A recurring Facebook meme has people listing books that have made the greatest and most lasting impression on them throughout their lives. Because I tend to hang out mostly with avid readers (many of them also writers), I’ve seen a lot of these personal lists and found them all interesting.
I thought donating naming rights for animals in one of my novels would be an easy way to contribute to charity auctions at mystery conventions and wouldn’t have any effect on the book. Because my protagonist, Rachel Goddard, is a veterinarian, I’ll always have animals in my books and will always be in need of names for them. I’ll just stick in the “purchased” names without changing anything, right?
(A version of this essay originally appeared in Spinetingler e-zine. It answers a number of questions I’ve been asked about my characters.)
I always cringe when I read a novel or see a movie that romanticizes poverty in the southern mountains – the noble people of Appalachia, speaking an arcane dialect, whipping up nifty herbal remedies when a family member falls ill, sitting around a fire in the evenings, strumming their dulcimers and singing 400-year-old folk songs.
One question mystery and suspense writers are used to hearing is, “Why do you want to write about such awful things?”
T.S. Eliot wrote, “The naming of cats is a difficult matter,” and as a lifelong cat-owner, I agree — but choosing a name for a fictional character takes difficulty to a whole new level. It’s a lot like naming a child. The recipient will live with your decision forever, and if you make a mistake the consequences won’t be pretty.
Learning to read critically has been an enormous help to me as a writer. I’ve learned more from analyzing published novels than any how-to book could have taught me. An extraordinary book may silence my inner critic at the conscious level, but even when I’m swept up in a story some part of my mind is cataloguing the book’s flaws and virtues and making note of techniques I might use in my own work. Here are the points I have in mind when I read a mystery or suspense novel. If you’re an aspiring mystery writer, I hope they’ll be of some use to you.
The short answer is, “Who the heck knows?”
The long answer is that a lot of factors are at work here, and if you haven’t had any luck selling to a traditional publisher you may be bouncing from one brick wall to another through no fault of your own.
Today’s mystery fans expect writers to play fair.
(First published on the Mystery Morgue site.)
The last time an interviewer asked me to describe my writing process, I replied honestly, “Utter chaos.”