I didn’t set out to blend genres. After many years in the theater, I was aware of the power of humor to keep an audience engaged, so I put a lot of laughs into my mysteries. Especially the kind that come from romance gone wrong. (I think romantic comedy is way undervalued these days. Jane Austen wrote it—and so did William Shakespeare.)
Because of the romantic humor—and also probably because I started writing at the height of the chick lit phenomenon—my agent at the time tried to market my work as chick lit.
But it never quite fit. It’s not Bridget Jones humor. It’s pretty sophisticated—sometimes very dark—and most of my heroines are too mature to qualify as “chicks.”
I also discovered that a lot of my audience is male. (I’ve had my most enthusiastic reviews from men.) So my new publisher finally helped me realize I write mysteries with rom-com elements rather than chick lit romance with mystery elements.
It’s more like Janet Evanovich for English majors.
MY ADVICE TO NEW WRITERS IS: WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE AND FIGURE OUT WHERE IT FITS IN THE MARKETPLACE LATER.
I adore the classic mysteries of Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, and also the sophisticated humor of “screwball” romantic comedies of the 1930s and ’40s. I think I’ve brought elements of both into my books.
You've described your award-winning blog, "Anne R. Allen's Blog," as a place where you help new writers avoid some of the pitfalls you learned the hard way. Could you give us an example of a lesson you've learned?
Oh, I’ve got a whole bunch. Here are three:
DON’T TRY TO PUBLISH BEFORE YOU KNOW THE BUSINESS. I wasted way too much time querying agents when I didn’t have a clue what was expected, and although I knew how to write a novel, my books weren’t ready for the contemporary marketplace, and neither was I.
DON’T KEEP EDITING AND RE-EDITING YOUR WORK TO PLEASE EVERYBODY. I spent a decade on a novel that was really at its best around the third draft. I’d given up on the poor thing, but my current publisher asked about it, so I rummaged through the files and found a fairly early draft that’s pretty good. The later ones were awful. I edited out so much, the plot made no sense.
DON’T DEPEND ON ONE CRITIQUE PARTNER OR GROUP for your feedback. Critique groups are fantastic, and a great way to learn the basics, but they can get inbred and either perpetuate incorrect information or give you a false sense of your level of competence.
You're a successful later-blooming author. Words for writers who think it's too late to get started on a writing career?
OLDER WRITERS: IT’S NEVER TOO LATE!
I only started writing after a long theater career, and my first novel wasn’t published until I was over 50. Even more inspiring: my mom, who is about to be 92, published a classic mystery novel, ACADEMIC BODY with a small press when she was in her late 80s. This year my publisher issued it as an ebook. It hit #2 in Mysteries and Thrillers in the free Kindle Store and is still selling well. She came out with a second book this fall. At the age of 91.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just launched my fourth Camilla Randall mystery, NO PLACE LIKE HOME, which has an Oz theme and a strong message about homelessness. Now I’m giving Camilla a little rest while I work on reviving that old manuscript I mentioned.
It’s another humorous mystery, but longer than a standard whodunnit. The working title is THE ASHTRAYS OF AVALON. Spanning five decades, it’s full of Baby Boomer nostalgia. The theme is the myth of the Golden Age—and how it never existed. Every age had its drawbacks—like sexism and cigarette smoke.
Next, I’ll be doing a few short stories about Camilla and her best friend Plantagenet Smith, then I’m plunging into a new full length adventure where the two of them go to the English Midlands (the setting of SHERWOOD, LTD.) and meet up with what may or may not be the ghost of Richard III.
The working title is THE LAST PLANTAGENET. That one will take a lot of research, so it will be a while. I realize it’s ambitious, since Josephine Tey wrote THE classic mystery novel about Richard III with her 1951 mystery, DAUGHTER OF TIME, so I’m taking on a big project. I’m planning to incorporate the recent discovery of what might be Richard III’s body.
Where can we find you online?
Anne R. Allen’s Blog
Amazon.com author page
Goodreads author page
Facebook author page