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Women’s Mystery Month: Women Writers Share Their Stories

Jobs your favorite writers had before they hit it big

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You might be surprised to find how many of our female mystery writers drew upon their past careers to inspire their novels. See what jobs your favorite authors had before they hit it big in writing, and how those jobs influenced their work.

Patricia Wentworth helped challenge society’s perception of the “stay-at-home woman” with her Miss Silver mysteries. Depicted as someone not unlike the author, Miss Silver is an unassuming detective, portrayed as such because of her age and gender. However, despite these “shortcomings,” she proves that, more often than not, she is able to find clues that even the most astute police officers overlook. Not only did Wentworth upend stereotypes of women with characters like Miss Silver, but her popularity in crime fiction also helped advance women writers during the early 20th century.

Dorothy Uhnak used her fourteen years as a policewoman with the New York City Transit Authority—twelve of which she spent as a detective—as inspiration for her gritty crime novels. Her heroic efforts protecting the city even gained her a bit of fame when she was in the news for taking down a mugger who held her at gunpoint. When she retired in 1967, she claimed that leaving the force was due to sexual discrimination. Despite her change in careers, however, Uhnak continued to look at life through the eyes of a cop, and was able to translate her experiences into a number of successful novels, including Law and Order, The Bait, and her memoir about her time as a law enforcer, Policewoman.

Despite finding success as a senior editor for Seventeen magazine, Susan Isaacs yearned for work that felt more substantial and began to freelance as a political speechwriter. Isaacs notes that this job taught her one of the fundamentals of writing fiction: drawing out the characters. By observing politicians and understanding the messages they wanted to convey, she learned how to adapt her writing to their different styles. As her speech-writing career dwindled, she had more time to focus on fiction, which led to her first novel, the bestseller Compromising Positions. Since achieving success as a fiction author, Isaacs still finds herself writing about politics, but in a much more sinister medium.

Ruth Rendell had a short-lived journalism career that cemented her destiny to become a fiction writer. Admitting to having a compulsion for telling stories, she began working as a feature writer for the Chigwell Times when she was eighteen. The end of her career with the periodical would come, however, after she pre-wrote a story about a local tennis club’s annual dinner that failed to mention the mid-speech death of the after-dinner speaker. Rendell would resign a day later. After finding her niche within crime fiction, she is now the author of the popular Detective Wexford series.

These women writers found success by pushing their professional limits and finding ways to work their experiences into their love for writing.

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