My Desk is a Mess by Karen Shughart

This is the stage when I’m writing a mystery that if you visited my office, you’d gasp in horror. I’m usually very organized, but at this stage, my desk is a mess.

On the right are the first two books in my Edmund DeCleryk Cozy series, Murder in the Museum and Murder in the Cemetery. I use them as a reference for book three, Murder at Freedom Hill, because there are recurring characters: a newborn baby in the last book can’t be in elementary school two years later.

A thesaurus, usually on a shelf, claims space on my left. I’m forever scrambling to find synonyms for words I tend to overuse. It’s a weighty tome but a necessary tool, although the good news is that I recently had an aha! moment when I realized that with a couple of keystrokes and the click of the mouse, hello Google, goodbye Roget’s.  How easy is that?

That thesaurus, by the way, was published in 1962. My Webster’s dictionary in 1982. If you think that dates me, it does, think about how many words there are now that none of us who were alive 50 years ago could have imagined: truthiness; snowflake (not the one that falls from the sky); bestie; twerk. Not that I’d ever include those words in my books, none of my main characters is young enough to use them. Wait a minute, did I say 50 years? Has it really taken me that long to follow my bliss?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But I digress.  Piles of paper surround me: bills I’ve received from vendors who still, after all these years, won’t send them electronically but that I, a modern woman, have  paid online; recipes I printed from The New York Times when I could have simply opened my phone or computer when preparing them; print-outs of outdated passwords; a receipt for our dog’s latest checkup; a flyer from the local carwash announcing its wash and wax specials.

I don’t like wasting paper. “Waste not, want not” –phrase origin 1576 or 1772 — depending on your source, is my motto. I write notes to myself on the blank sides to advance the story line, a timeline I never follow, names of new characters to remember, thoughts and ideas that come to me at 3 a.m., questions I have about historical details that are always part of the backstory and the reason for the murder.

There’s a system here, a method to my madness, and it works for me. Once I make sure my historical facts are mostly correct, change the timeline yet again, check for inconsistencies, discard ideas I had at 3 a.m. — what was I thinking — I cross the items off the list, rip the paper into shreds, and toss it into the recycling bin. Then the cycle begins again. Until I reach the point when the manuscript is sent off to my publisher, my desk will remain a mess.

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

Wrapping Up a Murder by Paty Jager

I just finished the 14th Shandra Higheagle Mystery book. This book is set in Kauai, Hawaii. Yes, I had to write off the trip I took to Kauai last October. LOL Actually, it took me 40 years to get my husband to go to Hawaii with me and I happened to like the idea of setting a book there.

I enjoyed revisiting the places we went to add spice and authenticity to the book. My photos, some I took with the intention of using for the cover, and others so I could remember what I’d seen, helped me bring the island to life in the book.

While the writing, bringing in the island flavor, and discovering an actual event that brought my amateur sleuth potter to the island in a real way, it was the intricacy of the plot that kept me spellbound as I wrote the book.

Artwork from the exhibition in my book.

As usual, I started out with my suspect chart, all part of the art world on Kauai. But as I researched and discovered more about the island, the art world became more dark and convoluted. This on an island that boasts very low crime rates. But I couldn’t help myself. The island is warm, inviting, and overpopulated with tourists.

Because of the tourists, I have my characters catering to the masses. I’m not saying what I wrote about isn’t happening on the island, but it isn’t in the statistics that I read. However, I did read about the influx of drugs back about 5 years and taking creative license, I used that information to sway the direction of the story.

I take pride in so many readers saying they didn’t know who the murderer was until it was unveiled in most of my mysteries. And so, I go at each book with the intent to drop clues but keep the reader wondering until the end. I hope I’ve done that with this book as well. We’ll see when I get my critique partners’ notes on it.

Here is the cover for Abstract Casualty, set on Kauai, Hawaii.

A Bee in my Bonnet by Paty Jager

depositphoto

While figuring out the means of death in my latest Shandra Higheagle mystery, Toxic Trigger-point, I had to come up with something quiet, easy, and could be done while a woman was face down on a massage table.

I wanted the scene when the body is found to look as if the woman is on the table waiting for a massage, but then they realize she is dead.

The scene had to look serene-normal.

I came up with an allergy to bees. After reading up on it, I discovered people who are deathly allergic to bees can die within minutes of contact with bee venom. Further research, I discovered there are some facial creams that have bee venom in them. Enough to cause anaphylaxis shock and death.

To tell you any more about how it all happened would give the story away. ;)_

However, each time I tried to come up with a way for Shandra and Ryan to get a confirmation it was from a bee sting or venom from forensics, I was shot down by Judy Melinek, MD and forensic pathologist.

Each time I’d come up with something, like, how about finding the enzymes for bee venom in stomach contents, she’d shut me down. Bee venom can not be tested for because of it’s chemical break down. Hmmm….

She told me the discovery would have to come from the investigation. Discovering the woman’s allergy and working from there. So that’s what I did. With the help of information from the victim’s family and, of course, Shandra’s dreams, she and Ryan solve the murder.

This is what I enjoy about writing mysteries. While I might have a great idea in mind for a murder, I have to dig and research to discover the best, and sometimes the only way, to disclose or discover how the victim was killed.

Have you read any mystery books with an unusual way the victim was killed?

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Stalking Ideas

by Janis Patterson

One of the questions authors are asked the most is “Where do you find your ideas?” – as if ideas were rare and wondrous things as difficult to discover as flawless emeralds. As far as I and most of the writers I know are concerned, there are fewer questions more maddening.

As if one has to ‘find’ ideas. They find us, as ubiquitous as mosquitoes during a lake holiday, and sometimes just about as annoying. For example : you’re working happily on a sophisticated big city humorous mystery, when all of a sudden the sight of an axe in a hardware store brings up a flash of inspiration for a dark and noir-ish story about a suburban serial killer. It lurks at the edge of your consciousness, waiting to leap on every unguarded moment with yet another character or plot twist.

The sleuth you’re trying to write is an urbane, wise-cracking former male model who speaks four languages and not only knows but actually cares about the difference between white tie and black tie evening wear. (Sigh) The sleuth who is trying to creep into your mind is a wise-cracking suburban mom who hates soccer, has a daughter mad for ballet and who, through her knowledge of some arcane middle-class suburban pastime, deduces the killer who has been decimating the neighborhood.

Finally to propitiate the annoying creature you take a few precious hours to make some notes, jot down an idea or two, scrape together the bare bones of an outline and file the results into your bulging Ideas file. (You do keep an Ideas file, don’t you? I have for years. Mine is now roughly the size of Rhode Island.) The only problem is, when you decide the suburban mom has to have a garden, there is the flicker of an idea about a well-known television writer who loves to raise poisonous plants and his encyclopedic knowledge allows him to solve crimes as there is suddenly an epidemic of poisonings on the set of a controversial new series…

See how insidious this is? Before long you’re doing nothing but making notes about possible story ideas while your sophisticated and urbane city detective languishes somewhere in black tie (appropriate to the occasion, of course) waiting for you to come back to him. Ideas are everywhere, and catching them can take over your life.

Now, as we must never forget, I will repeat my mantra – an idea is not a plot. An Idea Is Not A Plot. Repeat that three times every day before you sit down to write. An idea is a situation, a frame, a slice of a singular moment in time. For a successful book, you need hundreds of ideas, and you need to be able to mesh them together seamlessly to provide a workable story. That part is work. Fielding a couple of the bazillions of ideas that flash by you every minute is not.

For the record, my second-most-disliked question is when some bright-eyed naif comes bouncing up (for some reason this is usually a middle-aged male at a cocktail party) and says with the utmost generosity of a Lord Bountiful, “I’ve a wonderful idea for a book – why don’t I tell it to you so you can write the book and we’ll split the money.” If it weren’t so maddening it would be funny to see their faces fall with disbelief when I tell them that ideas are literally everywhere and why would a writer need or even want to borrow ideas when there are more around for free than we could ever even make notes on in our lifetime? Let alone that the writing of the book is the work part, not finding an idea or two.

There have been a few, foolish ones who forge ahead and tell me their idea anyway, apparently convinced that once I hear it I will find it so irresistible and wonderful that I will fall all over myself begging to write it. Huh. Usually this idea is either an improbable farrago of wish-fulfillment or a twisted re-hash of some recent television show. Sigh. Unfortunately, there is nothing in any etiquette book about how to handle this situation and stabbing the innocent but tenacious offender with a cocktail pick is frowned upon. (I say that from sad experience…)

See the problem? It’s not that we have to stalk ideas – it’s that ideas stalk us, continually battering at the gates of our mind until we acknowledge their existence, which diffuses our focus. Perhaps a friend of mine said it best : “It’s not the idea; it’s what you do with it.”

What we do with it – writing the story itself – is the important part.