When Deb Pines was writing for the New York Law Journal and one of her friends was working as a law clerk to a federal judge, the latter suggested they team up and write a legal thriller.
Pines handled research for the novel, and her friend took care of the writing. But Pines’ friend was unaccustomed to dealing with deadlines, and they kept falling behind on the work.
“We thought it was easier than it was,” Pines said.
Pines and her friend never finished the legal thriller, but as of summer 2018, Pines has self-published four murder mystery novels, one novelette and one short story about Chautauqua — most recently, Vengeance is Mine, which follows the investigation of a murder at the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s annual Independence Day Pops Celebration.
All of Pines’ books chronicle the exploits of fictional Chautauquan Daily reporter and sports editor Mimi Goldman. In Vengeance is Mine, the protagonist tries to track down the killer of a filmmaker and 10:45 a.m. lecturer, as she simultaneously plans her own wedding.
Pines, who is now a copy editor at the New York Post, calls herself a “Chautauquan by marriage” via her husband’s family. They’ve been coming to the grounds together since around 1980.
Pines said she likes the “leafy, idyllic” atmosphere, or “paradise” of Chautauqua as the setting for murder mysteries.
“Sin intruding on an Edenic paradise feels like a greater trespass,” Pines told Hallie Ephron in an interview for the blog “Jungle Red Writers.” “It’s shocking. And, I think, gets readers more behind my newspaper reporter sleuth Mimi Goldman’s relentless quest for justice.”
When she started writing the books, Pines meticulously researched their subjects and ensured that every aspect of the stories was as close to Chautauquan reality as possible.
“I used to hold myself to a reporter’s standard,” Pines said.
But her husband reminded her she was writing fiction with the Chautauqua-based novels, and convinced Pines that she could consequently take some liberties with her stories.
In July 2014, Pines spoke with the Daily about her journey to self-publishing, saying she had endured “getting an agent, losing an agent, almost selling a book, not selling books, giving up and taking it back up again” before her first novel was printed.
Pines also taught a workshop that season on self-publishing, and continues to teach marketing classes at the Institution as well.
Pines said one of the most fun outcomes of self-publishing her murder mysteries, and one of the reasons she keeps churning them out, is people approaching her with ideas for new stories. If they recognize her, children as well as adults suggest new plotlines or murder locations for her books.
Many of Pines’ friends and family members have taken part-time jobs as her books’ cover designers or copy editors.
“Because I self-publish, I involve just about everyone I know,” Pines said.
Pines published In the Shadow of Death, her first Chautauqua mystery, in 2013. While she initially planned to print one addition to the series every couple years, Pines is now considering releasing one every summer if her readership continues to expand.
Pines will also be signing her books at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 1, at the Chautauqua Bookstore.
“Right now, my ideal audience is people who love Chautauqua and people who love mysteries,” Pines said. “But … I’d love to get to people who just love mysteries.”