Thursday, August 18, 2016

Avoiding the Zombie Apocalypse By Elaine Viets

 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.

Bestselling 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 Awards.  
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.


  1. Congratulations on your new series, Elaine . . . it sounds quite interesting and I’m looking forward to reading “Brain Storm.” I’ve enjoyed your other books and now I’m excited about following Angela on her adventures.

  2. Congratulations, Elaine. Brain Storm sounds fabulous. Having read your darker shorts, and your humorous cozies, I'd wondered if the dark side would call for a book. Glad that it did. Brain Storm is on my Kindle waiting now and I'm looking forward to spending time with Angela.

  3. Good for you for following your dream! The course you took sounds fabulous. Best of luck with the new dark side.

  4. Elaine,
    So good to see you here! I've long enjoyed the Dead End job series. I downloaded Brain Storm a few days ago and will be starting it any day now. Having read about your health challenges, I admire your persistence and refusal to give up.

    Deb Romano

  5. Morning everyone. If you haven't read Elaine Viets, you really must. Always smart, entertaining, and clever - regardless of overall tone - she nails it every time. And if you ever have a chance to see her on a panel, go! She will have you laughing before you know it.

  6. Congrats, Elaine! Brain Storm sounds fabulous. Hmm, if I get the ebook my husband won't see it (two more books showed up in the mail recently and I got The Look).

    Can't wait to meet you at Bouchercon!

  7. Have to say, I laughed out loud at the idea: Josie as a Zombie! I love Josie.

    Elaine I'll read anything you write, but I have trouble imagining an Elaine Viets book without a sense of humor. It's not, right?

  8. I got an ARC of Brain Storm. It is amazing. And to think it is the author's actual medical story.
    A terrific read.

  9. Thank you all for the warm welcome! Hallie, BRAIN STORM has humor, but it's dark humor. It also has cussin, but not much sex.
    Can't wait for Bouchercon, Mary. Looking forward to seeing everyone there.

  10. Elaine, I'm delighted to see you a) writing a kick-ass new series and b) looking so well! I can't wait to dig into BRAIN STORM.

    And I've probably said this before, but your DEAD END JOB series has the only mystery that's actually changed my behavior in real life. Helen is a chambermaid at a hotel in MURDER WITH RESERVATIONS and she notes how much those tips left behind when guests check out mean to the other maids, many of whom are mothers supporting their kids.

    I always think of that when I stay in a hotel, and I always make sure I have money for the maids. It was $2 back in '08, so I'm up to about $7 or $8 per night now. Thanks for making me a better guest!

  11. Agreed, Julia! I am devoted about leaving tips for hotel help, and it is all because of you, Elaine! I must say, I think of you with affection every time I do it…

  12. Elaine, is there really a thing about opening the shampoo containers?

  13. And tell us more about that death examiner school! Very very intriguing…

  14. I bought the Kindle version (for instant gratification) and loved it! Posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads today. Wishing success for this new series because I want more!

  15. Bless you, Julia, for leaving that much money. You've given those housekeeper more than they make in an hour. Yes, Hank, at the hotel where I worked -- a Holiday Inn Express -- the housekeepers could take home the hotel shampoo if it was open. They also could have the TP rolls that had just a few sheets left. Auntie Knickers, thank you so much for the reviews. Truly appreciated.

  16. I am so looking forward to this new series--just got the book yesterday.
    See you soon!

  17. Elaine, I, too, am another tipping convert because of you.

    And I can't wait to read Brain Storm! I'm fascinating by forensics, and am so impressed that you took the death investigator's course.

    Good luck on the new series! It sounds terrific!

  18. Okay, I'll confess. I always intend to have cash every night. I sometimes don't. So I make sure I leave X dollars x Y nights on my last day for any nights I missed. Is this acceptable?

    Another thing I need to remember when I go to Bouchercon - cash for the maids!

  19. Leaving any money for the housekeeper is a kindness, Mary, and much appreciated. But often the housekeepers are rotated. One day I'd clean the third floor, the next day I'd get the second. So I wouldn't get the tip, and not all housekeepers remember to share. By the way, my biggest -- and only -- tip was $2.38 and a bottle of peach nectar.
    Deborah, welcome to the tipping sorority. You will have piles of towels during your stay. The forensics class was fun, but I was a temporary vegetarian for several months.

  20. I read and enjoyed Brain Storm. My review is on Amazon now. It is grittier than the other two series but everything fits, there is no gratuitous blood or F bombs.

    I have given several copies of Murder with Reservations to co-workers who travel for a living. Some of them never realized what a few dollars can do. I was in Florida for a week long conference. I tipped every day because I didn't want the Tuesday cleaner to miss out because they were off on my last day.

    Just a thought, if Josie were to come back to life, perhaps as Amelia Marcus YA? I know some girls who would love copies.

  21. Thank you for giving out copies of MURDER WITH RESERVATIONS, Alan. That's really kind. I love YA books, but have never been able to write YA stories. My inner child is acting up.

  22. Brain Storm sounds amazing. A sense of humor is absolutely necessary to survive any medical situation or deal with others'. That said I hope you don't need to call on yours too much these days.

  23. Elaine, I have seen your name all over the place, and now you're here at Jungle Reds, so it's time for me to get with the program and read you. I'm fascinated that you went back to school for the Death Investigators Training Course. That alone makes me want to read your new book. I wasn't aware that there was a special name for this person in forensic investigating, so I can't wait to learn more. Brain Storm is now in my sights.

  24. Kathy, Death Investigators work with the Medical Examiner's office. The profession was created in St. Louis in 1978 when there was a shortage of pathologists to go the the scene of a murder or other unexplained death. DIs are trained professionals, but do not need to have medical degrees. St. Louis University developed the first course, though you can find DIs across the country now.
    Pat D, I've made a nearly full recovery and consider myself extremely lucky.

  25. I love the new series, which is just dark enough (like the perfect dark chocolates). I loved the others as well, and I do understand and commend the decision to let them go when the time is right and when they will be missed.
    Congratulations on yet another successful fresh start. <3

  26. Congratulations Elaine. I look forward to your new book, which I just ordered on my kindle.

    Re tipping, I am quite a pro. If fact, I tipped over just this afternoon and crashed through my rotten fence while picking tomatoes. Maybe I should give that up until the boot for my last week's foot fracture is history?

  27. Yikes, Ann! No tipping until the boot is off. Please be careful.
    "just dark enough, like the perfect dark chocolate" -- thank you, Mary. Says it perfectly.

  28. Elaine, I began Brain Storm last night and like it a lot. Definitely not a cozy!