Could it be Mr. Mustard in the basement with a broom?

I’m getting within spitting distance of the end of my new mystery, A Cut Above. I’m trying to make as many of the suspects into as strong of candidates to be the murderer as possible. Looking back at the chapters I’ve written, I’ve introduced enough suspects, but I haven’t focused on some of them like I should have. So I’m trying to add a few more twists and turns before the big reveal.

I don’t know why, because I do a lot of cause and effect when I outline, but I always come up short on words and punch near the end of a book. I always have to skirmish to add more. Usually, I’m fighting mild panic, worrying I’ll get everything right, but this time, my characters have been especially generous, and they’ve thought of ways to make themselves look worse than they already did. One of them is happily trying to throw the blame on the others under consideration, and that adds to the mix.

One of the things I enjoy about cozies is that many of them choose a victim who’s so unpleasant, people would stand in line to rid the world of her. That’s not mandatory, of course, but does make things more fun. Donna Amick, the first victim in my book, would have a longer line than most. It’s hard to decide who killed her when everyone wanted her dead. Unfortunately, in most mysteries, after the protagonist starts digging deeper for clues, there’s a second victim. And often, that person is someone likeable. And then the investigation changes course a little, because the protagonist has to decide why that person died.

I’m a little pleased with myself this time because I thought of a twist I didn’t see coming . Before I start writing, I know who the victim/s will be, who the suspects are, and who the killer is. I’ve read blogs by writers who don’t know which of their characters committed the crime until the end of the book. That amazes me. I don’t know how they can plant clues and red herrings when they don’t know who did what. But even with my knowing, my characters can think of something I didn’t and make it work in the story. That happened this time, and it added to the fun.

I’ve been talking about common plotting techniques in cozies, but Ilona Andrews answered a reader’s question about self-publishing, and how even though the author has a lot of freedom and control, he’d still better know the basic “rules” for each genre before he breaks them. I thought she gave an especially good answer, so here’s a link to it: I Have the Power! (ilona-andrews.com). And if you read it, you’ll see even choosing a cover for your book comes with expectations.

Soon, I hope to introduce you to Karnie, the protagonist in A Cut Above, who works in her family’s butcher shop. In the meantime, happy reading. And happy writing!

Mysteries

Writers can end up talking about and researching strange things.  When I write mysteries, though, I always hope no one tracks the history of the sites I visit.  For instance, my character dug a hole near a septic tank–so no one would get suspicious why he was digging a hole in the first place, and then dumped a body in it.  Six months later, the house has sold and the toilets aren’t draining right, so another person digs near the septic tank and finds the body.  Question is:  what will it look?  Answer:  not at all like the body my protagonists found stashed in the attic–which was above ground and protected. Hence the working title:  The Body in the Attic.  But when I read the first chapter to my writers’ group, they all had different ideas of what dear Lynda’s remains would exactly be. Would the clothes still be intact?  The hair?  Would her skin and flesh have dissolved or mummified?  Would the pillow under her head be stained from when her flesh liquefied?

How I love my writer friends!  They didn’t blink an eye while they discussed how bodies decompose or dessicate–as Lisa Black explains in her book THAT DARKNESS.  A fellow writer in my group is working on a much more grisly mystery than mine and needed to know how long a body can hang in woods before the neckbone gives out and the head and body drop and roll in different directions.  Oh, the possibilities!

I bought Lisa Black’s book THAT DARKNESS, because she’s a forensic scientist and I thought she’d HAVE to make me start thinking about stuff I usually try to avoid.  And I was right.  It reminded me of when I went to a big mystery conference in Chicago and a coroner gave an hour and a half workshop on finding clues when studying dead bodies.  He brought slides of entry wounds and exit wounds.  A bullet goes in small, but exits big.  Unless it’s a .22, and then it might just bounce around inside the skull.  (Black used that in her book, but the coroner had already warned us about it).

Black’s book concentrates on crimes and forensics, so it was fun to read–unless you’re squeamish.  I want my book to concentrate more on characters but with realistic clues to the murders.  Black’s book has lifetime criminals and cops and forensic scientists.  Her characters work with crime day after day.  Professional criminals do WAY worse things than the killer in my book.  He’s an amateur with amateur detectives finding clues they don’t want to.  My book will have a totally different feel than hers.  On purpose.  But I’m so glad I read hers.  Details make a difference.  And she’s a professional, so her details drive the story.  When she has to cut off a dessicated finger to soak it long enough that she can get prints, you believe her.  And that’s awesome!