The dynamic duo behind the bestselling and much beloved Murder, She Wrote mystery series will appear at the Westport Public Library this Sunday, February 17th, to discuss their collaborative process. (See event details below.) Donald Bain’s prolific career has included more than 100 books, many of which have been bestsellers. In addition to the MSW novels, he writes for Margaret Truman’s Capital Crimes series; the latest, Experiment in Murder, is available now. Readers might also enjoy his autobiography, Murder, He Wrote. Renee Paley-Bain has co-written the MSW novels with her husband for the last decade.
The Murder, She Wrote books are published by Obsidian, an imprint of NAL/Penguin, and feature amateur sleuth/mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher (originated by Angela Lansbury in the long-running Universal Studios television show). There are currently thirty-eight titles in the series, all of which remain in-print. The most recent, Domestic Malice, was released in October; HBE noted, “This melding of fact and fiction not only makes for a riveting, complexly plotted whodunit but offers up some serious conversational points. While good books hold your attention, it’s the great ones that keep you thinking long after the last page has been turned…”
From the publisher:
In the latest novel in the USA Today bestselling series, Jessica Fletcher must tread lightly when investigating a homegrown homicide…
Jessica has always been civic-minded, so when the director of the Cabot Cove Women’s Shelter asks her to join the board of directors, she readily accepts, even though the shelter has been in the crosshairs of an unreasonable councilman who’d like to see it closed.
One night while Jessica is at the shelter, a woman walks in battered and bruised. Her husband is a respected businessman and regarded by all as a pillar of the community. Could this paragon of virtue have beaten his wife?
Despite Jessica’s support and advice, the woman refuses to stay at the shelter, press charges, or even report the abuse. But a few days later, the entire town is shocked to hear that domestic abuse has turned to murder.
Investigating the crime, Jessica soon discovers that the woman’s family has secrets and lies that go beyond domestic violence—and that the real killer may be hiding behind a wall of silence that could send the wrong person to prison….
Now, the authors offer up some clues as to how they inhabit Jessica Fletcher’s world…
1) MURDER, SHE WROTE, and the character of Jessica Fletcher, are iconic in the world of pop culture. What are the pleasures and pressures of being responsible for maintaining the legacy of “today’s Miss Marple”?
Being handed a beloved character like Jessica Fletcher is both a blessing and a challenge. The blessing is working with the amateur sleuth crafted so beautifully by Angela Lansbury and the writers on the television show. The challenge is taking this familiar and fully formed personality and adding to her experiences with brand new stories. Our goal is to entertain readers while preserving the essence of Jessica Fletcher and other Cabot Cove characters they know.
2) Tell us about the collaborative process on these books. When did it begin…who contributes what…and what’s the key to surviving a professional/personal relationship?
The key to surviving a professional and personal relationship is separate offices. Just kidding—well, maybe not. There were already 16 books in the series bylined by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain before we started collaborating. Now there are 40 books written, with Prescription for Murder coming out this spring and Close-Up on Murder scheduled for the fall. We also have a new contract for three more books.
When we begin a book, we usually brainstorm the plot together. Then one starts writing and the other edits. Later, we switch roles, sometimes even alternating chapters. Since the books are written in first person from Jessica Fletcher’s point of view, we both strive to sound like Angela Lansbury’s portrayal. We love it when fans tell us reading the books is like watching the show.
3) How do you keep a series fresh after 40 books? We’re betting that travel, in addition to being a tax write-off, is crucial…
There’s no question that setting is inspirational, and we do love to travel. It gives us lots of new material with which to work—different landscapes, cultures, attitudes and food. Jessica enjoys trying out new restaurants and so do we.
However, approximately one in four books takes place in Cabot Cove, and the trick is not to make it seem—as some wags have suggested—the Jessica’s home town is the murder capital of the world. One way we do that is by incorporating current issues in the news into our stories—which brings us to Question 4.
4) The latest MSW book, DOMESTIC MALICE, brings attention to the very real problem of domestic violence. What inspired you to confront this issue – and how has reaction to this particular book differed from previous titles?
We generally avoid taking a political stand, and we understand that the “cozy mystery” genre into which the “Murder, She Wrote” books fall rarely addresses social problems. But because the series is so popular, it can serve a valuable purpose by shining a light on an important issue.
Domestic violence in the U.S. is rising, even though most cases are never reported to the police. Just as important children in an abusing household are often victims as well, and studies have shown that children exposed to violence are twice as likely to become violent as teenagers and adults. The subject was brought to our attention by our next door neighbor who works with the local Women’s Center. We’ve always contributed to the center’s work and provided food and goods for people served by its shelter. But we felt perhaps we could make a wider contribution by letting people see what the consequences of domestic abuse could be. The result was Domestic Malice.
We’ve heard from some readers who were abused and were grateful that the book took on a subject often pushed under the rug. But there have been some who were taken aback that “Murder, She Wrote” would address such a dark topic. Frankly, we were a bit puzzled by that reaction because every book is about murder, surely an equally dark topic. Nevertheless, we always listen to our readers and consider their feelings. The “Murder, She Wrote” fans are very loyal and very vocal. They let us know what they think in letters, emails, on Facebook, and in the Discussion page on our website, and we appreciate that.
5) Leave us with a little teaser: what comes next for Jessica Fletcher – and what can readers expect from your appearance at the Westport library?
Jessica’s next trip—and our next book—will be set in Hawaii, one of our bucket-list places. Hawaiian culture provides fertile ground for adventure, even though murder on Maui, the setting we’re using, is very rare. The policewoman we consulted couldn’t remember a murder case in her lifetime. We told her when Jessica Fletcher comes to town, there’s always a murder.
At Westport Library this Sunday, we’ll be speaking about the television series and how the books came about, and our experiences writing the series. We’ll also touch on what the publishing industry is like today. And we’ll have a gift for a lucky audience member to take home.
With thanks to Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain for generously sharing a few degrees of de-mystification.
The authors will appear at the Westport Public Library (Seminar Room) this Sunday, February 17th, from 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM. (Read the official event announcement here.) Books will be available for purchase and signing. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the library, which is located at 20 Jesup Rd.