A Writer’s Best Friend

I’ve been thinking today about serendipity. So many good things in life seem to come to us that way. Two elements may collide in a surprising way and produce an unforeseen result. And more specifically, I’ve been thinking about the role serendipity played in the creation of Ripped, my first book.

Sure, a love of the mystery genre is in my blood. The famous writer in my family, John Dickson Carr, whom we called Daddy John, gave my brother and me all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books. My grandfather’s presence in my life and the hearty appetite for writing with which he practiced his profession had a profound influence on me.

But how did I come to write a mystery of my own? I was in London a few years ago, going to plays with others from Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company. We were looking for exciting new plays to import to Boston. Serendipity combined my environs on this trip with my lifelong interest in nineteenth-century England.

There I was, walking some of the same streets of London that Jack the Ripper had also walked, safe from being identified as the most notorious and vicious killer of women the city had ever known. Creepy, right? Right there and then, I began to research my book, digging into the most famous murder mystery in London’s history.

Serendipity, the best friend of a writer, also led me to my editor and to the publishing company that brought out the book.

While I was researching and writing this novel, I happened upon another tale that intrigued me as much as the story of Jack the Ripper. It was outside the scope of my book, so I saved the material I found and will use it in the next book. Serendipity at work again!

—Shelly

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John Dickson Carr, November 30, 1906 – February 27, 1977

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the death of my grandfather, John Dickson Carr. He was one of the finest mystery writers ever. He made a good living as a writer, but he wrote because he loved to write. He was a genius at crafting the historical mystery, which is one of my favorite genres– so much texture, so many layers.

My grandfather so enjoyed writing, that he never gave it up, even after he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. He was known for playing fair with his readers, revealing brilliant yet plausible solutions to his mysteries, never resorting to fantastic, impossible endings.

Although he stayed in England for many years after falling in love with and marrying a Brit– my wonderful grandmother, Clarice Cleaves, he and the whole family moved to the U.S. in 1948. They had three daughters, one of them my mother. By the time he returned to America, he was a successful author.  Readers around the world loved his books.

This book earned my grandfather a Special Edgar Award

However, in 1950, it was a work of nonfiction– his biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that won Daddy John the highest praise. He was awarded the first of his two Special Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America.  In 1970, a second Special Edgar Award was given to him, celebrating his 40-year career as a mystery writer. The Mystery Writers of America also bestowed upon him the MWA’s Grand Master award in 1963.

As I write this, it amazes me just how much my grandfather accomplished. After his stroke in 1963, he didn’t just write– he wrote on deadline. For years he wrote mystery book reviews for “Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.” And I know he never stopped reading. In 1967 he moved from Mamaroneck, New York where I grew up to Greenville, South Carolina. I was in high school when he died.

My family and I, and all his fans are fortunate; we will always have his wit and humor and clever insights into human nature within the covers of all the wonderful books he left us. I still read his books and continue to learn the craft of mystery writing from him. I’m the luckiest mystery writer ever. And don’t you just love the old cover art? I have many more covers to share.

There’s plenty more to tell about Daddy John, but this at least answers some of the questions readers have been asking me about him. More later, promise.

-Shelly

 

 

 

 

 

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Why a Mystery and Why London?

People have asked why I chose to write a mystery, why London,  and why so complicated? The short answer is I’ve wanted to write a mystery book ever since I fell in love with them as a girl. And what’s a good mystery if not complicated? London– because Jack the Ripper is simply one of the most interesting cold cases ever. Victorian London, specifically when the Ripper roamed, provided a richly textured stage on which my main character, Katie Lennox, could learn about herself, love, loss and other life lessons.

I grew up surrounded by books–lots of great British classics and all the fabulous mysteries my grandfather, John Dickson Carr wrote.  Talk about complicated… Daddy John really knew how to write with lots of layers. At ten years old, I read “He Wouldn’t

My Grandfather, John Dickson Carr, wrote more than 100 mysteries. He also used the name Carter Dickson.

Kill Patience”.  Published in 1944, this locked room mystery grabbed me. I was hooked. I also loved the clever observations and deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes. “Dracula” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” kept me up late at night. For an American kid, I had a whole lot of England around me and knew more about Victorian London than the current American pop scene.

My grandfather was American, but married a smart, clever British woman– who kept him on his toes. Clarice Cleaves was an accomplished pianist and loved a party. Both were very social. My grandparents read a great deal and that rubbed off on their children and their children’s children. All three of their daughters pursued writing careers. Reading has always been part of my life and I think that is the case for so many writers.

I’m grateful I fell in love with books at an early age. I’m in awe that my grandfather averaged four books a year for several decades. RIPPED took me years to research, write and write– and rewrite. I’m deep into the sequel and will let you know when to expect it once I get further along. I’ll work harder to answer the many questions I’ve been getting about Katie Lennox, Cockney, criminal profiling and other such fun questions readers have come up with.

-Shelly

 

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A Halloween Celebration

Just one more week until I unveil a special Halloween edition of RIPPED to invited guests at a big party in Boston. I am excited and a bit nervous. Besides the book, we will debut the video trailer which I think is fantastic and not just because I know the stars.  I promise to post the video after its screening on October 26, 2012. Please spread the word about RIPPED, available December 15. You can read the first two chapters  now,  FREE  at www.Ripped-Book.com

This is a still from the Video trailer for RIPPED. See the trailer October 27th at
www.Ripped-Book.com

-Shelly

Be careful what you wish for….

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