Why Do I Write Mysteries?

I grew up in a household where my parents read a handful of different newspapers and my mother read Georgette Heyer and Agatha Christie as well as Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes, Thomas Mann and Margaret Mitchell. Not at the same time, mind you, but the model of reading she set for me was broad and enlightening.

That meant I was never told what not to read, and I carried that freedom with me through my school years, reading whatever interested me for whatever reason, delving into science fiction, the history of France, dolphin studies, biographies of the Founding Fathers, you name it. If it grabbed me, I grabbed it off the library shelf and carried it home curious and expectant.

I was often inattentive in class because I was thinking about my library books, wishing I could be home with them. Each one seemed to open to a world so much larger, so much more fascinating and freeing than my cramped classroom. Nowadays, I would probably be diagnosed as in need of Ritalin, but what I needed was escape.

But not just from class. My parents were Holocaust survivors and this dark tragedy too often set the tone for our household: angry, depressed. Reading offered relief and distance, especially the alternate worlds of science fiction and history. Mysteries promised something better once I discovered them: the assurance that things made sense, that evildoers were punished, and order could be restored. It's the balance Oscar Wilde mocks in The Importance of Being Earnest: "The good end happily, the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means."

I've published 24 books and almost a third of those have been mysteries in the Nick Hoffman series, satires set in the world of academe. My mother developed dementia before she could see me become successful and before she could read even one mystery of mine, but writing and publishing each of them, I've thought of her. I've thought of a woman of wide tastes and deep education, a woman who spoke several languages, who had a rough smokey laugh-and how mysteries made her happy. Remembering all that makes me happy.

This blog originally appeared at GetitWrite, the Perseverance Press mystery authors blog.