DEBORAH CROMBIE: One of the best things about being a mystery writer is the wonderful people you meet in the this astonishingly generous community (astonishingly because I don't know of another group of writers--and readers--who are so supportive of one another's work and success--and Dean James was one of the first friends I made as published mystery writer. I've been lucky to call him a friend in the years since, and I am now a huge fan as well.
I adore the series Dean writes as Miranda James, featuring Charlie Harris, a librarian in a small southern town, and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel. In THE SILENCE IN THE LIBRARY, the fifth book in the Cat in the Stacks series, when Electra Barnes Cartwright, centenarian and the reclusive author of a beloved juvenile mystery series, agrees to appear at the Athena Public Library, book collectors come out of the woodwork to meet her. The last thing Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon companion Diesel expect is to find themselves in the middle of another murder investigation.
Here's reviewer Lesa Holstine on why we love these books: "As intriguing as the mystery is, it's still James' characters that bring readers back. Who can resist Charlie Harris, a kind, Southern gentleman, a family man who loves his adult children, his boarders, and his friends? And, as much as we love Charlie, it's even harder to resist Diesel, the Maine Coon cat who warbles and chirps his way into hearts while keeping his eye out for killers. Charlie and Diesel are in fine form in The Silence of the Library as they find their way through the maze of crazed book collectors."
And here's Dean on why he started down the road to (fictional) murder:
DEAN JAMES: The summer I was eight my father took me to the public library in Grenada,
Mississippi, where I got my first library card. I still remember the first book I checked out, a juvenile biography of Abraham Lincoln. Decades later, I have no idea why I chose that book among the hundreds of others in the children’s section at the Elizabeth Jones Library. I do remember that, after my first visit, I worked my way through the many juvenile biographies on the shelves. I also strayed away from non-fiction with titles like Miss Minerva and William Green Hill by Frances Boyd Calhoun (I had to look up the author because I had no memory of who wrote it). I also vaguely remember a character named “Danny Dunn” – according to Wikipedia, the main character in a series of science fiction/adventure books. Somewhere in there I also discovered Edith Hamilton and her books on Greek and Roman mythology. Again, I have no idea what attracted me to these books, but I do know that I found them fascinating.
Looking back I can see that most of this early reading eventually led me to major in history in college and even to go on to graduate school and an eventual Ph.D. in medieval history. I don’t recall reading anything about the Middle Ages in my younger years, but as a teenager I read Anya Seton’s Green Darkness and Katherine and Roberta Gellis’ Bond of Blood. Those books ignited my interest in medieval England and an important part of my life.
Around the age of ten I also discovered mysteries, in the form of Nancy Drew. My cousin Terry had a few of the books, and during a summer visit I picked up The Secret of Shadow Ranch. I was immediately hooked on mysteries, and along with other reading I sought out as many of the juvenile mysteries as I could find. There were many: Trixie Belden, the Hardy Boys, the Dana Girls, Cherry Ames, Ken Holt, Rick Brant, the Three Investigators, and Judy Bolton, among others.
Later on I graduated to more adult fare, with the romantic suspense novels of Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney. The 1960s and 1970s were the heyday of the so-called “Gothic” novel, and I read every one the library had, by writers like Mary Stewart, Velda Johnston, Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, Anne Maybury, Jane Aiken Hodge, and the inimitable Madeleine Brent, who turned out to be Peter O’Donnell, creator of Modesty Blaise. As an adult I discovered more traditional mystery writers, like Agatha Christie and Sue Grafton. I read more and more and in the past forty years, I estimate that I must have read more than four thousand mysteries.
When aspiring fiction writers ask for advice, the first thing I tell them is Read. Read and read and read. Good books and bad ones. Then analyze what makes the good ones good and the bad ones bad. Particularly if you’re interested in writing genre fiction, you need to know the history of the genre, how it developed, and what came before. Learn who the towering figures are, read them, and learn from them. There are good reasons that Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Dashiell Hammett, Georges Simenon, and Raymond Chandler are still in print. After you’ve sampled the giants, move on to their successors. Crime fiction has a long and distinguished history, and you can only benefit from knowing it.
DEBS: I read so many of the same books! (Although Dean seems to have missed out on the "horsey mysteries"--was anyone else addicted to the Walter Farley Black Stallion series?) And even though I doubt we were consciously analyzing what made these books work when we were eight or ten, I'm sure they influenced us as adult writers.
Readers, do you remember your first library book?
Dean will be giving away a signed copy of THE SILENCE IN THE LIBRARY, so tell us and get your name in the hat!
Dean (aka Miranda) James is the New York Times and USA Today
best-selling author of the "Cat in the Stacks" series. A librarian and
bookseller, Dean lives with two cats, Pippa and Toby, and thousands of books
in Houston, Texas.