Mark Schweizer: Master of Mystery

Published 4:15 pm Monday, June 29, 2015

Schweizer has mastered the art of writing humor into his murder mysteries, all with intriguing titles such as The Mezzo Wore Mink, The Treble Wore Trouble and The Cantor Wore Crinolines. The series' protagonist, Konig, writes "cartoonishly bad" entries on a 1939 Underwood typewriter. (Photo by Tony Kirves).

Schweizer has mastered the art of writing humor into his murder mysteries, all with intriguing titles such as The
Mezzo Wore Mink, The Treble Wore Trouble and The Cantor Wore Crinolines. The series’ protagonist, Konig, writes “cartoonishly bad” entries on a 1939 Underwood typewriter. (Photo by Tony Kirves).

By Susan McNabb
Life in Our Foothills, July 2015

When Tryon writer Mark Schweizer talks about his 13-book mystery series, he says, “You’ll be amazed at the bad writing. I try to make it as bad as I can.”

His loyal readers might argue with him, and he has many of them.

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Schweizer’s award-winning Liturgical Mystery Series follows Hayden Konig, a small town police chief, choir director and church organist in a tiny fictional North Carolina town where he writes murder mysteries while solving them as well.

The mysteries Konig writes produce the titles for Schweizer’s books, starting with The Alto Wore Tweed and finishing with his latest, The Maestro Wore Mohair. Konig is a very bad writer — cartoonishly bad. Konig’s entries — written on Raymond Chandler’s 1939 Underwood typewriter and therefore easily distinguished from Schweizer’s prose — are dispersed throughout the books, demonstrating that while Schweizer spins a compelling murder mystery, he also masters parodying the written murder mystery.

While Konig’s writing is bad, what Schweizer doesn’t mention is that it’s so bad, it’s good. It’s what makes the liturgical mysteries stand out among a sea of cozy mysteries — they’re very funny.

“Murder is easy,” Schweizer says. “Comedy’s hard.” That may be true, but Schweizer has mastered writing humor into his murder mysteries.

If you’re unfamiliar with the cozy mystery genre, don’t feel bad. Schweizer had written five of them before he’d heard the term. Cozy mysteries have no graphic violence, profanity or explicit sex, are generally set in a small town, are fast-paced and twisty, and the main character’s vocation plays a major role. He/she might be a quilter, book store owner, florist, gardener, or even a race car driver. Schweizer’s series is church-centric.

“I know my market,” Schweizer says. “People who go to church. Specifically, people who sing in choirs. There are lots of them.”

Schweizer has a history of working in churches — Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, Christian Science. He calls himself “ecumenically promiscuous.” As for his personal beliefs, he says, “You have to be a person of faith to write about it without off ending.”

Schweizer didn’t grow up planning to be a mystery writer—or a writer of any kind. He was the son of a school teacher mother and architect father in Winter Park, Fla., but his great aunt, Alice Norton, was a famous author. Her pen name was Andre Norton, and she was the first woman inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame and won numerous awards for more than 300 published titles. She lived next door to Schweizer, gave him “stacks of books” every Christmas, and nourished his love of reading.

Schweizer also had a love of music. By the time he was in high school, he knew he could sing. After graduating, he attended Stetson University, a private nonprofit university in  Central Florida, and majored in voice after noting architecture required a lot of math.

In the summer breaks, he found work at the Farmhouse Restaurant in Boone, N.C., as a singing waiter. College kids worked for room and board and tips, and in his second summer he met a violinist from Middle Tennessee State named Donis and married her the following May.

Donis taught elementary music while Schweizer worked on a doctor of musical arts degree in voice and opera at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and they had their son Christopher. Schweizer was 25 when he got his first job teaching back at Stetson University, and remained there for three years. It was here he and Donis welcomed their daughter Lindy.

After Stetson, Schweizer continued teaching with a position at Louisiana College for eight years. Since 1974, he had worked part-time at various churches either as a singer, conductor or choir director, and in 1992, he took his first full-time position at a church as the director of music at a Methodist Church in Kentucky, and taught college part-time for a change.

Donis taught Suzuki violin privately while they lived in Hopkinsville, Ky., for 10 years. It was here Schweizer started St. James Music Press (named for an old Louisville church), and began what blossomed into a successful church music publishing business.

Within a decade, Schweizer’s income from St. James Press allowed him to quit his church job. He had accumulated over 10,000 customers, and told himself he really should write “this funny book I’ve been thinking about and sell it to my customers.”

The Liturgical Mysteries Series was born, and Schweizer published the books through St. James Press. After a handful of the books were out, he attended his first mystery festival in Pennsylvania, and soon discovered the enormous community of cozy mystery writers and readers.

Because Schweizer was considered self-published since he owned his own publishing company, he was generally not invited to attend the major mystery festivals, but that all changed when his books began to win awards.

The first book in the series, The Alto Wore Tweed, won the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association’s Killer Books selection in 2004. Book three, The Tenor Wore Tapshoes, was nominated for a Dilys Award two years later by the same organization.

The following year, his fourth book, The Soprano Wore Falsettos, was nominated for the Book Award by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. As Schweizer attended the various book festivals, his sales took off . Most of his books were “hand sold,” meaning mystery bookstore owners recommended them to their customers. Later, they showed up on Amazon and became a part of that global book-selling machine.

Schweizer continued to write and publish church music through St. James Music Press, but also strived to release a book in the Konig series yearly. In 2009, the Schweizers decided to move to Tryon. They had visited one of Schweizer’s childhood friends who lived here and they knew a few other people including the then-owner of The Book Shelf. A colorful and historical fixer-upper in Tryon caught their eye, so they bought a house and moved St. James Press to an offi ce on the Depot Plaza.

While continuing with the Liturgical Mysteries series, Schweizer also wrote Dear Priscilla, a dark comedy thriller set in Chicago in the early 40s. Dear Priscilla didn’t have the sales Schweizer’s cozy mysteries can boast, but the reviews are impressive, and the book is one of Schweizer’s favorites. Schweizer is working on an alternate universe teen novel as well.

Schweizer will continue with the Konig series, having recently delivered the 13th book, Th e Maestro Wore Mohair, to his eager readers and he’s now diving back in to write the next one.

“You don’t want to disappoint the reader,” he says. He knows his audience and knows how to please them. After 13 successful mystery novels in as many years, Schweizer has mastered the genre. •