Today is the publication date for my eighth Kelly O’Connell Mystery, Contract for Chaos. I published the first in that series, Skeleton in a Dead Space, in 2011, so that makes fourteen mysteries in seven years—not quite two a year, a record that makes me look back.
I have always been a mystery fan. Like so many young girls, I grew up on Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames, R.N., and whoever else. I can’t trace the progression, but as the years went by my heroes were Carolyn Hart, Susan Wittig Albert, Cleo Coyle, and all their sisters in crime. I, meanwhile, was writing about women in the American West.
My writing career came about in a strange way. Academically trained, I was taught to support, defend, footnote ad infinitum, and do everything but give in to my imagination. Fiction was over there on another shelf, written by those with more freedom and imagination than I brought to the typewriter (yes, in the early days) and then the computer.
A friend gave me her mother’s memoir, and I was fascinated but I didn’t know what to do with it except annotate, criticize, dissect, and rob it of every bit of life it had. By serendipity I read some children’s books–Dust of the Earth and Where the Red Fern Grows come to mind—and it dawned on me I could turn that memoir into a children’s book. It wasn’t quite as easy as I’d thought, but one day (1978) I had a novel, After Pa Was Shot, published by a prominent New York publishing house. I envisioned movie contracts and great wealth.
What followed instead was a career low on the mid-list, writing about women of the19th Century American West—Elizabeth Custer, Jessie Benton Frémont, Lucille Mulhall (first Wild West roping queen), even Etta Place of the Hole in the Wall Gang, Cissie Palmer of Chicago’s Palmer House. I wrote non-fiction for school libraries and almost anything else I could get an assignment for. But, always, the mystery shelf called to me.
I didn’t know enough about the genre to realize there was a term for the mysteries I liked—cozies. No blood and guts, little if any nail-biting suspense, no sex or profanity. Usually, a female amateur sleuth, a bit of romance, a bit of danger, and a happy ending—Nancy Drew all grown up. Joining Sisters in Crime was an education in a whole new writing world, and I ate it up, learning everything I could, reaching out to people, networking. Newly retired, I had a whole new career—and I loved it.
I’m realistic these days. Gone are dreams of even specials for the small screen. But I like the few dedicated readers I have, and it makes me happy they enjoy my stories. No, I don’t expect people to read my work a hundred years from now (a criterion I learned in graduate school), but I’m living—and writing–in the here and now. I hope you’ll keep reading. And I’m proud to offer you Contract for Chaos.