Mystery writer Blaize Clement spent the last months of her life working against the ultimate deadline to complete the seventh and eighth novels in her popular Dixie Hemingway series.
And although Clement lost her fight with cancer July 20, her beloved pet sitter character will live on, not only through two upcoming novels, but through her son, John, who has signed a contract with St. Martin's Minotaur to write at least two additional books in the series, which is set on Siesta Key.
Clement, who was 78, came late to mystery writing; the first Dixie Hemingway novel, "Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter," was published in 2006. Its success was a happy accident in a life sometimes marked by physical pain and financial challenges.
Born in tiny Fink, Texas, Clement married young and had a toddler when she was afflicted by polio before she was 20. She spent at least a year in the hospital, her son Don being cared for by family members, before she regained her health, although she never again was able to walk unassisted.
After the birth of a second son, John, and a divorce, she put herself through the University of Houston and Baylor University to become a successful clinical psychologist. Then, calamity struck again when airline personnel wheeling her down the jetway on a trip to a friend's wedding in California tipped her out of the wheelchair, breaking her leg in two places above the knee.
"That precipitated a whole chain of health problems in her and also coincided with her first bout of post-polio syndrome," said John Clement, a writer and musician living in New York.
The injuries and illness cost Clement her career and her house; she moved to France on friends' invitation for more recovery. She returned to the United States to teach a writing class and in 1997 moved to Sarasota, which has proved a felicitous setting for the mystery series.
She had always loved books, checking out the maximum of seven books each week from both the county and city libraries where she grew up.
"She remembered the day that she first realized she would never be able to read every book in the world," said John Clement. "She cried for days."
And although her career was in psychology, she also wrote, textbooks and fiction and poetry.
John Clement spent the last seven weeks of his mother's life keeping her company in hospice care, where they talked endlessly about Dixie's future.
"It was great for her," he said. "She finished the final editing of 'The Cat Sitter's Pajamas;' that was the most important thing for her."
The new book will be out in January 2012. The eighth book in the series is about half completed, with an extensive outline, said John Clement.
When she came back from France in 1993, she lived for a time in Philadelphia where John Clement was part of a theater company with about 15 other actors.
"She got to know all of them and became friends with all of them," he said.
Similarly, she provided the emotional center for a writers' group she hosted at her south Sarasota home until just a few months ago.
Jane Phelan joined the couple a couple of years ago after meeting Clement at a Mystery Florida convention. Phelan was flattered to be invited to join the group, which met around Clement's dining room table for different writing exercises and critiques, always with an emphasis on positive feedback.
"We didn't tear apart what people were writing," said Phelan, "which is quite different from some of these soul-sucking groups that were tearing into each other."
The group's work netted the writers, including Clement herself, new characters and concepts; Clement's e-book, "I, Malcolm," written from the perspective of a dog in heaven, emerged from the group and was written after her cancer diagnosis.
Suzanne Beecher, a fellow Sarasota writer whose friendship with Clement included not just writing but also sharing meals at El Toro Bravo and figuring out how to sew a skirt, said she was in awe of Clement's writing skills.
"She had a formula for doing a book, and I don't say that in a bad way," said Beecher, the author of "Muffins and Mayhem." "I really feel that the woman could take any subject and write a great book."
Terry Griffin, former president of Mystery Florida, a writers' conference held each August in Sarasota, had done a few booksignings with Clement.
"People just loved her. I think that people who read her books were always surprised to find that a lady of her age, in a wheelchair, or on a scooter...I don't think people expected that," he said. "She handled her disability with aplomb. And to start writing late in life and to do it so well was fantastic. It's a big loss to our community as well as to the mystery community."
In addition to her son John, Clement is survived by her elder son Don, a construction engineer in Durham, S.C.; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; and her siblings, Everett and Imogene. Although no service will be held, memorial donations may be made to Tidewell Hospice of Sarasota.