City government, tax and planning commissions and nonprofit board meetings. Those settings naturally conjure ... mystery and romance?
They do if you’re Renee Kumor.
“I’ve been on nonprofit boards for years. I’ve dealt with staff members who’ve embezzled -- that happens constantly,” Kumor said. “The issues of conflict of interest. Just having a crisis of direction on the board, and I just decided those crisis discussions can end in murder, what the heck?”
Kumor is a grandmother of four in Hendersonville building a second life writing “cozy mysteries.” It’s a genre mixing murder with modest romance. “Deadly Politics” is Kumor’s 10th novel in her series set in the fictional small town of River Bend. You can find Kumor’s series, the River Bend Chronicles, in the regional library system and online.
“My sex doesn’t get that graphic because, as old as I am, I still don’t know that much about it,” she said. “But I do know a lot about nonprofits.”
The best writers will tell you: Write what you know about, and that’s what Kumor has done. She has served as a Henderson County commissioner and on the boards of the league of women voters and a local domestic violence shelter.
In the 1980s, after writing some letters to the Hendersonville Times-News, the editor offered her $10 a month to write a column about local issues. Soon, Kumor began taking some creative liberties, lending fictional twists on factual issues.
“It got kinda dry about ‘Here’s the audit and here’s the strategic planning and conflict of interest issues,’ so I created this other world,” she said. “When I wrote in dialog, I felt I was able to teach a lesson without being boring.”
Kumor had fun with her column, but there was one minor problem: Her readers had no idea what she was talking about.
“The new editor said to me, ‘I don’t want allegory. You can either write a straightforward column or quit writing,’” she recalled. “There was no more dialog in there, so people said to me ‘Well, now I finally know what you’re saying,’ and I went back to the editor and said ‘you were right.’”
Kumor was in her mid-60s when she took her first writing class at UNC-Asheville. Soon, she outlined a series of books based around the character named Lynn Bowers, the executive director of a small nonprofit.
“I missed writing dialog. I really had a lot of fun writing dialog for my column,” she said. “I sat down at my computer and started typing, and the next thing I knew, all these (characters) were just there.”
A hundred letters and many more emails to publishers went nowhere before a cousin in Key West led her to someone who wanted her manuscript. Kumor has a print-on-demand deal, and she and her daughter design the covers themselves.
“The publisher counts me under both romance and mystery, but he calls me a ‘cozy mystery,’ because there’s no obvious sex,” she said. “In my response to people who want to ask me why I’m not being real graphic, it’s because I don’t see sex as a spectator sport.”
Kumor has laid out 30 novels on a spreadsheet with plot points, events and relationships—the romances, extended families and crimes—so she can keep everything straight and consistent.
“I can wake up in the middle of the night because these (characters) want out. They want to talk about something. They have their own life,” she said. “I can sit at my computer and type and not know where I’m going, but when I read back on something, I see where they want to go.”
Life in Hendersonville hasn’t changed a whole lot for Kumor, save for the occasional person who spots and stops her to say they’ve read her books. Kumor said her own own children refuse to read anything steamy, no matter how tame, coming from their mother’s pen. And Kumor doesn’t care that none of her twice-a-year royalty checks have reached $100.
“Whether people want to read me or not, these characters want to be written about,” she said. “I’m having fun, so I guess you want to read me (or) you’ll miss the fun.”