Meet Jane Isenberg, the author of four, going on five, books about a Certain Age Sleuth, Bel Barrett. This three part article will let you know how a bright, dedicated teacher and reader, found a new niche as a writer of detective fiction. We LOVE the heroine; we love this new author.
Writers are often asked where they get their inspiration. Notice also, how often hormones run amok are given as a reason for someone’s actions. Middle school kids aren’t the only ones with a lock on hormone induced behavior.
Bel Barrett, a fictional academic/determined detective was conceived, so to speak, when Jane Isenberg had her first hot flash.
“There was a time in my life when I read many, many mysteries and I still enjoy them very much. Part of the reason I decided to make Bel the protagonist of a mystery was that I wanted lots of midlife women to read about her---and most of us do read mysteries. I am enormously gratified when I get e-mail from readers telling me they have given The "M" Word to their sister, mother, friend, or daughter as a fiftieth birthday gift, mother's day present, or stocking stuffer. I love to get mail telling me that a women's group is reading the series. My inner feminist wants lots of women to read about Bel and see menopause as a transformational passage, a clarion call to a new and fulfilling time of life.”
“The figure of the amateur sleuth is an excellent metaphor for or embodiment of the modern midlife woman. Like the amateur sleuth, a midlife woman must be something of a multi-tasker, a shape changer, a shaman, and a problem solver. In The "M" Word, Bel copes with menopause and parenting adult children. In Death in a Hot Flash, she must parent her ill and aging parents and parent her adult kids while trying to maintain her second time round relationship. In Mood Swings to Murder, Bel learns to be the mother of the pregnant bride long distance and in Midlife Can be Murder, she experiences a spiritual identity crisis and reexamines her religious roots. Out of Hormone's Way, the fifth book in the series, due out in August, finds Bel supporting a friend through the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Bel juggles all these tasks while teaching full-time and solving murders!”
“I've always turned to fiction for role models to guide me through difficult passages. Imagine my distress when I found no fictional works featuring menopausal protagonists! My friends and I were all sweating and forgetting and experiencing myriad other symptoms of our dwindling estrogen supply, but there was no literary character to turn to for example or advice.”
“I got so mad that I decided to make one up. I named her Bel after Bel Kaufman, author of Up the Down Staircase and a heroine of mine, and Barrett after Sylvia Barrett, the protagonist of that book. I made Bel a community college English prof because that would give me a chance to write about teaching, which I enjoyed and knew a lot about. Then all I needed was a novel to put Bel in. Meanwhile, she lived in my head.”
“Very soon, the idealistic and talented president of the community college where I taught was forced to resign by a corrupt board of trustees. She had been the first woman as well as the first Latina to head the college. Again, I was livid. I felt that by forcing her resignation they had, in effect, caused her professional death. One day when I was thinking about this, it came to me that I could write a book in which the president of a college is murdered and the amateur sleuth who solves the crime is none other than the menopausal Bel Barrett. And so I began writing The "M" Word, the first book in what became The Bel Barrett Mystery Series.”
“There can be a fair amount of research for these books. For example, Midlife Can Be Murder required research into rock climbing, adult bat mitzvah curriculae, and the dot-com culture, none of which I knew anything about before I began the book. To get the rock climbing details right without risking life and limb, I interviewed a climber who showed me his equipment, explained how to use it, and later read what I'd made of his tutoring and edited it for errors. Although I am now enrolled in an adult bat mitzvah class, I wasn't when I wrote Midlife, so to get that information I interviewed a rabbi and a Hebrew tutor and read The Book of Samuel as well as several books of biblical commentary by feminist scholars. My information about the world of the dot-commers came from one book and several newspaper articles. A friend who has just retired from the Jersey City Police Department answers my questions about police procedures and some legalities. I love doing this research. People are very helpful and the reading is interesting.”