By Sally Carpenter
I recently “gave birth” to a beautiful, 15-ounce cozy that I christened “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper.” Gestation was a bit over nine months, as I began in earnest last spring. Labor pains were intense, and the book nearly miscarried.
First thing to change was the title. Following a story arc that began two books ago in the series, the original title was to be “The Bloody Black Tie Benefit Caper.” My protagonist, former teen idol Sandy Fairfax, was to perform at a benefit concert to help fund his father’s orchestra.
However, after considering the sales of the previous books, I needed a “snappier” title to catch readers’ interest. Most cozy fans have never been to an expensive fundraiser (neither have I, even though I live in an area where $150 a plate benefits are common) and might not find it an captivating topic.
Also, a one-night gala event was not enough to sustain a 200-plus-page book. I needed more action to flesh out the story.
So I gave Sandy a show biz job. In each book I put him in a different venue to maintain variety. So far in the series he’d performed at a Beatles fan convention, in a sitcom and on a cruise ship. Since he was singing at the fundraiser, I didn’t want a second concert.
What else do teen idols/actors do? They appear on game shows.
Sandy would be perfect on “Hollywood Squares” where he could crack jokes and express his charming personality. However, to avoid copyright issues I created my own game show, “Raise The Stakes.” That would give Sandy something to do for several days. And when he discovered the murder victim had appeared on the same show . . .
I’m a plotter and I usually have a scene-by-scene outline set before I start writing. This time I just dove in and began writing.
Big mistake. By page 50 I was stuck.
The story began with Sandy going to his father’s office and finding the body. Right away I had problems. How could the killer sneak in and out of an office suite and past the receptionist without being seen? The office was in high-rise so people in the hallways and a lobby desk clerk would have spotted the murderer as well.
My suspect pool was limited to people who worked in the orchestra or were on the board trustees. Try as I might, I just couldn’t picture dedicated musicians as killers.
While writing about a meeting between Sandy and his father, who share a rocky relationship, the scene had zero energy. I knew the story wasn’t working. I found the office setting boring and the plot too shaky.
I told my publisher I wanted to drop this novel and start a new series that I’d been considering. She encouraged me to finish the book (bless you, Patricia).
So I threw out what I had and started over.
I kept the scene that opened chapter two: Sandy is in an old art deco theater, talking with his estranged brother who is the house organist. They are on stage while the brother is playing the organ. Aha! Now that’s interesting. I love old theaters and especially those terrific organs.
I shifted the scene of the crime from the office complex to theater. And Sandy’s brother, not his father, would be framed for the crime. That would force the two feuding brothers to work together.
With this new approach, I finally wrote the plot outline. I won’t give more spoilers, but once I restructured the premise the rest of the story fell in place easily. By the time I wrote “the end,” I was pleased with the result.
Some books take more nurturing and prenatal care than others.