The evolution of a writer

Those of you who are familiar with the grit and gore of my crime novels may be surprised to discover my secret past … as a romance author. I was first introduced to romances while I was working as a doctor, a high-stress job where, too often, I dealt with loss and grief-stricken families. At the end of the day, I needed to open a book where I’d find both entertainment and a happy ending — and I found both in romance novels. I became hooked on them, sometimes reading half a dozen a week despite my grueling schedule in the hospital.

It’s no surprise that the first novel I wrote was a romance.

In 1987, CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT was bought by Harlequin Intrigue. My editor called to ask: “Do you remember how many people you killed in this story? We had an editorial meeting, and we counted thirteen bodies!” That was a record for Harlequin, but they published the novel anyway — and my career as a novelist was launched.

With that staggering body count, I should have realized that I was destined to be thriller author. But I stayed with the romance genre, eventually selling nine novels in which both love and mystery were intertwined. Those books are an historical record of my development as an author, and even though they are indeed romances, with every book you can see me learning to stretch my writing wings and explore new subjects.

One of those early novels was PEGGY SUE GOT MURDERED. The grittiest of my romances, it featured a tough-talking female medical examiner (no, she’s not Maura Isles!) whose morgue is suddenly overwhelmed with dead bodies. They appear to be drug OD victims, but it’s a drug no one has ever seen before. Yes, it’s a romance, but it’s also the first book in which I explore forensic pathology and medical examiners.

Now, 20 years after its first publication, an updated version is about to be re-released, under a new title: GIRL MISSING. If you’ve ever wanted to take a peek at my early books, here’s your chance!

Adventures in Farming

How does a farmer take a vacation? He asks his parents to take over the farm.

That’s how my husband and I found ourselves playing organic farmers for two weeks. Every day, at sunrise and sunset, we feed and water cows, sheep, goats, chickens, and guinea fowl. We collect, sort, and package eggs. On a balmy 30 degree day, it’s a lovely way to spend a few hours. When the temperatures dip below zero and the wind whips across the fields, it’s a challenge. The animals’ water flash-freezes, the eggs crack within an hour, and you wonder why the hell anyone would want to be a farmer in a northern climate.

What a change from sitting at a desk in a nice warm office.

Hanging out with the chickens

Hanging out with the chickens

But there’s a comforting rhythm to farming. Every morning, the cows stand eagerly at the fence, excited to see us bringing hay, and the sheep come stampeding like hungry children. Open the guinea doors, and the birds come flying out screeching, happy to be out and about. The chickens are already lined up inside their coop door, waiting to be released for the day. And what a pleasure it is to hold a chicken egg, still warm from just being laid. I’ve found out that I love hanging out with chickens. I’ve learned which hen leaves the flock every morning to hide out with the sheep, and which hen sneaks away to spend time with the outcast rooster. I’ve learned the secret places where those two lay their eggs. I’ve learned that the alpha rooster can be brutal with hens (and I’m going to talk to my son about turning him into coq au vin).

Farming teaches you patience, especially at sunset. You can’t rush birds into their nighttime coops. One night, we waited an hour for the last guinea hen to finally walk into the coop. Instead she decided to take an evening stroll. Leaving her out overnight meant she’d be exposed to the cold and predators, so we just had to wait until she was ready to join the rest of her flock. Only then could we close the door.

Thanks to my son, I’ve herded cows and sheep, gutted chickens, raked manure, and hauled hay bales. I’ve also been blessed with a bountiful supply of free-range eggs and chicken livers. Will all this turn up in a book some day?

Trust me, I’m thinking about it.

Check out the fabulous farm photos taken by my son and his partner Marya at Donkey Universe Farm.