Mindy Starns Clark

Mindy Starns Clark is the award-winning author of one nonfiction book and 11 novels, all from Harvest House Publishers. Her newest release is the standalone mystery thriller Under the Cajun Moon (Sept. 2009), which Publishers Weekly praises as "delicious" and RT Book Club Magazine names as a "Top Pick!" Mindy other books include the extremely popular gothic mysteries Shadows of Lancaster County and Whispers of the Bayou, the bestselling nonfiction how-to guide The House That Cleans Itself, The Million Dollar Mysteries series, and the Smart Chick Mystery series. A singer and former stand-up comedian, Mindy is also a popular inspirational speaker and playwright. She lives near Valley Forge, PA, with her husband and two daughters.

Why I Write Mystery Novels

Hidden staircases, secret messages, disappearing strangers . . . Who doesn’t enjoy a good mystery? My love affair with mysteries began one day in grade school, when my teacher passed out a colorful, multipage flyer featuring several pages of kids’ books that we could order through the school.

Intrigued, I began paging through the flyer. Though various genres were featured, I was most enchanted by the books about scary old houses and red herrings and brave girls sporting flashlights. For some reason, my usually thrifty mother chose not to skimp and let me get as many of those books as I wanted. When my huge order came in a few weeks later, it felt like Christmas. Because I enthusiastically devoured the whole pile, my mom continued to splurge month after month, year after year whenever the book order forms came. I always chose the mysteries, loving the mental challenge as well as how I felt as I read them—the tingles down my spine at moments of danger, the gasps of delight when a clue would fall into place or the plot would turn in a surprising direction.

Eventually, of course, I moved on to high school and to more adult fare, particularly the novels of Phyllis A. Whitney and the other gothic-mystery greats. At seventeen, I happened to read Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart and found myself debating elements of the plot with my mother and grandmother over breakfast one day. Surprised that they had both read and loved the same book, I remember feeling very grown-up and oh-so-pleased with myself, not just that I was reading at the level of two intelligent, well-read adults, but that I was holding my own in our discussion.

For years I had been dreaming up mystery plots and writing for my own pleasure, but after that experience I found myself wanting to be a real writer. I wanted other people to sit around their breakfast tables someday and debate my words, my stories—not for notoriety but simply because I wanted my books to be the spark of something so interesting.

My father was a huge John D. MacDonald fan, and he, too, loved to talk books. Though MacDonald was a bit too male-centric for me, I loved hearing the excitement in my father’s voice as he explained the brilliance of the author’s taut word choices, the cleverness of his deceptively simple plots. Surely one day I could write a book like that too, one that a loving father would dissect for his teenage daughter, eyes aglow purely from the joy of having read it.

In college, I majored in English with a specialization in Creative Writing and was privileged to study under some excellent professors. Soon my love of mysteries was pushed aside for far loftier pursuits as I was taught to read and write “Literary Fiction,” the kind that stands the test of time, that gets studied in school, and written about and lauded by critics. By graduation, I was penning deep, pain-filled short stories full of symbolism and nuance and intellect, hoping to be the next Eudora Welty or Kate Chopin or Flannery O’Connor.

The problem was as much as I respected literary fiction, I didn’t enjoy reading it or writing it. Out on my own after college, working in the daytime and writing at night, I struggled to find my writer’s voice. I wanted to be an Important Writer, but for me, writing in a literary style wasn’t much fun, and I wasn’t prolific. Once in a while, I thought about my old dreams of writing mysteries, but I was embarrassed at the thought of it, as if I would be letting down all of those wonderful professors who had shown me the light. But in truth, I was a closet mystery fan trying to be a literary writer, posing as an auteur.

Then one day my college alumni magazine arrived in my mailbox, and inside was an article about one of my college’s most respected English professors. According to the article, she wrote a mystery novel series on the side, one about two crime-solving little old ladies in a retirement community. I was stunned. A department icon and esteemed Shakespearean scholar was writing a cozy mystery novel series? In her own name?

Suddenly, I realized that I needn’t be ashamed of my first love. I should embrace it. Like my professor, I could appreciate great literature but I, too, was a mystery writer.

I was free!

Out went the thesaurus, out went the pretension, out went the days I would spend laboring over a single, artful turn of phrase. In came the old excitement, the thrill of creating labyrinthian plots and plucky heroines and creepy old houses. Finally, I was writing what I most loved to read.

The road to publication was still long and arduous, as it always is, but in the end it was worth it. Now with thirteen published mystery novels and more contracted for the future, I am living a lifelong dream, one made sweeter whenever I hear from a reader who says their whole family loves to read—and discuss—my work. Maybe, I imagine, that’s happening between father and daughter, or with three female generations across the breakfast table.

I still respect literary fiction and seek it out occasionally just to hone my own storytelling skills. I’m glad I studied it in college. But the real roots of my career go beyond that, all the way back to grade school, to those colorful flyers the teachers passed out in class. Through the years, I have held on to my favorites of those books, and though they’re dusty and old, dog-eared and faded, they’re priceless to me. After all, those little stand-alone children’s mysteries were the books that first woke up my inner mystery lover, the writer I was truly meant to be.

Under The Cajun Moon