I’ve written fiction and non-fiction; fiction is much more challenging. Prior to becoming an author of cozy mysteries, I worked as a journalist, publicist, author of two full-length books, plus those you find on coffee tables in hotel rooms or obtain at chambers of commerce to learn about their communities. When I sat down to write, I created an outline, reported the facts, and although the pieces included some description, the intent was to get the message across in as few words as possible.
I wrote features about people, cooking and entertaining; and a weekly column for a local
newspaper. Community guides were succinct but in a style that, hopefully, encouraged visits to that special museum, historical site, shop or restaurant. The first non-fiction book, a cookbook and bed and breakfast guide; and the second, a how-to about fund-raising for non-profit organizations, had to be comprehensive enough to satisfy readers but not overly long as to bore them. I had no problem with that.
But then there’s fiction. Maybe I’m an oddity, but for me writing fiction has been much more difficult. For starters, whatever appears on the pages is the product of my imagination, so my mind never shuts off. It’s constantly active, often even when I’m sleeping or not able to sleep because I’m thinking about revisions or how to structure the next chapter, making sure of a consistent thread throughout the story and, of course, that there’s realistic dialogue.
When describing investigative procedures, criminal charges, autopsies, side effects of drug overdoses, or even periods of history, the information must be as accurate as possible, allowing for some poetic license. Ditto for geography that’s particular to the setting. Research, including interviews with experts in those fields, takes time.
The length of a non-fiction book depends on the author’s goals, subject matter and the audience. It can be short or long, guided by the topic, but a general rule-of-thumb is 30,000 words and above. With fiction, there’s a prescribed length for every genre, but most novels run between 50,000 and 120,000 words; cozies from 40,000 to 70,000. At about 35,000 words, my first drafts have fallen short of the expected length. And at times, it’s been challenging to expand the story line without padding it with superfluous and extraneous details.
A newspaper column took a few hours to write, a community book about six weeks, and the non-fiction books about six to nine months. The first cozy took more than two years; the one I’m working on now may be completed a bit more quickly, I’ve been through the process before. Writing cozies has been a lifelong dream, and don’t get me wrong, I’m loving it. But there’s way more to it than I ever would have thought.