Never Say Never: The Mystery Series That Almost Wasn’t

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.

kelly (16)Never Say Never: The Mystery Series That Almost Wasn’t


Kelly McClymer

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 1400wShop 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:

  1. Mystery shopping is a real job (lots of people think it is a scam)
  2. It is easier to get jobs in bigger urban areas, but there are a surprisingly large number of jobs for mystery shoppers in Maine.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.

License to Shop 1400wI’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


This entry was posted in Guest Blog and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Never Say Never: The Mystery Series That Almost Wasn’t

  1. Kelly, congratulations on this new series. I’ve never heard of mystery shopping, but the stories sound fascinating. I too have jumped into indie publishing, and feel the same way. Can’t wait to read your books.

    • Susan, you are not alone in never having heard of mystery shopping. I found out about it when my daughter worked at KFC — she got shopped twice, and her perfect job performance earned her $100 gift certificate both times.

  2. Hi Kelly,

    Glad you have joined the mystery-writing ranks, however reluctantly. The rules of mystery shopping are fascinating – like being a real-life spy, when you can’t tell people what you do for a living. Congratulations to you!

    • Brenda,

      Don’t get me wrong, I *love* reading mystery. And I think the rules of mystery-shopping are rather like the rules of mystery-writing: keep them in the dark until the very end, when you can (sometimes) surprise the heck out of them and make them think, “Why didn’t I see that coming? The clues were all there.”

  3. Nina Pierce says:

    *waves madly* Wow! I love the sound of this new series. And what fun you must have had doing the hands-on research. Best of luck with these mysteries!

    • Hi Nina,

      Yes, I learned a lot about how a well-oiled machine actually stays lubricated. I remember hating the script I was supposed to say to a customer back in college when I worked for a drug store. It sounded so false. What I didn’t understand was that it made the customer relax and feel like they were in the hands of an expert. After all, they didn’t have to repeat the same script 100 times a day. They heard it once.

  4. Kelly,
    I love the sound of this series! I actually went through the process and signed up to be a mystery shopper about seven years ago. But with three little ones, a full-time job, and trying to squeeze in writing, I could never get to any stores other than our local grocery store and the bi-montly trips to Target or Walmart. I’d love to make a career out of writing and shopping. Fun!

    Your heroine sounds very relatable and I can’t wait to read your books.

    Congrats on your releases. 🙂

    • Hi Marianne,

      Did you get on the mystery shopper loops? That’s where I found out about the most interesting jobs. I had school-aged kids, so I did the coffee shops, the grocery stores, the mall, the fast food joints, the jewelry stores, the banks (hated the banks). I read about hotel and spa shops, but never got to go on one 🙁

      I will admit some of the shops helped fill in the between-advance money back then, not just feed my story research. But I was glad to give it up when the writing income got more reliable. I can write in my pajamas, but I couldn’t mystery shop in them.

  5. Barb Ross says:

    Welcome, Kelly! So glad you dropped by the Maine Crime Writers.

    I, too, have a for in both world–traditionally published with my mysteries and indie publishing the Level Best Books anthologies. Each informs the other, and I’ve learned much from both.

  6. Lois Bartholomew says:

    Sounds like a great series. My daughter is a mystery shopper. She picks up shops when she and her husband want to go out to eat, when their van needs an oil change, when the kids want to go to the movies, and does McDonald’s shops when the kids want a treat. Can’t wait to read your books.

    • Hi Lois,

      Yes, the restaurant shops were very useful when my husband and I wanted to go out to eat! Your daughter is smart to shop as a form of discount fun. Tell her to look into putt-putt golf. Lots of family fun there.

  7. Brenna Ash says:

    Congratulations on the new series. It sounds interesting and fun! Who knew there were so many rules to mystery shopping? Love the titles!

  8. Emily Allen says:

    Congratulations on the new series. I love a good mystery and they sound like a good read. I love the titles.

Leave a Reply