Tag Archives: murder mysteries

I QUIT!

This is a blog post I wrote for the SC Writer’s Association, Cola II chapter. It was originally published on the chapter’s website March 4, 2018.

 

Several years ago, I participated in a writing workshop with the late Jerry Cleaver, author of Immediate Fiction. At that time, I had started and stopped writing a couple of different mystery novels. I was frustrated, and his feedback, though fair and accurate, frustrated me even more. I can still hear him saying, “More conflict. You need more conflict in your story.” When I confessed to him that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to write a decent manuscript, he gave me some of the most valuable advice I’ve ever gotten: “Quit writing.”

I was stunned. There I was paying him good money to encourage me, coach me, help me write that elusive book. Yet, he told me to quit. I wasn’t sure whether to be mad or ecstatic. Mostly I was confused. When I finally got the courage to challenge his advice, he said, “Writers quit all the time, including me. But if you’re a real writer, you’ll have to start again. You cannot not write.”

After letting his last comments sink in, I then became afraid. What if I quit and never wanted to write again? That would, according to Cleaver, mean I had never been a realwriter anyway. Nonetheless, I did quit. I mean, I totally quit with the intention of never writing fiction again. I avoided anything related to writing and went about my life. At first, I was giddy with the lightness of not being a writer. No more worries about plots and characters—or conflict. I could enjoy reading a book without analyzing it. The freedom of not being a writer was intoxicating.

After a couple months of not writing, the impact of Cleaver’s message finally hit me: I needed to reevaluate why I was writing. As simple as that sounds, I had been focused on outlining, story structure, and all the other nuts-and-bolts of the craft. Was my goal to write the perfectly structured novel, worthy of an MFA thesis? While I wanted to write a quality novel, what I really craved was to write a novel that readers could connect with.

When I eventually returned to writing, I wrote the story I really wanted to tell. While I didn’t ignore all the workshop advice and education I had acquired over the years, this time, however, I began writing from my heart, not my head. I wrote for my readers, not for other writers.

About three years later, I published my first novel, Murder in Madden, which recently received Honorable Mention in the Writers’ Digest Self-Published Book Awards. And my second novel in the series, The Last Sale, will soon be out.

During the past year, I have enjoyed the book signings, festivals, book clubs, and other interactions with readers. I’ve never had so much fun. And each time a reader tells me about her favorite character, or someone says, “I couldn’t put it down,” I thank the writing gods that I found the courage to quit.

Murder on My Mind

“I’ve had murder on my mind a long time.” That’s what I told a book club recently while discussing “Murder in Madden.” For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved mysteries. My first books were the Nancy Drew series—I still have most of them. In the late-1950s, when I was a child, my allowance was 50 cents a week, but to encourage my reading, my parents gave me the extra to buy a 59 cents book, plus tax. I’ve been reading ever since.

As I grew older, I began reading books by Daphne du Maurier, Mary Stewart, and later, by Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Now I read John Grisham, John Hart, Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, and many other authors I’ve discovered along the way.

Until recently, I’ve never asked myself “why mysteries?” Why don’t I read great literature or at least other genres as much as mysteries? All I can say in my own defense is that I’m not alone. In fiction, thrillers are the number one sellers. I’m pretty sure it’s because the stakes are higher in a murder mystery than, say, in a bank robbery. Sure, the latter is a mystery, but losing money just isn’t the same level of thrill and danger.

One thing I really love about mysteries is the way clues come together. I am, by nature, a problem solver, and finding the bad guy or gal is the ultimate question to be resolved. I also love closure, and finding the perps brings the story to its rightful end. There’s something satisfying about having all the loose ends tied up and all the questions answered. But I also love the characters in a mystery, and how they use their wits to solve crimes. Oddly, though, I’m not that interested in police procedurals. I’m far more interested in ordinary people who defy the odds and discover what eludes law enforcement, or how ordinary people get caught up in something way bigger than themselves and manage to think their way out of it.

And, of course, I just love a good story. I remember hearing ghost stories as a child and how I loved to be scared. I read once where the human mind can’t distinguish between sex and fear. So, when you’re scared, you think you’re having sex. Wow! Who knew?

Anyway, now that I’m a mystery author myself, I really do have murder on my mind almost all the time. Every conversation, every event, every weird thing that happens is fodder for the next book. And, just so you don’t worry about my psychological state, I abhor violence as much as the next person—that is in real life.

Do you have murder on your mind, too? If so, let me hear from you.