I write by the seat of my pants. Not literally, but really—I don’t plot before I sit down, but I do think a lot.
Writing is definitely a job that is solitary. It’s just me and my made up world all day long. And just like in a regular job, whether it be a desk job, teacher, or stay at home mom, I have to make the commitment every single day to show up at my job—bring my fictitious world out of my head and on the page.
Since I write murder, it’s a little different than a novel in a different genre. I have to know the ending and the whodunit and the why before I even type a word on the page. This is when I scour crime scene interviews, reasons people are murdered, motives, news stories and zany ways to kill people.
Checkered Crime is the first novel in my latest mystery series, A Laurel London Mystery, and I knew there had to be a hook besides a mob guy kills because things didn’t go his way. So the “what-if” game starts.
I tape a big sheet of white paper on the wall in my office and I make bullet points of the what if’s with the answers. I’m leaving the answers out here because I don’t want to give away any of the fun details of the novel. You are going to have to buy and read the book for all the fun!
*What if the mob guy was missing a finger? Why is he missing a finger? How can I use that in the murder or the crime? *What is unique about my heroine? What is her quirk? What if she lost her job and needed an old beater car? What if the car is yellow? What if the mob guy thought it was a taxi? What if he hired her to be his driver? OMG! What if the FBI is watching him? The FBI guy jumps in her car and forces her to work for the FBI…then she’d be working for both sides? *What is in it for the heroine? *What is the crime? Why is the crime so important that it needs to be solved?
This game goes on and on. I talk to myself and put the quirkiest answers next to the question. It may or may not make it into the book, but my ideas start to flow and the plot begins to take place.
This is when I sit down and begin to write the first draft or the “bones” of the novel. It takes me about one month, sitting butt in chair, and eight hour days to get it finished. After this draft is complete, I go back through the draft and add in all the little quirky or funny parts since I inject humor into the story. This is how I put the “meat on the bones.” The story deepens. My characters deepen and come to life. The dialogue tags take shape and the story begins to form into a solid novel.
This process takes me two – three weeks. After that, I will print out the novel and read it out loud, taking me another week. Here I begin to change around scenes or add more storyline or details.
This is the last before I send it off to my editor for the first round of edits. This is a back and forth process until it’s ready for my beta readers. With the feedback, I complete the novel for one last round of edits before it’s sent out into the world for readers.
I’m giving away ONE prize across all the blogs for a Kindle. Here is the link to the rafflecopter:
As a mystery writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about some of the worst crimes one human being can do to another. And yet, my series is funny. That’s something I also think about from time to time. Is it okay to write about murder and make people laugh at the same time? Or the flip side, is it okay to write graphic descriptions of violence for the purpose of entertainment?
I think the answer is yes to both, because writing about murder can teach us something valuable in our own lives. We just have to know as readers what we can handle.
First off, the human mind loves a puzzle. A great deal of the pleasure we derive from reading mysteries, is to figure out the “whodunit” alongside the protagonist. We love to discover how the pieces fit together, the tidbits strung out in a series of clues we find along the way. Reading mysteries keeps our minds active and engaged.
Second, awful things do happen to people. Violence is a part of the human experience and to ignore it wouldn’t make it go away. In fact, there’s something to be said for experiencing the damage a violent crime does to people within the context of fiction, because it may create empathy for us when those events happen in the real world.
Third, laughter really is the best medicine. That cliché exists because it’s true. We know that laughing lowers stress, has been proven to boost your immune system, and might even make us live longer. Regardless of the genre a reader enjoys, humor can improve the reading experience, and perhaps even the reader’s health.
Most importantly, reading can open our minds. It allows us access to places we’ve never been. The location of a story can show a reader a part of the country or the world they have never visited. Characters from different ethnicities, races, and backgrounds can help us expand our appreciation for people who look different than us. Relating to a character and then facing danger with them, can make us more thoughtful and compassionate in our daily lives.
Murder mysteries, indeed, any genre, are about more than just the primary storyline. The best mysteries are written with complex characters involved in complicated personal lives, which are entwined with their sleuthing. Whether a character grapples with an aging parent or their own aging, a messy love life or the terror of starting a new relationship, readers can find themselves reflected in those challenges.
Mysteries are never solely about a crime. They are about the intricacies of living, something that everyone experiences. Botched relationships, troubled teenagers, drug addictions, poverty, all of these and more are explored by the mystery writer. The whys behind acts of violence might be demystified, giving us insight into bad behavior and acknowledging humanity in those who break the law.
We are also able to see justice work as it should. One of the lovely things we experience reading about crime and criminals is to know the bad guy is going to get caught, whether at the end of a book or the end of a series. A crime in the real world doesn’t always get solved. There’s something intensely satisfying about knowing that for the length of one book, everything will work out in the end. It can give us a renewed sense of balance in the world.
That isn’t to say there aren’t certain writers whose books are too graphic for me. Even some authors I admire tremendously, I have to be careful when I read their work. For example, I might not read them when I’m home alone or if I’ve had a bad day. It’s good to know how much you can handle with regards to graphic sex and violence. The good news is, the mystery genre is filled with writers across the spectrum. From the sweet, light cozy, with no graphic sex or violence, to the dark and twisted accounts of serial killers, with detailed descriptions of their acts, there’s a little something for everyone. The rise in popularity with psychological suspense is adding a new twist on the mystery genre. A number of those books may not have a murder at all, but be fraught with the psychological damage one person can do to another. Often equally chilling.
I think most of us have a sense of what we do and do not like. Personally, I don’t care who gets killed as long as the dog lives. I know a number of readers who won’t read about violence to children. The beautiful part about a book is you can always put it down and pick up another one.
And the good news is, there are plenty of us out there who want to take you through the puzzle and at the same time make you laugh. Perfect for those nights you want to be able to go to sleep without leaving the lights on.
About the Author
After twenty years in the theater, Elena Hartwell turned her dramatic skills to fiction. Her first novel, One Dead, Two to Go introduces Eddie Shoes, private eye. Called “the most fun detective since Richard Castle stumbled into the 12th precinct,” by author Peter Clines. I’DTale Magazine stated, “this quirky combination of a mother-daughter reunion turned crime-fighting duo will captivate readers.”
In addition to her work as a novelist, Elena teaches playwriting at Bellevue College and tours the country to lead writing workshops.
When she’s not writing or teaching, her favorite place to be is at the farm with her horses, Jasper and Radar, or at her home, on the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, their dog, Polar, and their trio of cats, Jackson, Coal Train, and Luna, aka, “the other cat upstairs.” Elena holds a B.A. from the University of San Diego, a M.Ed. from the University of Washington, Tacoma, and a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia.
Someone asked who I would cast for the characters in the movie version of my new book, Deadly Reception, one of the seven novellas in the Tawnee Mountain Mystery multi-author series. Each is a standalone book in which we authors take the characters from our own series to a posh New Jersey resort. Naturally, something happens, and we solve a mystery.
My series is the Rim Country Mysteries, which now includes Deadly Deceit (2016), Deadly Inheritance (2017), and Deadly Choices (2017). Deadly Payload is due out later this year.
Here is how I could cast the movie version of Deadly Reception.
Rita: Protagonist and First Person Narrator
The narrator of my books is Rita Avery, wife of Detective Cliff Avery. She’s a middle-aged mother of two and grandmother of one, and she picked up some serious fighting skills from her late husband. Jared was a Marine who facilitated Family Fight Night every Friday. He was one of fourteen people who died in Deadly Deceit at the hands of a gunman in the movie theater of the fictional, picturesque mountain town of Rim Vista, Arizona.
In the four books with Rita as the protagonist and first-person narrator, she has morphed from a shallow person who cares more about designer clothes than her neighbors, to a budding private investigator partnering with her husband to solve nail-biting mysteries. She’s committed to her friends and family, including the dog named Hope who stayed with her through a near death experience in Deadly Choices.
In my imaginary movie, I’d choose Ashley Judd to play Rita. I enjoyed her as Tris’ mom in the Divergent trilogy, especially when she surprised Tris with her ability to fight like a warrior. Like Rita.
Cliff: The Love of Rita’s Life
In Deadly Inheritance, Rita got a second chance at love. She married the detective who investigated the shooting that took her first husband.
Detective Cliff Avery is a manly man, who, with his late wife, patrolled Arizona’s Tonto National Forest as a wilderness ranger. When she died from a bear attack, Cliff joined the Rim Vista police department and met Rita twenty years later.
In my imaginary movie, I’d choose David Boreanaz to play Cliff. Like Cliff, this actor’s character of Agent Seeley Booth on the TV series Bones and Jason Hayes in SEAL Team is tall and handsome and has a heightened sense of patriotism, enjoys a good joke, has experienced tragedy, doesn’t always follow the rules, and loves deeply and passionately.
Zoe: The Bride-to-be
Zoe is the reason Rita’s family goes to New Jersey in Deadly Reception. She is Rita’s daughter and was collateral damage in Deadly Deceit. She took a year off from Northern Arizona University to recover from the incident that left her with one less toe. When she went back, she met her fiancé Josh. They’ve been inseparable ever since. In Deadly Reception, both Zoe and Josh are fresh university graduates starting their new life together in a rather … unique way.
Josh’s frail grandfather was unable to travel to Arizona for a wedding, so both families took the wedding to him. His colorful life as a mob enforcer made him one of Rita’s first suspects in the murder she and Cliff help local law enforcement solve.
In my imaginary movie, I’d cast blond-haired, green-eyed, athletic Hayden Panettiere to play Zoe; Ansel Elgort as Josh; and the 1960s heartthrob Frankie Valli as the frail grandfather.
Willow and Zelda: The Mothers
Willow is Rita’s mother. Zelda is the eccentric aunt who raised Cliff after his father beat the three-year-old’s mother to death.
Like others in Rita’s life, her mother Willow led a secret life. A California native who raised Rita in San Diego, Willow was a vegetarian hippy the last time Rita saw her more than two decades ago. Willow claimed to retreat to a nudist artist commune after Rita’s father died. In Deadly Choices, Willow comes for a visit sounding more like a Texan than a Californian.
In my imaginary movie, I’d choose Sissy Spacek for the part of Willow. A beautiful Texan in her 60s, Spacek has portrayed strong female characters but now takes on more motherly roles.
Cliff’s Aunt Zelda has done her share of deception. She’s an aging, overweight social worker who dances to the beat of her own drum. She claims to be from Texas … until the truth was uncovered in Deadly Inheritance. That’s when Cliff discovered that Zelda manufactured a life story that she thought would protect Cliff from a man who reared the monster who murdered her sister.
Because she’s a fellow eccentric in nature, I would choose Roseanne Barr to play Zelda in my imaginary movie.
I hope my cast entices you to read all my books!
About the Author
Karen Randau recently retired from an international humanitarian aid organization where she worked in marketing communications for nearly three decades.
Her Rim Country Mysteries series currently has three novels: DEADLY DECEIT, about a woman whose husband was one of fourteen people killed in a movie theater shooting; DEADLY INHERITANCE, about the same woman who has remarried and gets locked in a Viking burial cave with a lit stick of dynamite while honeymooning in Scotland; and DEADLY CHOICES, about the same woman finding the mother she hasn’t seen in twenty-five years, only to discover a devastating secret. Her fourth book, DEADLY RECEPTION, is part of the multi-author Tawnee Mountain Mystery series of novellas and features the same character unraveling the mystery of why there was a torso in her closet when she check into a posh New Jersey resort.
Karen enjoys spending time with her grown children, playing with her dog, and hiking with her husband.
Email Sent: April 8, 2:49 a.m.
To: Francesca Cartolano Bright <BrightGirl@hotfox.com>
From: Charlotte Elizabeth Carpenter <Charley@oldhat.com>
Subject: Insomnia Sucks
You can see from the time stamp that I am awake in the middle of the night—again. There is so much rattling around in my brain right now, I’m surprised the noise hasn’t awakened Daddy and Lawrence. Writing things out helps clear my head, and since you are the world’s best listener/reader of late night confessionals, here goes.
First of all, I’m growing more and more concerned about the renovations to Old Hat. It’s nothing to do with the workmanship; Dale Penwater and his crew are the best. But it’s all these delays. I haven’t said this to another soul, but I’m beginning to suspect sabotage. Missing equipment, mysterious power outages that only affect my building, misdirected deliveries, and now a CORN SNAKE in the wall? I mean, seriously. No one’s luck is this bad.
Also, I think something’s up with Duncan, our carpenter. He’s been distracted and even quieter than usual for nearly a week now. I’ve caught him watching me several times, almost as if he wants to tell me something. The look in his eyes today—could it have been fear?
Speaking of fear, the second thing on my mind is that strange girl I told you about. Sarah Weller showed up at the house next door about a week ago, presumably to visit her mother, Judith. If possible, the tension level emanating from the Sharpes’ house shot up even higher. Paxton Sharpe has been treating the neighborhood to extra helpings of yelling since his stepdaughter arrived. What a jerk. Doesn’t he know we can all hear him?
I wish Judith would give me the time of day. She seems like she could use a friend. I feel badly for their twin boys, too. Four years old is too young to endure all this grown up drama. Hank seems well adjusted, but Pippo, the smaller twin? He hardly says a word, lets his brother do the talking for him. That is, he would if Judith allowed them out of her sight. Lawrence tried to give the kids some fresh baked cookies, and you’d have thought he came after them with a chainsaw. Judith dragged them indoors with hardly a thank you. What’s she so afraid of?
On top of all that, Paxton’s teenage son is home for spring break. Too bad Brandon’s fancy military school hasn’t taught him any manners. If anything, that kid is even moodier and more abrupt than his dad or his stepmother. A couple of days ago, I caught him staring at Sarah in the oddest way. She was helping Judith unload groceries, and he watched her like a hungry dog hoping for some table scraps. Sarah’s got to be at least ten years older than Brandon, but I guess the heart wants what the heart wants. So, tensions galore.
Anyway, a few hours ago I was out in the front yard on the off chance some fresh air might calm my thoughts enough for sleep. Out of the shadows stepped Sarah! I jumped two feet, no kidding. Frankie, it was the oddest conversation. She said she knows who I am, that I’m the girl who helps the police. Then, I swear, she seemed like she wanted to ask me something, just like Duncan. Come to think of it, he started acting oddly about the same time she arrived in Oakwood. Hmmm.
The problem is, I don’t know what Sarah wanted, because Judith bellowed for her, and she ran indoors like a scared rabbit. There’s another woman who could use a friend. I’m going to head over there tomorrow and see if I can get her to talk to me.
Okay, third and final thing. Marcus has been gone for five days, and it feels like five months. Why do these cop conventions always have to be in places like Chicago? We have perfectly nice hotels right here in Dayton, Ohio. The thing is, I’m a little rattled to discover that I can’t seem to sleep without him anymore. Hell, we’ve only been seeing one another for a few months. How could I be that hung up on a man in such a short time? It makes me feel . . . at a disadvantage, somehow.
Do NOT roll your eyes, young lady. And don’t deny that you totally rolled them when you read that. The fact is, things between Marc and I are great, but . . . what if it doesn’t last? What if he visits all his buddies and old haunts in Chicago and decides he wants to move back? The police chief has offered him a job with a promotion if he’ll return to their homicide division. Marc says he’s not going anywhere without me, but . . .
So, it’s three a.m. and I am wide awake. I guess I’d better call it a night. Or morning, to be accurate. I like to meet with Dale before eight o’clock to review progress and sign off on things. Hopefully tomorrow will be free of mysterious sabotage-ish developments.
Call me tomorrow? Maybe we can grab lunch at Ground Zero.
Hi, it’s Regan Summerside from Duffy Brown’s Consignment Shop mysteries and I have to tell you that spring in Savannah is like no other…except this year it’s not all for the good. The Abbott sisters are accused of murder!
I ask you, how could two little old ladies who were once school teachers in a Catholic school of all places and now retired and supplement their income as professional mourners for the best funerals in all Savannah be accused of murder!
Okay, they might have been swindled by that no good Willie Fishbine who doesn’t have a decent bone in his body but to think the sisters did the deed when there are so many others out there who could have done it is plum nuts.
What about Willie’s daughter? She’s the one prancing around with that younger guy. She’s the one who’s had so much plastic surgery it’s hard to tell where her chin ends and her boobs start. And what about Anna and Bella? They want to get their aging and oh-so-rich husbands in Sleepy Pines they are more than willing to kill off a few residents to make room. I see them going in old Willie in a heartbeat.
Auntie KiKi is beside herself with worry that Annie Fritz and Elsie Abbott will go to jail for a crime they didn’t commit. In fact Auntie KiKi has made up a new martini recipe called Get Out of Jail Free. I’m giving it all to you in case you find yourself in such a mess…or in a rousing game of Monopoly.
Wish me luck on finding the real killer. Over and out from Savannah.
Auntie KiKi’s Get Out Of Jail Free Martini
(delish with or without booze)
1 tablespoon finely grated orange chocolate
1 teaspoon sugar
2 orange slices
1/2 cup premium chocolate ice cream, at room temperature for 5 minutes
One question my readers always ask me is “How do you write a novel?” I usually respond, “You write a novel one page at a time.”
When writing The Russian & Aunt Sophia I did not start out to write a novella. I actually had a 50,000 plus word manuscript about the time I decided to enter the 2017 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Contest. The entry could not exceed 20,000 words. It was challenging to take a 50,000 word manuscript and trim it down to less than 20,000 words. But in the process I learned to let go of words. It was very painful. A lot like downsizing from a house you have lived in most of your life. You have to let go of your grandmother’s china because it won’t fit in your new home and to your surprise no one in the family wants your grandmother’s china. It hurts and if you have that mindset and you are a writer it is painful to let go of those words you cherish but you have no choice if you want to write fiction in today’s market.
Last year I found a new editor when I decided to re-edit my first three novels. Live and learn is part of the life of an indie author. I have learned quite a bit about the craft of writing through the process of re-editing my first three novels and working with my new editor. One thing was I tend to write way too much backstory or in other words TMI. Readers get bored and will not finish a book if the plot does not move along and they stop reading and do not finish the novel or worse leave a negative review.
I also learned that my readers don’t need to be spoon fed because they are an intelligent group of individuals not children. After I entered the ScreenCraft competition my editor suggested publishing it as a novella. So I did and hence The Russian & Aunt Sophia became a novella.
Two of my favorite characters Sister Hildegard and Sister Matilda return in The Russian and Aunt Sophia. I hope my readers enjoy the book as much as I did writing it. Here’s a short scene:
“I heard a horn honking and turning to look, I saw Sister Matilda driving a big SUV with Sister Hildegard riding shotgun. I grabbed my carry-on bag and jumped into the back seat. Like most airports today loading and unloading means you take a flying leap as the car picking you up passes by.
“Who does this SUV belong to?”
“A friend of Ernie’s,” Sister Matilda said.
“It has diplomatic plates.”
“He’s in the CIA,” Sister Matilda said, “according to your Aunt Anna.”
“Yes,” Sister Hildegard spoke now, “but a lot of good that does picking someone up at the airport. No way would the airport cops let us park and wait. We’ve been circling the airport for a good half hour.”
“You didn’t park in the cell phone lot?”
“We forgot our cell phone,” Sister Hildegard said looking sternly at Sister Matilda who made the sign of the cross. “So, we’ve been driving in a loop. Your plane was late,” Sister Hildegard said.
“You don’t need a cell phone to park in the cell phone lot,” I said prompting Sister Hildegard to give Sister Matilda an even sterner look. Sister Matilda was a walking encyclopedia of information. She apparently missed this one.”
The Russian & Aunt Sophia was chosen as a Quarter-Finalist in the 2017 SCREENCRAFT Cinematic Short Story Contest.
“The Russian & Aunt Sophia is a very unique and delightfully quirky tale of mystery and murder. The locations are vivid and fun, the characters are engaging, and the plot is very solid and effective. The Russian & Aunt Sophia would work immensely well as a cinematic adaptation.” SCREENCRAFT
Check out the Amazon Kindle Countdown for the novella and 1st book of the series here:
Ready for a trip to a foreign place? In A Well-Timed Murder, we journey to Switzerland, spending time at an idyllic boarding school and at a glamorous watch and jewelry expo in the city of Basel. Following in Inspector Agnes Lüthi’s footsteps, we also travel to the traditional heart of watchmaking country, La Chaux-de-Fonds, and visit the home and factory of a well-regarded watchmaking family.
Agnes Lüthi might have been born in Switzerland, but she shares an appreciation for the country’s traditional architecture with every armchair tourist, thinking more kindly of her in-laws because of their charming chalet. Who wouldn’t appreciate the dark-beamed ceilings and warm fires on a cold day, and the balconies lined with flower boxes that bloom all summer?
A Well-Timed Murder was the perfect opportunity to showcase Switzerland. A little bit of tradition with a dash of modern thrown in. When renowned watchmaker Guy Chavanon dies he leaves behind a modern factory designed to look like it was built in the Renaissance, and an early 20th century house that reflected the “new” modern look of that period – complete with sleek terraces that resembled promenades on ocean liners. Typical Swiss appreciation for the old and the new.
A journey across Switzerland wouldn’t be complete without a trip to a boarding school. I’ve visited my husband’s boarding school in Gruyère many times, soaking in the atmosphere with all the appreciation of an outsider. The school in A Well-Timed Murder was based on his, with a large chalet serving as administration building and dormitories for some of the students. Newer buildings are bracingly modern – smooth concrete, large plate glass widows and highly polished wood accents. I added a few touches to my school, including a poison garden based on the one found at Alnwick Castle in England. Mine is tucked away in the kitchen garden. Why a poison garden? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
Boarding school is the perfect place to introduce characters from across the globe. French and English may be the official school languages but the accents range far and wide and many secret conversations take place in languages understood by only a few.
Basel’s watch and jewelry show, called Baselworld, serves as an introduction to Swiss industry: sleek, glamorous, and international. While the show lasts only one week of the year, during that time it is the most dazzling high end shopping street in the world. Take the best of Zürich, Paris, New York, or Tokyo and bring them together: that’s Baselworld. Need a new tiara? Choose from antique models or have one designed according to your specifications. Looking for a watch? You’ll have to be more precise. Do you need it to function down to the depths of the ocean and while flying to the moon? Or do you want to impress your friends with the number of precious stones on the watch face? Want a dial that is only visible when a hidden button is pressed and the enameled butterfly wings open? You will find all of these, and more, at the show.
During Agnes’s journey across Switzerland in A Well-Timed Murder you’ll see the diversity of the people, catch a glimpse of their customs – including food – and enjoy a ringside seat as Agnes hunts for a killer.