Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Passion Pit Made Me a Novelist by Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets writes two national bestselling mystery series.

Her Dead-End Job series is a satiric look at a serious subject – the minimum-wage world. Elaine and her character, Helen Hawthorne, work a different low-paying job each book, from telemarketer to hotel maid. Publishers Weekly called her hardcover debut “wry social commentary.” Killer Cuts, set at a South Florida hair salon, is her eighth Dead-End Job.

Elaine’s second series features St. Louis mystery shopper Josie Marcus in The Fashion Hound Murders. The debut, Dying in Style, tied with Stephen King on the Independent Mystery Booksellers bestseller list.
Elaine won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards.

You can check out the first chapter of “The Fashion Hound Murders” at To order your autographed copy of the fifth Josie Marcus mystery, go to

Elaine Viets
A Passion Pit Made Me a Novelist

I admit it. I owe my career as a novelist to summer nights of sex and sin. My thirteenth mystery novel is published this month. “The Fashion Hound Murders” features mystery shopper Josie Marcus. Josie gets what seems to be an easy assignment, looking at puppies. But when one store turns out to sell puppy mill pets and a helpful clerk is murdered, Josie realizes this job could bite back. I promise it’s an informative, entertaining read.

But back to the passion pit. When I was growing up, drive-in movies were evil. Preachers called them “passion pits.” The nuns at my school said that girls who went to drive-ins with boys got bad reputations.

They also got a whole lot of dates.

The more adults protested, the more fascinating drive-ins seemed to me.

In fact, I became a novelist thanks to the local drive-in movie.

If you’ve never been to one, drive-ins were big outdoor movie theaters with giant movie screens. People paid about a dollar a carload. You could cram eight or ten kids into an airless car. Then you pulled your car up to a speaker on a metal pole, and hung the speaker on the edge of the rolled-down window.

This was hot stuff. Very hot, especially in August in St. Louis. Imagine sitting in an un-air-conditioned car for hours on a summer night. You can see why drive-ins died.

The best part, sometimes better than the movie, was the trip to the concession stand for cold soda, popcorn and hot dogs.

We lived in the suburb of St. Ann when I was growing up, across from the main screen of a drive-in movie. I could see it from my room. I slept in the top bunk, which gave me a clear view of the movie screen. I couldn’t hear a word, but I could see the story in Technicolor. I saw actresses with six-foot lips smooching leading men. Mushy stuff. Cowboys galloped across the screen. Comedians did prat falls to silent laughter. Murders were committed in living color and dead silence.

Every night, I watched the soundless movies and wrote my own dialogue in my head.

Were my stories better than the actual movies?

I doubt it. They always put me to sleep.

But my latest Josie Marcus novel should keep you awake all night – reading, of course.


Morgan Mandel said...

The new book sounds really cute. I just love the catchy covers and titles of your other ones also.

Morgan Mandel

Patty said...

Love the idea of writing your own dialog and story to match what you saw on the screen. Have you ever gone back to watch some of the movies to compare?

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

It's always so cool to see how a writer is born!

Looking forward to reading the new book.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Molly Weston said...

Thank goodness you had those drive-in movies! I'm a big fan of your books! FASHION HOUND should have two huge audiences--mystery readers and pet lovers.

Sadly, several situations in this book aren't nearly as fictional as we might like to think. You've done a great job in presenting them realistically with just the right amount of comic relief.

Good job, Elaine!

Meredith Cole said...

I don't know why parents objected to the drive-ins--8 kids in a car sounds like a parental dream come true for a date night! Or maybe we've all become more jaded...

But I'm glad it made you a novelist--and I look forward to your new book!

jenny milchman said...

Meredith, can't help reading your comment and thinking of the New York magazine article on the high school students and the "cuddle puddle". Ack.

But, back to the topic! Elaine, this seems like the dialogue technique of listening in on people talking squared. Here you don't even have the words to overhear, just the facial expressions and nonverbal interactions to teach you how people really communicate. I love it.

Vicki Lane said...

Wonderful post -- I'd love to see one of those old movies accompanied by your dialogue!

Elaine Viets said...

Thanks, Morgan. NAL does a good job with the covers. I am lucky to have such a good publisher.
Patty, I can't remember of the titles except 'The Naked and the Dead." Very racy title.
Thanks for the kind words,Molly. You're a big supporter of writers.