Wednesday, March 4, 2015
From Fact to Fiction
Last summer, when I began writing the third Quill Gordon mystery, Not Death, But Love, I expected that it would be finished and up on Amazon by the third quarter of this year. Instead, it became available for pre-order this week.
The book itself will be available May 27, after my editor, Lauren Wilkins, has given it her toughest look and I’ve accommodated her concerns. That will surely improve it considerably in the details, but it will still be essentially the same book it is now in story outline and tone. I feel pretty good about it — better than pretty good, actually — which scares me, because there’s a saying in publishing that an author isn’t necessarily the best judge of his own work.
Nevertheless, I’m going to trust my instincts until proved wrong. I think the plot and characters are more complex, and, if I do say so myself, I feel I came up with a pretty good confrontation-with-the-killer scene at the end. Let’s see if the readers agree.
One Thing Leads to Another
This wasn’t originally going to be the third book in the series, but things happened. In 2012 I was hired by a family foundation to write the family’s history. It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, because it paid generously and the work was fascinating. By the end of it, I felt the long-deceased family members had come alive inside my head and that I was able to convey a reasonably good sense of them to the readers.
In the course of that work, I came across several things that were a surprise to the people who hired me. There were no terrible scandals, but there were lawsuits and family schisms they hadn’t known about until I started digging. At the time, I was simultaneously working on my second mystery, Wash Her Guilt Away, and at some point it occurred to me that a family history with a deep secret — one worth killing to keep — could make the basis for a good mystery.
One of my plans for a future book had been a story centering on a controversial land-use plan, something that would make use of the knowledge I picked up working as a consultant for Wells Fargo Bank and The Home Depot more than a decade ago. I decided to combine ideas to make the land development part of the family history, and was off to the races.
In the Character’s Own Voice
When I was working on the family history, I often lamented that none of the family members had kept journals (at least none that had survived). I decided to give my murder victim, a retired English teacher named Charlotte London, a journal. It was originally supposed to provide a set of clues to complement those in the family history, but it ended up being much more than that.
Simply put, in the course of creating the journal sections, I discovered that Charlotte had come to life most vividly, and, surprisingly to me, became one of the most dominant and complex characters in the book. Not to be gooey, but I got to be rather fond of her, and I’m hoping the book’s readers will, too.
The history aspect carried through the rest of the book as well. I found myself wondering about, and inventing, histories of various elements of the book. These included the lake, the Italian restaurant where the characters ate dinner, the Rotary Club, where community and political alliances were cemented, and the town where the story was set. Such details, I feel, are what add richness to a book. They can often be what a reader remembers long after he or she has forgotten whodunit.