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As many fans of Murder, She Wrote may already know, the TV show inspired a long-running series of spin-off novels. The first book in the series, Gin & Daggers, was written by Donald Bain and published in 1989. The series had a bit of a rocky start and the second book in the series wasn’t released until 1994. However, since then, there were approximately two new novels published in the series per year, up until the publication of the 46th novel in the series in 2016. When Donald Bain passed away in 2017, there was a brief one-year hiatus. However, it wasn’t long before the series had resumed its two-per-year publishing schedule thanks to author Jon Land, who completed the 47th novel in the series (which he had been collaborating on with Bain) and contributed five additional novels.
In 2021, we enter a new chapter in the Murder, She Wrote spin-off novel saga. Fans have learned that the series is now being taken over by author Terrie Farley Moran, whose first contribution to the series, Killing in a Koi Pond, is being released on June 8th, 2021. Killing in a Koi Pond marks the 53rd novel in the Murder, She Wrote series; the 54th book, Debonair in Death, also authored by Terrie, has already been announced.
I had the privilege of being able to correspond with Terrie, who graciously agreed to answer some questions for this blog about her new book and her involvement in the series. Below is the result of our email correspondence:
Murder, She Watched: Thanks so much for agreeing to this Q&A! I have just a few questions to ask that I know fans of the series would be interested to know the answers to. First, I’m sure fans would love to hear about your personal connection to the series: When did you first discover Murder, She Wrote? Were you a fan of the show during its original run, or was it something you discovered later on? And what’s your favourite thing about the show and the book series?
Terrie: Thanks so much for inviting me. It is terrific to hang out at Murder, She Watched with mystery fans, and especially with fans of Jessica Fletcher.
I saw the first episode of Murder, She Wrote when it initially appeared on American television in September 1984. I was hooked immediately because I love mysteries but I prefer them without excessive violence and interminable car chase scenes. I watched the series each Sunday without fail. (Thursdays for the final season.) My husband and my children knew that was Mom’s Hour. The books by Donald Bain came along in the late 1980s while the show was still on prime time television, so I got to watch the show and read the books. Heavenly!
What I love most about the show and the books is Jessica Fletcher’s personality. She is polite, firm, has a will of iron but never deliberately puts herself in harm’s way. And in her world, truth is sacrosanct.
Murder, She Watched: Given that Killing in a Koi Pond is your first contribution to the series, fans are understandably curious about how a change of author may affect the series. What are some recurring motifs or characters that fans of the series can look forward to encountering again in your new book? And how did you strive to maintain continuity after taking over the series from another author?
Terrie: Let me take the second question first. The television series filmed nearly three hundred episodes between 1984 and 1996. The books came into being around 1989 and have been written by two previous authors, Donald Bain and Jon Land. Right from the start, the books were not a continuation of the series since, for a number of years they ran parallel. There are now more than fifty books. So, over time there have been changes. For example, I thought Mayor Sam Booth offered comic relief when he appeared in the show, but in the books, Jim Shevlin is the mayor. And in the television show, Phyllis Grant (one of the beauty parlor ladies) was the town travel agent, but now that role is assigned to Mayor Shevlin’s wife, Susan. So when I write scenes in Loretta’s beauty parlor, Phyllis is no longer there, but I did not “replace” her with Susan.
In the television shows we often see things that Jessica doesn’t see because she is not in every scene. Then she may or may not learn about them later. The books are written in first person so Jessica either observes what happens or someone must tell her something they witnessed. She is never off stage.
Over the years I have seen every television episode at least a half dozen times and I watched most of them again when I was asked to pick up the series. I have also read most of the books, many of them more than once. While I have the heart of a fan, the writer in me, and this gets to your first question, looks at things like motifs and characters. I always enjoy when Jessica is visiting an old friend, so in Killing in a Koi Pond (book 53) she visits a chum from college days. Although she is in South Carolina, she has a number of engaging phone conversations with Seth Hazlitt and Harry McGraw because I love them both.
My favorite setting for Jessica is Cabot Cove so in Debonair in Death (book 54) Jessica is at home and researching her next book. And because I never could get enough of the women in Loretta’s beauty parlor, the story opens with Jessica in Loretta’s chair. And, will wonders never cease, a few chapters later Michael Haggerty (another favorite of mine) shows up in Cabot Cove looking for smugglers.
So Jessica will continue to solve murders both at home in Cabot Cove and wherever she may be visiting. And there will be some old friends and some new characters in every book.
Murder, She Watched: On the flip side of that, what are some fresh themes or perspectives that you hope to bring to the series?
Terrie: I think my perspective will be most visible in Cabot Cove where some of the very minor supporting characters from the past may move into major roles. For example, Coreen Wilson, the manicurist at Loretta’s is close to invisible in the television shows. (She has a slightly larger role in the episode “The Sins of Castle Cove”.) When you read Debonair you may get a different view of the shy submissive girl that we saw on the screen.
Murder, She Watched: Killing in a Koi Pond is coming out this June, and your second contribution to the series has already been announced for November 2021. How many more of your Murder, She Wrote books can fans expect to look forward to?
Terrie: I have a contract with the Berkley imprint of Penguin Random House to write four books. As you mentioned, Murder She Wrote: Killing in a Koi Pond (June 8, 2021) will be followed by Murder She Wrote: Debonair in Death (November 2, 2021). The next two books will follow roughly in May/June 2022 and November 2022.
Murder, She Watched: A lot of fans of detective shows also like to write their own fan fiction, and so they are curious about how these spin-off book series work. What are the copyright considerations involved in publishing the series? And how did you personally get involved?
Terrie: There may be a variety of ways that contracts for spin-offs come about but in this case, Jessica Fletcher and Murder She Wrote are the property of Universal Studios. Penguin Random House entered into a licensing agreement with Universal Studios Licensing LLC. The agreement allows Penguin Random House (through their Berkley division) to contract an author to write the series. The copyright remains the property of Universal Studios.
The short version of how I got involved is that on St. Patrick’s Day 2020, while I was playing Irish music, baking soda bread and bemoaning that there were no parades to watch, my agent called and asked if I would be interested in writing some books in the Murder, She Wrote series. Before she could outline the details of the project I said “yes”. Lest you think someone pulled my name out of a hat, I had already been writing for Berkley for a number of years. I wrote the Read ’Em and Eat cozy series. (The first book of the series, Well Read, Then Dead won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel). I also co-wrote four books in Laura Childs’ extremely popular scrapbooking series. Since these books were all under the Berkley imprint, the editorial staff was extremely familiar with my work and thought my writing style would be a good fit for Murder She Wrote. I will be forever grateful for this opportunity to write about my favorite amateur sleuth, Jessica Fletcher.
A big thank you to Terrie for taking the time to answer these questions!
You can already pre-order Terrie’s first two contributions to the Murder, She Wrote series. As has already been mentioned, Killing in a Koi Pond will be released on June 8th while Debonair in Death will be released on November 2nd. Both books will be released in hard cover, digital, and audiobook format; presumably they will be published in paperback format at a later date.
You can also check out some of Terrie Farley Moran’s previously published works.
As Terrie mentioned, she is the author of the ‘Read Em and Eat’ mystery series, which is set in a bookstore cafe in Fort Myers Beach, Florida.
And she has also collaborated with Laura Childs on the four most recent Scrapbooking Mysteries.