My inspiration for the Toni Day Mystery series

It all started with Murder She Wrote.

All doctors think about retirement, whether it’s making enough money to retire early, or whether they can afford to retire at all, or where they want to live when they retire, and all the fun they’ll have after they do retire.

My husband had a dream of selling the house and living in a motor home and traveling all over the country when I retired, never staying long in one place. I didn’t want that, so I decided to keep working until he got over it. That wasn’t our only point of dissension, and in 2004 we divorced, so I didn’t have to worry about that any more.

In my case, I thought about what I would do to pass the time after retirement, because I’ve known too many doctors who retired and then died. Of boredom? Who knows?

But when Murder She Wrote came on TV, I decided I wanted to be Jessica Fletcher when I grew up. My husband gifted me with a word processor for Christmas, and I sat right down and started writing what is now my first Toni Day mystery, Murder Under the Microscope.

In 1985, when I had less than ten years of pathology practice under my belt at a tiny rural hospital, a locum tenens, or temporary, physician was hired to help with weekend call. The first thing she did was pick a fight with me, verbally abuse my lab techs, and circulate derogatory information about how incompetent the lab and pathologist were.

Nothing happened, of course, and she was gone after three weeks, but in the meantime she did a real number on my self-esteem, and I got no visible support from my medical colleagues. That was when the first seed was planted, and I decided that someday I would kill her off in a book.

In 1982, a sleazy lawyer got our entire medical staff ensnared in a leasing company, which was intended to avoid taxes, and worked quite well until1987 and Black Monday. It all fell apart, the IRS swooped in, and the doctors ended up owing hundreds of thousands in back taxes, interest and penalties. Luckily, I hadn’t gotten involved in the first place, but the whole thing adversely affected the hospital’s bottom line, and I think it was ultimately responsible for us having to sell out to the county hospital in 2001.

I killed him off in Too Much Blood.

In 1995, we acquired a new hospital administrator, who, not to mince words, was a pathological liar and treated employees like shit. I killed him off in Grievous Bodily Harm.

My best friend Rhonda and I were at a party where a friend of ours introduced us to one of her daughters. When she told her daughter that I was a pathologist, the daughter exclaimed, “Eww, you do autopsies? On dead people?”

I explained to her that we are limited to dead people because those live ones complain too much, and Rhonda said that it would be death by autopsy. Ever since, Rhonda has been telling me that I had to write a book called Death by Autopsy, so I did.

In 2013, I was on a Caribbean cruise with a gentleman friend, and we were sitting up on the Lido deck one day when it began to rain, and they had to close the roof. As I watched those massive gears closing the roof with a cacophony of creaks and groans, it occurred to me what a dandy way that would be to murder somebody and have it look like an accident. The result was The Body on the Lido Deck.

Throughout all these stories, Toni’s mother, Fiona, had objected to Toni’s getting involved in matters best left to the police and putting herself in danger. I thought it was about time that Fiona actually had to ask Toni to get involved, and consequently Toni and Hal return to their hometown of Long Beach, California, in A Deadly Homecoming.

One of the editors of Murder Under the Microscope commented that it was too bad that “the awful Robbie” had been sentenced to life in prison for attempted murder, because she was hoping he would show up in future books. “I love a good villain,” was what she said. So I’m resurrecting him in my seventh Toni Day Mystery, with the working title The Twelve Murders of Christmas.

Incidentally, I still haven’t retired.

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I’m back! Where have I been all this time?

The last 2 years have been incredibly busy. In 2017, I went back to working 3/4 time to allow another of my partners to go half time for medical reasons. That meant I was making half again as much money as I had in previous years working half time. Plus, now that I’m over 70, I’m collecting Social Security and mandatory distributions from 2 pension plans. I also had a huge tax deduction for 2016 because of all the repairs on my Hilton Head house, which I then sold, exactly one month before Hurricane Matthew hit and drowned Hilton Head Island.

What to do with all that extra money?

I decided to go all out on marketing for all 5 books. Working with a delightful marketing consultant, Red Hernandez, my books got advertised in Reader’s Digest, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and countless others. I had Hollywood treatments done and screenplays written. I had publicists up the wazoo working on my behalf. I’ve had author videos filmed right here in my home. Finally, all 5 will be made into audiobooks. I spent over $300,000.

Which gave me another huge tax deduction for 2017.

Now, I’ve written a 6th Toni Day mystery, called A Deadly Homecoming.

Here’s what it’s all about.

Pathologist Toni Day returns to her hometown of Long Beach, California. Her mother’s best friend Doris’s husband Dick has disappeared, and Doris has moved in with Toni’s mother and stepfather, convinced that the historic house she shared with Dick is haunted. To make things even more complicated, Doris is also suffering from a mysterious illness.

When Toni and Hal arrive, Doris takes a sudden turn for the worse and ends up in the hospital in a coma. While doctors struggle to diagnose and treat, Toni explores the historic house looking for clues, and finds evidence suggesting that Dick may not be who he seems, as well as a malfunctioning dumbwaiter, a laird’s lug, a secret staircase, and a half-empty bottle of white arsenic. She also finds Dick’s body.

Toni embarks on a whirlwind investigation revealing insurance fraud, identity theft, and serial murder reaching back at least four decades, while struggling to convince doctors that Doris is suffering from chronic arsenic poisoning. The Long Beach police, not accustomed to Toni’s unorthodox methods of crime-solving, are skeptical of her conclusions until Toni herself nearly becomes the final victim.

It’s been through all 3 stages of editing and received Editor’s Choice from iUniverse, the 4th of my 6 books to do so. It has now moved on to Cover Copy Polish, and then Proofreading, and then interior and cover design.

I’ve sold books at Shoshone Art in the Park, and at Twin Falls Art in the Park, and still have Thousand Springs in September and Art of the Gift in December. I’m noticing that people who are new to my books usually want to start at the beginning with Murder Under the Microscope, while those who are familiar with them have already bought all of them, and are impatiently wondering why I don’t have a new one yet. I’ve assured them that it’s coming, it’s coming, but I don’t know when. I’m praying to have it for Thousand Springs, but it’s far from a given.

However, there’s a development.

I received a thumb drive in the mail upon which was the audiobook for The Body on the Lido Deck. I’ve listened to it. It’s good. I approve. Maybe, just maybe, if I don’t have Deadly Homecoming for Thousand Springs, I will have an audiobook to sell.

And that’s where I’ve been all this time.