by Lou Mancinelli
Killer WASPs are loose on the Main Line. In her debut novel, Amy Korman, 46, long-time Philadelphia Magazine editor, has weaved together a playful crime mystery set in Bryn Mawr.
Between the tennis matches and the cocktail parties and the expensively dressed people, it’s a glitzy society. But a major real estate developer among all this opulence happens to turn up dead beneath the hydrangea bushes at one of Bryn Mawr’s most distinguished estates.
When the attacker strikes again just days later, main character Kristin Clark, along with her basset hound and three best friends — Holly, a high-fashion chicken nugget heiress; Joe, a decorator convinced he’s ready for his own Home Garden TV show, and Bootsie, a preppy reporter — set out to solve the mystery on their own before there are more slayings.
“Killer WASPs, A Killer Wasps Mystery,” was released as an eBook on Sept. 16 under the Witness Impulse imprint of HarperCollins, one of the nation’s leading book publishers. The first in a two-book series, a paperback version will be available in October for $11.99.
In the first chapter the action begins right away and runs through Bryn Mawr, where a crime sets the tone for the rest of the novel. That early crime, Korman explained in an interview last week, is part of a formula that many of the nation’s top crime novelists have employed.
At once, the reader arrives in a world where the people are more than well acquainted with one another. Those who know the Main Line might feel at home. Kristin and her crew have known each other for more than 20 years. That the characters already know each other provides distinct advantages.
First, Korman does not have to spend time figuring out backstories and how the characters are connected. Because they are already so close, that problem for the writer is handled. For the reader, it provides instant action and accessibility.
“I think it, hopefully, as a reader, immerses you in that space,” Korman said.
An avid reader of light crime novels herself who grew up reading Nancy Drew mystery novels, and later Agatha Christie, Korman began work on the novel four years ago. As many as 10 years ago, Korman would often jot down ideas for a book.
“It was one of those moments where you’re thinking, OK, this is the time,” Korman said. “I think every writer dreams of writing a book.”
Korman had just left her role as senior editor at Philadelphia Magazine. She started answering phones and helping with research there in 1991, but before she left in 2010, she had risen to senior editor. She admits getting a job there due to “pure luck.”
Raised in Wayne, Korman went to public school until she attended high school at Episcopal Academy. She went on to study economics at Skidmore College (’90) in upstate New York. She wanted to study writing, but her family convinced her that writing was a path lined with very little gold.
“I never thought I could make a living as a writer,” she said. After Skidmore, she interned in banking in New York City and soon realized it was not the right fit. She moved back to the Philadelphia area and got her first job in the writing industry.
“I literally walked into Philadelphia Magazine with a resume one day when they happened to need someone to answer the phones,” Korman said. It was her first job. She stayed for almost 20 years, except for one year in 1999 when she went to work for Men’s Health, a magazine with offices near Allentown.
She later moved back to Center City and rejoined Philly Mag. Four years later she married and moved to Lower Gwynedd, where she still lives today, and is a mother to two step-sons.
It was family life and other responsibilities that eventually led to Korman’s decision to leave Philly Mag. Work as a senior editor is a difficult full-time job, she explained. Leaving the magazine provided her with the window of time and opportunity she had always longed for. She could begin work on a novel. Now, she works part-time as a grant writer for the North Penn Valley Boys & Girls Club in Lansdale.
While Korman was raised on the Main Line and is again living in an affluent area in Lower Gwynedd, she says “Killer WASPs” is more imagination and fantasy than reality. Some of the characters surely possess traits of people she has met on the Main Line over the years, but Korman really set out to create quirky, fun characters like the ones she’s read in books who are seemingly quiet but secretly dangerous.
The real estate mogul in the book however, might be a reaction to Korman’s grandmother, who owned a beautiful, old home in Villanova. Her grandmother always told Korman that as soon as she died, real estate vultures would tear down the house and redevelop the land, which is exactly what happened.
“There’s always a formula,” Korman said, about the way crime mysteries are written, referring back again to her admiration of Agatha Christie. The formula was something Korman herself had to work on. When a fellow former Philly Mag writer put Amy in touch with an agent, the agent liked her book but insisted there had to be more crime, more action.
The publisher chose to release the novel as an ebook, because Korman, who has also written for Town and Country and Cosmopolitan magazines, said many readers who read light crime fiction will consume books in rapid succession, often on a tablet or Kindle.
“Killer WASPs” is available online at Amazon, and can be downloaded as an iBook. More information at www.harpercollins.com.