I’d been a mystery reader for years. So I had a pretty good idea of what the genre was.
But I’d never read a paranormal novel.

My first published mystery novel, Mother, Murder and Me, turned out to be a paranormal mystery. How did this happen?

One day when I was lying on my sofa, exhausted from a case of bronchitis, I felt – saw – sensed – something hovering over me. I realized it was a mother. A ghost of a mother, actually.

The character was so compelling that she insisted on being written about. From that beginning, this character’s adult daughter became the main character, and her recently deceased mother – my ghost mother – came back to help her daughter out of trouble. Being a mystery novel, the trouble involved several murders, beginning with my M.C. discovering the corpse of her longtime therapist and becoming the NYPD’s perp of choice. Thanks to my M.C. — and her ghost mother’s — sleuthing, the killer tries to kill her. A note: my M.C. had been in therapy for years, mainly because of her relationship with her mother….

Now that this ghost mother had inserted herself into my mystery, I needed to figure out what she could be and do. She needed to be believable, in her own way, in the story. How would she act? Where did she come from? Why was she there? Was her daughter the only one who could see and hear her? Did she have special powers? Did she eat? Sleep? Could she go through walls?

She acted just like she did in life, according to her daughter: bossy, loud, trying to control her daughter’s life – in a loving way, of course. When asked where she came from, she pointed upward, toward the ceiling. She was there, as she loudly voiced, to help her daughter out of trouble (of course). Her daughter was the only one who could see and hear her.

Special powers? Being invisible, materializing and dematerializing at will, accompanied by moans and groans about the effort. And she’d fine-tuned her mind-reading ability, as far as her daughter’s mind was concerned. Which was one more thing annoying her daughter. Yes, she ate. But as she told her daughter, she didn’t enjoy it as much as before. Sleep? Definitely, and with loud snores. And she could go through walls.

Like me, my ghost mother had always loved a mystery, so she was a natural sidekick for her daughter’s sleuthing. In fact, she now fancied herself as Jessica Fletcher or Miss Marple – depending on her mood. Perfect.

Much to my surprise, I had ended up with a paranormal mystery. The paranormal thread – the ghost mother – was woven into the mystery, so tightly that it just seemed like a natural (pardon the expression) element of the whole. To my mind, there was no jarring of worlds: everything fit together nicely.

So my advice is: don’t be afraid of a cross-genre novel. Especially if a character from another – world? plants herself firmly in your subconscious. And refuses to leave.

Mother, Murder and Me was the winner of Swyers Publishing’s 2011 First New Author (fiction) Contest and was published by Swyers in April 2012. It is available on, Barnes and and from the publisher. Mother, Murder and Me is the first book in the “Mother and Me” mystery series. The author recently completed the sequel and is now working on the third book in the series.

About Julie Hennrikus aka Julia Henry

One woman, three names, many books. As Julia Henry she writes the Garden Squad series for Kensington. As J.A. Hennrikus she writes the Theater Cop series, and as Julianne Holmes she wrote the Clock Shop series. Click on my profile picture to connect with me on Facebook and Instagram! @JHAuthors
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  1. edithmaxwell says:

    This sounds like a really fun read, Sandra! Thanks for sharing its genesis.

  2. What a great description of how a character takes on flesh (or protoplasm) — thanks, Sandra!

    • sandy gardner says:

      thanks, Beth! I love your comment about protoplasm! Yes, she did exactly that….and she keeps on materializing….and dematerializing….. as the story unfolds.

  3. Love it; the writing process is so mysterious sometimes, the way that a character just springs to life from nothingness. The book sounds like a great read!

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