Tactile Pleasure of Mystery Writing

For the last several months I’ve been rewriting a mystery from first person to third. This was more fun and more rewarding than I at first expected and I’m pleased with the results. One of the best parts of the work was rearranging the plot and reworking and developing the subplot. I have a general rule that when this part of writing a mystery gets tedious, then it’s time to start over. That didn’t happen this time, and I enjoyed one of my favorite aspects of crime writing.

Setting up and working out a mystery is for me the same as working out a puzzle, or finding a new tool and learning how it works. I like moving pieces around, setting up clues, keeping track of lines of dialogue that can be used later, reworking a clue, slotting in hints in dialogue to guide or mislead the reader, or lifting and replacing scenes. Dorothy L. Sayers called this process of working out a plot a “tactile” pleasure, and indeed it is. I’m not talking about notecards; I’m talking about the mind’s perception that the hands, fingers, are moving physical items around on a surface.

Some years ago, I signed up for a design course to learn more about how designers work to help me think about book covers. It was a revelation. Never had I more truly understood the difference between a writer’s mind and that of a designer. The first lesson was to use our names in a design as a way to introduce ourselves. I fussed for days over fonts, letter placement (vertical or horizontal), and more unimaginative details.

The student work I remember best was a drawing of the letters of his name tumbling out of a cornucopia in random order. I never produced anything equal to the work of the other students but I learned to release objects as well as ideas from their given, or assumed, boundaries. Which, when you come to think about it, is kin to what’s happening in crime fiction—individuals breaking rules and crossing lines, violating boundaries and challenging others to contain them.

The term “boundaries” has come to mean an emotional guide we use to protect ourselves from others or establish areas where connection is possible. We establish rules of interacting, and talk at length about how to do this. But boundaries are also physical, lines on a map drawn between nations or neighbors. We think of them as fixed, but experience tells us they’re not. Mystery writers have no trouble rearranging the world to suit our purposes. It makes me think of Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill at the Yalta Conference in 1945, rearranging the map of Europe before the war was officially over.

Rearranging a plot is rarely so significant as Yalta but slipping the pieces out of logical, rational place can produce the startling results that jiggle the brain out of its comfortable path. Examples abound in the work of Anthony Berkeley, a writer of the Golden Age, in his repeated challenges to the idea of justice and the issue of justified homicide. By seeing an encounter between two people in terms of its individual steps, the writer can pull apart the entire progress and rearrange the steps into a challenge to the standard perceptions of crime and violence. Every time a writer makes a change in the story, no matter how minor, she is turning what is regarded as a straightforward crime into a plot, and leading the reader to break established boundaries and ways of thinking about a particular event. This is a useful skill that might well be applied to all areas of life.

The Angst That Doesn’t Go On The Page by Paty Jager

Many literary prose are filled with angst and trepidation. I wonder if literary writers feel the same angst and trepidation that genre writers do?

This is a confession of sorts. Before I started writing mystery, I just researched either history, settings, occupations or whatever I needed to make the story real and conjured up characters that I liked and hoped readers liked. Those were my romance books.

Then I wrote an action adventure trilogy. I researched and read and studied. I came up with a high IQ character and hoped I could pull her off. I set books in areas I had never been, but I found people who had or lived there. I dug deep to make sure I had all the knowledge I felt I needed to write those books. When the first one released, I knew it was going to flop. How could I write about an anthropologist with a genius level IQ and make people believe her?

But I did! Readers loved Isabella Mumphrey. The first book won an award!

After all the angst and worry, I decided to try my hand at the genre I really wanted to write– mystery. And what did I do? I made my character half Native American. Mainly because I feel it is a culture that gets shoved under the rug and partly because I love research and learning new things. I thought why not learn about the culture along with my character.

But I worried I couldn’t pull her off. That someone would tell me I didn’t have the right to write such a character or I wasn’t portraying her correctly. However at book 14 in my Shandra Higheagle Mystery series, I have people who love the information on the culture that I include in the books. This makes me happy that I am informing my readers about a culture they may not know about in an entertaining way.

Then I start writing another book and I worry this one won’t be as good as the last. Or I feel it’s lagging, not enough twists, or not enough culture… There is always something I feel I didn’t flush out enough.

This goes on daily as I write. My books go through critique partners, beta readers, a line editor, a sensitivity reader, a proof reader and my final arc readers before it gets to the public. And I still worry that something was missed.

It isn’t until my ARC readers send me the links to their reviews that I know if my book was mediocre or they enjoyed it. I”m happy to say the newest release has been a joy to get reviews and emails about. The subject lines have been: I loved it! You did it again!

These are worth all the worrying, angst, and beating myself up over the characters and plot.

Here is Abstract Casualty

Book 14 in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series

Hawaiian adventure, Deceit, Murder

Shandra Higheagle is asked to juror an art exhibition on the island of Kauai, Hawaii.

After an altercation at the exhibition, the chairwoman of the event, Shandra’s friend, arrives home with torn clothes, scratches, and stating she tried to save an angry artist who fell over a cliff. Shandra and Ryan begin piecing together information to figure out if the friend did try to save the artist or helped him over the edge.

During the investigation, Shandra comes across a person who reminds her of an unhealthy time in her past. Knowing this man and the one from her past, she is determined to find his connection to the dead artist.  When her grandmother doesn’t come to her in dreams, Shandra wonders if her past is blinding her from the truth.

https://books2read.com/u/4XXLke

My Favorite Part of Being a Writer by Paty Jager

I don’t know about all writers, but for me, the best part of writing a book is the “stewing and brewing” process. It’s the time between, “Bing!” I have an idea and when I start writing the actual story.

source: Depositphotos

What I call the “Stewing and Brewing” process is where I come up with the story idea or setting and then start researching and filling out my suspect chart.

I get to scan websites and look through baby name books to come up with character names and then give the attributes and reasons they are part of the story. Suspects, officials, friends, the whole bit.

And even better! Figuring out how the victim dies. I love putting a twist on the cause of murder. My newest Shandra Higheagle release, Toxic Trigger-point the death is caused by an acute allergic reaction to bees. The book I’m “stewing and brewing” right now I’m thinking the death appears accidental at first. Then… as things get investigated further it was murder.

There are times my devious mind astounds me! LOL However, coming up with the out-of-the-box scenarios is so much fun. Taking the reader on the trip of; this person did it, no, that person did it, is almost as much fun as coming up with the characters, motive, and cause of death.

I pinch myself all the time wondering how I can have so much fun writing when other writers are always complaining how hard it is. I do agree, the editing, revisions, and making the story shine are hard, but it’s like child birth. I forget about those things when I’m in the throes of “stewing and brewing”. 😉

Here is my latest Shandra Higheagle release:

Toxic Trigger-Point

Adultery… Jealousy… Murder

Shandra Higheagle Greer is minding her own business when she walks into a room for a massage and it is already occupied—by a dead body.

Always the champion for someone she knows, when her favorite masseuse looks like the murderer, Shandra listens to her gut and dreams choreographed by her deceased grandmother.

Detective Ryan Greer can’t believe his wife has walked into another homicide. He’s learned no matter how he tries to keep her out of the investigation he can’t. But this time the consequences could be deadly for Shandra—she heard the murder happen.

https://books2read.com/u/4Ex9De

Decisions, Decisions by Paty Jager

I’ve been contemplating whether or not to write books out of sequence since my trip to Iceland.

The trip started out as fun way to see Iceland with other authors, but the more I thought about it, I decided to set a Gabriel Hawke book there. However, the next book in the series has already been mentioned in the last Hawke book, so I have to make sure it comes next….

But…I believe I need to write the Iceland book while it is all still fresh in my mind. One day while the tour group was having lunch, I sat with our guide, Ragnor, and asked him questions about the best way to bring my Fish and Wildlife State Trooper with Master Tracker credentials to Iceland, other than a vacation. He would never travel that far for a vacation. He would stay close to home and perhaps even stay with his mother on the reservation.

Ragnor didn’t see him coming to any conference or event that would be put on by the Icelandic police. He did say that they had a very active Search and Rescue program. *boom* That is how I will have Hawke be in Iceland. He will be doing a training on tracking for the search and rescue. I even brainstormed his superior’s sister is married to an Icelander and they are living in Reykjavik.

I still have to do the research on their Search and Rescue program and put together the who and why of the murder he’ll get involved in. But the pieces are slowly coming together and I’m getting excited to write the book.

While we were out driving around on the tour, I took tons of photos (that are a bit blurry) of businesses and things that I will mention to give the feeling of the country to the book. And good photos of the place I think will work for Hawke to take his workshop outside to do some tracking. That will be when they discover a body.

Once Hawke starts on a trail, he can’t quit. Upping the stakes, the main suspect will be the nephew of his boss back in the states. Hawke is loyal. He’ll do everything in his power to make sure they find the real killer.

So my decision? Even though it will put the next Hawke book further out on a publish date, I’m leaning toward writing the Iceland book now.

What do you think? Good plan or could it backfire in my face since there hasn’t been a Hawke book out since March and the next one may not be until the end of the year?

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Voice and Word Choice by Paty Jager

Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character; or. Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of the narrator of a work of fiction.”

This definition I pulled off the internet helps define Voice, but I’m going to dig a little deeper.

Each genre, historical or contemporary, western or mystery, I have to think about the “voice” I need to use for each one. I know the example of voice says it conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character- true, but that has to also fit the time period and the place- historical or contemporary western. Jeans in a historical are called denims or overalls – in a contemporary they could be call Jeans, Wranglers or Levis.

This also goes along with word choice. The writer needs to know if a word was used in 1880 or if it didn’t become popular until the 1900s. When I type a word when writing an historical, and it feels modern, I use online etymology, a website where you can type in a word and it tells you when it was first used and the meaning of the word at that time and later.

Same goes with my mystery books. I use terms that are contemporary but try to include a bit of a western feel or voice to the books. I do this because they are set in rural areas and because my main characters are Native American, which also leads me to think about phraseology when writing from their points of view.

Paiute Fancy Dancer

Especially, my Gabriel Hawke character. He grew up surrounded by his culture, and therefore, has a deeper connection to the outdoors and the earth in general. While writing in his POV, I try to make sure his inner dialog as well as what he says to other characters captures that essence. 

Shandra Higheagle, while having the love of the outdoors and making pottery from clay she digs on the mountain where she lives, she grew up in a white world and is only now learning how deep her roots go in the earth. And because of this, she is easier for me to write because I can include my wonder of the Nez Perce and their culture to be reflected in her as she is coming to know more about her family.

When I sit down to write a book, depending on the genre, I have to mentally put myself in that time and place to make sure I give the best accounting of the events that are happening and told through my characters’ eyes and emotions. If you read a book from each of the genres I write, you will see there is a bit of difference in voice because I am trying to show the story through their eyes and not mine. But some of my emotions- such as my need to show injustice – will come through in every main character.

Word choice as I commented on earlier, has to do with making sure the word is true to the time and the occupation of a character or knowing what I am talking about. I don’t know how many western romance books- contemporary and historical – I stopped reading because a character grabbed a fetlock to swing up onto a horse’s back, or they grabbed the cantle as the horse started galloping. Or what really had me tossing a book…They put the halter on the horse and slid the bridle into its mouth. The writer needs to know what they are writing about. If they don’t know, they need to look it up. I spend a third of my writing time looking things up. Even if I think I know it, I still look it up to be sure. And while I’m looking it up, I might find a better word that makes the scene sound even more convincing.  

Words are what make up a book and they need to be thought about carefully. Just as carefully as the characters that are fabricated to show the story.

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