Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Opening Remarks to the Book Club
First of all, thank you for choosing my mystery novel Wash Her Guilt Away as your book to be discussed this month. I hope, most of all, that it entertained you and would like to say a few words, before the discussion begins, about how it came to be written.
When I wrote the first Quill Gordon mystery, The McHenry Inheritance, in the late 1990s, I drew up a list of stories for additional novels in the series in the event an agent or publisher asked. Unable to publish conventionally, I put the book aside for more than a decade until Amazon and Kindle came along to make self-publishing a viable alternative.
Gratified by the response to the first book, I decided to proceed with the second on the list, which had already been titled Wash Her Guilt Away, after the Oliver Goldsmith poem at the front of the book. I began writing it in early 2013, and it was published April 30, 2014.
Wash Her Guilt Away is an attempt to put a modern spin on two tropes of the classic murder mystery — classic referring to those mysteries generally written between the two world wars. It’s a variation on the British country-house mystery, in which a group of diverse guests are thrown together and tensions arise; and of the locked-room mystery, in which someone is found murdered in a hermetically sealed chamber, or locked room, from which the killer should not have been able to depart yet somehow did.
The book also borrows elements from certain American authors. Edgar Allan Poe, for instance, who wrote “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” widely considered to be the first locked-room mystery.
Because the novel is set in the wilds of the Northern California mountains, I also drew on the work of early American writers and their depictions of a vast, untamed landscape. The discovery of the witches in the forest and their role in the community owes something to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “Young Goodman Brown,” and the headless boatman at Indian Hollow is direct idea-theft from Washington Irving’s headless horseman in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
Trying to Be Better
With each book I write, I try to improve as a writer and try to work specifically on a couple of issues. I felt that The McHenry Inheritance was a respectable debut novel that introduced a character, a premise, a style, and that demonstrated a level of fundamental storytelling competence.
That said, I felt that parts of it were underdeveloped and decided to work harder at developing character and creating crisp dialogue. The story line of Wash Her Guilt Away lent itself very well to this consideration, dealing, as it does, with a group of people forced together by circumstance and bad weather. More so than my other two novels, Wash Her Guilt Away attempts to build tension through atmosphere and the development of characters and situations. Each of you must, of course, judge for yourselves whether or not that effort succeeded.
Finally, in an attempt to cut to the chase, let me answer the most-frequently asked question: Where do you get your ideas? I never have any shortage of ideas; the problem is pulling several of them together to create a coherent and satisfying story that allows me to develop character and atmosphere. It takes time for the right ideas to align into a workable story, which is why I probably spend as much time outlining my books as writing them.
(I will be appearing at a book club discussing Wash Her Guilt Away in January, and a follow-up post will likely ensue.)