I had to choose a pseudonym. I write darkish, dense, wry, occasionally acerbic tales that hover perilously close to another genre called magical realism, without ever quite going over the line. Heretofore, I’d never written a cozy mystery. But now I can write anything I want, so I thought I’d try a series of cozy mystery short stories for Kindle. Authors who write in differing genres create pen names for the various series. I needed a cozy name. It wasn’t hard. “Jill Bonner.” My grandmother’s big fox terrier.
The dog in the pic isn’t Jill and isn’t even a fox terrier (it’s an English white terrier), but imagine her with brown spots and that was Jill. Jill was the first dog in my life, hers the first canine kisses and muddy footprints on those tiny starched pinafores my mother ironed with precision. I learned to walk hanging on to her fur, so I’m told.
And Bonner was my grandmother’s maiden name – Ann Lucile Bonner – later Scindy Padgett. She’d longed to be an actress and insisted on spelling “Scindy” with an S as a sort of stage name she would never have. The stage was forbidden territory for proper young women in the late 1800’s, the lair of questionable virtue. So Scindy dutifully subverted her taste for drama and became a primary school teacher. Until wild, handsome David Padgett came along, and she married him. Probably, I suspect, because at the time he was the manager of a traveling Chautauqua show, and maybe she got to shed the straitjacket of propriety and show her stuff on limelit stages far from home. If she did, she never told. But she never lost her taste for drama. The sort of drama found in what are now called romance novels. And cozy mysteries. Bingo.
By the time I was born the marriage was over and she lived alone, running an antiques shop from her living room in a house across from the cemetery on old Indiana Highway 41 in Vincennes. That living room was like the set for “Fanny and Alexander,” a wonderland of spinning wheels, Victorian bric-a-brac and a carved table with a tasseled brocade tablecloth beneath which I created imaginary realms. She never remarried, but much later I heard stories of visits by the legendary local veterinarian, aristocratic “Doc Tade,” whose horse was often seen tied to the hitching post outside. He always brought flowers, I was told, on his visits to doctor the frequently ailing Jill. (How many fox terriers enjoy house calls, much less bouquets from their vets? Those were the days!) Horses were long gone by my time, but Scindy wouldn’t let my dad tear out that hitching post. It stayed until she died.
There were no romance novels back then, and no cozy mysteries, but if there had been my grandmother would have read them
by the truckload. As it was, she voraciously read the available fiction, itself an earlier version of the endless themes reiterated in contemporary women’s novels. I still have her books, including her favorites – Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and everything by Anna Katharine Green. After Jill, a subsequent, and final, fox terrier was named “Maggie” for the 1893 Stephen Crane novel, Maggie, a Girl of the Streets. Scindy devoured novels about women imperiled by the crushing social restraints of her time, and about others who managed to fall into “good” relationships with men. Of course I’d choose her name, and Jill’s, as the author of a cozy mystery series!
And so sleuth “Mandy Dru” (It was originally “Nancy Dru” until lawyer friend muttered about fines for licensing infringements.) is born in the shadow of my grade school mystery favorite, under the pen name of a thwarted actress and her beflowered dog. Mandy’s struggles are very contemporary, but I know Scindy would absolutely love them. These are for you, grandma!