I wrote, then tossed, then wrote and tossed again, until I finally wrote and kept a first chapter for my Karnie mystery #2, THE
STEAKS (STAKES) ARE HIGH. First chapters are like that for me, and I let myself fiddle with them until they at least get most of the things I want right I wanted to start Karnie out married to Matt and devoted to his two children. I wanted to remind readers that Karnie works in her family’s butcher shop and that in the last book, she helped solve the murder of a woman propped against the shop’s back door.
I know the chapter’s not perfect, and I know I’ll have to fiddle with it again, but getting the first chapter right sets me out in the right direction. This time, I have the main characters introduced, the setting, a whiff of the problem that has to be solved, and the tone I want for the story.
I don’t want Karnie to be too much like Jazzi from the Jazzi Zanders cozies. I want her to be a little pricklier than most of my protagonists. She’s not as patient, not as tactful, but she has a big heart.
I admired a woman like that. When our girls were little, we belonged a small church that cooked a lot of church suppers to raise money for charity. A small group of retired women organized most of the meals. One in particular, Mary, scared the girls. She always sounded gruff. Always raised an eyebrow when they ran into the kitchen to ask about something. Heck, she scared me, too. She assigned me the messy jobs of dredging, slicing, cutting, chopping. As a young mother, I had a low rank in the kitchen, not even high enough to be a sous chef. But I noticed how many hours Mary worked, how many people she helped. And I remembered something my mother had told me when I was little. “Her bark is worse than her bite.” So I told the girls, watch what she DOES, not how she says things. And that opened our eyes to the true beauty of Mary.
Karnie was like that. She thought of herself as drab and boring–a hard worker. Her brother’s friend, Matt, thought of her that way, too, until his little girl lifted her arms and wanted Karnie to hold her. Divorced, Matt paid attention to what Karnie DID. He looked past her prickly attitude and saw the beauty inside her. And once he spotted that, it was on. Karnie thought she’d stay single for life. She was wrong.
That made it fun for me as a writer. In Jazzi and Ansel’s last book, they decide to start a family. Karnie marries Matt and inherits an instant family. His almost 5-year-old Jackson and 3-year-old Chelsea don’t think of her as the evil stepmother. Their pretty, social mother left them for Matt to raise. They want someone solid, and they choose her. She resists for a while, but how do you turn away from a wonderful man, two great kids, and a lovable border collie?
Now, if only both couples could quit tripping over dead bodies…. But then I wouldn’t have a mystery:) So I don’t give them a choice. Protagonists can’t have it all. And once again, Karnie’s going to have her hands full.