By Erica Christoffer, Contributing Editor, REALTOR® Magazine
Real estate professional Regan McHenry is about to close on the house of her client’s dreams. But when the seller turns up dead, suspicions lead Regan to the center of a murder mystery. Nancy Kille, real estate practitioner turned mystery author, draws from her 20 years of experience for inspiration in The Death Contingency (Good Read Mysteries, 2008).
Kille, who writes as Nancy Lynn Jarvis, spoke to The Weekly Book Scan about her cliff-hanging mystery, and what it took for her to make the switch from real estate to writing.
Are you a fan of murder mysteries? What made you decide to write one?
KILLE: What started this whole thing is my mother-in-law, who lived in South Carolina, died a couple of years ago. We knew it was coming. We traveled there to spend some time with her before she died and we had to drive across country. So, to try and make my life easier, I started reading Tony Hillerman-a mystery writer who writes about a Navajo and the Big Reservation that comprises a large chunk of the southwest.
It was fun to be driving and noting, “oh, there’s a directional sign for something I’m reading about.” He uses the locations and he talks about the culture. By the time we got home, I was hooked. I read all of his books. He writes what are I call “cozy mysteries,” not full of graphic violence.
At the conclusion of that, I decided it would be a real hoot to try and write one.
How did the idea for The Death Contingency come about?
KILLE: Well, Tony Hillerman writes about where he lives and about something he knows well. So I decided to set my book in Santa Cruz, and decided I’d set it in the real estate community because there are so many interesting people and colorful people I have met in the course of being a REALTOR®. I drew on some of those stories.
I know a real estate practitioner fairly well-he’s from Iran originally; he had an uncle, Cyrus; and he told me a story once about being in the midst of selling a property, and just before the close of escrow, the seller simply vanished off the face of the Earth, never heard from again. I decided to think about what happened to that seller-and off I went. I guess I have a fair imagination. I used him as the basis for the character Kaivan.
Is any part of your main character, Regan, that is autobiographical?
KILLE: I am Regan. I started out writing Nancy and Craig-”Craig” is my husband’s name-instead of Regan and Tom (characters). My process was sort of like a method writer, where I’d get up, go into my office, and imagine a scene and start writing down what I observed.
Originally, everyone in the book was based on someone I knew. But as I progressed, I realized that the characters wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do. The people who I knew would never behave they way I wanted the characters to. So I started renaming them.
Then a really interesting thing happened-as soon as they had new names, they were free to do things I wanted them to do, they also did things I didn’t know they were going to do.
Which character was the most fun to write for?
KILLE: Mrs. Rosemont. I loved her. An interesting thing about Mrs. Rosemont-I said every character was someone I knew, well, she was the exception to that. I made her up out of whole cloth.
Then, I went to a little local mom and pop grocery store that’s popular in Santa Cruz called Shoppers Corner. I’m really tall, and I was reaching up high to get a jar of pickles, and all of a sudden right in front of me was Mrs. Rosemont reaching for something. It was really bizarre because she was really unique looking.
I wanted to see how she moved, so I followed her up and down the aisles and eventually this poor woman left her cart and ran out. I think she thought I was stalking her. I keep hoping I’ll run into her again so I can tell her what I was doing. But I haven’t so far.
Some of the locations are so colorfully described in your book. How did you prepare when writing a scene?
KILLE: I have what my husband calls a very bizarre ability to remember houses and floor plans. It’s been very helpful in real estate. So the houses in the book are real. It was very easy to write about them. I would just take a look at them in my memory bank and write about them. That part was the easiest.
There is a lingering question toward the end of the book. Why?
KILLE: I think the answer the reader comes up with says something about them. It was fun for me to write that. And I really don’t know the right answer. I don’t know if I will ever know the answer
Did you have an audience in mind while writing?
KILLE: I thought those in real estate would get a kick out of it. And I certainly thought the Santa Cruz community would get a kick out of it. There are a lot of people who write in Santa Cruz and in Bonny Doon, where I live. I thought I could contact local boards of realty and they could put the book in their book stores. We have a number of independent book stores here and they are very kind in promoting local authors.
What are your future plans as a writer?
KILLE: I have no idea how far it will go. I finished my second book, Back Yard Bones, which was in my head even when I was writing The Death Contingency. It will, hopefully, be out soon. I’m working on my third one, but I’m only just beginning it. I only have an outline so far.
Right now I’m taking time out from real estate and doing this-because it is really so much fun.