Monday, November 25, 2019

A Time for Murder...and Something New: Guest Post by Jon Land


A Time for Murder marks the 50th title in the iconic Murder, She Wrote book series based on the fabulously successful television show. Of those fifty titles, I’ve been lucky enough to pen four now, which carries with it a tremendous responsibility to the series’ fans and followers. After all, Murder, She Wrote has been around since it debuted on CBS in 1984 and was regularly rated among the most-watched shows on the air for a dozen seasons, drawing audiences that often approached twenty million viewers.

The opportunity to take over a series I knew and loved so much (my second favorite TV mystery series after Columbo!) was surreal. As a thriller writer, would I be up to the task? Would I be able to satisfy the legions of fans who followed the television series into the book world or discovered the books separately?

I knew from the moment I put to pen to paper—well, fingers to keyboard—that the answers to both questions was a resounding, YES! That’s because I was able to find Jessica Fletcher’s voice in my first series contribution, A Date with Murder, right from the start. She’s listed as my co-author with good reason, because it’s her voice I hear in my mind when I’m writing (Well, Angela Lansbury’s voice, actually!).

Early on in the process, I thought it would be fun to give the series a bit of a reboot in terms of timing and technology. I didn’t want to leave Jessica stranded in an unchanged past, so my writing evoked Murder, She Wrote updated to the current day with Uber, iPhones, text messages, and a Cabot Cove newly besieged by tourists. But the essence of her character remained the same; she may compose her novels on the latest Mac, but she still does her research at the Cabot Cove Library where she serves as president of the friends group.

At some point during the writing of my next two efforts, Manuscript for Murder and Murder in Red, I asked myself what could I do that no one had ever done before? My thinking on that started with a conversation about how the television series might stage a return someday. CBS has already flirted with the notion, with Octavia Spencer in the lead role. The network, though, ultimately backed off, figuring there was only one Jessica Fletcher and her initials are “AL.”

But what about a younger Jessica Fletcher, I asked myself? A Jessica still married to very much alive husband Frank, raising her nephew Grady, and serving as a substitute English teacher at a Maine high school while trying to get published twenty-five years in the past. What if a murder happened at that high school and Jessica was drawn in, finding that she not only has a knack for solving crime, but also for writing mysteries?

And so A Time for Murder was born. I had an absolute blast reverse-engineering the back story presented and/or hinted at in the television show. For instance, the name of the high school where Jessica taught is never mentioned anywhere on the show or in the previous books in the series. But she met her husband Frank while the two of them were volunteering on a play at the Appleton Playhouse, so I placed them in Appleton. And when the town’s beloved high school principal is murdered, who do you think the detective on the case turns out to be?

Amos Tupper, future sheriff of Cabot Cove fabulously played by Tom Bosley in the TV series. That gave me an excuse to explore the very origins of his relationship with Jessica, as well as incorporating one of the TV series’ most popular characters into the story, no easy task given that he was replaced long ago as sheriff by Mort Metzger.

To say I was off and running with A Time for Murder would be an understatement. Indeed, I was off on a dead sprint following a murder in the present intrinsically connected to that of the high school principal in the past. Add to that the fact that Jessica has been invited to a retirement party for one of her old colleagues at Appleton High and I had the connective tissue that every book demands, in this case through flashback chapters triggered by Jessica’s memories.

I was essentially writing two separate, interconnected stories and having a blast with both of them. And in that respect A Time for Murder became what superhero film fans might call an “origins” story, as it sought to answer many of the questions never addressed by either the previous books or the TV series itself. And I can’t tell you how rewarding it was to bring something new to a series that enjoys such great name/brand recognition, a series that has been around for more than thirty-five years.

I always tell people that one of the real keys to penning a great story is to enjoy writing it as much as the reader will enjoy reading it. And I have every confidence that fans of both the book and television series will love meeting Frank and young Grady, not to mention (spoiler alert!) younger versions of real estate agent Eve Simpson and Seth Hazlitt, along with the aforementioned Amos Tupper. Want more? How about Jessica seeing her beloved home at 698 Candlewood Lane for the first time and wondering whether she and Frank can afford it? We’ll see her in A Time for Murder displaying her incredible powers of observation for the first time in solving a murder twenty-five years in the past that culminates in a Columbo-like twist.

As a thriller writer by nature, I so enjoy exposing Jessica to a bit more danger than she’s been used to in the past; in fact, one critic coined a new literary term in describing my approach to Murder, She Wrote: the cozy thriller. Labels aside, I find America’s favorite sleuth to be an exceptionally strong woman, forging a great life for herself without anyone else’s help. I always found her to be ahead of her time back when the series was on the air, and I continue to see her as a feminist heroine today.

For me, reading a Murder, She Wrote mystery is like visiting twice a year with old friends you haven’t seen in too long. And in A Time for Murder, get ready to take a trip back in time to meet some new ones.

Jon Land is the bestselling author over 25 novels. He graduated from Brown University in 1979 Phi Beta Kappa and Magna cum Laude and continues his association with Brown as an alumni advisor.
Jon often bases his novels and scripts on extensive travel and research as well as a twenty-five year career in martial arts.  He is an associate member of the US Special Forces and frequently volunteers in schools to help young people learn to enjoy the process of writing. Jon is the Vice-President of marketing of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and is often asked to speak on topics regarding writing and research. In addition to writing suspense/thrillers John is also a screenwriter.

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