Write What You Know (And always listen to your best friend)
By Tara Lush
When I first started writing fiction six years ago, I turned to romance. It was a genre that I’d read and loved — along with mystery and true crime, of course. When I told my oldest friend about my plan to write a steamy novel, she scrunched up her face.
“Why aren’t you writing crime fiction?”
It was an excellent question. I’ve been a newspaper and wire service journalist in Florida for two decades, with many of those years devoted to the weird, the horrific, and the criminal. I’ve covered many of the state’s biggest crime stories. High-profile ones such as Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin. Lesser-known murderers who had abducted children and those who attacked fellow citizens in a drug-induced haze. I’ve also covered eleven mass shootings (including Parkland and Pulse) and witnessed thirteen executions in Florida’s death chamber.
“Pfft. Why would I write crime fiction?” I asked my friend. “It’s too depressing. Too much like my day job. I want to do something different. My muse is telling me to write about sex.”
And yet, my muse told me to write a romantic suspense for my first novel. I moved on from there, writing contemporary romance and erotic romance. And while I had some measure of success — a RITA finalist book in 2018 — it never felt a hundred percent right, either.
In 2019, I was on a trip to Vermont and sitting around my best friend’s house. I was musing aloud about my next steps for my fiction career. Self-publishing contemporary romance was increasingly difficult and competitive, I told her, and writing the happy-ever-after between the couple wasn’t as satisfying as it had been in previous years. I wanted to tell a story about justice, but with humor and nuance.
I’d recently finished a series about couples in a quirky Florida town, and let’s just say the eccentricities of the characters weren’t resonating with romance readers. I was frustrated.
“What about a mystery novel?” my friend asked.
I mulled this over for the entire month of August while I was on a monthlong vacation. I’d been reading Kathy Reichs’ Deja Dead, and although I loved it, I couldn’t imagine myself writing something so dark. There was the matter of the day job trauma, after all. But what if I could write something softer, something with a little romance and a twisty murder… something gentle.
A cozy mystery, perhaps?
While sitting in a café in Quebec City and drinking the best espresso I’d ever had, I sketched an outline for my cozy. I used my experience as a crime reporter to plot the murder. First I chose a victim. Then I chose a murderer. I worked backwards with the details and clues, thinking about all the police reports I’d read over the years, all the news conferences I’d been to, and all the cops I’d chatted up. Suddenly everything made sense.
You know those wooden puzzle boxes, the ones that seem so hard to open? That’s what my brain felt like. Each clue, each detail, unlocked something inside my creative soul in a way that romance didn’t. I was able to blend my quirky characters and my love of a Florida setting with a murder and a romantic subplot. Justice as an HEA was more alluring than a fictional marriage proposal.
What was this sorcery?
That fall, I wrote my cozy mystery and in March of this year, sold it to Crooked Lane Books.
The lesson here is to always listen to your best friend. And perhaps, listen to what your muse is whispering.
Barista Lana Lewis’s sleuthing may land her in a latte trouble as Tara Lush launches her debut mystery series.
When Lana Lewis’ best — and most difficult — employee abruptly quits and goes to work for the competition just days before the Sunshine State Barista Championship, her café’s chances of winning the contest are creamed. In front of a gossipy crowd in the small Florida town of Devil’s Beach, Lana’s normally calm demeanor heats to a boil when she runs into the arrogant java slinger. Of course, Fabrizio “Fab” Bellucci has a slick explanation for jumping ship. But when he’s found dead the next morning under a palm tree in the alley behind Lana’s café, she becomes the prime suspect.
Even the island’s handsome police chief isn’t quite certain of her innocence. But Lana isn’t the only one in town who was angry with Fabrizio. Jilted lovers, a shrimp boat captain, and a surfer with ties to the mob are all suspects as trouble brews on the beach.
With her stoned, hippie dad, a Shih Tzu named Stanley, and a new, curious barista sporting a punk rock aesthetic at her side, Lana’s prepared to turn up the heat to catch the real killer. After all, she is a former award-winning reporter. As scandal hangs over her beachside café, can Lana clear her name and win the championship — or will she come to a bitter end?
Tara Lush is a journalist with The Associated Press. Her debut cozy mystery, GROUNDS FOR MURDER, will be published Dec. 8. learn more about her and her books here: