Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Writing a Christmas Cozy

I love Christmas. The movies, the music, the books. When I started writing cozies, one of my goals was to write one set around Christmastime. I met that goal last year when the fifth book in my Aurora Anderson series, Ghosts of Painting Past, came out.

I also like the idea of Christmas in July. And yes, I’ve been watching Christmas movies, reading books set around Christmas and occasionally listening to Christmas music this month. It’s a nice bit of mental relief from some of the things I’ve been watching lately (Mindhunter on Netflix and Very Scary People on CNN) and reading (the dystopian Maze Runner series). Since I’m in a Christmas in July mood, I thought it appropriate to write this post.

Writing a mystery takes a lot of planning (at least for me) and work. But setting it around a holiday made it a tad easier (just a tad) to write. I had holiday events where I could set interesting scenes. Seeing how a city or area celebrates a holiday also gives the reader a sense of place. How Christmas is celebrated in a warm climate is different than how it’s celebrated in an area where it’s colder.

One of the first things I did was make a list of the various events that usually happen in December in the beach cities of Los Angeles County since that’s where my fictional town is set. After a little time on Google, I came up with a list for me to choose from. Some things I knew about already, others I didn’t.

I found: a sand-snowman contest in Hermosa Beach, a pier lighting ceremony in Manhattan Beach, various Christmas concerts, holiday fireworks in Manhattan Beach, a 5K run in Manhattan Beach, a snow festival in Hermosa Beach where they close off the street down to the pier and cart in snow (or make snow) for a day.

You can’t use everything in a book so I decided on a few key events to include. I made my own version of a pier lighting ceremony, a sand-snowman contest and a school holiday concert for my fictional town. I attended the MB pier lighting ceremony while I was writing the book and got lots of added atmosphere that I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t seen it in person. You can get a lot of info online, but it’s nice, if you can, to experience something for yourself.

The other thing I wanted to do in this book is include a decades old crime to go along with the modern day one. It’s not super cold here in December so I decided the decades old mystery would revolve around surfing, something that’s done year round.

I always include three story lines in my books. For this one, A was the decades old crime, B was the current crime and C was my main character meeting her boyfriend’s family for the first time. Since family is important during the holidays, I included different kinds of families.

The decades old crime involved the discovery of a skeleton when the house across the street from Rory’s place is torn down. The skeleton is an 18-year-old surfer (and friend of Rory’s father) who was thought to have gone off on a surfing trip around the world, following the path of the surfers in “The Endless Summer”, decades before and just never came back.

I created my characters, decided on the crimes and who did them, and did a little bit of outlining of major points. The story took off from there.

Unlike a lot of writers, I don’t write linearly. When I start a book, I usually write the first few chapters in order, but after that it just depends. If I can picture a scene in my mind, I’ll write it. I don’t always know where it fits into the story, but this method seems to work best for me. I don’t get as stalled as I would if I wrote in a linear fashion. When I do figure out where a scene fits, it requires a little rewriting, but it’s usually a fairly simple task.

As I was working on this book, a heat wave set in. We’re talking around 100 outside (extremely unusual for the beach), no air conditioning (unusual around here for houses to have it) and 85 degrees inside. While it’s not what I would call cold in December here, it’s still not that warm so it was hard at times to get into the Christmas spirit. Listening to Christmas carols helped, but sometimes you just have to forge ahead and use your imagination.

I really like the way the book turned out. I’m currently working on one set around Valentine’s Day, though I’m finding it harder to write. It’ll get done though. I’ll just keep on writing.


Aline Templeton said...

I'm so impressed that you can write scenes out of order. That's what PD James did. It's certainly beyond me!

Sybil Johnson said...

I tried for a long time to write scenes in order, but it went so much faster to write some of them out of order. I did not know that about her. Now I am feeling much better about my process.