The Writing Life: Carolyn Hart

By Carolyn Hart
Sunday, November 18, 2007

When I was 11, I decided to be a reporter when I grew up. I had no idea I would end up devoting my life to murder.

I worked on school newspapers and majored in journalism at the University of Oklahoma, back in the days of hot type, pica poles and Speed Graphics. In j-school, I wore a trench coat, smoked Chesterfields (successfully discarded years ago) and was sure I would be the next Maggie Higgins. But, as the adage informs: Man proposes, God disposes.

I met a young law student, we married, and I worked on a local newspaper for a while, then got a job in the public information office at the university. After we started our family, I quit work and stayed home. This was before young women were expected to work full time, have a family, bake cookies for the school sale and climb the Matterhorn in their spare time.

I missed writing. I didn't want to go back to reporting because of the long hours. That's when I first thought about writing fiction. In the Writer magazine, I saw an announcement of a contest for a mystery novel for girls aged 8 to 12. I adored Nancy Drew and decided to give it a try. The Secret of the Cellars won the contest and was published in 1964. I am now writing my 42nd novel, Dare to Die, the 19th in the Death on Demand series. It will be published in the spring of 2009. So far, I've written two children's mysteries, three young adult suspense novels and 36 adult mystery or suspense novels. 2008 will also see publication of the first book in a new series, Ghost at Work. The late Bailey Ruth Raeburn, an impetuous redheaded ghost, returns to earth to help someone in trouble. She moves a body, investigates a murder, saves a marriage, prevents a suicide and -- in a fiery finale -- rescues a child who knows too much. I have never had more fun writing a book.

So many books. All of them mysteries.

"Why mysteries?"

"When will you write a real book?"

"Why do you want to write about murder?"

When asked these questions on my book tours, I know immediately that the questioners don't read mysteries. Murder is never the point of the mystery. Mysteries are about the messes people make of their lives and how they cope.

The genre captured my heart when I read my first Nancy Drew novel. I was thrilled by the challenges posed for Nancy Drew and for the Hardy boys, absorbed by the puzzles they ran up against, and inspired by their courage and devotion to justice. Nancy's snazzy roadster, her amazing independence and handsome sidekick Ned were also a plus. As for serious Frank and fun-loving Joe Hardy, who wouldn't want to spend time with them? I always think of Max Darling, my own Annie's handsome blond husband, as Joe Hardy all grown up and sexy as hell.

Suspense, a puzzle and courage, these are the hallmarks of a good kids' mystery. But the mystery offers even more to adults.

To start at the beginning: There are two kinds of mysteries, the crime novel and the traditional classic.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company