- Janis Patterson
Back in September I told you about how I came to use the name Janis Susan May as my author name. I still use that name for romance and for horror (yes, I know it’s an odd combination, but the two genres are so different it works out) but times and things change. I’ve always had to have a hint of mystery in all of my stories, but as I matured as a writer I found myself more and more drawn to the intellectualism and mind games of pure mystery.
It has nothing to do with a friend’s comment that I was more comfortable with dead bodies than live ones!
In the interest of branding, I decided to use Janis Patterson for my cozy mysteries, a decision made for three reasons. First, it is my married name. Second, it honors my wonderful, supportive husband. And third, with any luck at all it will get me shelved next to James Patterson!
Writing mysteries is different from writing just about anything else. In most other forms of writing, you build to a climax, revealing what happens along the way. In mysteries, you not only have to do all that, but you also have to hide/disguise/reconfigure that same information so that the reader doesn’t guess the murderer from the beginning. It’s a complicated, contra-intuitive process, and I’m not sure what it says about me that I took to it like a duck to water.
In my earlier books the mystery was secondary to the romance. In mystery you concentrate solely on the mystery. It’s a different discipline entirely. But it’s also a very freeing one. You don’t have to concentrate on just one couple (the romantic interests) as lead characters. You can have all kinds of people as leads, and more than just two leads. Characters who would have been condemned to being minor or secondary in a romance, existing in the book only in their relationship to the romantic couple, can blossom into their own spotlight.
And, best of all, you get to kill people. When I meet someone new and they ask what I do, I smile, give them my best grandmotherly twinkle and say in soft, mellifluous tones, “I kill people.” It’s a great way to be remembered. Then I give them my rose-covered (I’m mad about roses) business card with both my websites on it and say, “Buy a book. I need the money.”
Writing murder is also very therapeutic. Anyone who has ticked you off, just make them the victim. You can do it in as nasty a way as you want, as many times as you want, and nobody really gets hurt. It’s also cheaper than psychotherapy!
Every morning I get up and make coffee in my favorite mug, which says : Warning – What You Do May End Up In My Next Novel. It was a fundraiser item for the Dallas Area Romance Authors I don’t know how many years ago. I love it.
Mysteries also take on a life of their own, going off in their own predetermined directions, and sometimes all you can do is hang on. I had a great idea for a cozy mystery. The only thing was, the idea first appeared to as happening in 1919 Denver. I knew nothing about 1919, save that I had a great aunt die in the flu epdemic, and had only been to Denver twice, both times recently for gem shows. Okay, the idea was good, so I decided to write it in a time and place where I felt more comfortable. I tried three times and each time the whole thing died a terrible death. Simply lay there like sodden tissue.
Okay… I gave in and did some research on both 1919 and Denver, got my feet under me and the book almost wrote itself. Carina Press published it, and THE HOLLOW HOUSE garnered many 4+ star reviews and was an RT Top Pick.
Emboldened by success, I did two more cozy mysteries – BEADED TO DEATH and EXERCISE IS MURDER.
Carina is bringing out BEADED TO DEATH on October 1, a light hearted tale of a middle-aged, widowed bead artist who finds a dead man in her home. Before long she is suspected of being a drug dealer, confronted by a handsome FBI agent who may or may not be rogue, and saddled with a 7’3” nephew on the run from an unwanted basketball scholarship. While I’ve never even met an FBI agent and my tallest nephew, who is too old to play basketball, is only 6’5”, I have done beadwork, both as flowers and jewelry. This was a great romp to write.
EXERCISE IS MURDER is darker, and has two protagonists – a former detective invalided out of the police force when she was crippled in a shoot-out that might have been set up by her dirty cop ex-lover, and the older, wealthy widow of a jeweler who is probably described as the dark side of Miss Marple. An uncomfortable team, they witness and try to solve the murder of a woman in an exercise class. The only problem is that every woman in the class had reasons both to kill and be killed – everyone, that is, except the victim. EXERCISE IS MURDER is coming out from 5Star as a hardback in December.
At the moment I’m working on two mysteries, one set in 1916 New Orleans and one a sequel to… ah, but you’ll have to wait until I find out how they end before I can talk about them. Yes, you read that correctly. Sometimes I don’t always know whodunit before I finish the book – though I always think I do. Remember, books take on a life of their own.
For example, on THE HOLLOW HOUSE I changed the murderer four or five times in the last half-dozen chapters and when the killer’s identity was finally revealed to me I thought, Of course! It makes perfect sense – even though the murderer was the last person I would have suspected. Which meant a lot more work for me, I thought dismally. Now I had to go through the entire manuscript and put in clues to the final killer.
Except… when I went through the manuscript, I didn’t have to plant a single clue. They were already there.
Sometimes writing is a mystery.
Today’s lucky winner will receive their choice – an ARC of BEADED TO DEATH or one of EXERCISE IS MURDER.
Janis Patterson is a seventh-generation Texan and a third-generation wordsmith who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson.
Formerly an actress and singer, a talent agent and Supervisor of Accessioning for a bio-genetic DNA testing lab, Janis has also been editor-in-chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups as well as many other things, including an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist.
Janis married for the first time when most of her contemporaries were becoming grandmothers. Her husband, also an Egyptophile, even proposed in a moonlit garden near the Pyramids of Giza. Janis and her husband live in Texas with an assortment of rescued furbabies.