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How a Real Life Murder Began My Journey as a Mystery Writer

IN THE October 7 ISSUE

FROM THE 2020 Articles,
andMysteryrat's Maze
SECTIONS

by Paula Bernstein

Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of Murder is a Nightmare and a link to purchase it.

It was a sunny Sunday in April 1990. My husband, my visiting brother-in-law, our four-year-old daughter, and my husband’s favorite cousin Stephanie, our only LA relative, were having brunch on the patio of a charming restaurant on Main Street in Santa Monica. Stephanie had recently divorced her abusive husband and was trying to get her life back in order.

Paula Bernstein

After lunch, she invited us to see her new apartment, only a few blocks away. While the boys took a quick walk to the beach, she and I talked about interior decorating, planned a furniture shopping trip, and ate home-baked cookies. When we hugged goodbye, later that afternoon, I never imagined it would be the last time I saw her alive.

We got the horrible news the next afternoon, when her father called from New York to tell us she’d been killed that night by a man who broke into her apartment and stabbed her to death. We were devastated. It was the most awful thing that had ever happened in our family.

I was so traumatized and frightened, I insisted on upgrading our security system, and even purchased a gun from a police officer who was upgrading. Its presence in my safe gave me a sense of security.

Stephanie’s death wasn’t a mystery to be solved. Her neighbors heard her scream, called the police, who were half a block away, and they caught the killer in her apartment. The bloody knife was in his hand. He is now in prison for the rest of his life.

For many years I had been taking writing courses at UCLA Extension, and had recently published a book on obstetrics for patients. I even had an agent, who had sold it to a major publisher.

I became obsessed with the idea of writing about Stephanie, as if I could bring her back to life by capturing who she was on the page. I interviewed all her closest friends and colleagues, recording the interviews on my tape recorder. I spent an afternoon with her most significant former lover, learning all about their relationship from his perspective. No, I didn’t talk to her ex-husband. When my interviews were completed, I began to write a psychological novel about what it felt like to have a family member murdered.

As my narrator, I created a character who was a prosecuting attorney. That didn’t work out too well. I was an obstetrician/gynecologist with absolutely no knowledge of law or court procedure. So, I rewrote the first draft, changing her occupation to something I knew about.

Thus, was born, Hannah Kline MD, the heroine of my mystery series. After the second draft was done, I sent it to my agent. She said she couldn’t sell it, because it didn’t fit into any genre. It wasn’t true crime, and it wasn’t a mystery. I put the manuscript in my file cabinet.

Ten years later, I tried again. I turned the novel into a mystery, Murder in the Family, creating a great many fictional events and characters that weren’t part of Stephanie’s real life. It was a more interesting book, but I felt unsatisfied. It wasn’t a substitute for telling her true story. I did however like the characters I’d created, so I started a new novel Murder by Lethal Injection. I was always good at finishing my first drafts, but my practice was still very demanding, and I knew I needed to do more to make my books publishable.

In 2010, thirty years after Stephanie’s murder, I finally retired from my full time medical practice. Letting go was difficult. Who would I be if I wasn’t Dr. Bernstein? Medicine had been the foundation of my self esteem, the energy that fueled my intellect. What would I do if I couldn’t practice?

One answer seemed obvious. I would take my writing seriously. I decided to start by publishing a collection of my short stories, and writing a few more. I began work on Joanna’s Tale, the true story of Stephanie’s murder, told from the point of view of her ghost. I decided, after finishing the first draft, that I wanted the help of a professional editor. A friend introduced me to Linda Schreyer, and the rest is history. She has edited all my work ever since.

Once the short story was finished and published in the collection Potpourri, I felt free to finally publish Murder in the Family. Over the next ten years, I completed six more books in my Hannah Kline Mystery Series.

At first, I thought of writing as my entertaining retirement hobby, but now, I’m proud to say that I truly consider myself a writer.

To enter to win an ebook copy of Murder is a Nightmare, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “nightmare,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 17, 2020. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week!

You can use this link to purchase this book from Amazon. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:

Paula Bernstein is a New York native, who migrated to California to attend graduate school at Caltech. After several years of post doctoral work, she escaped her laboratory, and went to medical school. Like her series heroine, Hannah Kline, Paula spent her professional life practicing Obstetrics and Gynecology in Los Angeles. When she retired from her full time practice, she reinvented herself as a writer of medical mysteries. She is the author of the seven volume Hannah Kline Mysteries.Her short story, On Call for Murder, a prequel to her series, was included in the 2017 Sisters in Crime anthology, LAst Resort. Paula’s website is HannahKlineMysteries.com.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Karen October 7, 2020 at 9:04pm

Thanks for sharing this journey into writing.

Reply

2 Mary Holshouser October 8, 2020 at 10:55am

We never know what will set
off a creative urge. Regrettably
this was a sad one but I’m sure
a favorite cousin is looking down
and smiling. thanks
txmlhl(at)yahoo(dot)com

Reply

3 Laurie Stevens
Twitter: @lauriestevens1
October 9, 2020 at 4:34pm

So interesting, Paula. What a constructive way to work out a tragedy. And you’ve done so well with your books, which I enjoy!!

Reply

4 Kara Marks October 9, 2020 at 11:27pm

I’d love to read this. legallyblonde1961@yahoo.com

Reply

5 Dana October 10, 2020 at 10:28am

Paula, I have been a fan ever since you taught me as a teenager how to respect the body I was born in. Later you delivered my babies and became a mentor and friend. As a fellow writer, I have always admired your fierce independence and honest writing. Congrats on your newest book, and here’s to much deserved and continued success!

Reply

6 Kris Bock October 11, 2020 at 8:34am

What a powerful story. I also wrote a mystery novel inspired by a real experience, of finding the body of a murder victim hidden in the wilderness. But it’s much worse when it’s somebody you know.

Reply

7 Lorie
Twitter: @mysteryrat
October 19, 2020 at 9:57am

We have a winner!

Reply

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