With nearly 40 novels under her belt, prolific author Sarah Zettel has written in many genres: science-fiction, fantasy, romance, YA, horror, and mystery.
“I actually think it’s an advantage as a writer because every genre gives you a different view into the art of storytelling. Each genre has its own emphasis and expectations and requirements. It requires you to learn a new set of skills or to hone your old skills. So, by writing in so many genres, they start to play off each other. You start to bring the skills you learned in one genre to all the others. For example, mysteries require a tightly-honed plot. They have to be carefully constructed. When you’re writing mysteries, you’re really focusing on that plot, the construction. That’s a skill that will help make every other book you write a better, tighter, sharper read,” explained Zettel, of Washtenaw County, a University of Michigan alumna.
Writing as Darcie Wilde, Zettel has recently released “The Secret of the Lost Pearls,” which is the latest in the “Useful Woman” series featuring protagonist Rosalind Thorne. To date, Zettel has written 11 books under this pseudonym, including all six “Useful Woman” novels.
Alongside fellow mystery authors Frank Anthony Polito and Darci Hannah, Zettel will participate in the “Cozy Mystery Hour” event at Schuler’s Books at the Meridian Mall in Okemos on Thursday, Jan. 19, at 7:30 p.m. The authors will discuss their work and sign copies of their books.
“I’m really looking forward to it. It should be an excellent talk. I’m always excited to get together with my fellow Michigan mystery authors and we’re really looking forward to talking to our readers,” said Zettel.
“Lost Pearls” – named as a Must-Read by USA Today and to the Editor’s List on Amazon – is a historical mystery set in the Regency era that is inspired by the works of Jane Austen. In it, Rosalind – who has a reputation for discreetly helping high society ladies in need for a modest fee – is hired to assist Bethany Hodgeson with a delicate predicament.
A valuable pearl necklace has gone missing. Bethany’s husband, Gerald Douglas, believes the thief is Nora, Bethany’s disgraced sister. Nora created quite a scandal when she eloped at 16 and returned three years later, telling the family that her husband died. Once Rosalind investigates, she discovers that the family harbors even more secrets and scandals, including fraud, forgery, blackmail, and even murder. It falls to Rosalind to uncover the truth and discover who is a thief – and who is a killer.
“Lost Pearls” was directly inspired by “Pride and Prejudice,” Austen’s classic 1813 novel of manners, which Zettel occasionally rereads. Occurring in the early 19th century, Mrs. Bennet’s fervent wish is marrying off her five daughters to wealthy men in order to secure their futures.
“I was thinking that it must’ve been really rough being one of the younger Bennet sisters. Here you are constantly being compared to these two paragons of older sisters (Jane and Elizabeth). I thought if I was one of the younger Bennett sisters – if I was Lydia, for example – I might run away for the sake of running away. In (‘Pride and Prejudice’), Lydia runs away with a ne’er-do-well named (George) Wickham. She’s portrayed as very silly, naïve, and has to be bailed out by Mr. Darcy,” explained Zettel. “Then I thought: What if – which are the two most dangerous words in the writer’s language – what if Lydia wasn’t all that silly? What if Lydia went to Wickham and said, ‘I know a way where we can both make out like bandits’? That idea sparked this book.”
Although it draws from the situation presented in “Pride and Prejudice,” “Lost Pearls” is not a retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” – something Zettel cannot reiterate enough.
“I took that situation where we have a young woman who, in order to get away from her controlling family and get herself some money because there were so few ways back then for a young woman to get money and become independent, what if she made a deal with a ne’er-do-well on the grounds of the possibility that her family would either pay to see her married or get her back? That’s where the story started,” said Zettel.
The author spoke about creating Rosalind.
“As a Regency writer, I’m always looking for new ideas and fresh takes. One place to find them is to read the novels that were written in the period. In the middle of one of those novels (‘Almack’s’ by Marianne Spencer), I found the concept of the ‘useful woman’ – a character of aristocratic birth who’s fallen on hard times and doing the Regency equivalent of couch-surfing. Her friends were inviting her to stay with them for long periods of time. In return, she was doing things like helping to manage their social calendar and helping with their correspondence. She was described as having become a very ‘useful woman,’” she explained.
Fascinated with this idea, Zettel pitched it to her editor, Wendy McCurdy. She even sent several sample chapters for a possible romance novel. However, McCurdy told Zettel it should be a mystery instead.
“I do read Austen and her contemporaries to get ideas,” said Zettel. “One of the advantages of the English Regency: You can go back and read the primary sources. There are a ton of diaries, letters and travel books. This time period was the birth of the modern novel, so there is just endless amounts of material – not just Austen but all around her. I am constantly discovering new diaries, new articles, new novels written during that time that are just full of interesting tidbits and inspiration.”
Robin Agnew, the former owner of Aunt Agatha’s in Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti- based science-fiction author Steven Piziks praised Zettel’s work.
“Sarah Zettel is an amazingly fluid writer, switching between genres and even age ranges,” said Agnew. “Her latest series as Darcie Wilde featuring Rosalind Thorne is smart, historically accurate, and very, very clever. Sarah is a big fan of golden age mysteries, which shows in her writing. I’m also a fan of her Jennifer Hawkins cozy series, which is pure fun… Any kind of book she chooses to write, I’m there.”
Added Piziks: “Sarah Zettel is an entertainment powerhouse, and her books enthrall her readers.”
For questions or more information about Zettel’s appearance at Schuler’s, contact (517) 349-8840 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The event is free and open to the public. Reservations are not required but are encouraged.