LUCY BURDETTE: If you haven't heard of Elaine Viets, you will have after today--and you will thank us for it! She's not only a talented and prolific writer, she's a tireless worker for the mystery writing community--and has made one of the toughest medical comebacks you can imagine. And did she use her problems as an excuse to quit? No, she did not! She used her experience as the basis for a new series. And today we welcome her to talk about her change in direction from cozy mysteries to the dark side...
ELAINE VIETS: Zombie series. We've all read them: a string of novels that are barely alive, dragged by their authors from one publisher to another. Each new zombie novel staggers to its feet, but dies quickly. It’s hard to survive without a heart.
The kindest – and smartest – thing to do is end your series before it becomes a zombie.
I’ve written three mystery series:
My first series featured Francesca Vierling, a six-foot tall St. Louis newspaper columnist. After four Francesca novels the publisher wiped out the division.
These novels were hard-boiled. I'd been a newspaper reporter and enjoyed writing about the story behind the story. In this series, I had the freedom to talk about subjects that newspapers were too genteel to discuss. Francesca investigates a transvestite’s murder in Backstab and the death of a RUB, a rich urban biker, in Rubout. In The Pink Flamingo Murders, a ruthless gentrifier comes to a terrible end: stabbed with a pink plastic flamingo. In Doc in the Box, bad doctors get the deaths they deserve.
After the hard-boiled Francesca series ended, I worked dead-end jobs until my agent sold Shop Till You Drop, my first Dead-End Job mystery. This series features Helen Hawthorne, a St. Louis woman on the run in South Florida. I was writing traditional mysteries, cheerfully slaughtering awful bosses and annoying customers. Penguin saved me from being trapped in those dead-end jobs. I quit them to write my mysteries.
Penguin took the Dead-End Job series from paperback to hardcover and asked me to write a cozy series featuring mystery shopper Josie Marcus. Josie was supposed to be a three-book series. Dying in Style, the first Josie book, tied with Stephen King’s mystery on the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association list.
I happily wrote two mysteries a year. Suddenly, it was 2015. I turned in book ten of the “three book” mystery-shopper series. Checked Out, my fourteenth Dead-End Job hardcover, was published.
And I wanted to return to the dark side. After fifteen years of writing funny, traditional mysteries and sweet cozies, I’ve started a dark series featuring Death Investigator Angela Richman. Death investigators work for the medical examiner. At a death scene, the DI takes charge of the body, photographing it, documenting the wounds, and more. The police investigate the rest of the crime scene.
Why return to this gritty world?
Because I never left. I love cozies, but they’re not all kittens and cupcakes. I prefer relentless Miss Marple, the fluffy knitter who declared “I am Nemesis” and brought killers to justice.
I’d kept writing dark short stories for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and anthologies edited by Charlaine Harris and Lawrence Block.
To return to the dark side this time, I went back to college. I passed the Medicolegal Death Investigators Training Course for forensic professionals, given by Saint Louis University’s School of Medicine. The intense two-credit college course gave me up-to-date forensic information. I learned about gunshot wound fatalities, explosion-related deaths, motor vehicle fatalities, suicide, blunt-trauma fatalities, and more. Enough in-depth lectures to turn me into a temporary vegetarian.
Once I had the training, I needed to know how my readers felt about the change. I asked almost two thousand readers if they’d follow me to the dark side. More than 75 percent said they’d read the new Death Investigator series. Almost half said they’d prefer the new series and more than half said they’d read both.
“I would love to see you tackle something a little darker,” one wrote. “As a male, the new series appeals to me.”
Yes, sir. Brain Storm, the first Angela Richman death investigator mystery, debuted this month. I still enjoy writing Helen Hawthorne’s lighthearted adventures in South Florida. My 15th Dead-End Job mystery, The Art of Murder, is out.
But Josie Marcus, my cozy mystery series, is now on hiatus. I’ve experimented with all the cozy variations. Josie is in a good place: She’s happy with her new husband. Josie’s teenage daughter, Amelia, is about to become a young woman. Josie’s mother has met a man she loves.
I may bring Josie back some day. But not as a zombie.
Brain Storm is on sale for $9.99 as a trade paperback and $4.99 as an e-book.
author writer Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series. With Brain Storm, her first Angela Richman
Death Investigator mystery, she returns to her hardboiled roots. Elaine passed
the MedicoLegal Death Investigators Course for forensic professionals for this
series. Bestseller Reed Farrel Coleman says, "In Brain Storm, Viets takes a dangerous turn down a dark alley but
manages it with panache and a touch of humor." Elaine won the Anthony, Agatha, and Lefty
About BRAIN STORM: The ultrawealthy families of Chouteau Forest may look down on death investigator Angela Richman, but they also rely on her. After investigating a horrific car crash, Angela suffers six crippling strokes. Misdiagnosed by the hospital’s resident neurologist and mended by a gauche, brilliant brain surgeon, Angela faces a harrowing recovery. She may never recover her investigative skills. While in the hospital, the doctor who misdiagnosed her is murdered, and the chief suspect is his bitter enemy, the surgeon who saved her life. Drug‑addled, hallucinating Angela fights to save the man who saved her life.