Studying the Masters – Janet Evanovich

evovichJanet Evanovich,  the pen name for Janet Schneider, began her career writing short contemporary romance novels under the pen name Steffie Hall, but gained fame authoring a series of contemporary mysteries featuring Stephanie Plum, a former lingerie buyer from Trenton, New Jersey, who becomes a bounty hunter to make ends meet after losing her job. The novels in this series have been on The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Amazon bestseller lists. Evanovich has had her last seventeen Plums debut at #1 on the NY Times Best Sellers list and eleven of them have hit #1 on USA Today Best-Selling Books list. She has over two hundred million books in print worldwide and is translated into over 40 languages.

When Evanovich had children, she chose to become a housewife like her mother. In her thirties, she began writing novels. To learn the art of writing dialog, Evanovich took lessons in improv acting. For ten years, she attempted to write the Great American Novel, finishing three manuscripts that she was unable to sell. After someone suggested she try writing romance novels, Evanovich read several romances and discovered that she enjoyed the genre. She wrote two romances and submitted them for publishing.[5] Still unable to find a publisher, Evanovich stopped writing and signed with a temporary employment agency. Several months after beginning work for them, she received an offer to buy her second romance manuscript for $2,000, which she considered an “astounding sum.”

After finishing her twelfth romance, however, Evanovich realized that she was more interested in writing the action sequences in her novels rather than the sex scenes. Her editors were not interested in her change of heart, so Evanovich took the next eighteen months to formulate a plan for what she actually wanted to write.


She quickly decided that she wanted to write romantic adventure novels. Unlike the style of romance novels, her books would be told in first person narrative. Her new type of writing should contain heroes and heroines, as well as “a sense of family and community.” In that vein, she intended her new style of writing to be based on the TV sitcom model. These new books would have a central character that the rest of the cast of characters revolve around.

Inspired by the Robert De Niro movie Midnight Run, Evanovich decided that her heroine would be a bounty hunter. This occupation provided more freedom for Evanovich as a writer, as bounty hunters do not have a set work schedule and are not forced to wear a uniform. The profession is also “romanticized” to some extent.” To become acquainted with the demands of the career, Evanovich spent a great deal of time shadowing bond enforcement agents. She also researched more about the city of Trenton, where she wanted her books to be set.

In 1994, her initial romantic adventure, One for the Money, was published to good reviews. This was the first of a light-hearted series of mysteries starring  Stephanie Plum. One for the Money was named a New York Times notable book, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1994 and a USA Today Best Bet.

Evanovich has continued to write romantic adventures starring Stephanie Plum. The sixth book in the series, Hot Six, was the first of her novels to reach Number 1 on the New York Times Best Seller List.  Her subsequent Plum novels have each debuted at Number 1. All About Romance has described her as the “rare breed of romance author who has left the genre and yet not alienated her many romance fans.”

The Plum novels have taken many attributes from Evanovich’s own life. Evanovich shares many commonalities with her character Stephanie Plum. Both are from New Jersey, both devour Cheetos, both had owned a hamster, and both have shared “similar embarrassing experiences.” The character Grandma Mazur is loosely based on Evanovich’s “Grandma Fanny” and “Aunt Lena.” Evanovich claims the spirited elderly lady is “who I want to be when I grow up.”

Evanovich lives in Florida with her husband, Pete, whom she married in 1964. Pete is of Serbian ancestry. Members of Evanovich’s family are employed by her company, Evanovich Inc., including her husband, Pete, son, Peter, and daughter Alexandra.


Studying the Masters – Part 15 – P.D. James

1-pdjamesPhyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, OBE, FRSA, FRSL was born on August 3, 1920. She was better known as P. D. James and was an English crime writer. She rose to fame for her series of detective novels starring police commander and poet Adam Dalgliesh

1-pdjamesbooksJames was born in Oxford, the daughter of Sidney James, a tax inspector, and educated at the British School in Ludlow and Cambridge High School for Girls. She had to leave school at the age of sixteen to work because her family did not have much money and her father did not believe in higher education for girls. She worked in a tax office for three years and later found a job as an assistant stage manager for a theater group. In 1941, she married Ernest Connor Bantry White, an army doctor. They had two daughters, Clare and Jane.

When White returned from the Second World War, he was experiencing mental illness, and James was forced to provide for the whole family until her husband’s death in 1964. With her husband in a psychiatric institution and their daughters being mostly cared for by his parents, James studied hospital administration and from 1949 to 1968 worked for a hospital board in London. She began writing in the mid-1950s. Her first novel, Cover Her Face, featuring the investigator and poet Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard, named after a teacher at Cambridge High School, was published in 1962.

Many of James’s mystery novels take place against the backdrop of UK bureaucracies, such as the criminal justice system and the National Health Service, in which she worked for decades starting in the 1940s. Two years after the publication of Cover Her Face, James’s husband died, and she took a position as a civil servant within the criminal section of the Home Office. She worked in government service until her retirement in 1979.

Her 2001 work, Death in Holy Orders, displays her familiarity with the inner workings of church hierarchy. Her later novels were often set in a community closed in some way, such as a publishing house or barristers’ chambers, a theological college, an island or a private clinic. Talking About Detective Fiction was published in 2009. Over her writing career, James also wrote many essays and short stories for periodicals and anthologies, which have yet to be collected. She revealed in 2011 that The Private Patient was the final Dalgliesh novel.1-pp In 2008, she was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame at the inaugural ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards.

In August 2014, James was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September’s referendum on that issue.

James died at her home in Oxford on November 27, 2014, aged 94. She is survived by her two daughters, Clare and Jane, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Studying the Masters – Part 14 – Douglas Adams


I know, I know. When you think of Douglas Adams, you think of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Dr. Who, not exactly detective fiction. Although Adams is best known for these works, he also wrote a series of novels based on the character Dirk Gently.


Though these seminal works aren’t specifically detective books, it could be argued that there was a bit of mystery and whodunnit wrapped up in each one of them.

In between Adams’s first trip to Madagascar with Mark Carwardine in 1985, and their series of travels that formed the basis for the radio series and non-fiction book Last Chance to See, Adams wrote two other novels with a new cast of characters. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was first published in 1987, and was described by its author as “a kind of ghost-horror-detective-time-travel-romantic-comedy-epic, mainly concerned with mud, music and quantum mechanics”. It was derived from two Doctor Who serials Adams had written.

A sequel novel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, was published a year later. This was an entirely original work, Adams’s first since So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. After the book tour, Adams set off on his round-the-world excursion which supplied him with the material for Last Chance to See.

Studying the Masters – Part 11 – Dashiell Hammett

This post is the eleventh in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.

hammettSamuel Dashiell Hammett, an American author, wrote hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. He was also a screenwriter, and political activist.

He is best known for the characters Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon) and Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man). Many regard him as the best mystery writers of all time.

Hammett worked for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency for seven years with a break during which he served in World War I.

Like many writers of his time, Hammett became an alcoholic before working full-time as a writer inspired by his work with the detective agency. He was first published in a magazine in 1922.

Raymond Chandler (see Part 4 of this series) is often considered to be Hammett’s heir apparent. He spoke of his mentor in the following quote:

“Hammett was the ace performer… He is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of, The Glass Key, is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before”

Hammett was also known as a left-wing activist and a member of the Communist Party USA. Despite this in early 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hammett enlisted in the United States Army. He served as a sergeant in the Aleutian Islands, where he edited an Army newspaper.

After the war, Hammett’s activism led to him serving time in prison and being blacklisted as a result of McCarthyism.

In the 1950s Hammett became reclusive until his death in 1961.

Hammett wrote four novels during the period of 1929-34. He then wrote related screenplays from 1936-43. His short fiction spanned nearly 40 years from 1922-61.

He was truly an architect for the hard-boiled detective fiction genre.

Studying The Masters – Part 10 – Michael Connelly

michael connellyThis post is the tenth in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.

Michael Connelly is best known for his Bosch series. Heironymous “Harry” Bosch is a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. He has been featured in 19 novels by Connelly, who has also written nine novels not featuring Bosch along with several short stories. His Bosch character was adapted into a series for Amazon. His novel, The Lincoln Lawyer, was adapted into a well-known film.

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Connelly has won every major mystery writer award. He is a graduate of the University of Florida and having lived in Florida since age 12. After graduating, Connelly worked with newspapers in Daytona and Fort Lauderdale covering the crime beat.

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After three years at the Los Angeles Times, Connelly wrote his first published novel, The Black Echo (1992), after previously writing two unfinished novels that he had not attempted to get published. He sold The Black Echo to Little, Brown to be published in 1992 and won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for best first novel. The book is partly based on a true crime and is the first one featuring Connelly’s primary recurring character, Los Angeles Police Department Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, a man who, according to Connelly, shares few similarities with the author himself.

hellConnelly named Bosch after the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, known for his paintings full of sin and redemption, such as the painting Hell, a copy of which hangs on the office wall behind Connelly’s computer. Connelly describes his own work as a big canvas with all the characters of his books floating across it as currents on a painting. Sometimes they are bound to collide, creating cross currents. This is something that Connelly creates by bringing back characters from previous books and letting them play a part in books written five or six years after first being introduced.

Connelly went on to write three more novels about Detective Bosch — The Black Ice (1993), The Concrete Blonde (1994), and The Last Coyote (1995) — before quitting his job as a reporter to write full-time.

The success of his Bosch series is, in part, attributable to publicity he received when President Bill Clinton was photographed coming out of a bookstore holding a copy of The Concrete Blonde. The two later met in Los Angeles.

Connelly continues to enjoy success with his Harry Bosch series as well as his standalone work.

I resonate with Connelly based on his approach to writing. He doesn’t always know where his story will go, although he has a general idea. Also, his characters are influenced by world events and change as his own life changes.

Studying the Masters – Part 8 – Harlan Coben

This post is the eighth in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.


Like many, I discovered Harlan Coben from his book, Tell No One. The book, written in 1995 is a mystery that grips the reader from the first pages. I have since become a fan of Coben’s, reading every book that he publishes. Like some authors in his genre, he has hits and misses.

tell no oneCoben has a 10 book series featuring the character Myron Bolitar. He’s not your typical hero. He is a Jewish attorney/sports agent who was a basketball star in college only to have his dreams dashed by suffering a career ending injury in his first NBA game. Although he has a day job, he is often enlisted to solve mysteries. Bolitar has a partner/sidekick named Win Lockwood. Lockwood is a cross between Christian Grey and Chuck Norris.


The books in the Bolitar series are entertaining and have decent plots. They have spawned a YA series featuring Myron’s nephew Mickey Bolitar. These are definitely not as well written as they are virtually Myron Bolitar books with differently named characters. The pop references are not anywhere near contemporary teenage culture.

Coben’s standalone novels range from incredibly good, with Tell No One, to mediocre, with Missing You. Tell No One is a captivating mystery that starts out quickly and never lets up. Missing you, written from the point of view of a female, is a poorly crafted book with a chauvinistic perspective of how a female police detective would act.

Coben is critically acclaimed having won Edgar, Shamus and Anthony Awards. His style for most of his books is to have unexpected twists and turns that are rarely predictable.

My brush with his greatness is limited to being blocked by him on Twitter. I had followed and connected with other famous authors and received encouragement from them on my own writing. I tweeted a book announcement to Coben’s Twitter account and found myself blocked. I’d like to say that this was enough to convince me not to read his books, but that would be a lie.

Studying the Masters – Part 7 – Jonathan Kellerman

This post is the seventh in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.


Jonathan Kellerman is a classic example of writing what you know. He has written a series of novels where the main character is a California psychologist that treats children. This mirrors his own life. He is a trained psychologist and has written 48 fiction novels to date along with 5 non-fiction works on psychology, crime reporting, and guitars (he’s also a musician).


Jonathan Kellerman has been a huge influence on an aspect of my own writing. Kellerman has developed two characters, Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis that have stood the test of time. He takes these same characters and puts them in various situations where Sturgis is a Sherlock Holmes type homicide detective with the LAPD and Delaware is a consultant that often helps Sturgis solve crimes with his insight. Delaware is a more active ‘Dr. Watson’ type character and the 31 novels in the Alex Delaware series are told from his perspective.

Over the course of these stories, Delaware and Sturgis actually age and go through relationship changes. Another wrinkle is that Sturgis has gone from a closeted to an openly gay member of the LAPD. This was a source of oppression for him in the early novels. The more recent novels, however, much like our modern culture, has allowed him to be openly gay and successful.

One of the things that is different about Kellerman’s writing when compared to other writers in his genre is that his characters are not the story. The cases are the story and his characters react to them. You can take these two strong characters and put them in any crime situation and watch them react. I can relate to this as a writer. I have developed similar characters and I enjoy writing books that put them into new situations so I can watch how they react.

Besides his Delaware and Sturgis series, Kellerman has also branched off into another series with a strong female detective named Petra Connor. He has also collaborated on novels with his wife, Faye Kellerman, and his son, Jesse Kellerman.

Kellerman is also a strong advocate for more effective treatment of the mentally ill.

Studying the Master – Part 6 – James Patterson

This post is the sixth in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.


James was born in 1947. In the area of crime fiction, he is mostly known for his novels Alex Cross series. His books have sold more than 300 million copies and he is the first person to sell 1 million e-books.

Through his success, Patterson has become a benefactor for many universities, teachers colleges, independent bookstores, school libraries, and college students in the form of millions of dollars in grants and scholarships with the purpose of encouraging Americans of all ages to read more books.

Alex_CrossJames Patterson is a book writing factory. His most famous series, the Alex Cross books, number 23 so far. He also has penned 12 solo fiction works. He is really more of a brand than an author.

james-patterson-womens-murder-club-collection-11-books-set-pack-25213-pBesides these aforementioned books that he has written on his own, Patterson has co-authored numerous books in the Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Private, and NYPD Red series. This co-authoring or branding of the Patterson name has earned him some harsh criticism. There are those that say he is only in it for the money. Stephen King referred to him as a terrible writer that is also terribly successful.

For my part, I think that some of Patterson’s standalone crime fiction, and some of the early books in his Alex Cross series are very good. Others of his more recent work are not up to the same standard. Nonetheless, there are those that will read whatever he writes. He is now hawking writing classes and offering to have a contest winner as his next co-author. This is a double-edged sword. While I would love the sales numbers that being under Patterson would bring, I would not want to live under the stigma of people buying my books only because they were co-branded by Patterson.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Studying the Masters of Detective Fiction II – John D. MacDonald

This post is the second in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.

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Studying the Masters of Crime/Detective Fiction

Part 2 – John D. MacDonald

Just the name of his fabled character, Travis McGee, starts your imagination working overtime to picture this man. McGee was the opposite of Sherlock Holmes as described in my earlier post on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was more of a playboy who lived on a houseboat, bedded beautiful women, and took half of the profit from stolen goods that he recovered.

MacDonald himself was a well-educated man a degree from Syracuse University, my hometown, and an Ivy League MBA. He then entered World War II as a first lieutenant in the army.

MacDonald’s literary career started by happenstance. While away in the war, he mailed a short story to his wife who submitted it to Esquire Magazine and it was rejected. She then submitted it to Story Magazine and they accepted it for $25. When MacDonald found out about it upon his return, he spent the next four months cranking out 800,000 words of short stories and losing 20 pounds.

His eventual sale of a story to Dime Magazine was the first of nearly 500 stories to various magazines, some of which would fill an entire issue with only his stories under various names.

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MacDonald’s career flourished during the period from 1953 to 1964 during which he almost single-handedly crafted the hard-boiled detective genre.  His signature character, Travis McGee, made his debut in 1964 in the novel The Deep Blue Goodbye. This swaggering Florida figure who lived on a houseboat named the Busted Flush was the prototype for many private eyes that came after him like Jim Rockford, Thomas Magnum, and others.

MacDonald wrote 21 McGee stories over the next 21 years with every title containing a color within it.  Like Sherlock Holmes, McGee had an educated sidekick on some of his books named Meyer who was an economist and Ph.D. Most of the McGee stories took place in Florida.

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MacDonald’s most famous film adaptation was from the Novel, The Executioners, which became the movie, Cape Fear which premiered in 1962 and was remade in 1991.

As I look at my own work, I see some unintended similarities. I have written private eye novels that take place in Florida. My detective lives in a trailer instead of a houseboat. He also has an educated attorney as a sidekick. I say that these similarities are unintended as I read my first John D. MacDonald book after I wrote my first novel. I must have had this blueprint internalized before I began my writing from adaptations of MacDonald’s model.

I have read many of Mr. MacDonald’s books since the first. You can see his prowess as a writer grow continuously throughout his works. I can now claim him as a role model due to the quality and prolific nature of his work.

Studying the Masters of Detective Fiction I – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This post is the first in a series that I will be writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.

Studying the Masters

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Part 1 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

When I look at crime/detective fiction, I view Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as one of the pioneering architects in the genre. His novels and collections centered around his Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson characters are timeless.

Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born in Scotland in 1859. Like his Dr. Watson character, Doyle was a physician. After serving as a ship’s surgeon in West Africa, Doyle became an opthalmologist with a practice in London.

Like many writers, he had a hard time finding a publisher for his work, but finally was able to publish A Study in Scarlet, his first Sherlock Holmes Novel, in 1886 earning 25 pounds for the rights to the story. The publisher further abused their new client when the sequel was published, so he left them.

Sherlock Holmes was a character that was modeled after a professor that Doyle had studied with. As for Dr. Watson, as I read more about Doyle, I realized that this character is somewhat autobiographical. Watson is the first person narrator in most of the Sherlock Holmes tales. I believe this equates to Doyle telling the story himself through Watson.

What struck me as I made my way through the Sherlock Holmes stories is how masterful Doyle was at making the complex deductive process that Holmes employs seem simple to the reader and, by extension, Dr. Watson. He will make an observation about a character that is astonishing and comes across as a wild guess, but then deconstructs the process he went through to make the deduction making it sound so simple that anyone should have been able to deduce the conclusion.

I also like that Doyle’s characters have flaws. Both Holmes and Watson were prone to depression. Holmes was also a drug addict. It resonates with me that Doyle made Holmes a musician. This is something that I’ve done with my own private detective character.

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Doyle was not always enamored with his Sherlock Holmes character and threatened to, and actually did, kill him off in one of his works. Outraged fans, however, convinced him to resurrect Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles, one of Doyle’s most famous works, in 1901.

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Doyle also penned other notable non-Sherlock Holmes works including The Lost World, and his Professor Challenger stories.

Doyle’s life away from writing was fascinating as he was a political activist, good friend to Harry Houdini, follower of spiritualism and an intermittent Freemason who resigned, rejoined, and resigned again from the society.

As I look at the life of this fascinating man and pioneer in the genre of crime/detective fiction, I am amazed at how his work holds up today and how the standard that he set for writers in this genre is still valid nearly 150 years after his era. This is not necessarily true of other authors of that time period.

Please look for upcoming posts on other authors that I consider masters in the crime/detective fiction genre.