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Why (and how) I wrote...

Why (and how) I wrote the Caulfield, Sheridan Mysteries series. When I retired from the English Department at Florida State University, with available time and energy opening up before me, my friend and colleague Wendy Bishop suggested that I write a mystery novel. I knew nothing much about the genre except for the Nancy Drew series of my childhood and Amanda Cross’s academic mysteries, featuring Professor Kate Fansler, which I’d discovered in the 60s. I also found Dona Leon’s Commissario Brunetti novels in Venice, Italy, before they became available in the States. Wendy then introduced me to Michael Connelly’s Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch novels and I subsequently found the Swedish Wallander series by Henning Mankell.


Overwhelmed by the intriguing intricacy of these mystery novels, I was reluctant to try writing my own, but Wendy continued to encourage me. So to gain a better understanding of the genre, I began to read many examples, and because I was caught up in the second feminist movement, I sought out women authors such as Ruth Rendell, Elizabeth George, P.D. James, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell, Faye Kellerman and a host of others. Once begun, writing my own sequence of mysteries became my passion.


First I developed a plan and method for learning from those novels how to write a mystery: I would read the last chapter to determine the outcome of the crime investigation and then I would trace the clues the authors had placed from beginning to end. In this way, I learned plotting methods, creation of suspense, and character development, including how to hide the villain’s identity until the climax, while sprinkling red herrings along the way. Shakespeare’s Secrets was the first volume I wrote in the series, featuring Ariadne Caulfield and Judith Sheridan, professors at a college in a small town in North Florida. But it soon became the second volume when I discovered that my husband Hans was writing a novel about Venice, the city we both loved and had by that time visited a dozen times during our summer vacations. If he could write one about Serenissima, so could I. Thus Love and Death in Venice became the first novel in the Caulfield-Sheridan Mystery series.


I had wanted my series to center on the friendships and conversations between Ariadne and Judith, along the way adding Suzanne, Judith’s new partner, placing them in various cities and countries Hans and I had visited. But first I decided to get them settled in Coowahchobee, Florida, where Ariadne teaches history, Judith English, and Suzanne sociology a Rutherford College. And l gave Ariadne a new love interest, her husband Andre having died in a boating accident in Venice several years earlier. And so Sheriff Beau Hammell entered the picture and very soon the two fell in love while attempting to solve the crime that opens this now-second novel in the series.


I was comfortable writing about academe, having been in a college or university ever since high school. And having lived for many years in the Florida Panhandle, I reveled in describing the character and color of this environment and of life in typical small-town Southern neighborhoods and along the nearby state parks and the Gulf Coast seashore. Rutherford College, however, is inspired by California Lutheran College (now University), where I taught in earlier years.


Shakespeare’s Secrets, volume two of the series, is ready for preorder on Amazon and will launch December 5. I hope you will enjoy the read!


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