Saturday, July 01, 2017

Starting A New Book

There are lots of moving parts that have to come together in order to write a good mystery.

You need a sleuth, a victim, a murderer, and enough suspects to keep the reader from guessing whodunit too early in the book. Each of your suspects and, of course, the killer, must have a motive to kill the victim.

You need an interesting setting. Most people don’t consciously think about this, but could Robert B. Parker’s Spenser live anywhere other than Boston? Setting often becomes a character in itself. Certainly how your protagonist sees their setting tells you a lot about them. When the setting is different for every book in a series, like Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon mysteries, it’s even more important to focus on it. What is it about this particular place that makes it essential to this story?

You need a convincing murder weapon, one that was available to the murderer and that he or she would logically use.

You need clues, carefully planted, so that when the reader comes to the climax, they are not only surprised by who the killer is, but also have the reaction, “I should have guessed!” In other words, then ending has to be logical and proceed from the information earlier in the story.

If you’re writing part of a series, you have to remember to bring in whatever continuing subplots you have so that readers who are waiting for the answers to questions such as “Will they or won’t they?” or “Does this couple succeed in adopting a child?” or “Whatever happened to X’s sister?” are answered or at least addressed. And you have to bring in just enough of them to satisfy the reader without overwhelming the main plot.

You also have to have what I call the writer’s hook. Just as there’s a hook for the reader (usually stated in the book description) that makes them want to read the book, the writer needs something to make her want to write the book.

Since I do write in series, I already have my sleuth and a cast of characters from which to choose for the victim, killer, and suspects. But I’m not fond of killing my continuing characters, so I usually come up with a new character for the victim. Unfortunately, sometimes that means killing off a great character. I really loved Fox Fordyce in “Royal Purple Murder” and would have liked to keep her around. But then I would have had to write a different book. There are days when I regret that I didn’t do that.

Making one of the continuing characters the killer has the same problem. If I send them off to prison, they won’t be available for future books. So, again, I usually come up with a new character who won’t be missed by either me or my readers. It’s easier to consider a continuing character as a suspect, but you can’t always have them not be the killer, or regular readers will eliminate them right off the bat, spoiling the surprise.

Right now, I’m at the stage of developing the characters for a new book. My brain has had some ideas for new ones, but I’m not sure whether they’re victim, killer, or suspect. There’s a lot of exploration at this stage. I spent four hours yesterday researching something for one of those new characters. Fascinating stuff, but probably very little of it will make it into the book.

This morning I pulled some books on Arizona off my bookshelf for another character. I’m not sure whether they’ll help me or not. But I’ll spend a lot of time looking through them to see if a bit of information sparks a new aspect of this character.

I spend a lot of time on developing characters since it’s the characters who define the story, Most of the time when I’m writing, I sit back and watch the scene play out in my head. The characters do things that are natural for them to do, so it’s important for me to know them well. That doesn’t mean one hasn’t popped up in the middle of a story and demanded to control what happens next. This is both unsettling and delightful. Usually, these unexpected intrusions have a mind of their own, like Athena leaping from the head of Zeus full grown, and I don’t have to work at character development for them very much.

So far, in the African Violet Club Mysteries, the setting has been the village of Rainbow Ranch, Arizona. But having too many murders occur in a small town, often referred to as Cabot Cove Syndrome, becomes unbelievable over time. So should I have Lilliana go somewhere else once in a while? I’ve been thinking about that and even have a few places in mind.

As an example of a weapon, the softball bat in "True Blue Murder" fit perfectly with Lilliana Wentworth, my senior sleuth, as the killer. She played softball regularly and the bat belonged to her. It was left in a storage room, so it was also available to other suspects who had access to the building.

Right now, I’ve got a good murder weapon for the new book, but I’m not sure it’s capable of being wielded by all of the suspects. A puzzlement.

Since I don’t even know who is killed, much less who killed him or her, the clues are on the back burner.

I’m juggling subplots in the background, weighing what could be the next development with each of them while not focusing on them. Again, this has to wait until I know more about the people in the book.

As far as the writer’s hook, that was easy for this book. In “Double Pink Murder,” I needed a disruption at City Hall when Lilliana went to visit the police chief. Out of a newspaper article I’d read not too long ago, I came up with the idea of a developer who wanted to make an old ghost town into a tourist attraction. Now, I love ghost towns. The whole idea fascinates me. There are many of them in Arizona where mining operations petered out, and the population abandoned them. I also love Old Tucson Studios, a western town that was used for the sets of a whole bunch of western movies. They do tours and reenactments and have a lot of memorabilia from those westerns. So rubbing those two ideas together got me really excited. I’m getting all sorts of jumping off points from that for the plot.

It’s early days for this story, but I love the discovery stage of writing a new novel. I thought you might find it interesting.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


It seems as if blogging on a daily basis never works out for me. Perhaps that’s because each time I start, it’s because I’m trying to motivate myself to work harder. But it’s also possible that I feel like I’m not working hard enough because I can’t due to circumstances.

In this case, it’s my vision. For months, I’ve had problems seeing clearly. Using my eyes for any extended period of time is difficult. That includes working on the computer, reading, and even watching television, although that presents the least stress. Reading street signs while driving had become impossible. And I avoid driving at night because I can’t see clearly enough.

I thought it was time to get that cataract surgery my optometrist has been talking about for three years. When it came time for my regular appointment, she agreed with me and recommended an ophthalmologist. It took a month to get that appointment, so more time with bad vision.

When I saw the ophthalmologist, she wasn’t very encouraging. She told me my vision was worse than could be accounted for by the cataracts I have, but she couldn’t find anything wrong with my vision otherwise. No macular degeneration, no glaucoma, nothing. She couldn’t guarantee my vision would be better after cataract surgery. In fact, she couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t be worse, although I had the feeling that was the usual doctor-being-cautious routine, because they can’t guarantee much of anything and don’t want to give you cause for a malpractice suit.

Needless to say, I wasn’t getting warm fuzzies from this situation, which she could tell, so she recommended I get a second opinion so I could feel more comfortable about my options. I asked her if she could recommend someone and she did. Another month’s wait for an appointment.

Meanwhile, the eye irritation I usually get this time of year from tree pollen and the dry, hot desert air got progressively worse. I added artificial tears to my daily routine.

The second ophthalmologist appointment happened this week. The good news is that this doctor was a lot more confident about the benefits of having cataract surgery and thought it would clear up my vision, although I’ll have to wear glasses at least part of the time afterwards. She had a plan, as opposed to an I-don’t-know-what's-going-on attitude. So I decided to schedule the surgery with her.

That will take place in two weeks. Between pre-op and post-op appointments and time for healing, followed by getting suitable glasses afterwards, I don’t see reading and writing getting any easier for a while. So I’m going to not put pressure on myself to accomplish a whole lot until August, which means there’s not much point in doing a daily progress blog.

As Gilda Radner used to say, it’s always something. See you in August.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Double Pink Murder is Now Live!

Wow, that was quick! It can take up to 72 hours from the time an author clicks "Publish" on Amazon until it's available for sale. Usually, it takes less than 24, but today it only took about an hour before I got the confirmation email.

Get your copy at

I'll post what I've done so far today now, but I'll update this if I do anything later.

As expected, I spent a good deal of time researching material for the science fiction novel I have in my head. Fascinating stuff. I've always been intrigued by space and boldly going where no man has gone before, so I can spend hours and hours reading about habitable planets and red dwarf stars and such.

My cover designer, Susan Coils, is fantastic! When I sent her the specs for the paperback cover last week, she said she probably wouldn't get to it until "next week." Last night, the cover showed up in my mailbox. It looked perfect, so the print version of Double Pink Murder won't be too far behind the ebook version.

I also emailed a fellow mystery writer with what I keep in my series bible. Hmmm... that sounds like another blog post. If anyone's interested, let me know in the comments.

Post Days 3

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday, a scheduled day off.

I'm starting to feel the itch to start a new novel. I can't go very many days without writing. It feels like a very long time since I wrote something new, even though it wasn't too long ago that I finished Double Pink Murder. Today I found myself daydreaming about what I will write next. I believe I'll break out the pen and notebook tomorrow morning and start brainstorming in earnest.

Posting Days: 2

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Briefest Streak Ever

My idea when I started this was to post a new entry on every writing day. Yesterday, I was very tired. I even went to bed early the night before and didn't get out of bed until 6:00 AM. That might seem early to you, but my cats think breakfast time is closer to five.

I put in a couple of hours working on my keyword list for some new Amazon ads. That certainly took a lot longer than I expected! There were many authors and book titles that KDP Rocket had found that were unfamiliar to me. Now, Dave Chesson says to review your keywords to make sure they're relevant to your book, because some publishers put books in categories where they think they'll rank high rather than ones that match their book. I've seen that myself, so I decided to check out the unfamiliar titles and authors.

It's a good thing I did! Somehow the search routine thought gay romance novels were a match for my African Violet Club Mysteries. Now, I think people should be able to choose whatever sexual partner they like. I live in a world where I see and talk to gay people every day. I even included a gay character in one of my Community of Faith mysteries. (That's a whole other blog post.) But I don't think readers of gay romance novels are a good match to my cozy mysteries, where having people do more than chaste kisses can be distasteful to some readers. (Another blog post.)

Weeding out the inappropriate keywords is a tedious task, to say the least. It requires searching Amazon for each one I didn't recognize to see if it should stay or go. I guess that's part of what tired me out. So I never made it back to my computer to write an entry here.

Today was the monthly Tucson Sisters in Crime meeting. This counts as working as well as socializing. Today was a particularly good meeting. The morning speaker was the head of the Tucson Police Department's Hostage Negotiating Team. Great information about how this is done, including an audio playback of part of an actual hostage situation. I kept wondering how I could work this into one of my mysteries. Don't be surprised if Lilliana is taken hostage in a future book!

The afternoon speakers were an investigator from the Tucson Fire Department and a sergeant from the Tucson Police Department who are responsible for the investigation of questionable fires. In other words, arson investigations, although you can't determine if it's arson until after you investigate, which is why the odd terminology. The fire department investigator determines the cause of the fire and how it started, the physical evidence as to pattern and whether an accelerant was used, that kind of thing. The police department investigator questions people and follows any leads provided by what the fire department investigator turned up. Another fascinating topic.

And now, since I just got home shortly before starting this, I know I'm probably done for the day. If I do more later, I might update this post. But I want to start a new streak of blog postings and it's hard to start without doing one.

Posting days: 1