It is with great pleasure that I welcome my friend and fellow author Joan Livingston to the blog today. I have no idea how she found the time to join me, but I am so glad she did. Tell us all about why you write your fabulous mysteries, Joan.
Thank you Val Penny, a generous author friend, for inviting me to share my thoughts on why I write mysteries. Here goes.
Who doesn't love a good mystery? I surely do, whether it's in a book, a movie or TV show (especially from the UK), and on occasion, real life. And a few years ago, I decided I would create my own, and thus the Isabel Long Mystery Series began.
Let me back up a little. I didn't start writing mysteries. I was drawn to literary fiction. I have completed five in that genre, two of which have been published. I have also delved into kids' books, including a bilingual series. But it was after a close friend who is also an author wrote her first mystery that I told myself to give it a try.
And from reading and watching so many mysteries, I believe I figured it out from the get-go.
First, mysteries need someone who solves them. In my case, it's Isabel Long, who uses the transferable skills of her former profession as a journalist to be a private investigator solving cold cases in the rural area where she lives. (Full disclosure, I have been a journalist for 35 years, and I long decided I could easily be a lawyer, detective, or if I were brave enough, a spy.)
Isabel is smart, nosy, and a bit sassy, and people who know me would likely say I channel myself a bit through this character. But that's where the similarities end. She's a recent widow, mother of three grown kids and grandmother to a little one. Her personal life changes after she starts working as a part-time bartender at the town's only bar and she becomes involved with its owner.
I gave Isabel an unusual sidekick, he 92-year-old mystery-loving mother who lives with her. (My real-life mother, now 97, is the inspiration.) In the first book of this series, Isabel decides to solve a very cold case, one that happened 28 years earlier when a woman in her small town disappeared. It was also her first big story as a rooky reporter.
The setting for the series is the sticks of Western Massachusetts in the U.S., which I know well since I've lived there much of my life. The characters are not based on anyone real, but I feel they could easily live there. Many stay around through the series.
One important thing about watching or reading a mystery is that I want to be fooled until nearly the end. Please keep me guessing but don't make the distractions and dead ends obvious. Give me characters who are complex and interesting. I love when all of that happens. I hope to do the same for my readers.
I will share a secret. Just like Isabel, I don't start off knowing whodunnit. It's as much a mystery to me as it is to her and we solve it together — an experience I find extremely satisfying.
Right now, I am writing book no. 5 in the series, Working the Beat. A few years ago, I went to a demolition derby at a local country fair. Something clicked inside me when a friend mentioned a derby might be a good place to find a body.
That was all I needed to get started. The same goes for Isabel. Stay tuned. Working the Beat should be out this fall.
Joan Livingston is the author of novels for adult and young readers. An award-winning journalist, she has been the editor-in-chief for newspapers in New Mexico and Western Massachusetts, where she now lives.
Books in the Isabel Long Mystery Series: Chasing the Case, Redneck's Revenge, Checking the Traps and Killing the Story. Find them on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3gNKULh