Jean Henry Mead is a mystery/suspense and western historical novelist. She’s also an award-winning photojournalist. One of her fortes is interviewing writers, actors, politicians, artists and ordinary people who have accomplished extraordinary things. She began her writing career as a California news reporter/editor/photographer, first in Central California and later in San Diego. Mead transferred to Casper, Wyoming, to serve as a staff writer for the statewide newspaper. While there she served as editor of In Wyoming Magazine and two small presses. She also freelanced for other publications, both domestic and abroad, among them the Denver Post’s Empire Magazine. Her first book was published in 1982.
Jean Henry Mead’s new book is Murder on the Interstate.
Two feisty 60-year old women sleuths encounter murder, homegrown terrorism, kidnapping and disasters as they travel Arizona in their motorhome. The third novel in the Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series, Murder on the Interstate will leave you breathless.
I asked Jean to talk about writing about older protagonists who are amateur sleuths. Here’s what she had to say:
When I first conceived my Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series, I named my characters Shirley Lock and Dora Holmes and titled the series Shirl Lock & Holmes. My first publisher closed its doors shortly after publication and I resold the series to another, so the names were changed to Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty. My two 60-year-old protagonists become a little feistier and adventurous in the second novel when they sell their houses in the San Joaquin Valley and buy a motorhome.
My novels are somewhat autobiographical and I used my own experience driving a motorhome along northern Arizona’s mountainous Interstate 40 to begin third my novel, Murder on the Interstate. Listening and talking to truckers along the way on my CB radio not only taught me their language, which can be quite humorous, but the problems faced along the road, which I incorporated into the book.
My purpose in writing about older women sleuths is to belie the conception that mature women are somewhat helpless. While I was growing up, sixty was considered old and ready for permanent rocking chair occupancy. Now that I’ve reached the dreaded age myself, I’m still capable of doing all the things I ever did, with the possible exception of roller skating—because I don’t want to risk a serious fall. That fear arose from tripping over my dog and hitting a stone wall, which resulted in a broken arm. That seems to happen to many seniors. As a result, I had to write one-handed for months.
When writing about seniors—or in this case “boomers” eligible for senior discounts, you don’t dwell on aches and pains or disabilities unless your protagonist happens to be disabled and in a wheel chair. Dana and Sarah joke about menopause and general crankiness but overall they’re as active as much younger sleuths.
And speaking of baby boomers, there are an estimated 78 million of them reaching retirement age, some 8,000 a day. Many of them like to read about characters their own ages. What better age group to write for?
Most older women readers dislike graphic sex and language. But that doesn’t stop writers from exploring current social problems such as homegrown terrorism, which I feature in Murder on the Interstate. Older women sleuths usually don’t have the addiction problems of some of the younger male protagonists, or the sexual distractions of younger women. So their wisdom and experience serve them well when solving mysteries. That leaves plenty of room for humor, which I include in all my books, including nonfiction and my children’s mysteries. Sometimes it’s subtle and occasionally slapstick, depending on my writing mood. I even had Dana and Sarah cracking jokes in the midst of a flash flood.
I also include light romance, which can also be humorous, as in the first novel of the series, A Village Shattered, where a love starved widow falls in love with a redneck Casanova. Writing for seniors can be fun as long as we laugh with them and not at them.
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WRITING PROMPT: Think of five situations in which an amateur sleuth might run into multiple mysteries/murders without falling into the Jessica Fletcher syndrome.