Since 1993, the Washington Post Book World has been featuring authors talking about their lives and the craft of writing in a monthly column instituted by editor Marie Arana. Today's installment focuses on mystery writer Carolyn Hart, who is now writing her 42nd novel, Dare to Die, the 19th in the Death on Demand series.
She talks about her early aspirations as a reporter, wearing a trench coat and smoking Chesterfields. But marriage and family intervened, and it wasn't until years later that she saw an announcement in Writer magazine for a contest writing a mystery novel for young girls. She gave it a try, won the contest, and in 1964, The Secret of the Cellar was published. To date, she's penned two children's mysteries, three young adult suspense novels and 36 adult mystery or suspense novels.
In the article, she goes on to divide mystery fiction into two types, crime fiction and the traditional classic. The first she defines as "the story of an honorable man or woman who tries to remain uncorrupted in a corrupt world. It is the story of the protagonist and not of the murders that are solved. These books are about the quest for honor." Whereas the second involves a sleuth exploring the relationships between the victim and those around him or her, focusing on "the intimate, destructive, frightening secrets hidden beneath a seemingly placid surface."
Interestingly, she says that even though she's spent a lifetime with murder, she finds it hard to read accounts of real crimes, as they are too harrowing, the violence and heartbreak too real. In her own books, she tries to look for the redemptive side of things.
In 2003, Book World editor Marie Arana compiled a collection of 50 of these columns into an anthology by the same name, The Writing Life. It includes mystery authors Mary Higgins Clark and Donald E. Westlake, who tells the story of the creation of the pseudonym Richard Stark for his hard-boiled novels. For you science-fiction fans, there are also columns from the likes of Ursula K. Leguin and Ray Bradbury.