Writing Influences

I just started reading Joanne Fluke’s Blackberry Pie Murder , the seventeenth book in her Hannah Swensen Mystery Series, making this a terrific opportunity to tell you about a few writers who influenced my work.

I’ll start with Ms. Fluke’s work. I discovered the Hannah Swensen series by chance, during a browse through my local library. I selected Carrot Cake Murder from the shelf. I started reading the book that night and was immediately drawn to Hannah’s world of Lake Eden, Minnesota. It’s a quintessential cozy setting-charming small town, everyone knows each other, the crime rate is low, except for the dead bodies Hannah always seems to find. I especially like Hannah’s profession-baker and cookie shop owner. Who doesn’t love cookies? Hannah is also a sensible, smart, kind woman. She is a good daughter, sister, and friend. She also has two boyfriends, Norman the dentist and sheriff Mike. Good for you, Hannah!

This is what attracted me to writing a cozy series:Each book combines a “stand alone” mystery with the ongoing personal stories in the lives of interesting characters. At first the idea of starting a series was daunting. I kept asking myself this: How many murders and storylines can I come up with for this set of characters? I soon realized I could come up with plenty. Cozy writing is a fun challenge. Thanks to Ms. Fluke’s work, I was hooked on cozies.

Jan Karon’s work has also shaped my writing. In her non-cozy Mitford series (starting with At Home In Mitford), Ms. Karon created a beloved character, Father Tim Kavanagh, and the endearing village of Mitford. I read this eleven-book series every autumn (book twelve is coming in September!) for its sense of family, community, and faith. Again, I want to fill my stories with characters and themes people will care about and want to re-visit again and again, just as I enjoy my return to Mitford each year.

Some mystery authors reference the show Murder, She Wrote starring Angela Lansbury when listing their inspirations. Another television show has inspired me- Monk. I absolutely love this show starring the awesome Tony Shaloub. His character, Adrian Monk, cleverly solves cases in episodes imbued with wit and warmth. The friendship between Monk, Sharona, Natalie, Captain Stottlemeyer, and Randy is sweet, even when Monk is driving one or all of them crazy. And I can’t forget his patient psychiatrists, first Doctor Kroger (R.I.P. Stanley Kamel) and then Doctor Bell. These wonderful characters were the heart of the show, like their counterparts on the printed page. I watched every week during the show’s original run, dreaming of ways to entertain readers as Tony Shaloub and company did viewers.

How perfect would it be if Jessica Fletcher, Ms. Lansbury’s character, met Monk, and the two solved a murder?

No self-respecting mystery writer’s list of influences would be complete without the queen, Agatha Christie. Ms. Christie was a prolific writer, crafting brilliant mysteries solved by the incomparable characters of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Ms. Christie was a master of the “closed” setting. She created intrigue and suspense in elegant homes (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), remote islands (And Then There Were None), trains (Murder on the Orient Express), and ships (Death on the Nile). My favorite-The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. I marvel at Ms. Christie’s talent every time I read her work.

And finally, Spring is coming! I know because the chipmunks have returned to my backyard. I had my first sighting yesterday. Who needs a groundhog and his shadow when there’s Chipmunk Charlie?

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