Saturday, February 10, 2007

My Love Affair with Mysteries

Judy Clemens (Guest Blogger)

Growing up, I was not a kid who sat down and read through every Nancy Drew book. In fact, I don’t think I read even one. I had a couple of Trixie Belden books, although I can’t find them anymore. And I do remember reading some Agatha Christie. Some Encyclopedia Brown. But my reading consisted of a wide variety of things: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Black Stallion books (I have them displayed today in my office), Little House on the Prairie, All Creatures Great and Small, and Katie John. My love affair with mysteries didn’t happen until I was in college.

As a member of a college touring choir, I had the opportunity to travel all over the United States, as well as in Europe. During one of those trips, driving across our country’s western states, I was in desperate need of something to read. At our next stop I found a bookstore, browsed the fiction section, and picked up Have His Carcase, by Dorothy L. Sayers. I had never heard of her before, let alone read any of her books, but something about it attracted me.

I adored it.

From then on during the choir trip, whenever we stopped at the next city I ran to the closest bookstore and picked up one or two more of Sayers’s books. I took the time to write the date on each one, and the entire series of purchases ranges from May of 1989 through 1990. (No, the trip didn’t last that long – I just couldn’t finish the entire series in less than two weeks.) I now have the series displayed in my office, right alongside those Black Stallion books.

I entered the mystery genre as a fan by finding new series and reading everything in them: P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh books, Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax, Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael…the list goes on. Since I hadn’t spent much of my life reading mysteries up to that point, I had everything out there to enjoy and inhale. It was exhilarating.

As a writer, it wasn’t until that point that I realized what exactly I wanted to write. In college I took every writing course I could, and learned about writing non-fiction, short stories, and plays. My first published piece was actually a one-act. But finally, in the year after I graduated, I sat down to write my first mystery novel. And I did it. I finished it, re-wrote it, and started that journey of sending it out to agents. It wasn’t until years later, after writing a partial sequel and the first of my Stella Crown books, that I realized how bad that first book really was!

But I refuse to be ashamed of it. That’s how we learn, right? I’m not saying I’d every show it to anybody (other than those people tortured with it when I first wrote it), but I treasure that book as my first glimpse of the “real” writing life. I put my heart into it, and I learned an immense amount.

My hope as a writer is that I continue to learn. That each book I write takes me further along the road to perfecting my craft (knowing full well that journey will never end). That each book helps me to learn something about myself and the world around me. I just finished the first draft of a book that is not a Stella book. It was completely different, from the viewpoint, to the format of the book, to the gender of the protagonist. It was a challenge. It was a learning experience. It was a joy.

That’s a lot of what I hope to gain as a reader, as well. That each book I read brings me closer to my fellow humans, teaches me something about myself, and brings me a taste of something previously unknown. It happens. Often.

So here’s to reading. Here’s to writing.

Here’s to great books, whatever genre they may be.

Note: Judy Clemens is the author of the Agatha-nominated Till the Cows Come Home and two more mysteries in the series about dairy farmer and biker Stella Crown.


Julia Buckley said...


Have his Carcase is my favorite DS book! I used to teach it in a mystery fiction class. (I also like Busman's Honeymoon). And I too was a big James Herriott fan, AND I used to tour with my choir in college! Is this not an interesting coincidence? Well, perhaps not. Still, if we ever meet at a book conference, let's sing something in harmony.

Lonnie Cruse said...


Thanks for guest blogging with us! Loved your post. Lonnie

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Judy, it is fun to discover others who share not only one's taste in mysteries, but one's childhood reading favorites. I read all the Black Stallion books. In an early one, maybe the first, the old trainer Henry took Alec (how come I remember these names when I can't remember if I took my vitamins this morning?) to a feed store on a certain corner in Queens that was in walking distance from where I grew up. The neighborhood was completely built up by the time I left home, though.