If you’ve never read a book by Joan Hess, stop here and go do that. I’ll wait.
Joan left us last November, but she made such a BIG impression throughout the years that we’ll be talking about her misadventures for the better part of eternity. Like the time she was detained by that Saudi prince’s security squad, who spotted her skulking about the hotel and firing her water pistol at people and plants alike. Or the time she and her posse stormed the stage at Malice Domestic to present the first Whimsey Award (a stuffed groundhog dressed in a tiny little choir robe). Or the time she arranged for a flock of pink flamingos to be installed on Margaret Maron’s lawn.
Joan played violin by ear, was a world-class bridge player, and invented the milk-jug-razorback. But she’s best known as the author of the Maggody and the Claire Malloy mysteries, and she completed the final book in the Amelia Peabody series, The Painted Queen, after the death of her dear friend Barbara Mertz.
Periodically she would add to her Cabin Fever Haiku collection, with gems such as this one:
Don’t hide the bodies
In the drifts beside the house
Spring will bring the cops
And she sometimes sent out a newsletter that chronicled the goings-on in Quirky-by-the-Sea, an imaginary village populated by some of her writer friends.
Joan’s writing was often dismissed as fluff because of its humor. This was a source of tremendous frustration for all of us, and a frequent topic of conversation.
One day in 2004, Joan and I were bemoaning the lack of respect for comedic fiction, when Joan decided that we would collaborate on a blockbuster novel. We’d model it after those blood-and-guts manly adventure/thrillers, and we’d publish it under a male pseudonym.
Within a few days we’d cranked out a summary and a few random scenes. Then we lost interest. To be honest, I’d forgotten all about this project until I found the pages in my catch-all cabinet during a frenzied housecleaning.
I recognize the handwriting in the notes about the opening scene, but otherwise I have no idea which of us wrote what.
For those of you who miss Joan, who want to see another side of Joan-the-writer, here is all there is or ever will be of the BLOCKBUSTER BESTSELLER Escape to Nowhere by Dick Harley.