Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, welcoming a return visit from Maine writer Kelly McClymer. Kelly has a new project that should interest fans of Maine mysteries.
First, I want to thank Kathy Lynn Emerson for inviting me to share about my mystery series. I have always admired the way she weaves history and mystery together. Kathy and I have known each other for a long time. For most of that time I have insisted I could never, ever, ever write a mystery.
I’m not 100% sure I have, yet, but I certainly came closer than I ever thought I would with my new Secret Shopper Mom Mystery series starring Maine mom Molly Harbison. Molly is a wife and mother who takes up mystery shopping to supplement the family income without becoming a slave to the 9-to-5 work world.
Shop and Let Die, the first book in the series, did not start life as a mystery. It started life as a women’s fiction novel about a Maine mom, Molly, who is trying to find a job that she can work in around home and family duties. Molly discovers mystery shopping — short jobs that can be scheduled around soccer practice, doctor’s appointments, and sick days.
To research the mystery shopping job Molly uses to earn extra money around the rest of her busy life, I took up mystery shopping. It was an eye-opening experience. I learned:
- Mystery shopping is a real job (lots of people think it is a scam)
- It is easier to get jobs in bigger urban areas, but there are a surprisingly large number of jobs for mystery shoppers in Maine.
- A mystery shopper needs to be as stealthy and observant as Harriet the Spy…and, just like Harriet, make sure her (very detailed) notes never come to the attention of the people she is spying on.
- Mystery shop jobs do not pay well, and have lots, and lots (and lots) of rules about how long to stay, what to say, and how specific to be on each observation.
- A well-run business pays attention to the little details (and pays for mystery shoppers to do random inspections and make note of things like whether the parking lot has any litter).
- The first rule of mystery shopping is “Don’t talk about mystery shopping.” (and yes, I am breaking that…but in the name of fiction all should be forgiven).
I had a lot of fun with this — at the time — women’s fiction novel, using elements of my own life and community, and my own angst about my imperfect juggling of home, family, and work. Sadly, I couldn’t interest an editor in Molly’s story, so I shelved it and I went on to write my Salem Witch Tryouts YA series for Simon & Schuster.
When the indie publishing movement came, I realized it would be perfect for Molly’s story, so I dusted off the manuscript and started revising.
At some point in the revision process, I realized that there should be a mystery in mystery shopping (duh). I fought that realization for a while, firmly believing that I could not write a mystery. But then I gave in. Molly’s shopping stakes got a lot higher when a serial killer started target mall shoppers, and the plot thickened quickly: enter handsome FBI agent James Connery, and soon Molly was trying to find a serial killer.
I’ve just published the second mystery in the series, License to Shop. Molly gives in to the pressure from her husband to get a “real” job, begins job hunting at her husband’s university, juggles a visit from her critical mother, and ends up helping the FBI find the leader of an identity theft ring. Once again, I got to use elements from my real life (I have worked at university jobs on and off since I was an undergraduate).
The third installment in the series, The Mall is not Enough, will come out this fall. I wish I could show off the cover, but it isn’t quite finished yet. In this story, Molly adds sweepstakes to the mystery shopping mix, to help balance the family budget. Currently, I am doing my hands-on research on sweepstakes (fascinating!).
The nice thing about indie publishing this series is that I don’t have to worry about trying to fit it into a narrow genre niche. Or even go out of my way to find readers for it yet. I want to have four books out in the series before I do much promotion. I know that when I, as a reader, discover a series, I really like to be able to binge read.
The other nice thing about indie publishing is that I can offer a sale price whenever I want (Shop and Let Die is 99 cents until June 9th, in honor of this guest appearance).
The absolute best thing about indie publishing is that I can dip my toe into the mystery waters with this series, and still draw on my own experiences as a wife, mother, and mystery shopper. The series will be able to explore how a Maine mom struggles to find a way to balance home, family, mystery shopping, and the occasional work with the FBI. True to her “spirit parents” (Harriet the Spy and James Bond), Molly is making her Maine town better, one mystery — and a dozen mystery shops — at a time.
Kelly McClymer has been published in several genres, including historical romance and contemporary YA. She and her husband live north of Bangor. For those who want to read her new Mystery Shopper Mom series, here is the link to Shop and Let Die