I was one of those kids who read under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. I would hide in a closet with a book (preferably, but not exclusively, a Nancy Drew clone) when I was supposed to be cleaning up my room. In the fourth grade I gave a book report on a non-existent (except in my own mind) mystery series, called the Jean Beacon series, and got away with it. One would think this is the definitive profile of either a blossoming writer-to-be or a juvenile delinquent in training. My career ambitions, however, lay elsewhere. At a very young age I was bitten by the acting bug. As a child I would put on shows for any relative who could be prevailed upon to watch—usually an aunt or uncle who could be counted on to loudly applaud as I took my bows. I would sing every song in my repertoire while I dried the dinner dishes, probably to the distress of my sister who was the designated dishwasher. And every Saturday was movie day.
I grew up in a small city in Massachusetts where professional live theater was difficult to come by, but my parents who loved theater, saved their pennies and every few months took my sister, my brother, and me to New York City to see a show. I remember one time sulking because one of the shows turned out to be a musical review. I wanted to see a play with a story and characters I cared about, one that had a beginning, a middle and an end. That’s still my preference but if disappointed in a production, I rarely sulk. Well, hardly ever. When I was seventeen my family moved to New York and the world of Broadway and off-Broadway opened up to me. In those days, if you didn’t mind sitting in what was called the peanut gallery, seats were inexpensive. (My husband-to-be, a poverty-stricken medical resident, wooed me by taking me to see five shows in the space of one week, all viewed from the gallery.)
The outcome of all this exposure was that I was addicted, ready to commit to “life upon the wicked stage.” I applied and was accepted as a “dramat” to Carnegie Mellon University and over the following summers, played several seasons of summer stock. In college, I read more plays than I can count, and acted in several. I learned how the best playwrights build a scene and end it in a way that leaves the audience hooked. And I learned to invent an entire life story, interior as well as exterior, for whichever character I was playing. All this role preparation turned out to be great training for the writing career that was to come.
So how and when did the transition happen? Not for years. In between there was an acting career that failed to reach the heights or even much of a peak but was great fun, a marriage, lots of travel which included a tour of the NATO bases in France with a production of “Born Yesterday,” three children, and finally, a move to the suburbs of New Jersey.
The writing began when I, as program director for our PTA, was asked to write a skit for the elementary school children to perform. I based it on Marlo Thomas’s “Free to be You and Me.” (There may have been some unintended pirating involved in that project, but I didn’t know better and Marlo never found out.) That was followed by another project in which several of us PTA moms were requested to write a short drama for a local TV channel on the subject of juvenile delinquency, something that despite my childhood proclivities, I knew very little about. After endless meetings in which everyone contributed ideas but nothing went down on paper, it became clear that this collaborative effort wasn’t working. Because of my theater background (or my big mouth) I was elected playwright. The bar wasn’t set very high, but aware that my writing skills needed honing to say the least, I decided to take a course in television writing at The New School in Manhattan. The course was taught by a brilliant former actress by the name of Ann Loring, who initially intimidated the hell out of me. At the conclusion of the course, though, she surprised me by inviting me to join her private writing group. I was thrilled. I studied with Ann for many years, first writing for TV and film, and ultimately producing my first mystery novel, “Pink Balloons and Other Deadly Things.” It was Ann who convinced me to try my hand at novel writing after life had handed me a huge lemon in the form of my husband of many years taking off with a sexy young wicked witch. “Don’t let it beat you,” advised Ann. “Make lemonade.” And so I did.
For an author, no experience is ever wasted. I worked as a biofeedback therapist for several years and out of that came the idea for my protagonist, stressed-out, stress therapist, Carrie Carlin. When I wrote “Pink Balloons” I hadn’t planned to write the first of a mystery series, much less a somewhat humorous cozy. I just knew I wanted to kill someone. No one was more surprised than I when Dell bought it and gave me contracts for Books 2, 3, and 4.
As a result of my years in theater I often find myself thinking in dialogue. That was a definite plus when I was writing screenplays, and it works well for me now as my novels tend to be character driven and dialogue heavy. I continue to create background lives for my characters using the building blocks I learned way back when. In all writing, but especially in a mystery, being able to structure a scene and build it to a climax is crucial. I know how to write a beginning, a middle, and an end, but that may be instinctive, dating back to my childhood disappointment in the musical review.
There are now five books in the series, the last, “Slippery Slopes and Other Deadly Things,” was published by the wonderful people at Perseverance Press. Very recently, after much angst, I managed to launch all five on Amazon’s Kindle as eBooks. The re-reading, re-editing, updating plus the conversion process nearly drove me to drink, but that’s a whole other blog in itself, and has already been cleverly recounted in this blogosphere on November 29th by Sara Hoskinson Frommer. Her experiences, not mine.
Janet Evanovich promised to give me a review quote when we signed together in Denver and I was promoting my second book and she, I believe, her fourth or fifth. I was lucky. Janet doesn’t give author quotes anymore. Perseverance used the quote on the cover of “Slippery Slopes.” It reads, “Don’t miss this stand-out-from the-crowd cliffhanger with its slightly frazzled, commitment-phobic, in your face heroine, who’ll tickle your funnybone as she steals your heart. I loved every fun-filled minute of Carrie’s wild slide down those slippery slopes.”
Writing for me will always be a journey into unknown territory which I don’t seem able to resist. Along with Carrie, I’m still sliding down slippery slopes.
Note: This guest blog originally appeared on December 31, 2012 on The Perseverance Press Authors’ Blog, Get It Write.