05 April 2011

Guest Post: Carolyn Hart and Dead on Demand

Welcome to the second of three posts this week celebrating amateur sleuth Annie Laurance Darling, the star of Carolyn Hart's Death on Demand mystery series. Yesterday, I reviewed Death by Midnight, which was published just last month.

I am thrilled to welcome author Carolyn Hart to Beth Fish Reads. I asked Carolyn to give us some insight into why Annie owns a mystery bookstore and to tell us more about the characters who inhabit Annie's world.

Death on Demand by Carolyn Hart

Writers often are asked, "Where do you get your ideas?"

Although authors sometimes have no idea how an idea burgeoned, often there is a moment in time, an experience, a person, a memory, a fear, a conviction that spurs a book or a particular scene.

The publication of Dead by Midnight marks the twenty-first book in the Death on Demand series, which is set in a mystery bookstore and yes, there is a reason why Annie Laurance, later Annie Darling, owns a mystery bookstore.

In the spring of 1985 I was a failed author of fourteen books that had either not sold or had disappeared into the black hole of publishing. Stymied as a writer, I'd accepted a post teaching in the journalism school at the University of Oklahoma. An academic duty was attendance at professional meetings. To satisfy that obligation, I attended a meeting of the Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America in Houston. I had written seven books in seven years and not sold any of them. I felt unworthy to be there, but the authors welcoming and encouraging and plunging into talks about writing mysteries was exhilarating.

At a cocktail party I met Bill Crider who was just finishing his first book. Bill asked if I had visited Murder by the Book. I was amazed to learn there was a bookstore in Houston devoted solely to mysteries, old and new. The next day I took a cab from the hotel and made my first of many wonderful visits to one of America’s great mystery bookstores.

I fell in love with Murder by the Book. I was about ten pages into a new book and my hazy thought had been for the protagonist to own a bookstore. After seeing Murder by the Book, the store became Death on Demand. At that point, I had little hope of selling a manuscript. Since I didn’t expect the book to sell, I decided I would have huge fun. I would write the kind of book I love to read, an old-fashioned mystery with interesting, reasonable, everyday characters (no psychopaths or aberrant personalities), with clues, and, best of all, with two people who truly loved each other.

At that time, women in mystery fiction either had no relationship with a man or the relationship was dysfunctional. I knew it didn't have to be that way. I married a young law student more than a half century ago and we are still having fun. True love exists. Annie and Max Darling admire, respect, and passionately love each other.

Since I didn't think the book would sell, I decided I would use the bookstore as a means of celebrating wonderful mysteries of the past and present. It's been a joy to reflect on authors from Mary Roberts Rinehart to Louise Penny. I take great delight in every book when I pick out titles that will be represented by watercolors. Annie Darling gives free coffee for a month to the first person to correctly name title and author.

To my amazement, Death on Demand sold. I've been blessed to be able to write so many books about Annie and Max and their friends, taking bits and pieces of my life to use in the books. There is a true cat subplot in Deadly Valentine. One winter day after work, I was in the living room and I heard tiny high frantic cries. I ran outside and found a tiny black-and-white kitten in the middle of the street. A little boy on his bike said, "I saw the lady throw her out of the car."

I picked up the little kitten and carried her inside where a large orange and gray cat reigned. I said, "Patch, she will die if we don't take her in." Patch said, "Good." Patch hated Sophie until the day she died. Cats love and know heartbreak, too, and jealousy was at the core of Deadly Valentine. The cats in the book ended up happily with Agatha at Annie's store and Dorothy L at her home.

Many characters are prompted by my life. Annie's ditzy mother-in-law, Laurel, was inspired by the famed actress Billie Burke. Island mystery author Emma Clyde reveals a few home truths about writers' self-absorption (including this one). Henny Brawley is a tribute to the brave and wonderful women who were young during World War II, and her name is based upon that of a revered high school Spanish teacher, Henrietta Von Tunglen.

I've had fun and I'm very grateful to all the wonderful readers who have made it possible for me to write about characters I truly enjoy.
Thank you so much, Carolyn. One of things I love about the series is how real the characters are. It is truly refreshing to follow Annie and Max's relationship and to know their love continues to grow. And most of us has a relative (in-law or not) who can drive us crazy the way Laurel affects Annie. Most of all, though, I'd love to visit a mystery-only bookstore. I'll have to get to Texas.

To learn more about Carolyn Hart and her Death on Demand series, be sure to visit her website.

Come back on Thursday for a chance win one of two copies of Carolyn Hart's latest: Dead by Midnight (open worldwide). Don't forget to visit Jen's Book Thoughts for more posts in her Moonlight for Murder event.


Julie P. 4/5/11, 6:29 AM  

Great post! I can't wait to start this series!

Jen Forbus 4/5/11, 8:33 AM  

What a great guest post. Murder by the Book really is a wonderful bookstore, too. I was fortunate enough to visit this past February, so I love the shout-out there. And the cat story is great. I know my cat was not at all happy when I brought home twin kittens four years ago. :-)

Anonymous,  4/5/11, 9:02 AM  

I'm so pleased that Carolyn Hart is being featured here this week. She is truly one of my favorite mystery writers. I read DEATH ON DEMAND soon after it was published and haven't quit with this series yet. I fell in love with Annie, Max, Laurel, and all the wonderful characters that populate the books. And talk about salivating over a bookstore....wow...I covet Annie's bookstore. I dream about it. My favorite book in the series (because of my love of Agatha Christie) is A CHRISTIE CAPER about a Christie convention that Annie runs on the island. Of course, murder attends as well.

Zibilee 4/5/11, 9:06 AM  

I loved this post, and hearing about her inspiration for the series was just wonderful Some of my favorite guest posts are ones where the author takes you right into the heart of their creative process, so this was a pleasure to read. Thanks for sharing it Beth and Carolyn!

bermudaonion 4/5/11, 10:31 AM  

I love the way things came altogether for her like that. It's funny how one little moment like that can start you down the road of success.

Beth Hoffman 4/5/11, 11:01 AM  

What a terrific guest post, I thoroughly enjoyed it! I'm adding this series to my list.

Word Lily 4/5/11, 11:41 AM  

OK, I officially added this one to my wish list. Great guest post!

Martha@Hey, I want to read that 4/5/11, 11:41 AM  

Thank you for the wonderful guest post. Carolyn thank you for insight into you writing. I love this series, this in high on the list of favorite cozies. I love the bookstore setting and the list of authors and books mentioned in each book.

Barbara 4/5/11, 11:46 AM  

After reading this, Carolyn Hart is going on the top of my TBR list.

mybillcrider 4/5/11, 4:12 PM  

As well she should, Barbara, and I'm going to start demanding a cut of her profits!

Sandy Nawrot 4/5/11, 5:12 PM  

That story makes my heart warm. God bless her and her tenacity. And damned you for waving another series in front of me that I want to read, and making me half insane. Cats and bookstores. I have to read this.

caite 4/5/11, 5:49 PM  

14 books...oh, how many would have given up?

Wonderful post!

Beth Lowe 4/8/11, 10:27 AM  

I loved reading this post, and I can't wait to start reading the series. I'm so glad Carolyn Hart didn't give up, though I'm in total agreement with the previous commenter: so many authors would have.

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