Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to tell how she got started writing mysteries and how she and her craft have grown over the years.
Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now.
I came to writing rather late in life. Marriage, five children, a divorce and learning to live as a single mom took up a large portion of my early adult years. However, I think it was during those years I learned about writing through the hundreds of books I read, mainly mysteries. Without realizing it, I learned about plotting, character development, building tension and when to ease off with a little humor. Or, what I hoped was humor. When I was finally able to take a deep breath I decided to do what I had always wanted but had been afraid to try. Write.
The first piece I sold was an article about my children’s adventures in 4H and how they dragged their parents, kicking and screaming, into the up to then foreign world of animal husbandry. Family Fun bought it. For money! I was a writer.
They say, write what you know. So, I did. My first mystery featured a woman in her middle years, divorce decree in one hand, new real estate license in the other, who returns to her home town to start life over. That was Dying for a Change. I knew about divorce and starting over. I even knew a little about real estate. There the similarity ended. For one thing, I have never found a dead body while trying to show a house. And, Ellen only has one child. If I gave her five, I knew she’d never have time to solve any murders, and I had several in mind.
Each of the five Ellen McKenzie mysteries has a setting that relates to the murder. Growth in a small town, horse shows, wineries, a bakery and In Murder by Syllabub, murder that has its roots in the eighteenth century. The story opens when Ellen’s Aunt Mary bursts into her kitchen, stating she is going to Virginia. Her best friend has inherited an eighteenth century plantation, complete with a ghost who is trying to kill her. Ellen doesn’t believe in ghosts, murderous or otherwise but its clear something strange is going on at Smithwood. When she can’t talk Aunt Mary out of rushing to the rescue, Ellen states she’s going with her, even though she’s convinced the ghost will turn out to be a common prowler. Instead, they discover a man, dressed in colonial garb, lying on the dining room rug, quite dead. Beside his outstretched hand is a small crystal glass, empty. The man had no way to enter the locked house, neither did whoever fed him the contents of the glass, nor did he have a way out as the doors to the old house only work with a key and the locks have been recently changed. But someone is still prowling the upstairs hallways of Smithwood, looking for something, and doesn’t seem to mind how many bodies he leaves in his wake. Looking for what? And, how is he getting into the locked house? And out again? Ellen has to travel far into the past to discover the answers.
Murder by Syllabub could not have been my first book. The plot is too complex and I would never have allowed myself to get as deep into social issues and personal relationships in my first effort. But that’s really what stories are all about, our relationships with the world and the other creatures in it. Human and otherwise. Mysteries are a particularly good vehicle for that. Nothing like a good murder to rip the cover off relationships and set things in motion. I’ve loved writing all these books but especially Syllabub. I am glad I have grown enough as a writer that I was able to.
I can hardly wait until the next book is published. It’s about a lot of things, relationships that work and some that don’t, murder in some unexpected places and dogs. I love dogs.