My drafts tend to start out with a smart-alecky tone that slowly gets less and less so as I write. It is a mental exercise that helps me warm up to my characters. I’m used to that. What I’m not used to is a character who wants to stay funny. I’m several chapters into a book featuring a young clothing designer who wakes up in an alfalfa field after a convention ‘meet and greet’ in Kingston, Ontario. What’s written is a hoot. And there it sits. Waiting for inspiration, a different plot, another alfalfa field? Or maybe it was just a bad idea, after all one of the protagonists broke free to take on a key role in Booth Island.
Ever since I gobbled up Max Brand (The Gentle Gunman and . . .) and Alan LeMay (The Unforgiven and . . .) westerns, I have wanted to write a western. A dinner with Louis L’Amour at the Top of the Mark in San Francisco further fueled the fire. In those days, I was very up on the sheep wars and Billy the Kid so L’Amour and I had a great chat, during which he shared that Sam Elliot and Tom Selleck exemplified the characters in his books. If you haven’t read Hondo (also a great John Wayne movie) or Conagher do, they’ll hook you. As for my brilliant career writing a western mystery/thriller, it may still happen via one of the protagonists in my upcoming Wanee series.
Just like I still want to place Laury Cooper (Cooper Quartet) in Nîmes, France in 1970 and see what happens next. It would be weird though, since it would make the Quartet a Quintet and fill in a gap in the early years of the series. But still . . . what’s stopping me, read on.
A few years ago, I planned a mystery/thriller series that followed a farm woman sent from the East to marry a cousin living on an Illinois farm. I had the plot hook for ten books, beginning in 1850 through 1870s, the research started and had a line on the rest. I knew the farm, the crops and stock, and the land because it was based on the farm my father’s family settled. I loaded my research and notes to my OneDrive, put my hands over the keys of a blank screen and nothing. Why?
I’m not sure, but I suspect as Margaret Lucke (House of Desire) pointed out in a recent conversation, I needed a second hook to set the tale in motion. With the hook set, the characters feel free to inform themselves and whisper their stories in my ear until their words flow onto the computer screen.
As it turns out, like the protagonist from the alfalfa field, my farm woman migrated herself to Wanee, a fictious small northwestern Illinois town, set the first plot in 1876, and named herself Cora. Her brother Jess lives on the farm she was supposed to inhabit. When the series begins, nineteen-year-old Cora’s thieving mother deserts her, saddling Cora with debt and a boarding house with one boarder. Cora, who dreams of the single life of adventure and mystery, struggles to pay off her mother’s debts in a village troubled by post-Civil War growth while dreaming her dream of escape.
Cora’s story starts in Unbecoming a Lady, the first Wanee mystery, out soonish. The second book A Convergence of Enemies will follow next year. And Cora is currently whispering her third adventure to me nightly with help from a few Wanee friends, that’s what a second hook (in this case a disappearing mother and a restless town – is that two hooks?) can do.
Now Calypso and Grieg from Saving Calypso have something in mind, but they await a hook, I told them that and they both gave me that look. Sometimes stories don’t get away, they just wait for that second hook. And sometimes they do and should.
All books are available on Amazon, except Unbecoming a Lady. Find me at my website dzchurch.com and sign up for my shared newsletter there, too, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mysteryhistorysuspense.