Perfect moments are created one detail at a time," according to Laura Weatherly's wedding-planning website. Perfect murders are, too--including bumping off the mother of the bride (MOB, in wedding-planner speak.)
Don't worry. Weatherly, who attended Duke on a writing scholarship, majored in English, and won the John Hope Franklin Award for documentary writing, is not up on a murder rap. The wildly successful D.C. wedding planner, whom Washingtonian magazine has repeatedly named to its annual "Best Of" list, writes mystery stories using the pen name Laura Durham. In Better Off Wed, published in 2005, her protagonist, Annabelle Archer, a wedding planner/sleuth, solves the murder-by-poison of an MOB.
Weatherly's first job after Duke was with Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, where she was a manuscript reader, then a publicity assistant, and finally an editor. "I clawed my way to the middle of a very small publishing company," she says, with a laugh. Having gone as far as she imagined was possible at Algonquin, says Weatherly, "I moved to Washington, where I thought there would be more opportunity."
But literary publishing jobs turned out to be elusive there, so she took a job editing government documents. To escape the grind, she and a friend decided to launch a company. "We asked ourselves, 'How hard can wedding planning be?' We were twenty-four-year-olds with more guts than brains."
The gamble paid off, even though Weatherly says she's "not a very wedding-y person. I didn't have my Barbies get married all the time. But I am organized and imaginative. My timelines became my hallmark."
The locations of the 300-plus Washington weddings Weatherly has overseen include the Great Choir of the National Cathedral and the Great Hall of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Her company, Engaging Affairs Inc., is established enough to allow her the time to write and raise her daughter, Emma, born last year. Weatherly keeps one foot in the bridal business, doing about five weddings a year--"only the spectacular ones."
Those real-life experiences of getting a bride down the aisle in one piece continue to inspire her books. "As soon as someone becomes a bride, she goes a little bit crazy. A normal woman becomes deranged. There was the bride who asked us to glue rose petals to the grass. Another had a stretch limo just for her dress."
It was a client who got her started on murder.
"She was the mother-of-the-bride from hell," Weatherly says. "For months afterward, I would think about things I should have said to her. I realized that I had to let it go, so I wrote one scene where she dies. It was so therapeutic!
I thought, I could write a whole book of this." She did. In the process, the demonic--and dead--MOB morphed into a composite of several meddling mothers.
Weatherly's pen name is more than a tribute to her college years; it's practical. "The W's are at the bottom of a bookstore shelf," she points out. She picked a name that put her in the D's, within reach of browsers.
Her second Annabelle Archer title, For Better or Hearse, was published March 1. A third, in which a wedding planner meets her end, is in the works. The series will continue, she says. "There are so many people to kill."
In the meantime, as Laura Weatherly, she is the author of STOP! Don't Plan a Wedding Without This Book, released by Penguin USA in January. When it came to her own wedding, Weatherly avoided the madness. She and fiancÈ Juan Carlos, a wedding photographer, chose a different route.
"The thought of having a big wedding was horrible, so we eloped and got married in a park. It was a Justice of the Peace, her golden retriever, and us. And it was wonderful."
Laura Weatherly '93
March 31, 2006