Saturday, March 10, 2007

Writing a Mystery Novel

In my day job, I help write and compile indexes for the state statutes of eight different states. My group is constantly reading the the acts that are produced by the different state legislatures--from 200 to 2000 acts per year from each state. Because of this job, I've developed an interest in the law, which I've used in various novels.

I'd written in many other genres before I tackled a mystery novel. But when I wrote All Creatures, I felt like I'd found my writer's voice.

One problem I'd had when younger was building the all-important "goal/motivation/conflict" into my novels. The beauty of a mystery is that the goal is usually self-evident: find the murderer. My amateur-sleuth hero, Travis, is a small-town veterinarian. He has important motivation--not only is the murdered woman his stepmother, but his father is arrested for the crime. Travis believes his father is innocent, but he also wants to prove himself. His father has always favored Travis's brilliant older brother.

I've never written a book without a romance, and this one is no exception. Right in the middle of the greatest challenge of his life, Travis falls in love with lively newcomer to town, JayBee. She's one of my favorite heroines--gutsy, opinionated, and athletic (not much like me, who was always chosen last in games at school!)

Several lucky things happened while I wrote this book. Just when I'd written the first few chapters, I was able to take a 6-week class called "How to Write a Novel" with Cleveland mystery writer Les Roberts. He was a wonderful teacher and I know the book would not be the same if I hadn't taken the class. He spent a whole class talking about "antagonists," which made me rethink the role of the police chief in my book (who has been Travis's lifelong enemy). Les Roberts was also kind enough to read the first 35 pages of the students' manuscripts. He was encouraging about mine, which gave me the impetus to go on with it.

I am also fortunate to work with a man who was a former assistant prosecutor. He was able to help me with many of the procedural details in the novel, for instance, everything that occurs after a body is found.

The book has had several different titles, including The Vet Investigates and Death and the D.V.M. A friend suggested All Creatures Great and...Dead because it brings in the veterinarian idea, recalling the famous books and TV series about a British veterinarian.

The book will be available on May 17th.

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