Margaret Yoder looks like a sweet Bible Study Fellowship leader — which she is. But no one would suspect that behind her pious countenance beats the plotting heart of an ice-cold murderer.
Her sister Johnine Brown, a retired lawyer and 16 1/2 years older, similarly dotes on graphic stabbings, poisonings, swingers' clubs, spectacular car explosions — and, um, kinky underwear fetishes.
The local Iowa-born siblings, who were straight-A students in English, have been collaborating on murder mysteries the last four years under the pseudonym Margarite St. John. Their just-published eighth book, “Agenda for Murder,” will be out this month.
“Our books feature numerous Fort Wayne landmarks as well as places from our travels, especially in the deep South,” said Brown, a former assistant professor in Chicago State University's English department.
“To date, we have published eight books, six of which are murder mysteries,” Brown said. The two other books are a Christmas novella and a nonfiction.
“Our royalty statements indicate our books are selling in Great Britain as well as here,” Brown noted.
The sisters, avid readers who have designated themselves as The Scribe (Brown) and the Storyteller (Yoder), pride themselves on keeping up with technology advances benefiting writers.
“We grew up in the age of typewriters, mimeograph machines, party-line telephones and inadequate libraries. Computers, printers, and digital technology have changed everything,” said Brown.
“Writing is much easier on a computer than on a typewriter,” she said. “Changes are quickly and easily made, allowing instant rewriting. Computers also allow instant access to the Internet for research, and home printers make it easy for both of us to review and revise drafts so that the ideas don't get stale.
“And working with our editorial assistant, cover designer and publisher is efficient because of email,” she said.
“When our first mystery novel was published on Kindle, we were, respectively, 55 and 71 years old,” said Yoder, a crossword puzzle addict with a bachelor's degree in education from IPFW.
But age hasn't slowed them down.
“'Agenda for Murder' took about 12 weeks to write and runs 93,500 words, which means we averaged 1,100 words a day seven days a week,” Brown said. “The other two weeks are spent rewriting, editing, checking research and proofreading. Actual publication doesn't occur for another two or three weeks to allow our experts to design a cover, code the manuscript and design the format. Finally, we review proofs.”
The duo does not take research and fact-checking lightly. Brown, who is already beginning work on their next book, recently obtained a toy facial reconstruction kit from Amazon.com.
“Unbelievably, there are toy kits allowing a person to try forensic reconstruction at home,” explained Brown, who enjoys making jewelry in her spare time. “I've ordered one for the sake of authenticity because our heroine will have designed a kit for her forensic work on dead people when skulls are found and reconstruction is the last resort to try to identify the victim.”