Any dyed in the wool cozy fan is most likely a devotee of the old television series, MURDER SHE WROTE, starring Angela Lansbury as America's favorite English teacher turned sleuth, Jessica Fletcher, and the HUMAN and I are no exception! Below is our take on the latest in this tried and true cozy series, MANUSCRIPT FOR MURDER, and then as a special surprise, we have the new co-author, Jon Land, give us his take on reinventing Jessica for the 21st century.
MANUSCRIPT FOR MURDER
Jessica Fletcher/Jon Land
Jon Land, taking over the co-author mantle from Donald Bain, has managed to take Jessica into the 21st century with his fresh take on this tried and true series!
This time out, Jessica gets involved in espionage when her publisher is found dead under what she considers suspicious circumstances. Land ratchets up the suspense factor in this tried and true cozy series, elevating it to the level of "thrillzie". Part thriller, part cozy.
Dedicated fans will love this new, more daring Jessica - I know I do!!!! Five Paws!!!!!!! Actually, it's more like ten, meow!
And now I'm pleased to introduce the new co-author of the MURDER SHE WROTE series, Jon Land, who will give us his take on reinventing Jessica for her legions of fans!
Thank you, ROCCO!
MURDER, HE WROTE
Jessica Fletcher became part of my life back in May of 2017 when my agent called to ask whether I’d be interested in working with Don Bain on the MURDER, SHE WROTE series. Don’s health was failing and needed a writing partner who’d eventually succeed him. Well, having never written a straight mystery, a cozy, or from the first person POV, I immediately said I would. Because that’s the thing about this business: When given an opportunity, the answer is yes—what was the question?
Sadly, the health of Don Bain, who’d written all 46 books in the series, failed faster than expected and I was left on my own early in the process; well, not quite alone. You see, Don’s talented grandson Zach had been working with him prior to my involvement and he became a vital resource and sounding board for me. Indeed, my first responsibility was to be true to the traditions of the series and Don Bain’s legacy following his passing.
MAKING THE SERIES MY OWN
When was the moment the series became mine? That’s easy: From the moment I found Jessica’s voice banging around my head, louder and louder every time I sat down behind the keyboard. The process wasn’t as nearly as hard as it should because I let Jessica do the hard work, the heavy lifting. I wasn’t very familiar with the books at all, but did recall the great TV episodes from back in the 80s and 90s. So I was channeling Angela Lansbury the whole way, picturing her as Jessica in every scene and moment, to the point where I found myself much more reliant on the mythology from the television series than the books. In MANUSCRIPT FOR MURDER, for example, Artie Gelber (played by Herb Edelman for about a dozen episodes) plays a big role, even though he never appears in the books.
What made all this work was listening to Jessica, following her lead instead of asking her to follow mine. The problem is she’s speaking to me, not Don Bain anymore, and that means the books, and Jessica herself, are going to be different than what some readers are accustomed to or prefer. But I could never take over this or any other series without putting my own stamp on it and making it my own.
BEING TRUE TO BOTH OF US
The thing is above all else I need to be true to both Jessica and myself. Writing and/or storytelling have to be organic. It has to come from the inside out, rather than the outside in which is what writing to a formula implies. Cozies have established formulas that were very difficult for me to emulate because it’s not my genre of choice. So I think what I created was something we can call the “cozy thriller” in that I’m striving to preserve what readers love most about MURDER, SHE WROTE, while adding the kind of pacing, suspense and plotting they may have seen before. Based on some of the comments on Amazon, that transition wasn’t entirely seamless. In a perfect world, every established fan of MSW will love my approach even as legions of new readers discover or rediscover the series. But this isn’t a perfect world and I know diverting from some of the established templates of the cozy culture is going to upset some readers. At that same time, I believe far more are going to feel that I’ve kept plenty of the cozy structure intact while injecting elements to keep the series fresh.
I had kind of inherited my first effort, A DATE WITH MURDER, from Don about 60 pages in, so MANUSCRIPT was my first tale I developed on my own, the first that was truly my own. That said, this is a process and I’m continuing to learn from criticism both constructive and negative. My next effort coming May, MURDER IN RED, is much more of a mystery in which Jessica’s incredibly keen powers of observation are displayed in much the same manner fans will recall from the TV series. But Sheriff Mort Metzger now calls her “Jessica” instead of “Mrs. Fletcher,” and she has more of an edge about her, appearing more determined and relentless in pursuit of justice.
JESSICA IN THE 21ST CENTURY
You see, I’ve made a conscious decision to write this series the way it would be if it had been originated today, instead of trying to replicate the 1980s absent cell phones, UBER, the instantaneous information age and 24/7 news cycle. Instead of portraying Jessica in a vacuum, I’ve chosen to portray her as a creature of her environment instead of in spite of it. Cabot Cove is still Cabot Cove, but I portray the once bucolic village as a kind of mini-Hamptons of the North during the summer months, much to the chagrin of Jessica and the other series regulars. She will always be the same Jessica but the world around her isn’t going to remain frozen in time. So, too, we will see the return of more and more popular characters like romantic interest George Sutherland from the books (MURDER IN RED) and Jessica’s nephew Grady from the TV show.
August, by the way, will see the publication of the 50th book in the MSW book series, A TIME FOR MURDER. And to commemorate that, for the first time ever, in books or TV, the audience is going to meet Jessica for the first time as a younger woman still married to her husband Frank and serving as a substitute English teacher before her writing career had begun. A murder back then will be directly connected to a murder in the present back in Cabot Cove and Jessica will narrate them both, even as she uncovers the connections.
The series, after all, may now belong to me, but Jessica belongs to the world and the legions of fans who’ve followed her for more than 30 years. I should know, because I’m one of them.
Thank you, Jon for your insights! I know I can't wait to read those instalments!
OUR THANKSGIVING SURPRISE!
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