What I’ve learned about writing mysteries so far

Jennie Manning stylized

I don’t remember the last time I’ve had so much fun and this amount of overwhelming work at the same time.

Making the decision to follow your childhood dream is one thing, actually doing it on the other hand…well…the devil’s the details.

I am writing a mystery series this year. More accurately, I’m self-publishing a mystery series this year. (That sentence hasn’t sunk in yet.)

I’ve written about the character, Jennie Manning, on this blog before. She’s essentially the type of detective I’ve wanted to read since I started reading the genre — she’s smart, strong, a smart-mouth, and lives in my hometown of Houston. She’s also great and her job but lousy at everything else. (Read more about her here.)

So, what’s the first step in following your childhood dream? Well, I had to learn how to write a mystery.

Is that so surprising that I didn’t know what I was doing at first? I didn’t. At least for a very long time.  I had to learn by reading. A lot. And reading what I wanted to do. That meant lots of mysteries and noir because, let’s face it, I’m a noir person. Lots of Raymond Chandler. Lots of Walter Mosley. A dash of Hammett.

Self-publish or traditional publishing? [DISCUSS]After that, I read what these writers said about writing detective stories. I’m really lucky that I found a book of letters Chandler wrote to various people, including his agent and other writers, about the art of writing detective fiction. In these letters, he specifically lays out exactly what these stories should be, what they should have, how they should read. This has been my blueprint and Bible all through this process. It was also the bases of my research paper in grad school.

You would think that at this point, I’d be ready but you’d be wrong. From there I kept reading and analyzing Chandler’s rules and theories while watching them in action in his stories and in the stories of others. In a way, I’ll always be doing that task making sure that I don’t miss an opportunity to learn how to be better.

In addition to reading detective fiction, I also read novels — fiction and non-fiction. Why? Because that’s what writers do. They read. They write. They read some more. They write some more. End of story.

But even after all this, after thinking and reading and researching and writing, there was still one more thing I had to do. I had to grow up. All the way up. This is what Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz talked about when he said these words:

“In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book.”

And that was the hardest part about writing a mystery, at least this mystery. I had to become that person. I had to become the person who could write it and it took a long time to get there.  I had the idea for Jennie Manning at 12! I graduated grad school nearly two years ago! I finished two other books and countless short stories before I even thought about attempting to write a mystery series, this mystery series, the one I always wanted and knew I’d write. This lesson, above all the other ones I’ve had to learn in this process, is the one that has been the most valuable. In short, every experience has lead me to this point.

I’ve grown up.

So, here’s where the grown up is at now. I’m currently in the middle of writing the first novel in the Jennie Manning Mystery series. Literally in the middle, I’m in triple digits now in the first draft. Once it comes closer, I’ll let everyone know the release date for the novel.

Meanwhile, want to get to know the story, the characters, the world of Jennie? I’m releasing short stories exclusively to the folks who sign up to get it. The folks on this list will not only get exclusive Jennie Manning short stories that won’t be published anywhere else but they’ll be the first to know when the book comes out and any other Jennie related news.

If I were you, I’d sign up. (The form is below).

Meanwhile, I’m writing like a mad woman and having fun in the process. Who says crime doesn’t pay? <insert grin and cackle here>

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