Wednesday, May 2, 2018


Jon Land:
Taking the Mystery Out of Writing Murder, She Wrote

“Have you ever heard of MURDER, SHE WROTE?”  

Ask any one hundred people that question and, chances are, ninety-nine will answer with an unqualified, “Yes!” In addition to being one of the most successful television dramas of all time, and continuing to draw big audiences for its reruns and marathons, the TV show spawned a book series of which my fist effort, A DATE WITH MURDER, is number forty-seven.

Think about that for a moment. I have recently had the privilege and pleasure of taking over a brand that enjoys nearly 100% name recognition and remains so popular that all these books actually followed the television series. While that’s not unprecedented (It happened with The Walking Dead and The Killing, among others.), it’s never happened to this degree of success over such a long period of time.

And now I have the chance to contribute to this classic series. From the moment I first started working with Don Bain, I formed certain parameters for myself, boundary markers I resolved to adhere to as much as possible to assure a smooth transition toward making the book series even more popular. Thought you might be interested in seeing a few.

FINDING JESSICA’S VOICE: Fortunately, Don had worked with his grandson Zach, who’d go on to become a crucial collaborator for me, on the first 60 or so pages of A DATE WITH MURDER. Enough to give me a notion as to the story and, more importantly, a direct link to Jessica’s voice. Finding that voice myself, in my own head, became the first challenge. But it was one that came to me with surprising ease and in true organic fashion. Getting into Jessica’s head became as simple as channeling Angela Lansbury from the classic TV show. I pictured her behind every page, speaking every line. See, I was far more familiar with the show than the books. So I set out to make A DATE WITH MURDER read like an extended episode, containing all the character staples fans continue to welcome into their homes in the hope more of them would gravitate toward the books as well.

THRILLER, MYSTERY, OR BOTH: Okay, I’m a thriller writer. Prior to A DATE WITH MURDER, I’d never penned a book where the focus was more on who did it instead of what bad thing is someone planning to do. So finding Jessica’s voice might’ve been my first challenge, but the next one was blending it with my own. My style makes great use of hooks, cliff-hangars, and plot twists—often so many of them you have to stop to catch your breath. Almost overnight, A DATE WITH MURDER transformed into a hybrid mystery-thriller. A mystery because Jessica is trying to solve the murder of a trusted friend; thriller because she ends up risking her own life to expose a nefarious plot connected to a sinister Internet dating service. I wasn’t going too far out on a limb here because Don Bain’s books had often cast her in the role of crusader, solving a murder that hits close to home.

SECURE THE BASE: I went into the series knowing that first and foremost I needed to capture the series’ core audience that loves the bucolic setting of Cabot Cove and the regular, established cast of characters Jessica interacts with and plays off of. For the dialogue, I relied on the quick, tart and witty exchanges between Angela Lansbury and the late, great Jerry Orbach as Harry McGraw or Ron Masak as Sheriff Mort Metzger. I wasn’t out to reinvent the wheel, you see, just make it churn a little faster. I’m not sure what was more amazing: How swiftly I took to the process or how naturally Jessica’s words and thoughts started to flow for me. The legendary Toni Mendez, my agent for 20+ years, often said, “If you know the characters, you can write anything.” Never before had that edict been put more to the test and I hoped I passed!

EXPAND THE AUDIENCE: Jessica Fletcher is almost without question America’s most famous detective. She could be more well-known than Hercule Poirot, Perry Mason and maybe even Sherlock Holmes, never mind the slew of wonderful modern-day sorts from Robert Parker’s Spenser to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone to Patricia Cornwall’s Kay Scarpetta. Moving the needle in my mind starts with making the tens of thousands of fans who regularly devour Murder, She Wrote reruns realize the books are just as much fun. I read somewhere that a million people a week watch those reruns on Hallmark Mystery. If I can encourage just some of those fans to enjoy the books, then I’ve contributed to the series’ success.

A SLICE OF HUMBLE PIE: I wanted to make the series mine, put my stamp on it. But MURDER, SHE WROTE doesn’t belong to me and never will. It belongs to the tens of millions of readers and viewers who’ve come to cherish the stories, watching or reading them over and over again while trying to keep up with Jessica Fletcher. Like all great fictional heroes, she’s timeless, ageless, eternal. After me, someone else no doubt will take the reins of this series. While they’re in my hands, though, I’m grateful for the opportunity enjoy the ride at the same time I give you and all readers the best one I can.


Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling and International Book award-winning author of 43 books, including the Caitlin Strong series. Land was thrilled to write A DATE WITH MURDER with Donald Bain before his passing in 2017. Land said, “Taking over MURDER, SHE WROTE is one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever had as an author, if not the greatest. This isn't just a series of books, it’s a brand that enjoys near universal recognition, both because of the fabulously successful TV show and the long string of terrific books that followed by the great Donald Bain. I look forward to living up to both those traditions…. Having grown up relishing the likes of Agatha Christie, Earl Stanley Gardner, Rex Stout and Ed McBain, this opportunity allows me to go back to my roots and find the same joy in writing as ‘Jessica Fletcher’ that I did in reading those classic mysteries.” Donald Bain’s grandson, Zachary Bain, will serve as an early reader and consultant for future books in the series.

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