Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Puzzle of Writing Mysteries

by Velda Brotherton

Wow, is writing mysteries ever puzzling. Some of my favorite authors write mysteries and I devour them, but it never occurred to me that I could actually write one. Then two characters tapped on my inner sanctum door and insisted I put them in a book. Tell their stories. I asked Dal Starr what he wanted to be in my book and he said in his Cherokee accent, "I'd like to be a deputy sheriff in a small town."

Well, maybe I could do that. On to Jessie West, who continued to stare at Dal and I don't blame her. He is hot. Anyway, this isn't supposed to be a romance, I don't think, so let's stop with the sexy glances. Jessie finally answered my question. "What else? A reporter on a small rural newspaper. Don't you know a lot about that?"

I replied that I did, having spent 19 years as feature writer, columnist and city editor for two of these small weekly papers. I never covered a murder though. The only one that happened while I worked for the paper was the killing of a Highway Patrolman out on the highway when he stopped two guys running from the law. There was no mystery there, and they were tracked down through the Ozarks on horseback and killed in a shack off in the wilderness.

But back to my visit with these two new characters in my life. Both Jessie and Dal informed me that while they'd like to solve a murder or two, doing it together might cause a bit of a problem. "Good," I replied. "Conflict is something we definitely need."

"And sex," Jessie said, casting another of her coy glances toward Dal, who dimpled when he grinned, a definite attraction. "Hey, a little sex mixed in with conflict would definitely be an asset to any story. Sometimes solving murders can get boring."

As an author of western historical romances, I knew all about hot love scenes, but I also knew that in the mystery and suspense genres hot love scenes would take on a different slant than in romances. But I could do that. I liked reading gritty mysteries with dark stories and a sexy man with a questionable past. These two appeared to fit the bill all around. Dal wouldn't say much about his past except that he'd been undercover in Dallas and had been shot on duty. Jessie was even more close-mouthed. She'd come back to her small Arkansas hometown after a big career in California that she didn't want to talk about. I'd get it out of her though, before the story got underway.

So my first mystery was born, but it took a lot of stops and starts to get a finished draft. Some drastic cutting because I had too many characters wandering around starting trouble that had nothing to do with anything. Finally I finished a decent draft that had gone by names such as Dry Bones, Dark Bones, etc. You understand the battle with titles. Then, when a small publisher asked me if I had something for their new line, which happened to be mysteries, I decided to get serious about my "Bones" story. Too many bones titles out there, and I needed something different.

Google helped me out and after reading several sites about Edgar Allan Poe, I decided to twist his titles and create a series for these two characters who continued to pester me with ideas. So the Twist of Poe series was born, and The Purloined Skull (The Purloined Letter by Poe) was contracted by Oak Tree Press and published in late 2013. The next story is written but needs a lot of work.

You see, I have this problem. When I read a mystery I cannot for the life of me figure out the killer or bad guy, so it's difficult for me to lay out the clues and the red herrings. I have to work extra hard after my story is written planting those things that will help the reader figure out the killer. But I'll get there and The Tell Tale Stone will soon be submitted. Hey, this mystery writing is a fun break from writing romances, and I snuck in some pretty sexy love scenes in the appropriate places.


Velda Brotherton writes of romance in the old west with an authenticity that makes her many historical characters ring true. A knowledge of the rich history of our country comes through in both her fiction and nonfiction books, as well as in her writing workshops and speaking engagements. She just as easily steps out of the past into contemporary settings to create mysteries and women's fiction which she prefers to set in her home state of Arkansas. Tough heroines, strong and gentle heroes, villains to die for, all live in the pages of her novels and books.

1 comment:

Jean Henry Mead said...

Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Velda. It's great to have you join us here for the coming week.