Monday, March 7, 2011


Maybe there should be a forty-eight hour day!

There’s a lot of responsibility to writing a book. For one thing, you have to take care of all those characters. That’s right. You think it’s easy? Never mind, keeping them from being killed, you also have to make sure they eat and, trust me, most amateur sleuths are light on kitchen skills and never seem to keep to a schedule. They can miss meals for days.

You may even have wake them up in the middle of the night to go skulking after clues and you should encourage them to upgrade their skills (firing range, computer hacking, and running, always with the running). Their dogs have to be fed and walked. Who do you think remembers that? And if the dogs don’t get out often enough, you will get mail. Believe me.

It’s like being a mom to a gang of kids who will never become adults. You’re always going to be getting notes from their teachers.

Worse, you have to meddle in their love lives. Can’t have a mystery character be too happy. Or too lonely. Too anything really.

But one of the most time-consuming tasks is making sure they’re dressed properly. Remember Kinsey Milhone’s all-purpose black dress? Most people do. Readers notice these things.

My point is that, aside from the time it takes to keep your own wardrobe and closet in order and make sure you don’t show up at a business meeting in cargo shorts, now you have all these other people to worry about. I have to make sure Alvin Ferguson’s nine visible earrings are shiny enough to twinkle in the light. Mrs. Parnell still hangs on to her CWAC uniform. It’s hanging in her closet. That’s my responsibility too. As for Camilla MacPhee, she’s impossible. Couldn’t care less about clothes. I leave managing her outfits to her three perfectly groomed sisters.

But I do have to replace Fiona Silk’s one good outfit when it gets ruined by some villain in each book. I still mourn the loss of that periwinkle suede skirt and matching blouse. Then there’s Charlotte Adams, that little fashion plate. If it wasn’t for InStyle magazine (now a tax-deduction), I wouldn’t have a hope of having her look her spiffy best (with just the right shoes) as she gets chased on the I-90 or tossed into a dumpster. A lot of those outfits have to be discarded after a book! They’re ruined.

Her friend Jack Reilly is easier, except for bike racing gear from time to time, he’s always with the Hawaiian shirts and the unsuitable cargo shorts no matter what the weather. Even so, the patterns on the Hawaiian shirts have to vary. Jack may be in a rut, but he does change his clothes. Can’t have potential love interest being too grubby you know.

All to say, when I started out in this business, I had no idea there’d be all this work keeping other people dressed. Maybe that’s why I’m behind on my own laundry. There’s not enough time in the day.

What about you? How do you like a sleuth to be dressed? Do you care about that sort of detail as a reader or as a writer?

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three (soon to be three and a half) mystery series and a couple of dozen short stories. Her thirteenth mystery novel, The Busy Woman’s Guide to Murder (April 5, 2011), is brimming with names, no two the same.


  1. A lot of my characters teach others how to make and embellish garments, so they need to wear their own creations to advertise their shops and their classes. Take Willow, my protagonist. Her desire to let her machines embroider everthing in sight tends to overcome her fondness for plain clothing and linens. She tries - really tries - not to overdo, but it's tough.

  2. You make all your characters work hard, Janet! Including the three 'mothers'.


  3. I know of a pair of miniature daschunds who wear adorable outfits and accessories . . .

  4. Charlotte is my fashion idol! Love those shoes, too.

    I believe it's very important to have your characters -- all of them -- dressed!

  5. Clothes, glorious clothes! Younger, thinner characters with good feet who can wear all the 'oh la la' items I can only dream about or drool over in magazines.

    But how boring a book would it be filled only with stylish, thin young people? Signature garments appear to be the solution for the rest of a book's cast.

    Perhaps authors --- particularly the multi-series phenoms --- need wardrobe mistresses?

  6. Mistresses? always welcome even in cosies. My detective Rhona Simpson is height challenged and longs to wear the hooker heels she sees in Yonge Street shoe stores that specialize but is afraid she'd fall off them and have to explain how she broke her ankle. Does anyone remember the retired woman police officer who spoke at Bloody words about her early days when she had to wear skirts and galoshes and her hilarious description of chasing a suspect?