Jon Land is the prolific, award-winning, and USA Today bestselling author of 45 books, including the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series, among others. In addition to suspense / thriller fiction, he’s written a number of non-fiction books. After the death of Donald Bain, Jon took over the reins of the worldwide bestselling Murder She Wrote books, based on the long-running television series starring Angela Lansbury.
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Mark Rubinstein: What was it like working with Donald Bain when you began collaborating on this series co-writing A Date with Murder?
Jon Land: The expectation was that I would work with Donald on a number of books, but his health deteriorated after our initial collaboration. Our brief contact revealed his passion for the series and the importance to him that the series continue. Both Don Bain and Berkley Books gave me the freedom to make the series my own. They didn’t micromanage me. They recognized that I brought something different to the series. Don understood that the Murder She Wrote books belong to millions of people, and I share that sentiment.
Before taking over the series, I’d never penned a mystery, or written in the first person or from the viewpoint of a non-action character. It’s given me the opportunity to explore new realms as a writer.
Speaking of mysteries, what are the differences between mysteries and thrillers?
The best way to encapsulate the differences is to say this: a mystery is about figuring out what happened. A thriller is about figuring out what’s going to happen and stopping it because the protagonist’s own life is often in jeopardy.
Although these are cozy mysteries about the familiar environs of Cabot Cove and have a lighter touch than most thrillers, I think I’ve brought a thriller element to Manuscript For Murder. In this third installment, Jessica’s life is in jeopardy. While Jessica is still doing what she always has—solving a mystery—I’ve lent a bit of a harder edge to the series. It now leans a bit more toward Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series.
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I know you’ve written about a female protagonist in the Caitlin Strong series. What is it like writing from a first-person woman’s perspective in the Murder She Wrote series?
You just highlighted the one thing that scared me when I took over the series. I’d never written in the first-person. I’ve written thrillers which tend to jump around between different points of view. But writing from Jessica’s first-person viewpoint presents a different challenge: I’m limited to what Jessica Fletcher knows and thinks.
At first, it was a bit intimidating, but to get a better handle on it, I read a few of the older books in the series and managed to find Jessica’s voice. I also got a good feel for Jessica’s character from watching the Murder She Wrote mysteries on Hallmark Mysteries. I watched one episode a day to capture some of the ambiance of the series and to gain some insight about Jessica Fletcher.
For the first time in my writing career, I had to ask myself what the protagonist was thinking in a specific moment. What is she holding back? What has she noticed?
Readers are going to see an evolution in the treatment of Jessica whereby I start to show more of her back story and to use more characters and plot points from the TV show. My version of Jessica Fletcher envisions the character as if the series was being made in 2018, rather than between 1984 and 1996.
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