September 19, 2004

laying the groundwork

Iím past page 350. Nearing the end of the novel (my goal is 425 pages, more or less). I know Iíll need to rewrite it, tweak it, maybe even tear it apart and put it back together in a vastly different pattern. In other words, I know thereís work ahead. And I still have a good chunk of first draft left to write. This is not past, this is still very much present, this book. And yet I canít seem to stop thinking about the next book.

Itís ridiculous, I donít even have the hours carved out of my new schedule yet to write my current novel and god knows itís been a slow not-even-steady marathon run, so how can I possibly be gearing up yet for Number Two? Itís kind of insane. And yet I am.

In a way, maybe itís eminently sane of me. After all, this one will require a certain amount of research and careful plotting. I tend to rush that part, wanting to dive into the actual writing because thatís where the fun lies. But this next book will suffer if I do. And so maybe I can eat my cake and have it, write the current book and sink into that sea of words while constructing the framework for the next odyssey.

Somewhere along the line Iíll need to find a cop or two to interview, learn the inside of a police station and a jail and maybe even a morgue. On the other hand, those are standard-issue thriller and mystery fodder and I live in a made-for-the-screen town. Iím sure I can find a way in. The LAPD probably has a whole division set aside for this purpose. But Iím nervous anyway. Iíve never done this, never gone to the source and asked the questions. Not for fiction. Iíve read books and visited locales but never interviewed people for this. Should beÖ wellÖ interesting.

Another part of this research-and-build-plot process will be learning more about the kind of plot to build. This is a mystery. Well, not exactly. Itís really a character study and a commentary on painful life issues. And yet itís a mystery too; the hook and the pull into the novel posit a problem and the main character cares a lot about the outcome. So even though itís not my main focus, it may well be hers and so I must craft this carefully to do both. Sheís also writing a mystery herself, which of course means I will write it her. And so I need to steep myself in the ways you build suspense, plot twists and revelations, the way you feed the reader information but only enough to intrigue and tantalize. Bits at a time and then more bits. Iíve looked at several how-to-write-a-mystery book but they donít really answer my questions. So Iím going to go straight to the source: mystery novels. I plan to read a book, take notes as I go, and then go back and analyze what each scene intends. Then read another. And another. Should be fun.

No wonder Iím antsy to start: I have a lot to do.

And if anyone has suggestions on mysteries with some depth of character and theme or mainstream/literary fiction with strong mystery elements, I'd love to hear about them. I know more of the former than the latter but I welcome all suggestions. I need a reading list! Work to do, books to read, thoughts to think.

Posted by Tamar at September 19, 2004 09:15 PM

I understand it's very common to start thinking about the next project before finishing the current one. Make sure you're not using it as a defense mechanism against finishing!

The LAPD definitely has some kind of setup for writers doing research. Don't know how it works. You might want to join Sisters in Crime, since they have several in's with the PD.

Posted by: Diane at September 19, 2004 10:23 PM

It's terrific to have another project already, if only to ensure you don't drive yourself nuts while the first sells. (A tip I got from John Vernon, a prof at Binghamton who started writing and teaching fiction after I left,,,,,)

I'm teaching Pride and Prejudice partly as a mystery -- Elizzabeth Bennet has to use deductive reasoning to sort out who's lying and who's telling the truth. Meanwhile, if you're not familiar with Laura Lippman's line of Baltimore mysteries, you might want to check them out......

Posted by: Chris at September 20, 2004 04:30 AM

As far as literary fiction goes, Australian writer Janette Turner Hospital essentially writes mysteries - she lives half the year in the States, so most of her recent books are available there. I'd recommend Due Preparations for the Plague (her latest and I think best), The Last Magician and Borderlines. But any of the others would be fine too, although her very earliest ones might be less obviously mysteries (I don't remember them very well, and you probably won't find them anyway).

Posted by: Kay at September 23, 2004 08:16 PM