Updated: Apr 12
Every time I get a chance to chat with today's author, I always get a little giddy. He is without a doubt one of my all time favorite mystery writers. He's definitely one of the best mystery writers in the world. And chances are, quite a few of you won't know him by name. But you'll certainly know his work...that is, if you're a fan of fun, witty mysteries...like those of a certain defective detective named Adrian Monk.
You see, Hy was one of the head writers of USA Network's hugely popular TV show, MONK. He also worked on the same network's WHITE COLLAR. But he's done so much more!
I first became a fan of his way back in my college days in the 90s. My best friend and I were big logics problem nerds and would often buy books filled with logics problems to solve. Eventually, we discovered a little book in the puzzle section of our favorite bookstore called ALMOST PERFECT CRIMES. We were intrigued. After all, not only did my friend and I enjoy puzzles, we were big mystery fans to boot. So we picked it up, read the first few mini-mysteries and were instantly hooked. We ended up buying every single mini-mystery book Hy Conrad ever wrote (and this way long before MONK was a glimmer in Andy Breckman's eye. As a matter of fact, I remember the moment my friend and I first saw Hy's name flash across the credits in an episode of our favorite mystery TV show and were overjoyed at seeing it.
Fast forward to 2011 when I ran a different publishing company called Seven Realms Publishing. Being the nerdy fan I was, I didn't know why Hy didn't have an entire library of mystery novels out there for voracious fans to devour. So I reached out to him and asked if he would be interested in writing one for 7R. After a little nudging, he agreed and in 2012, we released Rally 'Round the Corpse (which would later go on to become TOURED TO DEATH (An Amy's Travel Mystery) via Kensington Books). It was just an amazing honor to have been able to publish Hy Conrad's first mystery novel and it's a memory I'll cherish until the day I leave this earth.
Since those early days, Hy has gone on to write quite a few more mysteries, including two more Amy's Travel Mysteries, several MONK novels, and another series featuring a reporter trying to protect her elderly dad and his secrets known as The Callie McFee Mysteries. Additionally, he's got some awesome movie news down the pike as well, but I'll let him share all that with you.
For now, let's have a conversation with Hy Conrad!
Thanks for taking time to talk to us today, Hy. We’ll start this interview where it all began for us, The Amy’s Travels Mysteries, featuring Amy Abel and her wonderfully entertaining mother, Fanny, as they (as cozy mysteries often require) reluctantly solve crimes across the globe. What can you tell us about Amy and her fun adventurous tours and the mysteries that inevitably develop? Where did the idea come from?
Years ago, when the internet was in its infancy, no one knew how it would evolve. For a while, people thought that AOL and CompuServe should provide original fiction, so CompuServe approached me to write a mystery serial, with new chapters appearing every day and a new story every month. What I came up with was Abel Adventures, with an amateur sleuth named Tom Abel leading tours and stumbling over murders in every corner of the world. This was great fun and a lot of work. When the series ended after four years, I put the idea aside until you approached me about writing a mystery novel. I changed Tom to Amy but kept the mother, Fanny, the same. The series combined my two favorite things, intricate, solvable mysteries and exotic world travel.
How many books are in the Amy Abel series now? What exotic locales have they explored? Now I know you’re an avid traveler. Do any of these destinations appear in Amy’s books? If so, which ones?
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to all the locations in the Amy books. I think it adds a sense of realism that you can’t get from Google maps and travel sites. For instance, until I went to Agra in India, I had no idea that dense fog was such a feature of the landscape. This led to a suspenseful scene of chasing a suspect through the fog in the forest above the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, there are only three books in the Amy series: Toured to Death, Dearly Departed and Death on the Patagonian Express. At some point, I just became too busy with other projects.
On the upside, the Hallmark Network has been talking to me for years about adapting the Amy Mysteries into a movie franchise. We finally signed contracts, with the hope of filming the first one this fall in Croatia, with me serving as writer and co-executive producer. Although anything can still happen, we are optimistic about bringing Amy to the screen in early 2024.
Now what a lot of people might not realize (if they’ve read the setup for this interview, they know now!), but you were one of the wonderfully devious writers of USA Network’s Monk, starring Tony Shalhoub. Later, you also had the great fortune to write several of the Monk novels as well. What are some of your favorite things writing about the character of Monk? I can imagine he’s fraught with frustrations, as well. What might some of those be?
Writing for Monk was one of the highlights of my career. My favorite part was being in the writers’ room, the only mystery guy in a room full of great comedy minds. Working with Tony was also a joy. He would take ordinary lines and fill them with so much meaning, making us sound better than we actually were. The only frustrations were (a) we had a limited budget and couldn’t do things like put Monk on a cruise ship and (b) Tony didn’t want us to repeat too many of Monk’s OCD moments. The whole point of OCD, of course, is that the person takes comfort in repeating certain behaviors, but Tony kept wanting us to come up with new, funny ticks.
Besides Amy Abel and Monk, you also have another series of mysteries called The Callie McFee Mysteries. What can you tell us about them? About Callie? How is the tone in this series different from Amy Abel’s books?
The two Callie McFee mysteries, The Fixer’s Daughter and Sins of the Family, are emotionally more complex than the Amy mysteries. The premise is that an investigative reporter returns to Texas to repair relationships with her father, Buddy, a political fixer who has been covering up scandals for the past forty years. Things come to a head when Buddy starts to develop dementia, a condition that threatens all the secrets locked up in his mind. Callie then faces the dilemma of getting to the truth while still trying to protect her father. It’s not as dark as it sounds since I always find ways to insert humor into my work. I’m now halfway through the third book but have been waylaid by new, more time-sensitive work.
I came to know you and become a huge fan of yours long before Monk. As I mentioned in the front matter of this interview, while in college, my best friend and I became addicted to your numerous mini-mysteries books…books with several short mysteries the reader can solve themselves using logic, observation to the story details, and maybe a little outside-the-box thinking. What got you started writing these type books? What’s the most rewarding part of writing mini-puzzle mysteries?
Ever since childhood, I’ve been obsessed with stories, how the pieces of a great story fit together to form something surprising but inevitable-feeling. My involvement in mysteries started when a tech friend asked me to come up with something that could work on Laserdisc, an early competitor of the VCR, that had two soundtracks and could skip to individual frames anywhere on the disc. It lent itself perfectly to clue filled mysteries and turned into the MysteryDisc, one of the more successful Lasersdiscs. That opened the door to the mystery game world, and I began to do projects for the Clue brand. Then came a call from a publisher who wanted books of short, solvable mysteries for children and adults. I’ve done 11 of them now, plus various online mini-mysteries.
I haven’t done this type of book in years, but the thrill was always in creating a challenging puzzle with as few moving parts as possible, and then to make every one of them different.
What projects do you have coming down the line? Any more books to look forward to soon? Movies? TV shows? Anything you can share with us?
New projects are always in flux, and I’ve learned to become a kind of Zen Master, fully accepting whatever works out and whatever gets postponed or cancelled. Right now, my plate is pretty full. I did some consulting work on the Monk movie, which will be filming in May in Toronto. Then I’ve been asked to work on a Hindi version of the Monk series to be filmed in Bollywood in June. The first Amy movie is slotted to be filmed this fall. But all of this may be upended by the possibility of a writers’ strike.
Now when I first approached you about writing a mystery novel a few years back (what would eventually become Toured to Death, the first Amy Abel mystery), you were a bit reluctant. You had so many writing credits under your belt, but you hadn’t written a full-length novel before. Since my last question for these interviews tends to always be somepiece of advice to aspiring, new, and veteran writers out there, I thought maybe you could talk about this hesitancy for a source of encouragement to those writers. What pushed you through to finish Toured to Death? What did you learn from the experience?
There are so many things you learn the hard way in this artform. You need to maintain your original vision, what attracted you to the idea in the first place, and yet still be flexible enough to see where the story may be leading you. That’s why I always work from a very loose outline. I remember writing one of the Monk novels. There was this character who appeared in one chapter, to give Monk and Natalie some expert information. Two chapters later, I needed another character to divert Natalie from Monk’s side for a while. I wound up using this same character who then became Natalie’s love interest. He later turned into one of the bad guys - when I needed an inside-man bad guy - and wound up getting killed. If I had started from a full, detailed outline, this never would have happened.
If you want to know more about Hy Conrad and his books, check out his fantastic website HERE. He has links to his books for all major retailers on the BOOKS page. And while you're there, check out some of his mini-mysteries and see if you can solve them!
As always be sure to return here next Wednesday for an all new interview with another amazing mystery author.