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A prolific writer from northwest Arkansas, Joan Edmiston Hess is the author of dozens of mystery novels for adults and young adults. Known for her humor and use of regional flair, she writes novels that feature a recognizable southern landscape of characters. The books tend to be narrated by wry, no-nonsense characters who are worldly in their knowledge and experience but also down to earth.
Joan Edmiston was born on January 6, 1949, in Fayetteville (Washington County) to Jack D. Edmiston, a wholesale grocer, and Helen Edmiston, a building contractor. She attended high school in Fayetteville. She received a BA in art from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville in 1971 and an MA in education from Long Island University in 1974. She married Jeremy Hess in 1973; they divorced in 1986. They had two children, Rebecca and Joshua Hadley.
Hess worked in real estate sales in Fayetteville from 1974 to 1980 and taught art at a private preschool in Fayetteville until 1984, when she became a freelance writer. She has written articles and stories for Mystery Scene, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and others and was included in The Year’s 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories in 1997.
Her first novel, Strangled Prose, was published in 1986 by Ballantine. Hess claims to have written ten unpublished romance novels before switching to mystery. She has written several series of novels. The “Claire Malloy” series of mysteries centers upon a widow who runs a bookstore in a refurbished train car in the not-quite-Fayetteville town of Farberville, Arkansas, down the hill from the University of Arkansas. Malloy struggles to raise her daughter while solving mysteries and somehow finds the time to sell books. The “Ozarks Murder” series is set in the Ozark Mountains in the fictitious small town of Maggody, Arkansas, and follows the exploits of Police Chief Arly Hanks, who has returned to her hometown to live near her mother after a disastrous marriage in New York. The “Theo Bloomer” mysteries, published under the pseudonym Joan Hadley, follow Bloomer, a retired florist. The Bloomer books are not set in Arkansas. Hess has also published short story collections titled Death of a Romance Writer and Other Stories (Five Star, 2002) and Bigfoot Stole My Wife and Other Stories (Five Star, 2003).
Hess’s work is marked by a sense of humor and playful plot twists. She often alludes to Arkansas locales but fictionalizes them for humorous effect. Her Ozarks Mysteries books are littered with bootleggers, hound dogs, sinful preachers, and other stock Southern characters whom she reinvents by adding humor to their lifestyles. Her narrators often exhibit a wry sense of humor and tend to be clever, self-deprecating, and honest.
Hess is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and is the executive secretary and former president of the American Crime Writers League. She is the president and organizer of the Arkansas Mystery Writers Alliance and a member of other mystery and crime writer organizations.
Hess was nominated for an Anthony Award for Strangled Prose in 1986 and was nominated for an Agatha Award for Mischief in Maggody in 1988. A Diet to Die For won the American Mystery Award for best traditional novel of 1989. O Little Town of Maggody was nominated for an Agatha Award and an Anthony Award for best novel of 1993. Her short story, “Too Much to Bare,” won the Agatha Award in 1991 and the McCavity Award from Mystery Readers International. Another story, “The Last to Know,” was nominated for the Agatha Award and the McCavity Award in 1993.
Hess has been a guest lecturer at UA; Missouri State University in Springfield; Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio; the University of Missouri–Kansas City; Hood College in Frederick, Maryland; and Rice University in Houston, Texas. She currently lives in Fayetteville. Among her recent novels are Damsels in Distress (2007), Mummy Dearest (2008), Merry Wives of Maggody (2010), Deader Homes and Gardens (2012), and Murder as a Second Language (2013).
For additional information:
Internet Book List. http://www.iblist.com/author2115.htm (accessed May 19, 2014).
Kazas, Tom. “The Mystery of Writing.” Arkansas Democrat Sunday Magazine, March 30, 1986, pp. 3, 12.
Maggody.com. http://www.maggody.com/ (accessed May 19, 2014).
C. L. Bledsoe
Last Updated 12/7/2016
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