I finished writing the first fourth of the latest Jazzi Zanders cozy I’m working on (book 6). Which means, the set-up of the book is in place. The set-up always introduces the main character (Jazzi), and since this is a series, hopefully most readers have met her before. But, again hopefully, some readers might be new to the series, so I try to introduce her in the middle of doing something with her husband, Ansel, to show their relationship and what they’re up to this time around without boring people who already know them. Just enough information for new readers but not so much it’s repetitive from past books. A balancing act.
Jazzi comes with a decent-sized cast of characters: her mom and dad, her sister Olivia and her husband Thane, her cousin Jerod, whom she and Ansel work with flipping houses, and his wife Franny and their kids, along with Ansel’s brother Radley and his girlfriend Elspeth, Jerod’s mom and dad, and friends Walker and Didi and kids. And then there’s Gran–with the gift of “sight” and her friend Samantha. I know–a lot, so I try to introduce them a little at a time. Impossible at the Sunday meal that Jazzi hosts every week to help keep her family in touch with each other. They all play into the storylines of each book. In this one, Olivia becomes a major player. She owns a beauty shop with her mom, and when she bullies Jazzi into coming to the shop before it opens to get her hair cut and shaped, they find the shop’s new employee working on an early customer, even though no one’s given her a key to get inside. Things go downhill from there, as I’m sure you can guess from my working title: The Body in the Beauty Shop.
In the first few chapters of each book, I also try to introduce the new house project they’re working on for their flip. This time, they’ve chosen a grand brick Colonial home in Wildwood Park, a pocket of distinguished old houses surrounded by busy streets. It’s widow’s walk needs replaced, as does the railing on the balcony over the solarium. And as usual, the kitchen and bathrooms need gutted and updated. But other than that, it will be a quick fix. I’ve started buying more home magazines and looking up pictures of rooms on Pinterest to get new ideas.
And then there’s the matter of a murder or two. And in this book, I struggled to decide between two different cases and caved by going with both of them. I’ve never done that before, but I wanted to bring Jazzi’s ex-fiancée back into the stories, AND I wanted to focus on Olivia. So I have Jazzi trying to help two friends clear their names instead of one. She just didn’t have enough to do getting ready for her family’s big Easter celebration, and a protagonist at loose ends is a sorry thing to read.
Anyway, the set-up for a new book is always fun to write. It’s introducing characters, setting, the story’s big question, and any minor characters we need to know. It’s all things new. But once I start on the second fourth of the book, which is now, where subplots start twisting around each other, people lie when asked questions, and everything gets complicated, the writing gets trickier. And before I know it, I’ve reached the morass of the middle muddle. Before I wade to the last fourth of the book when things start moving again, I usually end up mired in doubt and positive another book sounds lots more interesting. But that’s all part of the writing process. It’s just a matter of putting one word in front of another until I hit solid ground again. But for now, I’m celebrating. One-fourth of the book is done!