When Julie Hyzy isn’t trying to sneak her way into famous homes, she keeps busy writing two mystery series for Penguin/Berkley Prime Crime. Grace Among Thieves, the brand-new third installment in the Manor House Mystery (Grace) series, came out this past Tuesday. Julie also writes the New York Times bestselling White House Chef Mystery series. She and her husband have three wonderful daughters and make their home in the Chicago area.
MANSIONS IN MY MIND
by Julie Hyzy
Have we met? You and I, that is… have we interacted in person? Or even online?
I’m going out on a limb here, but if you know me, even a little bit, I’ll bet you’d say that I’m an okay person. Nice, polite, even-tempered. Except in fictional situations I pose no danger to others. I’m not disruptive. I’m able to keep quiet when necessary (er…make that able to keep quiet most of the time). I never take what doesn’t belong to me, and I can be trusted not to touch expensive items in fancy homes.
So then why is it that the White House, The Biltmore Estate, Hearst Castle, and other mansions/tourist attractions won’t let me wander at will? How come I’m not allowed beyond the velvet ropes or into the locked rooms? I’m no threat. Can’t they see that? I’m harmless as a lamb. Come on, White House! You should be able to back me on this. You’ve run my background check often enough.
But no…Invitations to come visit¾and even better, to make myself at home¾never arrive.
What’s wrong with these places?
Can’t they understand that in order to research my novels, I need to wander their halls, explore nooks and crannies, run up stairs, slide down bannisters and (:::winking to Kaye:::) “meander” to my heart’s content? Apparently not.
This I know:
Biltmore would kick me out if they caught me traipsing through the restricted areas.
The White House would have me arrested if I tried sneaking upstairs to the family quarters.
Hearst Castle would haul me out of their gorgeous pool before I completed a single lap.
Fine. Who needs them?
Because none of these prestigious addresses would allow me to roam their grounds freely I needed to fine one that would.
And so…I invented Marshfield Manor.
Marshfield is mine. Every extravagant inch of it. Named for the famed and beloved Chicago department store, Marshall Field’s (which was bought out by Macy’s some years back), Marshfield Manor is—yes¾a figment of my imagination. But Marshfield is perfect because it’s open to my wanderings, my…meanderings, if you will (wink-wink, Kaye), any time of the day or night. Although I know its floor plan, I haven’t yet learned all its secrets. I get to experience that particular excitement alongside Grace with every new book.
From the time I was a little kid, I always fantasized about living in a fabulous home with hundreds of rooms¾one with secret passages and hidden staircases. (You think Nancy Drew might have had an influence on me?) With servants and treasures beyond compare. A place I could explore without somebody (and I’m talking to you, Secret Service) telling me I wasn’t authorized to be there.
As an adult, I’ve come to the realization that I’ll probably never live in the sort of mansion I envisioned. You know what? That’s okay. It’s hard enough keeping up with maintenance on our very normal, very average Chicago home. I don’t think I could handle anything bigger. But living and working in a mansion like that—via my imagination?—that’s perfect!
As much as I enjoy writing the White House Chef stories, I am LOVING writing the Manor House Mysteries. I have to believe it’s because of my fascination with Marshfield Manor. My protagonist, Grace, who’s just as fascinated as I am, is in charge of the magnificent estate and does a pretty good job of it (if you don’t count the murders). At this point—we’re in book three¾Grace doesn’t possess the level of confidence Ollie (White House Chef) displays. Not yet, at least. Grace’s story arc is different. She’s coming into her own, slowly, after a series of heartaches and setbacks that Ollie has been fortunate enough to avoid.
I’m still getting to know Grace, just as I’m still learning the history of Marshfield. It’s an exciting time for me. And because I’m delighted to welcome everyone to visit Marshfield, to allow them to explore its floors and rooms and secret passages to their hearts’ content, I hope it’s an exciting time for readers too!