Donna Rewolinksi is the author of the Novice mystery series, featuring husband and wife team Dan and Karen Novice. You can find out more about her here, see her books here, and read her last post here.
When my first novel was published, I donated a copy to a small local library. The librarian told me she had never met an author before, but that the Friends of the Library Committee were working on a new event for patrons named, “An Author Walks into a Library”. It would be an evening event where an author would talk about their book, answer questions, and be available to sell and sign copies. I was honored to be the first author. The evening of the event, I was asked several questions, including who the characters were based on, why I’d chosen to set the book in a foreign country, what were some challenges to writing a novel, etc. You get the idea. Inevitably, the question was asked, “Where do you get you story ideas from?”
Ideas just seem to ‘pop’ into my head, so I hadn’t given the topic much thought before then. I stumbled for a cohesive answer and relayed the story of how the plans my husband and I had made for the weekend had been upended due to his being called to the police department to investigate a fatal accident. How he had worked all night, finally making it home and as he was falling asleep, he said, “This is so we can have our dream of vacationing in foreign countries for months when we retire.”
I replied, “With my luck, you’ll get involved with an investigation there, too.” This was how the plot of my series came to be, but what about the actual mystery, such as who will be the murderer, the victim, means, motive, and how it’s solved? Where do those ideas come from?
In subsequent talks that same question was asked. Maybe people were concerned about what kind of person thinks like this? I continued to struggle for a fun, quirky answer until I came upon a quote by an anonymous source posted on Facebook; I chose my friends how I like my cocktails…Strong, fabulous and with a twist.
I varied my answer a bit to be, “I write my books how I like my cocktails…Strong, fabulous and with a twist. What mystery or thriller writer hasn’t spent hours trying to have their novels read this way. Each of us spend a great deal of time agonizing over characters, plots, clues, red herrings, settings, and all the other details. My series involves a husband-and-wife team, Dan and Karen Novice. The goal is that each is their own person with different past careers, experiences, perspective, and voice. They complement each in their strengths and approach to situations, thus forming a dynamic unit. Every one of my books is set in a different foreign country, yet I focus on making additional persons in the book, unique from others in previous novels. Writers don’t want the same plot, finding the murderer the same way, and the protagonist to be flawlessly brilliant. No offense to Sherlock Holmes. The strong and fabulous parts.
When I get to a point in the novel and am at a loss for how to move the plot along, I’ve had countless discussions with my characters, but they aren’t being helpful, and then the answer is suddenly, there. The moment of inspiration when the pieces of the story come together and it’s believable, it’s magic to write. There’s nothing more satisfying to a mystery writer as when a reader states, “I read your book. I was sure I knew who the suspect was, got to the end and was wrong. I didn’t suspect that character, but it made sense.” Yes, the inevitable surprise!
The joy is keeping the reader engaged until the end with people, places, means, and emotions that can be understood and related to, until the end when, hopefully, the author successfully pulls the ending together. The twist.