Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Stretch it to the Limit

It's been a while since my last post. There's a good reason--I've been exercising. No, unfortunately not my body, but my brain. I think it hurt just as much to stretch the old noggin as it did when I was in physical therapy for back pain. 

Last year my agent asked me to write a cozy, a murder mystery that has a lot of sweetness, and very little sex. First, I don't like sweet stories. I don't mind writing happy endings, playfulness, but I don't do sweet. ICK. For starters, I had no idea what a cozy actually was when she mentioned it. A trip to my computer and a Google search told me that there was no way. Nope, couldn't be done. Not by this girl. Give me a lot of hot sex, an action packed story line, and I'm good to go, but this? All I could envision were tea cakes and knitting needles--Miss Marple and Downton Abbey in one monstrous smash-up. I was told not to worry, there wasn't a hurry. So, instead of working on the book, I put it off. That way I didn't have to figure out how to do this thing that I wasn't even sure I could pull off. Then a call came right before I left for Africa that I should have it done ASAP. Yikes. An editor wanted to look at it. I hadn't written a word. Still, I put it off until the trip was over, a tangle with an African spider taken care of, and the resumption of family life back in the USA. See, a lot of good reasons to keep putting off writing the book. I drug my feet as long as I could, dreading the day I opened the computer to a blank page. I didn't even have a title. I thought and thought, until the perfect image for the murder jumped into my mind. Now I could begin.

Figuring out a murder is harder than it looks on Murder She Wrote. Jessica Fletcher's keen eye doesn't miss a thing. I can't see an elephant in the room. My husband suggested that I mind map the project using a mind mapping program. I looked over a couple and found one that I could use with some ease, X Mind. It was strange to work the story from the inside out. First I had to establish a victim, possible suspects, the killer, motives, and no, it wasn't Colonel Mustard in the dining room with a candlestick. I went through several scenarios until I found one that I liked. This became the foundation that I built the story on. Then I added the 'detectives' and how they fit in and related to the story.

There were a couple of times I had to go back and redo things. It reminded me of my community theater days when I was directing Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. You have no idea how proud I was to have my blocking diagrams done, all the actors lined up and ready to go. The cold reading went great, I was on a roll. Until we actually got on stage. It was then that I discovered, to my horror, that the killer was never anywhere near a victim. You can't inject a hypodermic syringe into someone from ten feet away. A needle that long would be a dead giveaway. So, it was back to the drawing board. The next day, the actors and I got everything hammered out, but it left me with a lesson learned. That's why, every so often, I'd go back and read from the beginning of the book, checking for any missteps along the way. I found one or two, but caught them early enough that hurt the storyline.

I found, to my surprise, that I could write a book with less sex, a touch of sweet, a lot of humor, and a killer plot. So this is the point where I have to thank my agent for making me put on the mental workout gear. Here's hoping the book sells. If not, it turned out to be worth the effort.