Last week I gave a little talk at a Rotary Club meeting. All the members wore impressive-looking round metal necklaces which stated their name and occupation – everyone but me, of course because I was a guest, not a regular. They gave me a paper stick-on that read, “Hello, I’m…” I filled out my badge so it read, “Hello, I’m Nancy. I kill people.” Funny— quite a few Rotarians did few double-takes.
I’m not a killer by nature. So why would a nice real estate agent like me turn to a life of murder and chocolate chip cookies?
I never intended to write anything other than enticing advertising copy for my listings, but in 2008 when the real estate market tanked and I couldn’t dispassionately tell clients their homes might not sell for what they owed on their mortgage, I decided to run away from the too-real world of foreclosures and short sales, take a time out, and pretend to be retired.
It took less than a month without enough to do to get bored; I missed all the interesting clients and associates I met in real estate and I especially missed hearing their stories. Maybe because of that or maybe because my fallback mode was avoiding reality, as a purely time-filling intellectual exercise, I began to toy with the idea of writing a mystery.
The logic and careful structure of mysteries has fascinated me since the days when I sat in a wicker rocking chair at my grandmother’s house and read Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, sworn to secrecy in case my mother wouldn’t approve of a young girl reading something other than Nancy Drew.
Writing a mystery would be like solving a logic puzzle—Sudoku on steroids— and if that wouldn’t be fun enough, mystery writing would give me an excuse to delve into a world of fascinating but unsettling things like decomposition, accidental mummification, and how ligature strangulation and death by hypothermia work. Researching those topics would be akin to being a four-year-old playing with rubber dinosaurs: the game would be enjoyable, and I could control what might otherwise give me nightmares.
The idea of writing mysteries kept getting more appealing. I could take my twenty-plus years of situations—that’s a polite term for all those things that happen in the world of real estate that makes agents say, “I could write a book”—and use them for background. I could create a real estate agent protagonist named Regan McHenry who could be kind of like me, only younger, thinner, and more daring, and get back in touch with my favorite agents, clients, and associates by using them as inspiration for characters.
The murders in my books are made up, but the real estate stories are real—yes, Realtors do come across bodies in the course of doing business—so a Realtor who solves mysteries isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem.
And the cookies? Well, Realtors often bake cookies at open houses to entice buyers. It’s an old trick-of- the-trade. In the first book I wrote, The Death Contingency, Regan baked homemade cookies at an almost lethal open house. In Backyard Bones she baked cookies to take as comfort food to a client accused of murder. After Regan’s cookies appeared in two books, there had to be a recipe. When people visit my website they can not only read the beginnings of the books, they can also pick up a free recipe for “Mysterious Chocolate Chip Cookies.” The cookies make a cameo appearance in Buying Murder, the third book in the series, and will be in all future books.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I should warn you that I have a silly sense of humor. During the last political season I made a spoof commercial that mimicked Christine O’Donnell’s ad. (She’s the non-witch who ran for the Senate, remember?) Feel free to take a look at it if you like. You can pretend it’s a book trailer.
Website: http://www.goodreadmysteries.comFacebook: http://www.facebook.com/ReganMcHenryRealEstateMysteries?ref=ts