And — there's a trick question at the end!
I’ve done it. I've now moved into the writer of multiple mysteries category. With one signature on the dotted line, I’ve doubled my output and now have two cosy mystery series on the go. And, two author names.
The first in the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries written by Erika Chase, A Killer Read, hit the shelves in spring, 2012 and much to my astonishment and delight, was nominated for an Agatha Award from Malice Domestic for Best First Mystery. The fourth one, Book Fair and Foul, was released in Aug. and I’ve just submitted the fifth in the series.
Now for a break, of sorts. The new series, for the same publisher, Berkley Prime Crime (part of the Penguin group), is called the Culinary Capers Mysteries and I’ll be writing as myself. No more split personality until it’s time to return to the land of Ashton Corners, AL.
Now, this blog isn’t really one about BSP, although I appreciate the opportunity to do just that, but I’ve been thinking about just what it means to be coming up with a complete new cast of characters, an entirely different set of premises, in a setting that’s so not Southern U.S. In fact, it’s set near Burlington, Vermont.
I've stuck with the group plan – my book club has now morphed into a supper club, with a monthly dinner hosted by a different member each month. I like the idea of the protagonist having a number of sidekicks who brainstorm the identity of the killer and can also be useful to the sleuth, such as bailing her out of jail if necessary.
As before, my main character is a single feisty female. She has to be both single and feisty to permit me to get her involved to such a large extent in murder investigations. So that’s the problem. How to make them the same but different. One obvious difference is that one of them, Lizzie Turner is Southern, with that certain demeanor that Southern implies. Kat Myers, on the other hand, is not. She’s turning out to be the more assertive and direct of the personalities, a distinction that will get her far in her crime fighting career.
So, how to get this across in the writing. It starts with getting into each head as deeply as possible when writing. Every writer knows what a difference this can make, infusing life into a page of words. This will affect everything she does and everyone she comes into contact with. This will make the two series distinct, one from the other. This is my hope although it is early days. The setting is an obvious difference and although most cosy mysteries are set in smaller cities or towns to help promote that community feeling, each place has its own personality which should come across in the writing.
What’s next? The crime, of course and tied into that, the motive. I think every author would like to think they've come up with the perfect crime, in that the reader won’t be able to guess whodunit until the very end. However, crimes are also based on the cast of characters and settings. What works in New York may be entirely inappropriate for an Ashton Corners small town. But being small town, there’s the problem of killing off the community. There has to be someone left in town to provide for a cast of suspects. This, of course, is providing the series continues to please the publisher’s sales demands for many years running. And in coming up with a crime, it’s always wise to remember that some that happen in real life, when transferred to the pages of a fictional mystery, would immediately be labelled as being too unreal to happen. You know I’m right. You’ve heard about it before.
That’s a lot of challenges for someone writing a mystery series, and as I've mentioned, double the concerns with two series. But it can be done. We have a lot of fabulous Canadian mystery authors who have managed this with great skill and managed to carry their readers along with them to everything they write. I won’t name them because you know that will get me in trouble, as I know I’ll forget some obvious names. Vicki Delany and Mary Jane Maffini come to mind immediately, though. Can you name their pseudonyms?
I have great admiration for anyone in this business who puts fingers to keyboard most days. It is a love and at times, a curse. It is fulfilment and anguish. It is a whole lot of fun. As long as that split personality knows its boundaries.
Linda Wiken, writing as Erika Chase, authors the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries. She’s been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel and an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story. She’s a member of the Ladies’ Killing Circle and a former mystery bookstore owner in Ottawa. Currently, she's writing a second series for Berkley Prime Crime, the Culinary Capers Mysteries. www.lindawiken.com.