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.

Time’s fun when you’re having flies (Kermit)

Boy, am I tired.

I’ve had book signings at Coldwater Creek, the AARP 50+ in New Orleans, the Thousand Springs Festival of the Arts on Ritter Island in Hagerman, Idaho, a gorgeous spot harboring a Mosquitosaurus rex whose bite caused one eye to swell shut for two days, and Barnes and Noble. I’ve been interviewed on TV for the second time. All while working at my day job.

I did pretty well at Thousand Springs. I sold both books at a discount, and wore shades to hide my grotesquely swollen face so the children wouldn’t scream and run away, thereby preventing their parents from buying my books. By Monday I was at least recognizable. People just said I looked tired. By Friday I just had a little red bump, which is what most people ever get in the first place. You couldn’t even see it on TV, which was my main concern.

I didn’t do so well at Barnes and Noble, though. They ordered in plenty of books this time because last year I sold out in an hour and fifteen minutes both times, and so there were still some left after four hours. It was really slow. Really really slow.Then I found out that it was Conference weekend. That’s a big Mormon event that takes people out of town or keeps them glued to their TVs for the duration. I should have known. There wasn’t much traffic on the streets either.The upside is that Barnes and Noble will now have to put my books on their shelves, at least until they all get bought.

I wish there were some way to get them to put them there on a regular basis. Guess I’m just not famous enough yet.

I’m blogging from work today because I’m on call and waiting around for frozen sections on a case that starts (starts!) at 4 pm, assuming it’s on time, which at that time of day would be a bloody miracle. By the time I get home tonight there will barely be time to eat and crash, let alone blog, check e-mail, look at Facebook, feed the cat, etc. I wish I could retire now, but I’m scared to let go of the regular paycheck. I’m scared to be one of those people who retire thinking their investments will allow them to live out their golden years in comfort, and then the economy takes a dump and it all goes away. 

Do you suppose that things will settle down after the election?

What if Romney gets elected and then we get a Democratic Congress that doesn’t let him do anything? How is that going to be an improvement over what we have now?

What if Medicare and Social Security go away?

Personally, I feel that dying with one’s boots on is way overrated.