When I began writing Casting Call for a Corpse, my latest cozy mystery revolving around the Alvarez Family, I wanted to combine the ongoing characters from the series with a few characters from a play I penned some time ago. I also wanted to add a Scottish character in honor of my heart sister, who was adopted at birth and recently found her Scottish birth family. An homage, doncha know.
Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I could make it work. Some nights I lost sleep over whether or not I could pull this into anything readable. However, I really loved the characters from the play, in particular the internationally acclaimed actress, her loyal assistant, the Hispanic housekeeper, and a has-been writer who burned bright in his youth but had done little since. Putting Lee Alvarez, the protagonist of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, and the actress together was easy. Close in age, I found making them friends from way-back-when in New York City added reality and depth to my tale. Also lots of humor! The other characters were a little tougher to place but ultimately, I managed to do it.
As for the storyline, itself, that was different. I was never too sure if ‘this’ was too much or ‘that’ was enough. So I took the throw-all-the-spaghetti-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach. Not quite my style. I usually know the first chapter, where I want to go, and how I want the story to end. This time I had no idea of any of it. I was a panster to the nth degree.
Surprisingly, while writing the novel this method was freeing. If I had a thought, it was in. I’d deal with the validity of it later. I wound up with some not-so-nice Russian businessmen, a trendy restaurant, threatening letters, jewel thieves, secret tunnels, and even a Christmas tree farm. I mean, why not? Then I added an inside take on life backstage in the theater, which was a large part of my existence in my salad days. I still had sleepless nights, but at least I had written pages to show for them.
Months later, when I finished the final draft, I went back in and took out extraneous plots, substories, and innuendos that didn’t work or were confusing. By that time, I actually had a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Hallelujah! When I handed the book off to my editors and Beta readers, I waited with the proverbial bated breath to see if the novel worked. It did. In fact, my content editor, one tough cookie, said it was the tightest of all the Alvarez books. Did that mean if I knew a storyline may not work from the very first word on the page to the very last, it made me a better novelist?
I’m thinking no. Each story is unique and different. When I start a new novel it’s almost like writing the first one. So far I’ve written thirteen novels, numerous novellas, and dozens of short stories. Not one of them has been easy or formulaic. True, I’ve developed a few tricks along the way. I believe I know what doesn’t work. But what definitively works? You got me.
In a way, I love that part. It never gets boring, this writing stuff.