Thank you, Elizabeth, for hosting my guest posts about my experiences revisiting my first mystery series which featured Iris Thorne–a single, sexy, and savvy Los Angeles investment advisor. The books were originally published by Simon and Schuster in the nineties. All five Iris Thorne Mysteries—Cold Call, Slow Squeeze, Fast Friends, Foolproof, and Pushover are available for the first time as e-books and trade paperbacks.
This post is about Pushover, the fifth and mostly likely final Iris Thorne Mystery (although never say never), and thus the last entry in this blog series.
When I sat down to craft Iris #5, I was weary of writing about an amateur sleuth. I was tired of finding ways for Iris to stumble over dead bodies and outsmart cops. I was tired of Iris’s job and the office politics. Even after the series debut, Cold Call, was sold in a two-book deal and I learned I was writing a series (yes, I was that naïve), I strived to make the subsequent books darker. Once I pitched my editor the idea of Iris as a murderer and was quickly (and rightly) laughed down. I pitched the idea of setting an Iris book in another location such as New York City, San Francisco, or, how about the Caribbean? My editor tartly responded, “So is this ‘Iris Takes a Vacation?’” I was feeling more than a little trapped.
As I was evolving as a writer, Iris was changing too. Through the series, she ages in real time. In Pushover, she’s more mature than when we met her in Cold Call. She’s battled her way up to the manager’s corner office, she’s bought a beach bungalow, she’s in a serious relationship, and she’s left many of her girlish ways behind.
By Book 5, Iris and I were both ready for something new and we did it. I changed the location of the book to Moscow, but just for the opening chapters. When I wrote the book in 1998, post-Soviet Russia was a wild place where fortunes were being made and bloody rivalries were being played out in the streets. My inspiration for Pushover was a true story about an American businessman who was machine-gun downed on the steps of a fancy Moscow hotel. I also tested my thriller-writing chops in Pushover. I started the discipline of outlining with Iris #4, Foolproof, and continued this with Pushover, really focusing on plot, folding in lots of reversals, betrayals, and twists.
Before reissuing the first four Irises, I polished them a little but resisted the urge to make major changes, wanting to respect the books as they had been published. I mostly cleaned up language and punctuation.
However, with Pushover I let my editing pencil run free. Since the book would be new to my primary market (it had only been published in the U.K.–a story for another time), I felt free to edit it hard. I fixed bad writing habits that rankled when I saw them in the first four Irises but didn’t change in the reissued versions. I cut about 20,000 words from Pushover and it wasn’t a long book to begin with. Most cuts involved a subplot that added nothing to the main story. I also pared down lengthy descriptions. The result is the leanest book in the Iris series. I think it’s the most page-turning.
After Pushover was published in 1999, I took a break from writing. I resurfaced in 2006 with the publication of The First Cut, the first in my Detective Nan Vining series. I was finally writing about a professional sleuth and I could make those books as dark as I wanted.
I couldn’t fully let Iris go. Fans would ask me about her, so I gave her a cameo in The First Cut. Nan Vining is investigating a murder and happens upon Iris’s house when knocking on doors in a tony Pasadena neighborhood near where the victim’s body was found. Iris gives Nan information that helps Iris nab the murderer. When I turned in my manuscript of The First Cut, my editor, who’d also edited the Iris books, asked me, “What happened to Iris? It’s like Nan’s at the house of a crazy woman.”
I reread that chapter. My editor was right. I couldn’t believe it. Had I lost my connection to Iris? I tore up that section and tried again until I got Iris right. And there she is, happily married to Garland, living in a stately Pasadena manse decorated with plastic pink flamingos, running her own investment firm, delighted to help Nan Vining with a murder investigation, bristling when Garland’s colleague calls her a “trophy wife,” and still driving her beloved Triumph sports car. She’s in a good place and she’s our Iris.
I’ll always love Iris. I still can’t part with artifacts of her life that I own—her “Budgets are for Wimps” mug (how 80s!) and her 1972 Triumph sports car. I’m so happy that readers are discovering the Iris Thorne Mysteries for the first time or having fun reading them again.
I’m giving away a copy of Pushover (choice of e-book or trade paperback) to one of the commenters on this post, so tell me what you think!