Message From The Author
BAD DATES CAN BE MURDER
FIRST-TIME NOVELIST HARLEY JANE KOZAK PENS A ROMANTIC COMEDY MYSTERY
By Diane Snyder
Actress turned author Harley Jane Kozak grew up in a household where mysteries and Regency romances were popular. Her mother, a college professor, voraciously read Georgette Heyer's mysteries and romances, and Kozak and two of her three sisters inherited that inclination.
"We think of it as almost a defect because we go through them like candy," confides Kozak, whose real name is Susan. "One of my sisters was desperately trying to get through law school and instead of studying her law books, she'd find herself reading Regency romances."
With that upbringing, it's not surprising that Kozak has written a debut novel that mixes mystery and romance—but with humor and in a contemporary setting. In DATING DEAD MEN (Doubleday), L.A. greeting-card artist and card-shop owner Wollie Shelley is involved in a dating project that demands she go out with 40 men in 60 days. But she's more eager to collect the $5,000 it pays than to see if Mr. Right turns up.
What does turn up is a dead body, which Wollie (pronounced "Wally") almost runs over on her way to visit her schizophrenic brother at a mental hospital. Before she can leave, she's grabbed and temporarily taken hostage by a man in surgical scrubs, who's actually an ex-con on the run from the mob. But wouldn't you know that "Doc," as Wollie comes to call him, is just her type—and this is the closest male contact she's had in some time.
Soon they're dodging bullets and squaring off against assailants—antics both frightening and funny—as Wollie tries to run her shop and keep pace with her dating. Think Lucille Ball with a sprinkling of Stephanie Plum and a dash of Mary Richards. A far cry from what Kozak originally intended the novel to be—literary fiction with a caper subplot.
"Then I thought that maybe this is actually a murder mystery," says Kozak, who started writing the book in the mid-90s. "At that time I was blind-dating a lot and reading self-help books on how to find the man of your dreams. There seemed to be a theme—make a list of what this guy has to be to satisfy you, then stick to the list. And I thought, wouldn't it be great if you met somebody who flunked the list 100 percent and turned out to be Mr. Right?" That happens to Wollie. Not only is Doc an ex-con, he smokes and doesn't have good shoes (or, in fact, any shoes at first)—three no-nos.
It's been eight years since Kozak's last blind date, and the author has dedicated Dating Dead Men to him. He's now her husband, lawyer Gregory Aldisert, and they live in California with their three children, 3H-year-old Audrey (already skilled at renaming Mom's computer files) and 18-month-old twins Lorenzo and Gianna.
With such a substantial household—there's also a cat and two dogs—it's no wonder Kozak opted to do this interview from what she calls her "mobile office" (i.e., her car), though it was parked just outside her home. After a trip to the dentist earlier that day, her mouth is numb with novocaine, but Kozak's personable sense of humor prevails.
Writing, she says, has always been a passion, but Kozak first pursued acting, landing roles on soap operas Texas, Guiding Light and Santa Barbara, which killed off her character by dropping a giant letter "C" on her. She wrote essays for Soap Opera Digest, then moved on to films, most notably Parenthood and When Harry Met Sally… , and was set to play Billy Campbell's ex-wife in the ABC drama Once and Again, but pregnancy forced her to pull out.
"Then as I approached my 40s, I was moving from leading
lady to mom of leading lady," relates Kozak, who turns 47 this month. "The material was getting less interesting as writing became more interesting. So I started on one short story that just kept growing and became DATING DEAD MEN."
While Wollie and her creator share a lengthy history of blind dates and a penchant for greeting-card creation—Kozak has made her own Christmas cards for 20 years—another actress inspired 6-foot-tall Wollie's physical appearance, Uma Thurman. Kozak was shooting a TV movie with the not-so-tall Griffin Dunne (who became the physical inspiration for Doc), when he mentioned summering next door to Thurman. "Just the image of the height difference between them was so funny," says Kozak, who thanks Dunne at the end of her book.
Although Kozak hadn't planned to pen a sequel for Wollie—she wanted Wollie's friend Joey to be the subject of her next book—she's doing so at her publisher's request, which means more dating and dead bodies are on the horizon. Kozak is even up to planning book four, which has a character based on her husband.
So for now, acting is on hold. "Nothing is as compelling to me now as my children or my novels," Kozak says. "And my days are just as busy as they can be. I'm lucky to have time to get my roots done."
For more, visit www.harleyjanekozak.com.
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