Today on the BWL website I write about Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. https://bwlauthors.blogspot.com/
I’m a believer in plowing through a novel’s first draft without pausing to revise along the way. When I start writing a book, reaching ‘the end’ is a daunting prospect. Since reworking existing material is easier than tackling a blank page, it can become an avoidance tactic. It might also be a waste of time if I discover I have to delete or radically rewrite a scene after I know what the whole story is about. ‘Write and revise later’ worked for my first four books. It didn’t for my current novel-in-progress.
My first problem with the process occurred when a scene I wrote fell flat and I felt a need to revise it before moving forward in the story. This happened again a few scenes down the road. In one case, my point of view detective narrator needed a partner for the scene. I threw in a random police officer, but found he added nothing to the story. I went back and made him a ‘she.’ To my surprise, sparks flew between her and my detective, who is at a crossroads in his life. Their romance has become a subplot in the novel and a key aspect of his personal story arc.
I tell myself that modifying my usual approach and following my instinct to jump in and revise comes from having a few novels under my belt; that I now know earlier in the process what a story needs to avoid more complicated revision later. How’s that for self-justification?
Around the manuscript’s 3/4 point, I realized that a number of scenes in the third quarter would work better if they were set in different locations. This time I stuck with my usual approach since most of the other material would remain the same. Instead of revising the scenes, I made an outline for the changes I plan to make. They will move a critical plot point earlier in the story, but I think the outline can deal with this change. Revising the wayward scenes would have benefits, but I really want to finish the first draft this spring.
Then, a few chapters later, a long scene fell completely flat, when the story should be building to a thrilling climax. I puzzled over what to do and decided I’d taken a wrong turn at the 3/4 mark. I had shifted the story focus to a character who is much talked about but hadn’t made a personal appearance in the novel. I assumed that since my main characters cared deeply about him, readers would too. But I think readers only engage with the characters they meet in the literary flesh. This might be one reason they tend to be less interested than the writer in characters’ backstories.
My solution to this problem will be to go back three chapters, to the point where I veered off track. I’ll revise most of the scenes and cut the 2,000 word flat scene. Ouch. But I need to know what happens in these chapters to figure out my characters’ paths to the climax and denouement.
Each novel has its own journey. This work-in-progress has gone in directions I didn’t expect, in terms of character development, subject matter, and writing process. I’ve found it a challenge to adapt, without steering off course.
My turn today on the BWL Blogspot. https://bwlauthors.blogspot.com/ I discuss ‘When Your Novel Takes a Wrong Turn.’
One thing I like about writing short stories is the chance to explore genres and characters different from those of my novels. Last fall I completed my first work of historical fiction, a 4,500-word story set during the 1918 influenza pandemic. A Deadly Flu is also my first short whodunit and my first police procedural. I’ve featured detectives in secondary roles before, but not as story protagonists.
My idea for A Deadly Flu took root almost two years ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic revived my interest in that earlier virus, which was formerly and inaccurately called the Spanish flu. I first heard about the 1918 pandemic on an episode of the 1970s television show, Upstairs Downstairs, when the young wife of the wealthy Bellamy family’s son developed a fever and died the same day.
During the summer of 2020, I read books and articles about the 1918 pandemic and was struck by its relevance a hundred years later. The prime advice in both pandemics was the same: wash your hands, social distance and avoid crowds. The 1918 Pandemic’s second and mostly deadly wave struck my home city of Calgary from October to December 1918. Business, churches and bars closed. People wore masks and lived in fear.
Around this time, I was mulling ideas for my fourth mystery novel, to be set during our current pandemic, and wondered if the 1918 flu might provide a parallel backstory. I developed the idea of a pharmacist who murders her lover by pouring a medicine that mimicked the 1918 flu’s symptoms into his whisky. When he died, the medical profession’s tunnel vision assumed this was another influenza death.
I began writing the backstory as a suspense from the killer’s viewpoint and enjoyed researching Calgary neighbourhoods of the time, along with its streetcar system, fashion, and particulars of the city-wide lockdown. But by the end of the draft, I realized the events that happened over a hundred years ago wouldn’t add enough interest to the contemporary mystery I had in mind. I set the backstory aside and plunged into the current novel.
Nov 11, 1918 – Calgary WWI Victory parade
Then the Crime Writers of Canada put out a call for submissions for its 40th anniversary anthology. Stories had to be set in Canada, feature cold in some way, and be under 5,000 words. I hauled out the backstory and set it during a Calgary cold wave in December 1918, with a detective, rather than a villain, protagonist. A benefit of writing a detective from the early twentieth century is that I didn’t have to know about DNA, data bases, and other modern police gadgetry. Since I only had a short space to establish reader connection with him, I gave him a wound–his wife had died a year earlier in childbirth–and developed a romantic subplot.
I wrote the story, sent it off, and was thrilled last month to learn A Deadly Flu will be included in the Cold Canadian Crime Anthology, to be released this May. Meanwhile I’ve been working on my novel-in-progress. Inspired by my historical detective, for the first time I’m including the viewpoints of two detectives in addition to my insurance adjuster sleuth. I foresee much research into modern police work. One day soon, I’d like to write a historical novel and, perhaps, develop A Deadly Flu into a novella, a genre I haven’t tried. That’s another thing I like about writing short stories—they can be stepping stones to future books.
I’m excited about my short story publication in
the Cold Canadian Crime Anthology, to be released in May.
Here’s my latest article in Opal Magazine, about my choices and experience of setting my novel-in-progress during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://opalpublishing.files.wordpress.com/2022/02/mar-owm_2022.pdf?mc_cid=a42af0ac2b&mc_eid=85ed6ddd3f Scroll down to page 29, but don’t forget to read the interesting articles along the way.
Pleased to have my article in the terrific Opal Magazine. https://opalpublishing.ca/2022/02/07/does-your-mystery-novel-series-need-an-overall-story-arc/
My post today, on the BWL, is about Canadian Mystery novels and how they highlight our country’s unique people, places, and stories. https://bwlauthors.blogspot.com/
The Pincher Creek Library kindly invited me to visit them again and talk about my new novel, Winter’s Rage. This time I’ll be speaking on Zoom. Everyone’s invited. Call 403.627.3813 or email- firstname.lastname@example.org to register for this free virtual author visit!
My first writing project for 2022 is to prepare for my Calgary Public Library Zoom presentation on Wednesday, January 26, 7-8 pm. Here’s the topic description:
Mystery novels are fun to read, but crime fiction set in Canada teaches us about our country. Join Calgary mystery author, Susan Calder, in a lively conversation with Margaret Hadley, University of Calgary Instructor Emerita of English. They’ll discuss how Canadian crime novels portray our unique characters, regions, history, and contemporary life.
Registration is now open on the CPL website Books and Ideas: How Canadian Mystery Novels Connect us to our Country’s People, Places, and Stories | Calgary Public Library (calgarylibrary.ca) If you don’t have a CPL card, you can contact the library by phone 403.260.2600 or through their website: www.calgarylibrary.ca. Everyone welcome.
Hope to virtually see you there.