A Complex Woman Who Believed in Writing Real Characters
By Z.J. Czupor
This prolific author created artful and literary puzzles with convincing victims, strange forms of murder, and ample clues to give her readers a chance to solve the mystery. She also wove into her stories pointed views on censorship and feminism and other social issues of the day and carried strong opinions on the importance of developing real characters in fiction.
This acclaimed author of forty-three novels wrote under four pseudonyms including her real name. Her pen names were Nicola Andrews, Ann Paris, Jane Haddam, and Orania Papazoglou. Her novels were twice nominated for an Edgar, and one was also nominated for the Anthony.
She was born Orania Papazoglou (1951-2019) in Bethel, Connecticut but is best known by her pen name, Jane Haddam, and by her long-standing series of mysteries featuring the fictitious former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian.
Her pen name of Haddam came about because her editors and publishers didn’t think anyone could pronounce her real name and as a result would not read her books. Even though most of her friends called her “Jane,” she went in search of a new last name.
Her editor had shared results from a survey which claimed that the “typical mystery reader was in her 40s and stood five foot four.” Since she was five foot four, Papazoglou decided to visit her nearest Barnes & Noble bookstore to study the books shelved in the mystery section. At her eye level she realized the authors had last names starting with the letter “H.” From that, the name Haddam was chosen after the small town of Haddam, Connecticut.
At the age of eight, Papazoglou’s active mind focused on writing stories many of them up to twenty-five pages in length. And at ten, she entertained herself by inventing new titles for Nancy Drew novels. “You have to understand, I spent most of my childhood and adolescence as a person out of place. I just didn’t fit. I was absolutely the wrong kind of daughter for my mother. She needed a daughter who loved dolls and make-up…All I ever wanted to do was read books and write them.”
Papazoglou earned her bachelor’s degree from Vassar in 1973 and her Master’s in English from the University of Connecticut in 1975. She started graduate work at Michigan State University but dropped out to pursue a career in journalism in New York City. “I was the executive editor on a little magazine called Greek Accent, whose only claim to fame is that its art director went on to be the art director of Discover for many years.”
Following her stint with Greek Accent, she freelanced articles for Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, Parents, Working Woman, Mother, and Intro magazines.
She also taught Composition and Introduction to Literature at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, Connecticut.
While working as a journalist, she covered the first Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention in 1982 at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City, but her article was rejected. That’s when she decided to write her first novel Sweet, Savage Death (1984), written as Oriana Papazoglou.
Her protagonist was Patience “Pay” Campbell McKenna, a six-foot, chain-smoking journalist, who earns a fortune writing bodice-ripping romance novels. In the story, McKenna has written a book titled Sweet, Savage Death but is accused of murdering a literary agent during a romance writers’ convention. Afterward, McKenna switches to writing true crime stories.
Claire Harrison, a Canadian romance novelist and Washington Post reviewer, called it “a satire of the world in which romance novelists figured out who had done it.” (“Sad Endings for Romance,” April 28, 1984).
Among the five McKenna novels this one garnered a 1985 Edgar nomination for “Best First Mystery Novel by an American Author.” Publishers Weekly called it “a tour de force…featuring a writer who not only covers murder cases but cracks them too.” The publication also called this a “sophisticated adventure edged with terror…a smash finale.”
In a departure from the genre’s traditions, Papazoglou twice introduced real life people into her plots. In her McKenna novel, Death’s Savage Passion (1986) she mentions her real husband and mystery writer William L. DeAndrea (1952-1996).
Also in Rich, Radiant Slaughter (1988), she includes Gail M. Larson, a real person, who at the time owned “The Butler Did It” bookstore in Baltimore. In the novel, a Mrs. Margaret Keeley is found dead in Larson’s locked bookstore.
Susan Oleksiw, writing in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers (4th ed., 1996), said “the Pay McKenna books are distinctive for their wry sense of humor and lightheartedness, and subdued social commentary.”
The McKenna series was later republished under her pen name “Jane Haddam.”
As Haddam, she started a new series, which would eventually total thirty novels featuring a former FBI agent, Gregor Demarkian. The first in the series, Not a Creature Was Stirring (1990), was nominated for an Edgar for “Best Paperback” (1991), and nominated for the 1991 Anthony Award in the same category.
Set during Christmas, the novel includes a detailed diagram of a house’s first and second floors and a descriptive cast of characters such as “Christopher, a frazzled poet with a weakness for gambling; and Anne Marie, a sour spinster with an ax to grind.” Following a lengthy prologue, her opening chapter reveals Gregor Demarkian’s beginnings.
When Gregor Demarkian was very young, his mother told him stories about Armenia. Her Armenia wasn’t the historical Armenia because she’d never seen that. She had been born in Alexandria and come to the United States before she was twelve. It was Gregor’s grandmother who had been in Yerevan that November of 1915 when the Turks had come. Blood everywhere, horses everywhere, a million and a half dead in less than a year: the stories had come pouring out into the dark of Gregor’s room every night when his mother came to put him to bed. Even now, after more than forty years, he could smell the stink of dying.
Demarkian is a former FBI agent and far from being a company man. He despised J. Edgar Hoover and distrusted CIA agents. His claim to fame was founding the FBI’s Department of Behavioral Science and he’s referred to as the Armenian American version of Hercule Poirot, a nod to Agatha Christie’s (1890-1976) fictional detective.
The Demarkian novels all take place around a holiday. Here’s a sampling:
Not a Creature Was Stirring (1990) – Christmas
Precious Blood (1991) – Easter
Act of Darkness (1991) – Fourth of July
Quoth the Raven (1991) – Halloween
Feast of Murder (1992) – Thanksgiving
A Great Day for the Deadly (1992) – St. Patrick’s Day
Mother Superior (1993) – Mother’s Day
Festival of Deaths (1994) – Hanukkah
Papazoglou said, “I’ve always tried to keep Gregor in focus but not as the focus, if that makes sense. I hate those series where the detective ends up leading the life of a hyperactive soap opera—gets accused of murder! gets shot! gets three divorces! has a brain tumor!—because the writer is desperate to find something ‘interesting’ to say about the life of a character she writes about all the time. Most of us don’t live lives that interesting, and we’re damned glad.”
After her husband died in 1996, the Demarkian novels took on a darker tone. “Bill died and I just couldn’t write light anymore.” Starting with Skeleton Key (2000) her following novels became more serious. “The focus in the books got stronger. But I’m just not as light and optimistic about life as I was before Bill’s death. I tend to expect the worst. My characters tend to get the worst.” (Interview by Lenny Picker, “Fighting the Good Fight: Jane Haddam,” Publishers Weekly, Aug. 28, 2014).
She devoted the novel to her husband. “To Bill DeAndrea, July 1, 1952 – October 9, 1996 who gave me everything important in my life, including Gregor Demarkian.”
Her opening tone in Skeleton Key immediately portends danger:
Kayla Anson didn’t know when she first realized she was being followed, but by the time she reached the Litchfield Road, the signs were unmistakable. It was seven o’clock on the evening of Friday, October 27, and the roads were awful. Three days of drizzle had been followed by three nights of below-freezing temperatures…the moon was full…the last little clump of houses, were harbingers of Halloween in the country…It all made her wish she had never come out tonight, on her own, even though she knew there couldn’t be anything really wrong.
In an interview with Mystery Scene magazine, Papazoglou said, “My novels always start with characters, but those characters usually live in a world where issues are paramount—because I think we live in a world where issues are paramount. Of course, this causes me more than a little trouble. Since I’m not consistently either liberal or conservative, and since I really do try to present all the different sides, I often find myself with everybody mad at me. We’ve also gotten to a place where even to try to understand and make sense of the other side is considered a form of treason. If you present the other side as anything but irredeemably stupid and evil, you must be one of them. It can sometimes be a relief to find that the characters wandering through my head this time don’t have any interest in any issue at all.” (Interview by Lynn Kaczmarek, editor/publisher, Mystery News, April/May 2001).
She admitted that her Demarkian novel Somebody Else’s Music (2002) was autobiographical and drew upon her junior high school experiences. “When I was dreaming about getting the hell out of Dodge and becoming a real honest-to-God writer, the novel I always imagined myself writing was that one.”
The story explores how the past affects the present and the human psyche. An acclaimed author, with a rock star lover, returns to her hometown where as a teenager she was nailed inside an outhouse with over twenty snakes slithering within. In the acknowledgments, Papazoglou said, “This is the longest book I’ve ever written, and both the easiest—and the hardest to write.”
She would begin her day at four in the morning writing at a large worktable and bolstered by a 60-ounce cup of Double Bergamot Earl Grey tea. Typically, her first drafts would run up to 800-900 pages.
In addition to being a prolific novelist, Papazoglou was also a complex woman, teacher, and thinker. After her husband passed away, she lived a rather reclusive life in Watertown, Connecticut where she drafted essays on classical Greek, the importance of reading, on music, on the existence of God, her Catholic upbringing, and the cancer that would eventually kill her. In February 2018, Papazoglou was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer and given about two years to live. But there would only be one more.
With her health deteriorating, she continued to write a daily blog on her website, read fiction and nonfiction, listened to classical music, and while sick from her medications, wrote as often as she could.
Her last book, One of Our Own (2020) was published after her death. She penned the novel in the final year of her life, but she died before it was complete. The manuscript was finished by her two sons. The story features Demarkian’s final case about a surprising murder and an attempted murder, which threatens his Philadelphia neighborhood.
“One of Our Own ends satisfactorily but not neatly, making it more realistic. In its complexity, it is one of Haddam’s best books. It slices into and out of contemporary issues without necessarily resolving any of them yet provides interesting points of discussion without succumbing totally to political correctness.” (Review by Joe Hartlaub, Book Reporter, Nov. 20, 2020).
In her blog, on June 10, 2018, Papazoglou wrote, “I know we all live in a delusion: that life is forever and we will never die. We have to do that, because if we lived every minute of every day in full realization that we are inevitably going to die, we’d never get anything done.”
Papazoglou’s husband, William L. DeAndrea, also a mystery writer, won two Edgar awards for novels (1978 and 1979) and a third Edgar for his reference work Encyclopedia Mysteriosa (1994). He was forty-four when he died of cancer. They had two sons, one of which, Matt DeAndrea, authors books for children.
In addition to owning a Baltimore bookstore devoted to mysteries, Gail M. Larson, who Papazoglou mentioned in Rich, Radiant Slaughter, served as the 17th chairwoman of Bouchercon when the annual conference devoted to mysteries was held in Baltimore, Oct. 10-12, 1986. In the conference program Larson described herself as “the short blond who can probably be found with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other asking, ‘Are we having fun now?’” (The Heirs of Anthony Boucher by Marvin Lachman, Poisoned Pen Press, Scottsdale, 2005). Larson’s bookstore closed in 1992.
Papazoglou’s McKenna character is featured in a critical bibliography of women mystery authors titled Silk Stockings: When Women Write of Murder by Victoria Nichols and Susan Thompson, (Black Lizard Books, 1988, pp. 171-72).
Papazoglou also wrote two non-series books under her real name: Sanctity (1986) and Charisma (1992). Both were suspense novels published by Crown in New York and Dead Letters (2018) by Jane Haddam, a stand-alone, was published as an eBook. Between 1983–1988, she authored six romance novels. Four were published under the name Nicola Andrews and two were published under the name Ann Paris.
Z.J. Czupor is president of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and past Vice President of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America (RMMWA). In addition to writing monthly columns for Rogue Women Writers and RMMWA, he is the author of THE BIG WEIRD: Haikus in Times of Pandemic and Chaos, available at Amazon.
I can’t believe I’d never heard of her! Will have to check it out now.
Lisa, in truth I discovered Oriana’s husband’s writing career first but when I realized his wife was also a mystery writer I had to look into her past and found her equally, if not more fascinating. Both were very talented writers.
I have this tucked away to savor tonight, but I wanted to call out the way you shine a light on authors who have such stellar careers that often we’ve never heard of, let alone can learn so much about in a MM. Thank you for being a friend to the mystery world, and an honorary Rogue!
Jenny, thank you for the kind words. I’m honored to have my work published on the Rogue Women Writers’ blog.
Wow, ZJ, did you ever bring back memories. My previous husband, Dennis Lynds (AKA many aliases) and I met Orania and Bill at several conferences over the years, and always enjoyed them very much. They were stand-out characters, bigger than life, with personalities that could fill a room. One year, Bill -a giant – was carrying around a teddy bear tucked under his arm. Great writers, a real love affair, and interesting people.
Thank you Gayle. I think it’s wonderful that you knew Oriana and Bill. Would enjoy hearing more stories about them some time. With your permission, one of these days, I’d like to feature Dennis in a Mystery Minute. What a talent he was!
Absolutely, Z. J. Feature Den anytime! 🙂
I had no clue about this incredibly prolific and obviously brilliant writer. Thanks so much for telling us about her – now I have a whole stack of new stories to investigate!
Thank you Karna. Enjoy your new stack of books.
Thanks Z.J. for introducing me to Orania Papazoglou/Jane Haddam. Love: “At her eye level she realized the authors had last names starting with the letter “H.” I am adding this author to my just read list.