well as to enthrall and entertain me when I’m not writing women’s fiction…or eating ice cream. And for that alone I’m indebted to them.
Which mystery writers left the biggest impression on you as a kid?
HANK: Whoever wrote the Perry (Mason, of course, need I say it?) mysteries for TV. My father would not let us say one word when they were on. And then, in books, Agatha. There’s only one of her, too.
But Marilyn, let me ask you about Jane. And your book. How did you ever think of it? And how does the story work?