Starting a new book is always exciting and terrifying. Making the smallest germ of an idea the seed that produces a great story takes patience and careful watering. It’s so easy to waterlog the idea with too much research or to leave it dry and parched of action so that it hardly grows at all. In either event the story will wilt and the book won’t excite anyone, especially not readers.
distance as you’re standing surrounded by fog. You listen to locate the direction of the voice and you begin to walk towards the sound of it through the mist, and as you get closer the voice gets louder and the fog begins to clear, until you’re standing in a sunny spot right next to the character that is calling to you.
I know what you’re thinking, that’s just weird, and you’d be right, but that’s how a pantser goes about her business. Writing by the seat of my britches, wandering around in what, to other people, seems like a daze. But I’m actually listening and watching as characters call to me, whisper their names, tell me their life stories and the predicament they find themselves in.
Now, as I write mysteries set in the Chicago of the 1880’s listening to voices is all well and good, but for their stories to be believable the hard work is in the research. They can’t go to Chicago’s World’s fair in 1886 because it didn’t take place until 1893. I can’t have a man topple off a building that wasn’t even built yet, or have women wearing pants, or using appliances in the home that weren’t invented in their time. But I do have to make them accessible, and that brings up the question of language. It seems obvious that you can’t have a character in the 1880’s use an expression like ‘meh’ or OK, or even use too many of the slang expressions that might have been used at the time because it’s jarring to put a modern expression in a 19th century character’s mouth, but it would also be confusing to write a book filled with 19th century slang that wasn’t understood today. The solution is to walk a tightrope of modern language with enough of the 1880s in it to be a flavour of the times without getting lost in them.
One of the hazards of being a mystery writer is drawing attention to yourself at odd moments. For instance, sitting at a fancy restaurant with friends, when I’m stuck on a problem in my book, can find me doing weird things with ketchup to the baked potato on my plate as I work out the angle of an entry wound, or the blood trail for a victim who dragged himself across a room before dying. I don’t realise what I’m doing until the moment I look up with a smile having solved my problem, to find a table full of horrified faces staring at me as though I’ve just committed a real murder. Such are the pitfalls of a mystery writer’s life.
Google is another problem. Any mystery writer will tell you that their browser history would make the average person’s hair curl, and attract the attention of most international crime fighting agencies if they could comb through it. Our How To browsing covers all the worst excesses of humanity, but we do it all in the name of entertainment, honestly.
Once we’ve listened to the voices, done our research, learned how to, and finished the first draft, now comes the moment of truth, the read through. If it has all fallen miraculously into place then we have a story that works, characters to hold your interest and a clue trail that gets the detectives to the bad guys before anyone else can get hurt. But nothing in life, or mystery fiction, goes smoothly and the moment you reach the gaping plot hole in your story you get the same sinking feeling you felt when you finished the five day slog to complete that 9000 piece jigsaw puzzle your aunt gave you for Christmas, only to find the very last piece is missing.
Once the screaming dies down the hard work of rewriting begins until, at last, the story really does hang together and then, happy day, it’s fit for publication. That’s an exciting moment for me, But the most exciting and sometimes terrifying moment comes when I go to my Amazon page and read a fresh review from readers who say how much fun they had investigating along with Diamond & Doran or with Drew McMillan, or hopefully both. A review to a writer is like laughter to a comedian, confirmation that after all the hard work and weird looks, we nailed it.
I hope I’ve nailed it for you. Let me know if I did by leaving me a review. And if I didn’t, let me know where I can do better. A comedian is only as good as her last joke, and a mystery writer is only as good as her last book, but we need to know how we’re doing from you, our experts.
Until next time, happy reading.