Tag Archives: #mysterynovel

The Novel I Wish I’d Written

My book club chose the classic novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier for our October meeting. This was the third time I’d read the book. I’ve loved it each time for slightly different reasons. 


I was in my twenties when I first read this story of a young woman who marries a wealthy older man she meets on a holiday in Monte Carlo. His late wife, Rebecca, looms larger-than-life and haunts the tale from beginning to end. Gradually the story builds to a series of plot twists. I didn’t see any of them coming, yet I instantly recalled clues the author had planted along the way to make the surprises completely believable. The only author I’ve read who did this almost as well was Agatha Christie. Literary writers often dismiss such twists as mere plot. In Rebecca, every twist is embedded in character. If the story narrator, her husband Maxim, Rebecca, and all of the secondary characters had been different people, the story and twists wouldn’t have happened exactly as they did.  

About twenty years later, I started writing mystery novels. Whenever the subject of favourite books came up, I’d say that I couldn’t choose my favourite as a reader, but Rebecca was the novel I wished I’d written, mainly for the author’s handling of surprise. Perhaps this prompted me to read Rebecca a second time. By then, I’d seen several movie versions and remembered all the twists, but I still found myself gripped by the suspense of what was to come. Fans will recall a scene where the narrator breaks a valuable figurine. As the narrator struggles to cover her action up, I was on the edge of my seat, worried for this sympathetic character.

 
This third time reading Rebecca, I was mainly drawn in by du Maurier’s writing. The novel struck me as a cross between two other classics written by women, Jayne Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, with mystery and suspense thrown into the mix. Rebecca features the grand passion and gothic qualities of Bronte’s story, with subtle Austen-like touches of social observation and humour. All three books are about women who fall in love with men who are far superior to them in wealth and social status. I interpret each of the stories as showing how the woman becomes the man’s equal. Perhaps this partly explains why these novels resonate with modern readers. 


In addition, on third reading, I realized that Rebecca contains a number of life lessons, about such things as not making assumptions about other people, assuming you know what they are thinking, and speaking out for yourself. In middle age, I read a popular book on cognitive therapy, which is commonly viewed as the most effective psychotherapy method. Everything in the book was already there in Rebecca. I wonder if this is why I easily grasped the therapy concepts and if, subconsciously, I applied them to my life after reading Rebecca when I was young. 


Our book club discussion leader also brought up some modern interpretations of Rebecca that I hadn’t heard before. Maybe I’ll grasp them if I read the novel a fourth time. You can dive into Rebecca forever it seems and surface with something new.   


When I reached the end of the novel last month, for the third time, I decided to go out on a limb say, Rebecca isn’t only the book I wish I’d written, it’s my favourite novel ever. Admittedly, I’m the only member of my book club who rated it this high. A couple of people didn’t like it. Others had mixed feelings. A surprising number hadn’t read the book before. Nobody predicted the twists on their first time. Rebecca is worth reading for that reason alone, and for so many more

Back to Work

Yesterday I flew home from a trip to Minneapolis. On November 12th I leave for a three-week holiday in Mexico. This gives me a two-month window to write draft # 3 of my novel-in-progress. I have to complete this work to make the deadline for the novel’s scheduled release in September 2023. 
It’s a challenge for me to think of my writing as work, since I don’t come close to making a living from it. But I have to do this in order to finish a long project like a novel. Otherwise I’ll let other activities completely consume my time. I wrapped up the first draft of this novel in late May and have given the book little thought since then. A break of almost four months should be good for returning to the story with fresh eyes. I don’t regret my travels to Ireland and Ontario and warm summer days spent hiking, biking and hanging out with family and friends, when I could have been writing.        

Lake Erie beach with family and friends


While it’s hard to drag myself back to the computer, I know from numerous past experiences that once I start I’ll soon be into the writing groove again. This helps me avoid procrastination and plunge in, as I would into cold water. Once I’m swimming in the story, I’ll need to avoid distractions and limit them to important matters like family, friends, exercise, and volunteer work. Turning off my instant email notification will be essential. I’ve taken on a commitment to co-chair Calgary’s committee to host the Bouchercon mystery convention in 2026. It will be tempting to get sidetracked into concrete organizing tasks that can feel easier than pulling characters out of the air and resolving plot glitches.  
I did use my summer time for some research relevant to the novel. The first draft unexpectedly veered into areas outside my knowledge zone. One of these was the opioid crisis. Drug dealer killings appear frequently in current mystery novels, but I’d thought the subject wouldn’t interest me. I prefer to write about ordinary people who kill for personal, social, or psychological reasons; people who might be me or a friend driven by a particular situation. But people like this are the drug dealers in my novel-in-progress. They operate a low-key business out of a bicycle store. During the summer, I read two excellent books on Canada’s opioid crisis and now feel capable of handling the topic in a novel. 

Shopping for E-bikes inspired my novel’s storyline


This new book also gets more into police work than the first three novels in my Paula Savard Mystery Series because I made two police officers point of view narrators. This fall I hope to fit in a research visit to Calgary police headquarters and will look for a beta reader or consultant knowledgeable in police work, without letting this research distract me from writing. 
For my last two novels, I discovered a useful trick – those mornings that I wake up early, rather than lie in bed drifting in and out of consciousness, I force myself up, make coffee, turn on my computer, and write while the sun rises outside my window. I’m amazed by how much I can accomplish before the day’s usual activities get started.   
In short, I find the key to writing novels is to treat them like work. Don’t wait for mood and inspiration. Grab your time at your writing desk, sit down, and do it.   

Me not working this summer

New Life for Ten Days in Summer

My publisher BWL was awarded funding under their CBF Accessible Audiobook application to produce a group of audiobooks. They’ve chosen my novel, Ten Days in Summer, to be one of the books. This is exciting new territory for my Paula Savard Mystery Series. BWL has found a narrator — Janice McNally. She’s from Ontario and has been to the Calgary Stampede, which forms the backdrop for the novel setting. Release is scheduled for early 2023. BWL says Janice’s voice sounds great. I look forward to hearing her 15 minute demo recording.

Bouchercon World Mystery Convention

This winter Tourism Calgary sent me an email out-of-the-blue. They explained they were considering a  bid for the 2026 Bouchercon World Mystery Convention and wanted my help connecting with the Calgary writing community. The bid needed sufficient volunteer support to host this major convention. Tourism Calgary had done an internet search for local mystery writers and my name popped up in various places. They thought the convention could have numerous spinoff benefits for Calgary.  

I’d first heard about Bouchercon at Mystery Writers’ INK, a Calgary writing group I belonged to for many years. Members considered it the premiere mystery writing convention in North America. A couple of them attended Bouchercon 2007 in Anchorage, Alaska. They described their experience as a fun mix of learning, book promotion, and travel. Many Bouchercon regulars plan annual holidays around the convention. 

I was excited by the email and agreed to meet online with two Tourism Calgary contacts, and later with them and the Bouchercon administrator. I learned that Bouchercon is huge. Typically about 1,800 people attend. The majority are mystery fans, rather than writers. Bouchercon is usually held in the USA, although Toronto, Canada, has hosted three times and the U.K. twice. In London 1990, P.D. James was Guest of Honour. Nottingham England’s Lifetime Achievement Guest of Honour in 1995 was Ruth Rendell (not Robin Hood). Other Guests of Honour through the years have included Sara Paretsky, Ian Rankin, Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, James Patterson, Michael Connolly, Anne Perry, Karin Slaughter, Anthony Horowitz — enough name dropping. 

In October 2017, I attended Bouchercon Toronto. Louise Penny was Canadian Guest of Honour. (Each Boucherson has about a half dozen Guests of various descriptions). I moderated a panel on Noir Mystery Novels to a large audience (scary, both the moderator role and the subject matter). Each convention produces a short story anthology, with the proceeds going to a charity. A highlight for me was my story’s acceptance in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon Anthology 2017. This earned me a seat at the author signing table.  

The Bouchercon administrator told us their organization provides a wealth of support and experience for host cities, but, in addition, Calgary would require a strong Local Organizing Committee. I provided Tourism Calgary with names of people and local groups to contact, including BWL. Our publisher, Jude Pittman, was instantly on board and will be part of the committee. Tourism Calgary sent a survey to local writers and organizations and the enthusiastic response exceeded everyone’s expectations. Calgary is called the volunteer capital of Canada for good reason. The Calgary Public Library, Calgary Wordfest, and the University of Calgary expressed interest in playing roles.   

Tourism Calgary is now preparing a formal bid to host the convention in 2026. In June the Bouchercon administrator will fly to Calgary to assess the city’s hotel and convention capacity. If it meets the criteria, I’m told Calgary stands a great chance of winning the bid when the Bouchercon board votes this summer. 

Since I’ve been with them from the start, Tourism Calgary asked me to chair the Local Organizing Committee. After some angst, I agreed to co-chair with Calgary author Pamela McDowell, my friend for 25 years. Pam and I will be busy, but it will be fun to work together on this big project. 

Looks like Calgary mystery writers and readers are in for exciting years ahead. Stay tuned.     

Bouchercon 2017 was an opportunity to visit Toronto in the fall

When Your Novel Takes a Wrong Turn

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.