When Do You Know You’re Going to Write Not Just One Mystery But a Series?
My first foray into writing mysteries was when I sat cross-legged around a Brownies’ campfire and told scary stories between bites of melting marshmellows. I held the girls’ attention with tales of monsters putting hairy arms through car windows and grabbing the bare necks of young girls cowering in the backseats. I loved adding details that made the other Brownies squirm.
Then as Virginia Woolf famously said, “life interrupted.” My dream of being a writer was put on the back burner where it simmered for many years. The next opportunity to become a writer did not happen until, at age fifty, the record company I worked for was sold and I invested my windfall in my first love‑‑Literature.
After achieving a bachelor’s degree at SUNY, I was accepted at Sarah Lawrence College where I earned an MFA in creative writing. My thesis was a memoir on growing up as a Hollywood hippie.
My first published book was a historical novel based on the life of the short story writer Katherine Mansfield. My second novel The Drummer’s Widow was a contemporary novel about an older woman reinventing her life after her husband’s sudden death. I thought my third novel would be another genre. Or maybe return to that widow’s story in New York.
This was my state of mind when my husband and I moved to a mountaintop ranch in northern California for creative peace and quiet. The ranch’s tack room was converted into my writing studio. But I had severe writers’ block and I couldn’t find the nerve to begin another novel.
Then, remembering my writing teachers always telling me to write what I read, I signed up for an online mystery class at Stanford.
My great aunt Ada Belle came down from the heavens and offered her career as a painter for inspiration. In the 1920s, she’d lived in a women’s artist colony in our local town, Carmel-by-the-Sea. My research into this historical village opened a rich vein to explore as a storyteller. Characters started showing up in my studio and we worked together to plot a mystery. The Artist Colony became my third novel.
And now it’s published and I’m back to that dreaded moment when you’re between books and wondering if you really have the stamina to write another knowing how steep the metaphorical mountain is to climb before you reach the top and say “The End”. Or maybe not the end if I write a sequel, but is it too late to do that?
I’ve been told by those in the mystery-writing trade that if you’re going to write a sequel then you should know that before you start the first book. But recently I was speaking to a well-respected writing coach who said, “There are no rules other than write what you want to write as it is you who will have to devote a massive amount of time to get the job done.”
“Stop procrastinating!” added my amateur sleuth Sarah Cunningham. She is dying to step out from the written pages of The Artist Colony to solve a new mystery.
With this literary encouragement, I started making scenes in a small medieval village in southern France where I spend my summers. How marvelous to stroll on its cobblestone streets accompanied by my characters; sleuth Sarah, her Irish companion Rosie, and the ever popular dog-tective Albert. There are many unlit narrow streets where murder and mystery beckons me.
Ah yes, I can feel my heart quicken with suspenseful plots and spicy characters. I guess it’s time to get to work on that sequel.
I’d love to hear from other mystery writers as to when they decided to write a series? From the beginning or, like me, after you finished one mystery and you and your readers missed your characters so much that you brought them back to life again. And a question to mystery readers? Do you want to know before you start a mystery whether there are going to be sequels? And will it influence your decision to read the mystery if it’s a one-off rather than a series?
In Joanna FitzPatrick’s gripping new novel, set in 1924, Sarah Cunningham, a young Modernist painter, arrives in Carmel-by-the-Sea from Paris to bury her estranged older sister, Ada Belle. En route, she is horrified to learn that Ada Belle’s suspicious death is a suicide. But why kill herself? Ada Belle’s reputation was growing: her plein air paintings regularly sold out, and she was about to show her portraits for the first time, which would have catapulted her career.
Barnes & Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-artist-colony-joanna-fitzpatrick/1138488960?ean=9781647421694
JOANNA FITZPATRICK was raised in Hollywood. She started her writing habit by applying her orange fountain pen and a wild imagination to screenplays, which led her early on to produce the film White Lilacs and Pink Champagne. Accepted at Sarah Lawrence College, she wrote her MFA thesis Sha La La: Live for Today about her life as a Hollywood hippie. Her more recent work includes two novels, Katherine Mansfield, Bronze Winner of the 2021 Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) in Historical Fiction, and The Drummer’s Widow. The Artist Colony, Gold Winner of the 2022 Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) in Mystery, is her third book. Presently, FitzPatrick divides her time between a cottage by the sea in Pacific Grove, California and a hameau in rural southern France where she begins all her book projects.
Author website: www.joannafitzpatrick.com
7 thoughts on “Guest Blogger ~ Joanna Fitzpatrick”
Joanna, Nice post! I believe if you are writing mysteries, you do better if you have a series. If you love your characters, your readers will love them too and want to be involved in more of their capers. And as Pam said, it is easier to market a series than a single book. Thanks for being a guest!
Thank you for this valuable marketing information. So I should list The Artist Colony as a series?!
It’s a big marketing advantage to write in series, and you must be sure to fill out all the series fields at Amazon in exactly the same way for all books so readers can realize that the book they love is part of a series. I often talk about the power of series at conferences and writers groups.
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Loved this. In contrast, when I wrote the first books in both of my series I had no idea I was going to continue on and one. What compelled me to write the next book, and the next was I wanted to know what was going to happen with the characters and the only way to find out was write another book.
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We’re on the same page. Do you self publish?
Well done! Your blog struck a chord with me. My career as a writer of fiction was interrupted and I began writing my Cozy series a few years ago, when I was in my early 70s. I knew I wanted to write a series from the time I decided on the first book -each book has an historical back story that’s related to the crime and why the person was murdered.
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Have you ever thought to go back to writing other fiction than mystery?.
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