Edgar Nominations

The Mystery Writers of America announced their nominees for the Edgar Award, the highest honor in the mystery-writing field.  I’d especially like to congratulation my friends Rhys Bowen, DP Lyle, Jerrilyn Farmer, TJ Parker, Max Allan Collins, Gerry Conway and Hy Conrad on their well-deserved nominations.


Evan’s Gate by Rhys Bowen (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
By a
Spider’s Thread by Laura Lippman (William Morrow)
Remembering Sarah by Chris
Mooney (Atria Books)
California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker (William Morrow)

Out of the Deep I Cry by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martin’s Minotaur)


Little Girl Lost by
Richard Aleas (Hard Case Crime)
Relative Danger by Charles Benoit (Poisoned
Pen Press)
Cloud Atlas by Liam Callanan (Delacorte Press)
Tonight I Said
Goodbye by Michael Koryta (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
Country of Origin by Don
Lee (W.W. Norton & Company)
Bahamarama by Bob Morris (St. Martin’s


The Librarian by Larry
Beinhart (Nation Books)
Into the Web by Thomas H. Cook (Bantam)
Dead Men
Rise Up Never by Ron Faust (Dell)
Twelve-Step Fandango by Chris Haslam (Dark
The Confession by Domenic Stansberry (Hard Case Crime)


The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete
Short Stories
edited by Leslie S. Klinger (W.W. Norton)
Latin American
Mystery Writers: An A-to-Z Guide by Daniel B. Lockhart (Greenwood Press)

Booze and the Private Eye: Alcohol in the Hard-Boiled Novel
by Rita
Elizabeth Rippetoe (McFarland & Co.)
The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. 3:
1956-1991 by Norman Sherry (Viking Books)


for the People: My Most Chilling Cases as Prosecutor by Marissa N. Batt (Arcade
Conviction: Solving the Moxley Murder: A Reporter and a
Detective’s Twenty-Year Search for Justice by Leonard Levitt (Regan Books)

Forensics for Dummies by D.P. Lyle, MD (Wiley Publishing – For Dummies)

Are You There Alone?: The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates by Suzanne
O’Malley (Simon & Schuster)
Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story
of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting
Detectives, and Broken Hearts by Julian Rubinstein (Little, Brown)
River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer – America’s
Deadliest Serial Murderer by Ann Rule (Free Press)


"Something About a Scar" – Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against
You by Laurie Lynn Drummond (HarperCollins)
"The Widow of Slane" by Terence
Faherty (EQMM – March/April 2004)
"The Book Signing" – Brooklyn Noir by Pete
Hamill (Akashic Books)
"Adventure of the Missing Detective" – Sherlock
Holmes: The Hidden Years by Gary Lovisi (St. Martin’s Minotaur)
"Imitate the
Sun" by Luke Sholer (EQMM – November 2004)


Story Time by Edward Bloor (Harcourt Children’s Books)
In Darkness,
Death by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler (Philomel Books)
Jude by Kate
Morgenroth (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)
The Book of Dead
Days by Marcus Sedgwick (Wendy Lamb Books)
Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly
(David Fickling Books)


Chasing Vermeer by Blue
Balliett (Scholastic Press)
Assassin: The Lady Grace Mysteries by Patricia
Finney (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)
Abduction! by Peg Kehret (Dutton
Children’s Books)
Looking for Bobowicz by Daniel Pinkwater (HarperCollins
Children’s Books)
The Unseen by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (Delacorte Books for
Young Readers)


Spatter Pattern (Or, How I Got Away
With It) by Neal Bell (Playwrights Horizons)
Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life
by Max Allan Collins (The Art House)
An Evening of Murder and the Like by
Edward Musto (Barrow Group Studio Theatre)


Law & Order: Criminal Intent – "Want", Teleplay by
Elizabeth Benjamin. Story by René Balcer & Elizabeth Benjamin
Law &
Order: Criminal Intent – "Conscience", Teleplay by Gerry Conway. Story by René
Balcer & Gerry Conway
Law & Order: Criminal Intent – "Consumed",
Teleplay by Warren Leight. Story by René Balcer & Warren Leight
& Order: Criminal Intent – "Pas De Deux", Teleplay by Warren Leight. Story
by René Balcer & Warren Leight
Monk – "Mr. Monk and the Girl Who Cried
Wolf", Teleplay by Hy Conrad


State of Play by Paul Abbott (BBC America)
Prime Suspect 6:
The Last Witness by Peter Berry (Granada TV & WGBH Boston)
Death in Holy
Orders by Robert Jones, based on the novel by P.D. James (BBC Worldwide)

Amnesia by Chris Lang (BBC America)
"The Darkness of Light" – Wire in
the Blood by Alan Whiting (Coastal Productions)


A Very Long Engagement – Screenplay by Jean-Pierre Jeunet,
based on the Novel by Sebastien Japrisot (2003 Productions)
The Bourne
Supremacy – Screenplay by Tony Gilroy, based on the Novel by Robert Ludlam. (The
Kennedy/Marshall Company, Universal Pictures, Hypnotic)
Collateral by Stuart
Beattie (DreamWorks SKG)
I’m Not Scared – Screenplay by Francesca Marciano,
based on the Novel by Niccolo Ammaniti. (Miramax Films)
Maria Full of Grace
– Screenplay by Joshua Marston (HBO Films)


Thomas Morrissey
"Can’t Catch Me" – Brooklyn Noir (Akashic Books)


Marcia Muller


Carolyn Marino, Vice President/Executive Editor, HarperCollins


Cape Cod Radio Mystery Theatre (founded by Steve
DorothyL listserv (founded by Diane Kovacs and Kara Robinson

Murder by the Book, Houston, TX (Martha Farrington, Owner)


David Chase (writer/producer – The Sopranos, The Rockford
Kolchak: The Night Stalker and many other breakthrough TV shows)

Tom Fontana (writer/producer – Homicide: Life on the Street, Oz, and The
Jury and many other breakthrough TV shows)


Perfect Sax by Jerrilyn Farmer (William Morrow/Avon)

The Drowning Tree by Carol Goodman (Ballantine Books)
Scent of a Killer
by Christiane Heggan (MIRA Books)
Grave Endings by Rochelle Krich
(Ballantine Books)
Murder in a Mill Town by P.B. Ryan (Berkley Prime Crime)

Hardboiled vs Cozies vs Everybody

Novelist James Reasoner is wondering when did the mystery field become so balkanized?

I read just about everything there was in the mystery field . . . and it seemed perfectly normal to me. Now you got your hardboiled readers laughing at cozies and your cozy readers sneering at the hardboiled stuff, and for all I know people who read cat mysteries can’t understand why anybody would want to read a dog mystery, and vice versa. I don’t understand it. Give me a good story and some reasonably interesting characters, and I’m fine
with it, no matter what the trappings might be.

You notice this a lot on many of the mystery lists (like DorothyL, etc.) and among the writing blogs.  What’s interesting to me is that the balkanization doesn’t just exist among mystery fans, but among mystery writers as well with, for example, the hardboiled writers all but sneering at authors who write cozies, as if they aren’t real writers because their heroes don’t fuck, or take a beating,  or go to a murder scenes and see the brain matter on the wall and the dead man who has shit himself in his last spasm of life.

Hardboiled detective books and police procedurals have no more literary
merit than any other books in the field because they are grittier.  I don’t much like cozies myself, but I certainly respect the writers who write them. It’s just as hard to write a cozy as it is to write a tough noir tale. Who knows, maybe it’s even harder.

A close cousin to balkanization are the insular attitudes of certain cliques of writers… scribes who love everything their group does, good or bad, and sneers at the work of outsiders. You aren’t "in" if you aren’t in their tight little group.  These smug back-slappers exist in all the different genres of mystery fiction and, if you go to conventions or hang out in discussions on -line,  you know exactly who they are and what writers are on their approved reading lists. 

I like to think I’m not in one of those insular groups and that I treat cozy, historical, hard-boiled, whodunit, and all other mystery writers with friendliess and respect, whether I am a fan of their particular genre or not.   

To Outline or Not To Outline

Prolific novelist Sandra Scoppettone has hit a wall in her new book.

I think I’m in big trouble.  This novel is a mess. I’m on page 142
and not only don’t I know what’s going on, I can’t imagine writing at
least another 250 pages of this.

Nothing makes sense.  I’ve written myself into so many corners I can’t see how to ever write out of them.

it wasn’t so depressing, and if I didn’t have a deadline, I think I’d
junk this novel and start again.  I honestly don’t know what I’m going
to do.  I should be working right now but instead I’m doing this.

feel I’ve been fooling myself, thinking it would work itself out.  I
don’t see how it can.  I’ve never been in quite this position so early
in a book.

I don’t know whether she writes with an outline or not, but I’m guessing she doesn’t. Novelist Ed Gorman wishes he could outline…but can’t.

The few times I’ve managed to fix an outline on both the page and in my
mind, I was more relaxed with the writing itself. I didn’t wake up in
the middle of the night depressed because I couldn’t figure out what
next day at the machine would bring.

Novelist James Reasoner always has a vague sketch of where he is going.

Although taking off and winging it with no outline can be fun . . . if
everything works out right. These days I like a nice six to eight page
outline so that the basic structure of the book has already been
figured out before I start. I usually write these even for books where
the publisher doesn’t require an outline, just for my own benefit.

that said, I don’t think I’ve ever written a book that turned out
exactly like the outline. Some unexpected plot twist or character
always pops up during the writing of the book itself.

That’s the way it goes for me, too. I find the security blanket of an outline, even if I deviate from it along the way (and I do), always helps me. At least I can look at it and say, "Okay, I had an idea of where I should be going, why am I not heading in that direction? What changed? And did it change for the better?" My outlines tend to evolve as my novels do…I call them "living outlines," because I am constantly rewriting them as I write the book and usually don’t finish my outline until a week or so before I finish my book.

Sometimes it’s fun for me to go back and look at the original outline and then the one I ended up with and see at what points I went in new directions… and why. I always learn from it.

UPDATE: Sandra Scoppettone reports on her blog that she doesn’t use an outline…and here’s why:

couldn’t stand to have an outline.  The idea of knowing where I’m going
is hideous to me.  Anyway, I couldn’t write an outline when I never
know who did it until I’m at about page 100.  I don’t want to know who
did it when I start.  It would spoil everything for me just as if I was
reading a book and knew who did it from the beginning.  Before I start
I know who my protagonist is (in this case I know a lot about her
because it’s the second in a series) and who has been killed.  That has
always worked for me before.  And now it’s failed me.  I still won’t do
an outline.

Frankly, I can’t imagine writing a mystery, and planting clues, without knowing whodunit ahead of time.

I’m curious, fellow writers… how do you feel about outlines?

Ken Bruen Revisited

A month or two back, I mentioned here that I was underwhelmed by Ken Bruen’s much-praised novel THE GUARDS.  I  was surprised by the shock and outrage my comments provoked here and on several other blogs.  Author Jason Starr  suggested I try Bruen’s HER LAST CALL TO LOUIS MACNIECE.   I did. And I loved it.  I devoured it in one sitting. It’s everything THE GUARDS wasn’t. Fresh. Surprising. With a narrative engine that growls like a Pontiac GTO.  It’s a darkly funny,  nasty reimagining of the pulp noir formula.  It’s equal measures  Harry Whittington, Charles Willeford Elmore Leonard and Roger Corman… set in the UK.  Now I see what all the excitement is about. I wish I read this one before THE GUARDS.  I’m  sure this won’t get as much play in the blogosphere as my critical comments did… but I’ve just got to say, WOW. I can’t wait to read the rest of his stuff… except, maybe, for his sequels to THE GUARDS.

Author, Reread Thyself

In his enewsletter, mystery writer Michael Jecks talks about the constant juggling act that prolific writers have to perform.

Every time one book is ready to launch, I have to plan the next to be written.
And at the same time, of course, I’m receiving the next to be published so that
I can go through the copy editor’s notes. That’s why at any time of the year I
tend to be working on three different titles simultaneously, and it’s also why
authors should always reread their most recently published books before being
interviewed about them.

During a radio interview, the host asked him a specific plot question about his novel… and he couldn’t answer.

In the two years between writing the book and the interview, I had written The Merchant’s Partner, A Moorland Hanging, and
synopses for two more books. I had scarcely thought about The
Last Templar
, beyond being glad that it was in print and selling well. I
couldn’t remember the names of the victims, the perpetrators, or the motives for
their crimes. It was a salutary experience, and one I won’t forget in a hurry.

I can see the same thing happening to me some day. I will be sure to follow his advice…

Are Murder Mysteries Immoral?

There was a post today on DorothyL, the mystery digest,  that really bugged me.

My spouse and I recently had an argument about the morality of showing a
murder in every episode–the implication being that people, especially children, would take away the impression that the world is a violent and  menacing place. I countered with the argument that the show contains a  fundamental morality in the search to apprehend the evil-doers and bring them to justice. I think the same applies to writing murder mysteries.

The world is a violent and menacing place….and one murder-a-week on any TV series is a far cry from the number of murders that are actually committed in the United States each day. But beyond that, how could a murder mystery possibly be construed as immoral? It’s wrong to murder somebody… and that’s the basic assumption & message of every murder mystery ever written. 

That said, does that make Barry Eisler’s RAIN series, or Lawrence Block’s HITMAN series, or Thomas Perry’s BUTCHER BOY, or Donald Westlake’s PARKER books immoral to read and enjoy because the protagonists engage in immoral behavior?

This is the kind of neanderthal thinking that gets books banned… and leads to things like that English teacher who was castigated for asking high school students to write a murder mystery in her creative writing course.

Then again, a lot of folks on DorothyL also think MONK is offensive because it makes fun of someone with obsessive compulsive disorder.

How I Write

This article, which I wrote, appeared last month on the Mystery Morgue website. Here it is again, by popular demand. If  it seems familiar, that’s because some of it was culled from old posts on this blog.

I’ve just signed  a contract for four more Diagnosis Murder
books… and the next one is due in March. I have the broad strokes of the
story….but that’s it. The broad strokes. The equivalent of book jacket copy.
I’ve still got to come up with the actual story.
I’ve been able to  procrastinate by doing
research on the period… which has given me some plot ideas… but I’ve still
got to figure out the murders, the clues, the characters and, oh yes, the story.

This is the hardest part of
writing… the sitting around, staring into space, and thinking. This is
writing, even if you aren’t physically writing.
A lot of non-writers have a hard time understanding this. Yes, just sitting in
a chair doing nothing is writing. A crucial part, in fact.

It can be hell… especially
when you are on as short a deadline as I am. Everyone has their own method…
this is mine:

Once all the thinking is done,
I sit down and work out a rough outline… one or two lines on each
"scene," with the vital clues or story points in bold. It’s what I
call "a living outline," because it changes as I write the book,
staying a few chapters ahead of me (and, some times, requiring me to go back
and revise earlier chapters to jibe with the new changes I’ve made… like
characters who were supposed to die in the story but don’t). I keep revising
the outline right up to the end of the novel. I finish both the book and the
living outline almost simultaneously.

While I’m still thinking, and
while I’m outlining, and while I’m writing, I compile and maintain what I call
"my Murder Book," a thick binder that contains my outline, my working
manuscript, and notes, emails, articles, clips, photographs,
post-its…anything and everything relating to my story. By the time the book
is done, the binder is bulging with stuff… including my notes on what my next
book might be.

Now I’m in the thinking stage,
which is why I have time to write
this. What a great way to procrastinate!

In every  "Diagnosis Murder" book, Dr. Mark
Sloan is able to unravel a puzzling murder by using clever deductions and good
medicine to unmask the killer.

I wish I could say that he’s
able to do that because of my astonishing knowledge of medicine, but it’s not.

I’m just a writer.

I know as much about being a
doctor as I do about being a private eye, a lifeguard, a submarine Captain, or
a werewolf… and I’ve written and produced TV shows about all of them, too.

What I do is tell stories. And
what I don’t know, I usually make up…or call an expert to tell me.

Writing mysteries is, by far, the hardest writing I’ve had to do in television.
Writing a medical mystery is even harder. On most TV shows, you can just tell a
good story. With mysteries, a good story isn’t enough, you also need a
challenging puzzle. It’s twice as much work for the same money.

I always begin developing a book
the same way – I come up with an "arena," the world in which our
story will take place. A UFO convention. Murder in a police precinct. A rivalry
between mother and daughter for the love of a man. Once I have the arena, I think
about the characters. Who are the people the story will be about? What makes
them interesting? What goals do they have, and how do they conflict with the
other characters.

And then I ask myself the big
questions – who gets murdered, how is he or she killed, and why? How Dr. Mark
Sloan solves that murder depends on whether I’m are writing an open or closed

Whether the murder is
"open," meaning the reader knows whodunit from the start, or whether
it is "closed," meaning I find out who the killer is the same time
that the hero does, is dictated by the series concept. "Columbo"
mysteries are always open, "Murder She Wrote" was always closed, and
"Diagnosis Murder" mixes both. An open mystery works when both the
murderer, and the reader, think the perfect crime has been committed. The
pleasure is watching the detective unravel the crime, and find the flaws you
didn’t see. A closed mystery works when the murder seems impossible to solve,
and the clues that are found don’t seem to point to any one person, but the
hero sees the connection you don’t and unmasks the killer with it.

In plotting the book, the
actual murder is the last thing I explore, once I’ve settled on the arena and
devised some interesting characters. Once I figure out who to kill and how,
then I start asking myself what the killer did wrong. I need a number of clues,
some red-herrings that point to other suspects, and clues which point to our
murderer. The hardest clue is the finish clue, or as we call it, the
"ah-ha!," the little shred of evidence that allows the hero to solve
the crime – but still leaves the reader in the dark.

The finish clue is the hardest
part of writing a "Diagnosis Murder" book – because it has to be
something obscure enough that it won’t make it obvious who the killer is to
everybody, but definitive enough that the reader will be satisfied when Mark
Sloan nails the murderer with it.

A "Diagnosis Murder"
book is a manipulation of information, a game that’s played on the reader. Once
I have the rigid frame of the puzzle, I have to hide the puzzle so the reader
isn’t aware they are being manipulated. It’s less about concealment than it is
about distraction. If I do it right, the reader is so caught up in the conflict
and drama of the story, they aren’t aware that they are being constantly

The difficulty, the sheer,
agonizing torture, of writing "Diagnosis Murder" is telling a good
story while, at the same time, constructing a challenging puzzle. To me, the
story is more important than the puzzle — the book should be driven by
character conflict, not my need to reveal clues. The revelations should come
naturally out of character, because people read books to see interesting people
in interesting situations…not to solve puzzles. A mystery, without the
character and story, isn’t very entertaining.

In my experience, the best
"ah-ha!" clues come from character, not from mere forensics – for
instance, I discover Aunt Mildred is the murderer because she’s such a clean
freak, she couldn’t resist doing the dishes after killing her nephew.

But this is a book series
about a doctor who solves crimes. Medicine has to be as important as
character-based clues. So I try to mix them together. The medical clue comes
out of character.

So how do I come up with that
clever bit of medicine?

First, I decide what function
or purpose the medical clue has to serve, and how it is linked to our killer,
then I make a call to Dr. D.P. Lyle, author of “Forensics for Dummies,” to help
me find us the right malady, drug, or condition that fits our story needs. If he
doesn’t know the answer, I go to the source. If it’s a question about
infectious diseases, for instance, I might call the Centers for Disease
Control. If it’s a forensic question, I might call the medical examiner. If
it’s a drug question, I’ll call a pharmaceutical company. It all depends on the
story. And more often than not, whoever I find is glad to answer my questions.

The reader enjoys the game as
long as you play fair…as long as they feel they had the chance to solve the
mystery, too. Even if they do solve it ahead of your detective, if it was a
difficult and challenging mystery, they feel smart and don’t feel cheated. They
are satisfied, even if they aren’t surprised.

If Dr. Sloan catches the killer
because of some arcane medical fact you’d have to be an expert to catch, then I’ve
failed and you won’t watch the show again.

The medical clue has to be
clever, but it can’t be so obscure that you don’t have a chance to notice it
for yourself, even if you aren’t an M.D. And it has to come out of character,
so even if you do miss the clue, it’s consistent with, and arises from, a
character’s behavior you can identify.

To play fair, all the clues
and discoveries have to be shared with the reader at the same time that the
hero finds them. There’s nothing worse than with-holding clues from the reader
– and the sad thing is, most mysteries do it all the time. The writers do it
because playing fair is much, much harder than cheating. If you have the hero
get the vital information “off screen,” between chapters, the story is a lot
easier to plot. But when "Diagnosis Murder" book works, when the
mystery is tight, and the reader is fairly and honestly fooled, it makes all
the hours of painful plotting worthwhile.

That, and the royalty check.

When you sit down to write a
mystery novel, there are no limitations on where your characters can go and
what they can do. Your detective hero can appear on every single page. He can
spend all the time he wants outdoors, even at night, and can talk with as many
people as he likes. Those may not seem like amazing creative liberties to you,
but to someone who makes most of his living writing for television, they are
amazing freedoms.

Before a TV writer even begins
to think about his story, he has to consider a number of factors that have
nothing to do with telling a good mystery or creating memorable characters.

For one thing, there’s the budget and the shooting schedule. Whatever story you
come up with has be shot in X many days for X amount of dollars. In the case of
“Diagnosis Murder,” a show I wrote and produced for several years, it was seven
days and $1.2 million dollars. In TV terms, it was a cheap show shot very fast.

To make that schedule, you are
limited to the number of days your characters can be “on location” as opposed
to being on the “standing sets,” the regular interiors used in each book. On
“Diagnosis Murder,” it was four days “in” and three days “out.” Within that
equation, there are still more limitations – how many new sets can be built,
how many locations you can visit and how many scenes can be shot at night.

Depending on the show’s
budget, you are also limited to X number of guest stars and X number of smaller
“speaking parts” per book. So before you even begin plotting, you know that you
can only have, for example, four major characters and three smaller roles (like
waiters, secretaries, etc.). Ever wonder why a traditional whodunit on TV is
usually a murder and three-to-four suspects? Now you know.

Then there’s the work schedule
of your regular cast to consider. On “Diagnosis Murder,” Dick Van Dyke only
worked three consecutive days a week and he wouldn’t visit any location more
than thirty miles from his home. Co-star Victoria Rowell split her time with the
soap opera “Young and the Restless,” and often wasn’t available to shoot until
after lunch.

On top of all that, your story
has to be told in four acts, with a major twist or revelation before each
commercial break, and unfold over 44 minutes of airtime.

It’s astonishing, given all
those restrictions, that there are so many complex, entertaining, and fun
mysteries on television.

Those limitations become so
ingrained to a TV writer/producer, that it become second-nature. You
instinctively know the moment you’re pitched a particular story if it can be
told within the budgetary and scheduling framework of your show. It becomes so
ingrained, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to let go, even when you have
the chance.

I am no longer bound by the
creative restrictions of the show. I don’t have to worry about sticking to our
“standing sets,” Dick Van Dyke’s work schedule, or the number of places the
characters visit.. Yet I’m finding it almost impossible to let go. After
writing and/or producing 100 episodes of the show, it’s the way I think of a
“Diagnosis Murder” story.

And if you watched the show,
it’s the way you think of a “Diagnosis Murder” story, too –whether you realize
it or not. You may not know the reasons why a story is told the way its told,
but the complex formula behind the story-telling becomes the natural rhythm and
feel of the show. When that rhythm changes, it’s jarring.

If you watch your favorite TV
series carefully now, and pay close attention to the number of guest stars,
scenes that take place on the “regular sets,” and how often scenes take place
outdoors at night, and you might be able to get a pretty good idea of the
production limitations confronting that show’s writers every week.

And if you read my “Diagnosis
Murder” novels, feel free to put the book down every fifteen minutes or so for
a commercial break.

Speaking of which, if there’s
actually going to be another “Diagnosis Murder” novel, I better get back to
work… sitting in my chair, doing nothing.

How I Write

My next DIAGNOSIS MURDER is due in March. I have the broad strokes of the story…. but that’s it. The broad strokes. The equivalent of  book jacket copy. I’ve still got to come up with the actual story.  I’ve
been able to procrastinate by doing research on the period, which has given me some plot ideas, but I’ve still got to figure out the  murders, the clues, the characters and, oh yes, the story.

This  is the hardest part of writing… the sitting around, staring into space, and thinking. This is writing, even if you aren’t physically writing.  A lot of non-writers have a hard time understanding this. Yes, just
sitting in a chair doing nothing is writing. A crucial part, in fact.
It can be hell,  especially when you are on as short a deadline as I am.  Everyone has their own method… this is mine:

Want to find out more? Check out my article at The Mystery Morgue.

The Perfect Set-Up for Mystery Novel

The New Yorker reports that the world’s leading Sherlock Holmes scholar, Richard Lancelyn Green, was found dead under "mysterious circumstances."

He had been investigating the whereabouts of an archive of Conan
Doyle’s papers, which he believed had been stolen. At the same time, he
hinted that there had been threats to his life and that he was being
followed; soon afterward, he was found garroted in his room, surrounded
by Sherlock Holmes books and posters, with a cord around his neck.

Now the "subculture" of Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle scholars are trying to deduce how Green was killed.

It’s an odd situation, detective-story enthusiasts
trying to solve a real-life mystery.

Not in TV-Land.  This week, Hallmark starts a new series of TV movies about a mystery bookstore owner who solves murders.

The Surprise Character

Author Sandra Scoppettone had an experience writing the other day that I can certainly sympathize with:

I had my protagonist searching a
hotel room for clues to the missing man. She opened a wardrobe and the
body of a naked woman fell out.

I didn’t plan this at all.  It
happened.  I have no idea who she is or what she has to do with the
missing man case.  The woman falling out of the wardrobe was the way I
ended chapter two.

I’m 4 pages into chapter 4 and I still don’t
know anything about her.  The police have arrived now.  Don’t have any
idea where this is going to go.

Yes, it’s a bit scary not to
know, but it’s also what makes writing without an outline fun.  Maybe
tomorrow I’ll find out who she is.

I write with an outline, but this kind of thing still happens to me all the time. Well, it does when I’m writing books, not in television, where the outline is, to use a cliche, set in stone after it has been approved by the studio and network and distributed to key department heads for production purposes. But I digress..

I refer to my novel outlines as "living outlines," I keep revising them as I write to take into account these little surprises along the way or new ideas that occur to me.  I finish my outline around the same time I finish my books. 

The most troublesome, unexpected change I had to deal with was in my book MY GUN HAS BULLETS. I had a character, Eddie Planet, who was supposed to die very early on. But I fell in love with Eddie, and enjoyed writing him so much, that I kept putting off his death, until I finally accepted the fact that I couldn’t kill him. I was stuck with him for the whole book. Well, that threw my entire plot into disarray. It screwed up every plot turn. I spent the whole book trying to solve plot problems on-the-go.  But I think it was a much better book because I kept Eddie alive… and, in fact, I liked him so much, he became the central character in the sequel, BEYOND THE BEYOND.

I think it’s those surprise characters and unforeseen twists that make writing so exciting.  No matter how well you plot a story, the book always seems (to use another cliche) take on a life of its own.  Or, to use Sandra’s example:

The Surprise Character. I know who she is now. She was
identified by the detective’s client. This happened yesterday. I was
shocked to learn who she was. I ended chapter 5 with this revelation.

morning I woke early and before I went back to sleep I kept writing
opening lines of chapter 6 in my head. But I didn’t use any of them
when I went to work this morning.

Since chapter 5 ended with a
name I had to open chapter 6 with more information about who this
victim was. In learning this I’ve set myself a lot of new problems. I
still don’t know why she was found where she was or why she was
murdered. Needless to say, I don’t know who killed her…

…So what? That’s part of writing a novel. Any novel. Not only a mystery.
I think all good novels are mysteries to the author until they’re

Speaking of which, mine won’t be if I don’t spend less time this blog and more on my manuscript! I’m outta here. Enough procrastinating…