I recently spoke with author Deb Pines about Evil for Evil the latest book in her long running Mimi Goldman Mystery series and I loved the delightful way she responded. So here is unadulterated Pines:
Thanks for hosting me.
A reader once asked me, “Is Mimi, you-you?” And I told them, “Yes and no.”
My hero amateur sleuth, Mimi Goldman, is based on me. We’re both in our 60s. We both have worked as New York Post copy editors (and, thus, love snarky, pun-filled tabloid headlines). We’re both Brooklyn-born Jews. And we’re both pessimists about humanity who, nonetheless, adore the guys in our lives as well as coffee, show tunes, classic rock—and justice.
But Mimi also isn’t me. One lesson I learned early on (by trying it, of course) is that real-life me isn’t compelling enough to be a mystery-series hero.
So I’ve made Mimi braver, smarter, more reckless and relentless than I am —so she’s (I hope) more fun, memorable and larger-than-life. To explain Mimi’s obsessive passion for justice, I’ve given her a backstory (that’s not mine) of having been raised by grandparents who were Holocaust survivors.
Occasionally, our similarities still trip me up. I have to fight an impulse (girly, perhaps?) to be more humble and modest—and to let luck or Mimi’s assistants play a bigger role in the crime-solving. I have to remind myself, Mimi isn’t me. She’s an idealized me, the superhero I want to be the unapologetic main agent for justice in my stories.
Did I set out to write a series? No. So I’ve learned a lot along the way.
In terms of regrets: No. 1, I wish I had created a lovable ensemble cast from the get-go. I have always included Mimi and her computer-wiz son Jake, who was a teenager in Book #1. Along the way, I added Sylvia Pritchard, a 90-something sidekick. In my last three books, I also added an earnest young local sheriff’s deputy, Doug Tinsdale.
No. 2, I wish I had, from the start, aimed to be more like Agatha Christie. At around Book #5, the nicest review I’ve ever gotten called the series “an Agatha Christie for the text-message age.” After that, I have spent more time trying to create twisty, surprise endings. I’ve also tried to more consciously make Mimi take lessons from her big-city tabloid past to solve crimes in small-town Chautauqua – the way Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple draws on lessons from her fictional small town of St Mary Mead to solve crimes elsewhere.
In terms of my sleuths’ ages? No regrets. I love creating scenes where 60-something Mimi and 90-something Sylvia are unnoticed or underestimated. Yes, the pair needs to outsmart, not outmuscle, the bad guys. But, for me, that’s fun.
One regret: In the first few Sylvia books, I aged her with each book that I publish each summer. When Sylvia turned 95, readers wrote me saying things like, “Hey, Sylvia should no longer be driving.” So I now have frozen her age at 90 so she can plausibly keep contributing.
What am I up to:
I’m under way (too slowly) on Book #11 that has a tentative title “Caught in the Snare: A Chautauqua Murder Mystery.”
A book I’d like to write: something about New York Post headlines.
The worst part of publishing books? For me, it is getting the first draft down. I write and rewrite compulsively, maybe because I am an editor. The best parts: I love rewriting and polishing, researching, thinking of new ideas and connecting with readers.
Deb Pine Pines, a former reporter and award-winning New York Post copy editor, is the author of ten Mimi Goldman mysteries that are top-sellers in the Chautauqua Institution in western New York where they are all set. A lover of Wordle, Spelling Bee, theater, hiking, indoor spinning and her grandkids, Deb lives in New York City with her husband Dave.