First, the Draft

If you mixed a half cup sugar with a fish head, a bag of russet potatoes, a pound of dog kibble, a tablespoon of Tabasco sauce and a shot of tequila, you’d have something akin to the first draft of my novel.

Undigestible and not fit for human taste buds. It’s only digestible if one is held at knifepoint next to a steep cliffside. I know this because I recently finished the first draft of Gambling with Murder, number five in a Southern California Mystery series.

If you remove the fish head, lessen the sugar, bake the potatoes (and add some sour cream, cheese and chives), and change around the other ingredients, you’ll eventually come up with something that might even taste delicious. It’s reaching the delicious stage that’s a challenge.

Writing the first draft can be alternately tormenting and incredible. Tormenting because of negative self-talk, lack of a proper compass and carving the time to write. Incredible because there are those instances when a chapter starts and ends rather perfectly, which is why this writer continues to write. Plus, I find that when I don’t write, I miss my characters. I enjoy going along for the ride, visiting places I’ve been to before and seeing them in a new light. I like that my heroine is a woman of action and has plenty of spunk. I especially like watching her mature.

I remind myself that the key to success with any project is to reach The End. Completing a task creates a tremendous sense of satisfaction…and, in the case of the early draft, relief.

For this writer, every time I start a new story, the question hovering above my head (sometimes looming quite large) is: can I do this? True, I’ve done it before…four times, to be exact, but can I really do it again? There’s only one way to find out.

Creating Fictional Criminals

Since I write mysteries, I need to set up each book with a criminal element to give my heroine, Corrie Locke, something to do; something to look forward to doing, in her case. She thrives on cleaning up the streets of Southern California, one criminal (sometimes more) at a time. And she’s got the skills, plus the weapons, to do it. How do I create my felons?

Sometimes, it’s as easy as reading a news story to help fashion the outline of a wicked doer. Other times, the felon slips in when I’m looking elsewhere.

In the first installment of my Southern California Mystery series, I wasn’t sure who the bad guy/girl was. I pressed on right beside Corrie to find the killer’s identity. And boy was I surprised! That’s because the felon acted pretty normal when he/she mingled with the rest of the book’s characters. Clues were tossed around, but innocent bystanders also misbehaved at times, so I couldn’t be sure who the culprit was until the very end.

How to make Fictional, villainous characters appear real? By giving them:

Motive – Villains are people typically motivated to do bad things because of their particular circumstance. The motivation could be a thirst for greed or power (as in my first book). Maybe they’re killers for hire (like the bargain basement hitman in MURDER: DOUBLE OR NOTHING) or maybe they need to exact revenge (a popular motive that appeared in MURDER GONE MISSING).

Personality – Villains need character traits and jobs. A villain could be a janitor, a student, a doctor, a college dean or an amusement park character with all the trappings. They look and dress a certain way, have favorite foods and maybe even a pet.

Willingness to Help – I’m always a little surprised to find that villains can be helpful. They are capable of doing almost anything to throw the scent off their actual plans. And sometimes, down, deep, deep inside, they’re not all that bad. And that helps throw the reader off track.

The goal is to play hide and go seek with the reader. Hide the villain and keep the reader guessing. And in my case, sometimes, keep the writer guessing, too.

Pandemic Book Marketing

The final edits are done, the book’s turned in to the publisher and the next step: marketing. Marketing is actually not a single, solitary step; it’s many, many, sometimes wobbly, steps over a large body of water. The steps that aren’t wobbly are the warm, kindly and familiar ones: visiting the friendly bookstores and libraries you’ve promoted in before. But the fact is, expansion of promo is a must with each new book in order to build readership. How does this work during a pandemic? That was the question on my mind last May.

Usually I team up with another mystery author whose book release date is near mine. But most authors I asked weren’t up for marketing during the pandemic. And most were unfamiliar with virtual appearances. I was just beginning to learn myself.

Then Zoom and other video conference platforms showed up in full force. Now we had a means, and thanks to my day job running a legal non-profit, Zoom and I became fast friends. Right about that time, my publisher started to hold author-wide meetings via what else, but Zoom. That gave me an idea: maybe I could team up with another author or two within my publishing house and go virtual.

After one of my Level Best Books publisher meetings, I put out a call to other authors about teaming up. To my delight, three authors responded. Three wonderful mystery authors motivated to make virtual promo work. Within two months, we started booking events. Two of the authors, Tina de Bellegarde and Carol Pouliot are in New York and the third, Jen Collins Moore, lives in Chicago. Between the four of us, our bookings were coast-to-coast, which provided new sources of readers for us all. Hooray!

We put our mystery author heads together and came up with a theme; using common threads in each of our mysteries. We all had sleuths and sidekicks! So started the Sleuths and Sidekicks cross country virtual tour.

A format was organized with questions relevant to our hero/ines and their trusty (or not so trusty) sidekicks. The best part is that we four meshed splendidly and have lots of fun talking mysteries and books. I couldn’t have imagined such a lovely quartet.

Not to worry, if you are an indie publisher, you can still find pandemic virtual book promo teammates. If I hadn’t found my co-authors the way I did, I would’ve expanded my search to writing groups which I’ve joined (Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, etc.).

If you missed one of our live panels, check my events page to watch the recordings. Having fun can be catchy!