When I start a new mystery as a reader, it’s like starting a puzzle. I watch breathlessly as a character I’ve become invested in finds clues, solves riddles, and eventually sees justice delivered.
As a writer I find that it’s fun to develop that character, as well as setting and plot and it’s challenging to plant information that the reader can use to solve the puzzle. I just want to be sure the reader doesn’t discover that solution until the last page!
When I wrote my first mystery, SOMETHING IN THE DARK, I wanted to keep that element of surprise. I didn’t want my readers to know who the killer was until I told them, but before I could create a nice, twisty ending, I had to find a compelling place to start.
They say most first novels are somewhat autobiographical in nature and I certainly wouldn’t argue with that. The idea for SOMETHING IN THE DARK came directly from my childhood.
When I was young, eight or nine, my family lived in military housing on an army base in Germany. There was a laundry room in the basement of our apartment building. While the mothers did laundry the children played in the hallway. The hallway was long and narrow, perfect for races, and had white and dark gray floor tiles, perfect for hopscotch. For races we’d usually start near the laundry room and end at the big hole-in-the-wall.
The hole was the entrance to an old cold war shelter. Its thick metal door had been wired open so that no one could get in, shut the door, and accidentally be locked inside. Beyond the door, a narrow band of light from the hallway fluorescents showed a strip of dirt floor. Beyond that, nothing but impenetrable darkness. No doubt our older and braver siblings would have explored that shadow-filled space. My friends and I preferred to stick with the familiar well-lit corridor.
As an adult who loved to read mystery and suspense thrillers, the memory of the scary atmosphere of that shelter came back to me. I wondered what it would have been like as a child to have entered that room only to have the door slam shut behind me, to be trapped in that room in the dark? Below is an excerpt from the book.
‘After a while, not knowing what else to do, she knocked on the door again, first rapping with her knuckles, then with her balled fists, and finally with the palms of her hands. Smack, smack, went her hands. Just like patty cake. Slap, slap, slap.’
After this sort of trauma, I suspected that even as an adult she would hate the sense of being closed in, that she’d avoid crowded rooms, airplanes, or elevators, and prefer the outdoors. Maybe finding herself in the dark would trigger a panic attack so severe she’d lose consciousness.
I decided she’d own a lawn maintenance company and work outdoors. She’d also own a small plant nursery. (With lots of delicious buildings in which she could be trapped.) She would have a supportive brother, a close friend, and a handsome therapist. Because, why not?
Wouldn’t it be strange and horrible though, if every time her phobia triggered an attack and she blacked out, that she’d come to, only to find someone close to her had been murdered?
All that remained to finish outlining my plot was to decide who was responsible for the murders and how Austin could keep the body count from rising. Was a serial killer playing games with her? Was something evil inside her, driving her to kill? Or had something in that bomb shelter come back with her—something she’d met in the dark?
Once I knew the answer, all I needed was one final element. A few days later I picked up a novel by a favorite writer of mine. It started out with a man standing under a group of pine trees in the snow, waiting. I realized that the element of setting, the Pacific Northwest, and the sense of hushed waiting that a fresh snowfall can give you was just the mood I needed. I sat down and six hours later had the basic outline, and first few chapters, of SOMETHING IN THE DARK.
Although I’ve published eight more novels and numerous short stories since then, and even though SOMETHING IN THE DARK has all the flaws and failings of a first book, it is still one of my favorites.
If you’d like to read SOMETHING IN THE DARK free or check out my other novels, please visit my website at, http://www.pamelacowan.com where you can sign up for my monthly newsletter and subscriber drawing.
I also have a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pamelacowanwriter where I post new releases, reviews, and slightly dark but almost always hilarious humor.
Something in the Dark
Austin Ward thinks she’s learned to live with her fear of the dark. She’s put the past behind her and there’s even a new man in her life.
But when people she cares about are brutally murdered Austin realizes she can no longer pretend. To find the truth behind the deaths she must face and overcome her fear.
But who is the killer? Is it someone out to get her? Has a serial killer come to her small Pacific Northwest town? Or, has something sinister followed her from childhood, something she met once before…in the dark?
This is Eulalona County, where the trees whisper and the deep lakes hide secrets you don’t want to know.
Pamela Cowan is an award-winning, Pacific Northwest author best known for her psychological thrillers. Cowan is the author of the Storm Series which includes Storm Justice, Storm Vengeance and Storm Retribution, books which follow Probation Officer Storm McKenzie on her single-minded quest for justice. She is also the author of two stand-alone novels based in fictional Eulalona County, Oregon, Something In The Dark and Cold Kill. She recently published Fire And Lies, the first in the new El & Em Detective Series