It worked

I’m a little obsessed with plotting.  And there are LOTS of ways to do it.  Some people don’t need to do it at all–I’m jealous. But for me?  I need all the help I can get to keep words and ideas moving for a 70,000+ book.

After all these years of writing, I still like to read about the CRAFT of writing off and on, just to keep me on my toes.  And hopefully, my writing will keep getting better.  I still have flaws, and I know it.  So does my writers club:)  For new ideas, I recommend Story Empire: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/08/28/nutshell-catch-point-no-return/   Staci Troilo is writing about plotting on that site right now–a method I’ve never heard of–the Nutshell Method. 

For a long time now, I’ve divided my books into four parts with a plot point twist at the end of each one.  Once I know those twists, I write plot points for every chapter in the book.  And that’s worked for me, but I wanted MORE.  I use a character wheel to develop important characters in the story, and that works really well, too.  But…surely, there was something else to make my mysteries sharper?  stronger?  So I came with a list of questions to answer BEFORE I started work on my plot points.  And boy, am I happy with what I came up with.  I think I finally have a good balance.  At least, for me.  And mysteries.  You might be able to fiddle with the questions for other genres, but since I don’t write those…well,…you’re on your own.

Anyway, I’m playing with an idea for a new cozy mystery.  The premise popped in my head and wouldn’t leave.  Kept bugging me.  But that’s ALL that came to mind.  So…syymied…I turned to my list of questions.  Suddenly, suspects and witnesses filled my head, the victim ended up as the dead body she deserved to be, and my series characters flexed their muscles and showed their true selves.

If you’re writing a mystery and would like to try the questions, here they are:

  1. Who is killed (at least, the first person) or what is the crime?
  2. Who commits it? And how?  (step by step so no holes or confusion)
  3. WHY Is it committed?
  4. Who are the suspects and why? (At least two, more’s better)
  5. Any witnesses? Does someone see something that looks suspicious?  Any innocent bystanders?
  6. What’s the ending? (I always know this before I write)
  7. Any special clue or red herring? Any alibis or fake alibis?  Accusations?  False arrests?
  8. A subplot (something going on with a character other than the crime)
  9. A smaller subplot.

These questions helped me.  Doesn’t mean they’ll work for you.  But whatever method you like, happy writing!

Inspiration

When I first thought of asking authors I admire to join me in an anthology, I asked a few of my close writing friends if they’d try to write a mystery for me.  And I got blank stares.  Okay.  Totally fair.  Because not one of them has ever written a mystery.  I got it.  But I really wanted them to write a story for me.  So I thought of an idea.

“What if we use the game Clue to inspire us?”

The game itself is copyrighted.  But I didn’t really want to base it on the game or movie.  I just wanted to help my friends get ideas for mysteries.

“What if we each choose a room?  A weapon?  And a color?  And use those in our stories somehow.”

I ended up picking Miss Peacock with a wrench in the kitchen as loose inspiration for my story.  Miss Peacock became Earnestine Peabody, a nosy busybody who’s trying to dig up dirt on the volunteer decorators who are working on a grand, old house in River Bluffs to sell so that the profits go to charities.  Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod sign up to renovate the kitchen, dining room, and half bath to help support the food banks in their town.  And as it happened, Earnestine was killed in the kitchen but stuffed in a hall closet, but that’s all right, because the game was only supposed to inspire us, not to be taken too seriously.

Which was a good thing.  Because my fellow writers went in all kinds of directions with the stories they wrote.  Mr. Plum evolved into a plum room in an attic, haunted by two ghosts, when Kathleen Palm sent me her psychological horror mystery.  I can’t say much more without giving away the plot.  Julia Donner, not content with one murder weapon, chose two for her humorous Regency mystery.  The poor victim had a bell pull wrapped around his neck and then he was whacked with a candlestick to finish the job.  And C.S. Boyack couldn’t find a weapon to his liking, so chose his own.  Had to.  A knife, revolver, wrench, rope, candlestick, or lead pipe wouldn’t harm Jason Fogg when he transformed. Mae Clair chose the hall, but put that hall in a castle for her medieval whodunnit.  And Rachel Sherwood Roberts made the conservatory the pivot point of her literary mystery.  D.P. Reisig decided against the regular weapons, too, and introduced one I’ve never heard of, a slung-shot, but it definitely sounded deadly.

So, even though we used Clue to get our little grey cells working,–and really, that’s all we needed it for–we all went in our own directions once it sparked ideas.  It served its purpose.  So from this day on, I’ll enjoy it as a game, a movie, and now as inspiration.

 

 

Mystery Musings

Humor.  It’s such a great antidote.  That’s why I was so happy that C.S. Boyack and Julia Donner wrote two humorous mysteries for the anthology I put together.  When I read Craig’s Jason Fogg story, I smiled all the way through it.  The premise of a detective who can dissolve into…yup, you guessed it…fog…was so much fun.  And his delivery…well, if you’ve read any of his books, it was fun, too.  Here’s a short blurb of his mystery From the Files of Jason Fogg:

They probably don’t even recognize me in the building, because I usually skipped the lobby and went for my upstairs window. I always left myself a way inside and squeezing through a tiny crack was a piece of cake. The back room was perfect for reforming because there are no windows. No sense in flashing the neighbors across the street. After making myself presentable, I checked the mail. Nothing but bills. Maybe Riley was right about this job.

My bus pass was in the top drawer, and I grabbed some business cards for good measure. “Jason Fogg Detective Agency.” Has a nice ring to it. On the way out, I scooped up a garbage bag with a change of clothes. Jeans and red flannel, it’s practically the uniform of Seattle.

People on the bus commented about the lovely weather. Honestly, I prefer a good downpour but simply agreed with them.

Craig’s a natural at writing with humor, but I think it’s a tricky voice to accomplish.  He seems to manage it with ease.  So does Julia Donner in the Regency mystery she sent for the collection.  The minute I saw her scene titles, I knew I was in for a treat.

Murder at a Garden Party

or The Unpleasantness in the Study

West London

May 1818

Scene 1

Wherein Suspects Are Introduced

See?  No “Body in the Study.”  Regencies are all about good manners.  A corpse is merely an “Unpleasantness.”  I loved it!  I loved the entire story.  Here’s a little to tease you:

Under the pavilion’s roof, guests more interested in the topic of the murder than in the balloon spectacle huddled in groups, whispering while striving to contain offended sensibilities. Understandably, the brutal slaying of Lord Mainspout would deign Lady Brilliant’s assembly either a social coup or a doomed disgrace.

Peregrine lifted his hand to tap away a yawn with the backs of his fingers. “It is indeed astonishing what a lady will get up to when it comes to making herself the most talked about hostess in London. I had thought a balloon ascension a rather desperate measure. A dead body is truly above and beyond.”

“One shouldn’t have to contrive to this extent.”

“But they lack your intelligence and style, m’dear. Patience, Lizzie. Sir Hector and Lady Brilliant have better ton than to allow themselves to get caught up in a vulgar controversy. Do you think the butler did it?”

“Oh, do be serious. If we must loiter about waiting for the magistrate and his tedious questions, tell me about the guests to keep me occupied. I know all of them superficially. Guessing who is responsible for the unpleasantness in the study will pass the time.”

He chuckled and discretely tickled the inside of her left wrist. “You are deliciously heartless today, Lady Asterly. And speculation would present a method for keeping extreme boredom at bay whilst we wait. I must warn you that other than this lovely house and park on the veritable edge of town, Sir Hector and Lady Brilliant are a crashingly boring pair.”

“There is no such word as crashingly.”

“If the shoe fits.”

I’ve loved Peregrine and Elizabeth since I first read about them in The Heiress and the Spy.  https://www.amazon.com/Heiress-Spy-Friendship-Book-ebook/dp/B00HGQCAYU/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=julia+donner&qid=1598638918&sr=8-2

It was lovely to see them in a short story.

But there you have it.  Two mysteries.  Both filled with humor.  And yet so different.  That’s what makes writing so wonderful.  We each come to it with our own voice, our own styles.  I hope these two samples of stories catch your interest so that you take a peek at Murder They Wrote.  It includes 7 different authors and 7 different approaches to murder:)

Calming Down

Things have been more scrunched for time for me lately.  Life does that.  Sends you way too many things at the same time to see if you survive.  I have, but I’m really ready for life to slow down a bit.  I feel like I’ve been juggling too many balls and I barely got through without them all crashing down.

I’m not looking for sympathy, because I’ve worked through most of it, but my sister died, and then my other sister had to endure three surgeries really close together, and my cousin–who lived with Patty and now will live with Mary–has all kinds of health issues, and Mary couldn’t lift more than twenty pounds.  You’d be surprised how much that limits you.  None of it’s been horrible, but it’s all been trying.

Mary, with HH and my help, has been trying to empty Patty’s house to sell, and Jenny fell three times so that I had to spend the night sleeping in a recliner to keep an eye on her.  My sister Mary has done much, much more, so I’m only backup.  But it’s been rough.  On top of that, I’ve been writing and editing, and living my life.  I’ve had writing meetings at my house.  Because of Covid, we can’t meet in our usual room.  And I’ve been cooking for HH and me and sending leftovers to my sister (she hates to cook), and cooking for Scribes (because I love them) and cooking for kids whenever they come up to see us.

And I’ve loved all the good things.  Survived the bad things.  But I’m SO grateful it looks like we’re going to have a few weeks of down time.  I’m really ready for days with no pressure.  And I feel like a wimp, because Mary still has crap to deal with it, but I can’t help her with it.  I’m not power of attorney, so it’s all on her.  And I feel bad for her, but I have to admit, it’s going to be nice that I can’t do anything for a while, except send leftovers to her and my cousin.  Which they love and appreciate, and that even makes me feel tacky, because the leftovers are no big deal.

BUT, I think I’m going to have time to start plot points for my next Jazzi book (#7).  AND I got an idea for a new series–which I have no idea how I’ll find time to write, but the idea won’t go away.  SO, I’m going to plot out both books because I finally can write, then stop, then write again, until I figure out what I want to do.  And I’m not going to be rushed.  And that’s wonderful.  So I’m going to give both books time to unravel themselves and come to life for me.  And I’m grateful.

Hope you’re writing, too. May the Muse smile on you:)

An Abundance of Riches

Okay, I might have outsmarted myself.  I can’t seem to get this timing thing quite right.  I liked C.S. Boyack’s idea of writing two manuscripts at the same time so much, I managed to finish a few things all close together.  And then what do you do?

I don’t know how I managed it, but I ended up with three finished projects–my last Muddy River short read, a new Lux novel, and an anthology I put together with friends–back to back of each other.  It feels awesome!  But I don’t want to try to market too many things at the same time.  One of the contributors to the anthology, C.S. Boyack, put his new book,  HMS Lanternfish, on sale on August 8.  He’s been writing guest posts to promote it on other peoples’ blogs since it came out.  That takes a lot of time and work.  He’s starting storyboards for new books, too.  So I didn’t want to crowd his book’s debut too much.  And I wanted lots of people to find it.  I just finished reading it, and boy, was it fun!

I can’t wait too long on the anthology, though.  My fifth Jazzi Zanders mystery comes out on Sept. 22, and I want to give myself some time to promote the anthology before Lyrical steps up marketing for The Body From the Past.  So, I’ve decided to put up MURDER THEY WROTE on August 27.  That feels like a happy medium for both Craig and me.

And as for the new Lux book?  It’s polished and ready to go, but I’m going to hold it in the wings for a while until Jazzi and the anthology get a fair shot of my time.  A hard thing for me to do.  I hate waiting.  I did a lot of extra work on this Lux, and I’m really happy with it.  It has to get in line, though.  And when I think about it, I guess there are worse problems a writer could have:)

While I’m waiting, I have half of the plot points done for Jazzi 7, so I want to finish those and start work on the next Jazzi mystery.  That should keep me out of trouble for a while:)  And since I mentioned the anthology, here’s a little teaser.  I think it turned out pretty special!New Release

Mystery Musings

My poor husband ends up watching more mysteries on TV than any man should have to endure, but the truth is, no matter how much he grumbles (and he can grumble about almost anything), he enjoys them.  We have Acorn TV (with lots of mysteries) and BritBox (with even more).

We recently stumbled on The Bletchley Circle (San Francisco) on BritBox.  https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7978912/  .  I’m not sure how many of you can find it and watch it, but it’s WONDERFUL.  I’m no movie expert like my friend M.L. Rigdon, but the scene sets and cinematography are moody and evocative.  The actresses and actors are topnotch, and the mystery is mesmerizing.

I had no idea what the Bletchley Circle was, but the minute my husband heard the title, he was intrigued.  He reads a lot about World War II and knew right away that Bletchley Park in England was the center for code breakers during the war.  The premise of the show is that a lot of women worked at breaking codes during the war, then they were dispersed and unneeded when the men came home from fighting.  But these were smart women, and in the TV drama, one of their friends was killed during the war, and there’s another murder years later, in San Francisco, that uses the exact MO as that murder.  So four women decide to put their code busting brains together to study the patterns of the new murders to bring justice for their friend.

The first murder takes two episodes to solve, and it’s a great introduction to the series.  If you can find it, I highly recommend it.  It’s one of the smartest mysteries I’ve seen for a while.

Money, money, money

canstockphoto31168159

(Lux)

I thought I grew up middle class.  Now I’m not so sure.  Most of our neighbors had less money than we did, and my parents struggled quite a bit until my dad got a better job at the factory he worked at and made better wages.  They felt comfortable by the time my little sister was born, but I was twelve by then.

After I got married, had two daughters, and couldn’t get back into teaching, my husband and I dropped to middle class, too.  I only really think about money when something rears up and worries me, but we’re sure not rolling in it.  And sometimes I wonder what it would be like to NEVER have to think about budgets or bills or saving.  And that’s why I created Lux for my new mysteries.

Lux is filthy rich.  She’s so rich, it bothered my agent when she read my manuscript.  Jazzi and Ansel are well off, but they don’t throw money around.  Hester and Raven have amassed fortunes over their centuries-old lives, but they live in Muddy River with lots of other supernaturals who’ve done the same and try to avoid attention.  Lux is rich and enjoys it.

When I was growing up, I didn’t trust people who had a lot of money.  But then, when I started college, I got a job as a waitress at our local Chamber of Commerce.  And I served a lot of rich people at lunches and parties.  And I liked almost all of them.  Some were awesome and some weren’t, just like everyone else I’d met.  And then our church got a retired minister for a year, who’d grown up in Israel before marrying a rich woman and moving to the U.S.  He preached about enjoying blessings as often as he preached about being the best person you could be.  I loved him so much I asked him to marry hubs and me.  I still remember him fondly.

But he helped me realize that enjoying blessings was as important as facing the challenges thrown at us through life.  And that’s why Lux is so much fun to write.  I think she does both well.  She loves all of the money she has, but it doesn’t determine who she is or what she does or who she spends time with.  And as a reporter, and a protagonist who stumbles on crimes and bodies. she rises to each challenge with intelligence and a lot of compassion. She enjoys her yellow Bentley, her sprawling house, and her hunky chef boyfriend.  But she’s willing to pass out lunches at the community center, too, when Keon’s brother needs a helping hand.

As a writer, I love living vicariously through the characters I create.  And this time, with Lux, I get to experience a lot of things that I never had in real life.

 

Mystery Musings

I’m working on my second Lux mystery, and I’ve finally reached 19,000 words.  I’ve finished the first fourth of the book, and for now, I’m happy with it.   I’ve introduced the book’s big question (who committed the murder since it’s a mystery) and a subplot (The Johnson siblings’ grandmother is moving to Summit City to live with their mom and dad, and no one’s happy about it).  Grandma Johnson is a bitter, outspoken woman, who fell and broke her hip, so she needs care until she’s better, maybe for the rest of her days.  Lux, a freelance writer, is working on an article on aging, so Grandma Johnson ties into the research she’s doing for it.

Lux gets involved in solving the book’s murder because the victim is Cook’s nephew.  Cook worked for Lux’s parents and was always there for her.  She loves Cook so much that she convinces her to move to Summit City, too, along with her oldest sister.  Things get complicated when Cook’s nephew’s body is found in one of Lux’s storage units.  He was murdered while he was stealing things from her.

I always enjoy writing the set-up of a book.  That’s when I try to make my characters come to life as I throw them into the story.  It’s where I try to plant readers in the setting and describe the house, town, and surroundings through action.  And it’s where the important changes happen in my protagonist’s life that make her take action to fix things.

In my first Lux book, I started with more background information than usual.  I felt that the story needed it.  But usually, I tread lightly when sprinkling background into my writing.  I need to know all of that information, but the reader doesn’t necessarily need much of it.  C.S. Boyack wrote a great post on this for Story Empire.  He showed the drip, drip, drip method of feeding readers information.  Writers can go from sparse to a lot more.  I often end up in the middle.  Here’s Craig’s article:

https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/05/27/case-study-the-mandalorian/

I’m now heading into the second fourth of the book.  Lux is ready to dig into finding clues and making things work.  Of course, ten or so chapters from now when I reach the middle of the plot line, there’ll be another twist and she’ll have to shift directions.  Nothing can be that easy for a protagonist.  So she’ll be keeping me busy for a while now.  And that’s the joy of writing.  One fourth of the novel done.  Three-fourths to go.  And so far, the middle muddle hasn’t slowed me down.

Mystery Musings

I just finished reading SCARED STIFF by Annelise Ryan.  Her protagonist is an ex-ER nurse who has to leave the hospital she loved working in when her husband–Dr. David Winston–cheats on her with a fellow RN.  It’s too awkward for Mattie to work with David, and no one’s going to fire a skilled surgeon, so Mattie finds herself working as an assistant to her friend, Izzy, the town’s coroner.

My daughter’s a nurse.  So are a few of my friends.  When they get together, I hear an information overload about diseases, body parts, maladies, and things that can go wrong.  It always makes me hope I stay healthy.  And their humor?  If cops are known for dark humor, nurses might be able to top them.  Some of the situations Mattie finds herself in made me chuckle and cringe at the same time.

After she moves out of her house, her husband wants her back.  But Mattie is thrown together with Hurley, the new homicide detective in town.  And Hurley is delicious.  When she and Hurley are called to examine a dead body, Mattie discovers it’s the nurse her husband was cheating on her with.  Mattie doesn’t want to reconcile, but she doesn’t believe David is capable of murder.  So she starts poking into things.

This series does a great balancing act of mixing medical facts, humor, and clues, along with romance.  It makes for an entertaining mix.

Mystery Musings

Unrest.  After watching the news, I understand why people are angry and carrying signs that Black Lives Matter.  EVERY life matters.  I get that.  But it makes me wonder if I published BAD HABITS at the wrong time.

In my mystery, Lux Millhouse has been best friends with Gabbie Johnson, a black girl, for a long time and visited her home often.  So many times, that when Gabbie and her three older brothers pack up to leave Chicago and move to Summit City to start businesses, Lux moves, too.  Lux came from rich parents, who died soon after she starts her career as a newspaper reporter.  The accident takes them so suddenly, Lux wants to sell everything and start over someplace else.  And she invests in the Johnson brothers’ businesses.

More, she’s known Gabbie’s older brother, Keon–a chef–for so long that it surprises her to realize that she doesn’t think of him as a big brother.  She’s attracted to him and wants more.

I really wanted Lux, who’s rich and white, falling for Keon, who’s black and fell for her a long time ago, to be no big deal.  In my mind, it ISN’T anything major.  When my HH and I got married and moved into our home, we picked a small community that had been swallowed up by the city.  Our neighbors were nice.  Everyone kept up their properties.  So it came as a shock to learn that our little town had once been a stronghold of the KKK.  But times change, and when the KKK wanted to march down our street, people shrugged and said, “So what?  Let them, but we don’t want to see them.”  And when no one got riled up and didn’t care much, they canceled their march.

When our daughters started school, race wasn’t much of an issue either.  And our middle class neighbors shrugged when daughters came home to introduce their parents to their black or Hispanic boyfriends.  “Is he nice?  Will he be good to you?” were the big questions.  Mind you, I don’t know how this happened.  I don’t know when it became no big deal to the people we knew.  All I know is that we all had to work hard to pay our bills, and we knew those people were working hard to pay their bills, so we were all trying to make ends meet together.

When our daughter graduated from cosmetology school and came home to introduce her boyfriend, a black chef, to us, his family had a lot more money than we did.  We were middle class.  They were upper middle class.  And Jason cooked the most wonderful anniversary dinner for us I’ve ever had in my life, and we liked him.  He and my daughter didn’t make it, but it wasn’t because of race.  It had a lot more to do with temperaments, but to this day, we still like him.  So does our daughter.  They just should never live together.

Anyway, this is a roundabout way to say that I wanted to show a rich, white girl with a black chef and it is NO BIG DEAL.  They’re two people who are right for each other.  But right now, things have gotten so sensitive, I hope people see it that way.  That’s how we lived it.  That’s how some of our neighbors lived it.  And I hope, someday, that becomes the norm.  Maybe we got lucky.  Or maybe it’s because we were all middle class.  I don’t know.  But it’s time it just doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter in BAD HABITS.  And that’s how I wanted it to be.