Mary Monica Pulver (her maiden name) is an incidental Hoosier — Terre Haute, Indiana, had the hospital closest to her parents’ home in Marshall, Illinois.
She spent the later part of her childhood and early adult life in Wisconsin, graduating from high school in Milwaukee. She was a journalist in the U.S. Navy for six and a half years (two in London), and later attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She is married to a museum curator.
Mary Monica sold her first short story, “Pass the Word,” to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, in 1983, and has since sold more than two dozen short stories to anthologies and magazines, including some in Germany, England, Italy and France. She has appeared in such anthologies as The Mammoth Book of Historical Detectives, The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits, Shakespearean Mysteries, Royal Whodunnits, Unholy Orders, Murder Most Crafty, Writes of Spring, and Silence of the Loons.
Her first mystery novel, Murder at the War, appeared from St. Martin’s Press in 1987 and was nominated for an Anthony as Best First Novel. The Unforgiving Minutes and Ashes to Ashes followed in 1988; but Original Sin was sold to Walker, who also presented the fifth book, Show Stopper, in May of 1992. Berkley Diamond brought these mysteries out in paperback. They feature detective Peter Brichter – a cop one reviewer said was “a hardboiled sleuth who’s somehow landed in a cozy mystery”.
Berkley published six medieval mysteries Mary Monica wrote in collaboration with Gail Frazer under the pseudonym Margaret Frazer: The Novice’s Tale, The Servant’s Tale (nominated for an Edgar as Best Original Paperback of 1993), The Outlaw’s Tale, The Bishop’s Tale, The Boy’s Tale, and The Murderer’s Tale. The detective in the mysteries is a nun, Dame Frevisse, a niece by marriage of Thomas Chaucer, the legendary Geoffrey’s son. The stories take place in England in the 1430s. Gail continued the series alone.
In 1998 Mary Monica began writing a new series for Berkley featuring amateur needleworking sleuth Betsy Devonshire. Set in Excelsior, Minnesota, Crewel World came out in March and was followed by Framed in Lace, A Stitch in Time, Unraveled Sleeve, A Murderous Yarn, Hanging by A Thread, Cutwork, Crewel Yule, Embroidered Truths, Sins and Needles, Knitting Bones, Thai Die, Blackwork, Buttons and Bones. Threadbare, And Then You Dye. The first six were paperback originals. Subsequent books were hardcovers followed by paperback editions. These light and traditional novels are written under the pseudonym Monica Ferris, and all have gone to multiple printings – the first one is in its eighteenth printing!
Mary Monica has taught courses on mystery writing to children at North Hennepin Community College, gifted children in District #287, and adults at one-evening seminars at Hennepin and Ramsey County libraries. She does lectures and signings, and has appeared on panels at mystery and science fiction conventions, including Bouchercon, Minicon, Diversicon, Magna Cum Murder, and Malice Domestic. She has spoken to stitchery guilds on local, state, and national levels. She has won a place on national and local best-seller lists, including USA Today and the independent mystery bookstore compilation. She is a member of Sisters in Crime (a national organization that promotes women who write mystery fiction), remains a paid speaker on the life of a mystery author, and is a volunteer for Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, and in area public schools.
Mary Monica studies the medieval period as an amateur, and does needlework. She is a Lay Eucharistic Visitor and Lector at the Episcopal Church of St. George in Minneapolis. She collects and is often seen in exuberant hats.
Monica Ferris on Becoming Monica Ferris:
Before I was Monica Ferris, I wrote as Margaret Frazer, Mary Monica Pulver, Mary Kuhfeld, and Margaret of Shaftesbury
How did I become Monica Ferris?
It hasn’t been easy. I sometimes joke that if I ever get arrested, I’ll be assumed guilty because of all my aliases. I began writing as Margaret of Shaftesbury, Abbess of Deer Abbey, in the Society for Creative Anachronism.
My first professional sale was as Mary Monica Pulver, to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. My husband and I wrote a few stories together as Al and Mary Kuhfeld, most notably a little series of mystery shorts about Jack Hafner and Thor Nygaard, Minnesota police detectives. Then I sold a novel — Murder at the War — to Saint Martin’s Press. It was nominated for an Anthony as Best First Novel, and I went on to write four more in the Peter Brichter series.
Later a friend (Gail Frazer) and I joined forces as Margaret Frazer, writing the tales of a medieval nun at the priory of Saint Frideswide, in the days of Thomas Chaucer (son of Geoffrey Chaucer). That partnership went the way of most collaborations, and she continued the tales by herself. Gail passed away in early 2013. Her website is now maintained by her sons, and gives continuing information on the Frazer oeuvre.
I was writing and selling short stories for anthologies when my agent was approached by a senior editor at Berkley. “Do you know anyone who might write a new mystery series about a middle-aged woman who lives in a small town and does needlework while solving crimes?” My agent called and asked me the same question.
Well, I thought. My mother did counted cross stitch, I have a good friend who does blackwork, and I have done embroidery. “Sure,” I replied. After all, how hard could it be? I even found a local needleworker who designed counted cross stitch patterns so one could be included with each novel.
“You’ll need a new name,” said my editor. “This is unlike anything you’ve done before. We don’t want to confuse readers.” So I took the name Monica – my middle name. And since the City of Excelsior (a real place, where my fictional character lives) once had a big amusement park I took the last name of Ferris, because I spin stories.
I invented a heroine named Margot Berglund, a widow who runs a successful needlework shop. But when I started doing the intense research it takes to make a novel “real,” I found I didn’t know nearly enough about needlepoint and counted cross stitch. or about running a small business, to carry her off. So I had to kill Margot — she knew too much. I brought in her sister Betsy, who is as ignorant as I am.
It’s been interesting. One of my best resources is the internet newsgroup RCTN — recreation crafts textiles needlework. The list goddess is Kathy Dyer, whose home page is at http://home.comcast.net/~kathydyer/ And would you believe it, I have finally finished working my own first design. We live and learn!