So How Did I Write That Novel? by Karen Shughart


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My first novel, Murder in the Museum, was recently published by Cozy Cat Press, and I must admit it was a real labor of love. It’s the first (at least I hope it is!) in a series of Edmund DeCleryk Mysteries that takes place in Lighthouse Cove, NY, a fictional village located on the southern shores of Lake Ontario. If you know anything about the seasons in the Great Lakes, you’ll understand why I chose late fall and winter for my series’ debut. Brrrr! Lots of dark and blizzardy nights with lots of howling wind, along with stunningly gorgeous seasonal vistas.

I’ve been published before, non-fiction, and have worked as a journalist and newspaper columnist, but this was my first venture as a fiction writer. So how did I do it?

The idea:  For whatever reason, I envisioned my sleuth as a retired police chief who lives with his wife, Annie, the head of the historical society, in a small lakeside community. Ed, also a retired Navy SEAL, is hired to investigate murders when there’s an oversized work load for the village police.

The structure: Like many novelists, I began with a plot outline, list of characters, and lots of hand-scribbled notes. But I’m not good with much structure and probably wouldn’t have followed a strict outline anyway, so I let the plot meander in whatever direction made sense.  I like puzzles, and this was like solving one.

The drafts:  After completing my first draft, and several others, I realized I wasn’t even close to being finished. The book needed lots of work. I was writing like a journalist, using as few words as possible to make a point. Not a good way to go with a novel.

The rewrites: I rewrote the prologue so that it would capture readers’ attention from the get-go, expanded character development, enhanced description and created bridge narratives to link one part of the story to another. I added some twists and turns to keep readers a touch off balance, and to keep them guessing about “whodunit”.  My book grew from 30,000 to 66,000 words; at last, a novel!

The critics:  When I was minimally satisfied with my creation, I invited three close friends to serve as my readers (my patient husband had already read it multiple times). I knew they would be brutally honest about what they liked and disliked. Their excellent feedback and suggestions made the book much better.

The publisher: Finally, I researched publishers and came up with a list of those I hoped would be interested in Murder in the Museum. Cozy Cat Press has been a good fit.

The moral: Writing a novel isn’t easy, the process can take time, and it’s smart to have others read and critique your book before submitting it to a publisher. Was it worth it? You bet!

4 thoughts on “So How Did I Write That Novel? by Karen Shughart

  1. Hi Karen, from a fellow Cozy Catter. My background is playwrighting, so when I started my first novel, I just wrote dialogue. Then I realized I had to add description and action. No actors to flesh it out for me! Congrats on your first book.


  2. SO good to know about your series, Karen! I live close to the southern shore of Lake Ontario and look forward to reading the series debut, which is now on my Kindle! –Kate, writing as c. t. collier


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