Did Book #1 Pave the Way for Book #2?
Interesting question, one that made me think. At first I came up with a definite no. Then a definite yes. Perhaps I’ll compromise—a definite maybe!
No doubt about it, writing is hard work. But, in a significant way, #2 was much easier. The characters I introduced in Murder at the Book Group (#1) did indeed pave the way for Hazel Rose and her book group cohorts in Murder at the Moonshine Inn (#2). Now they’re old friends, eager for their next adventure. My characters had bonded.
In Murder at the Book Group I was just meeting my characters. It was kind of like a group first date. Or the first day on the job. We had to get to know each other, our temperaments, personalities, quirks. Plus the book group wasn’t especially congenial. As the victim died after drinking cyanide-laced tea at a book group meeting, naturally everyone was under a cloud of suspicion. Not an auspicious start.
So Murder at the Moonshine Inn is like the tenth date for the group. Maybe twentieth. An established relationship!
But even the non-recurring characters were easier to develop in Book #2. I think it’s because I “know” them on some level and can empathize with them. I’m intrigued by their hidden agendas. I can even empathize with the killer(s)—scary thought, that!—because I understand the motivation to kill. I’ve entertained the fantasy. I just don’t commit the act, while my fictional killer(s) do—sometimes more than once.
Murder at the Book Group was set in 2005 and Murder at the Moonshine Inn eight years later, in 2013. The book group goes through many changes over the years and in 2013 is a friendly gathering of women who support each other and enjoy each other’s company, whether they’re talking about books, their everyday lives …
Maggie King is the author of Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn in the Hazel Rose Book Group series. She contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies.
Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive.
Writers wear lots of hats- writer, marketer, PR director, editor, entrepreneur, and sometimes artist (in that case, they might actually wear a beret). There are also the hats they wear away from their writing. I’m not just a writer- I’m also a cook, chauffeur, household CEO, doctor, laundress, maid, psychiatrist, warden, seer, teacher, pet whisperer, and recovering attorney.
So many hats and only one head.
But masks? When DJ asked me to write a blog post on the topic “The Mask Worn by Every Writer,” I had to give that one some thought.
And in thinking about it, I came to realize that writers wear masks, too, under all their hats. Some of those masks are literal, so to speak. They hide the identity of the authors wearing them. But some of the masks are metaphorical- I’m thinking in particular of the mask that projects a sense of confidence that the author often doesn’t feel.
The identity mask is an easy one to understand.
Say a man is a teacher by day and a writer of erotica by night. Or a woman is a judge by day and a writer of political non-fiction by night. These are writers who might want to keep their real identities under wraps to avoid some potentially embarrassing situations.
But the confidence mask? That one is a little tougher to explain and to understand.
My editor told me once that the best part of being a writer is having your work “out there.” And the worst part of being a writer is having your work “out there.” I love that statement and I share it whenever I run into another writer who is discouraged by unkind comments in a review.
Is there anyone who hasn’t received a negative review of a work that took months or even years to write? Is there anyone who hasn’t wanted to sit down with a person who wrote a negative review and explain exactly how much sweat and gnashing of teeth went into writing that book they just panned? Have you ever gotten a review that’s just so mean it makes you wonder how that reviewer can sleep at night? I may or may not be speaking from personal experience here…
But if you follow the advice of other authors, you probably don’t contact that reviewer. (If you do, you’ve got more guts than I.) I think most authors avoid engagement with their negative reviewers, as much as they might want to confront those people. We just keep smiling and writing. We project an image of confidence, pretending that those negative reviews don’t cut us to the quick. We might even pretend to like and appreciate those reviews because they tell us about something we may need to correct or change in our writing.
But no writer likes a bad review, I can assure you. We might appreciate some constructive criticism, but not when it’s couched in terms that say or sound like “I hated your book.”
Writers also put on the mask of confidence when we talk to people about a book we’re writing or how successfully our books sell. When an acquaintance asks how the writing is going we don’t generally say, “Well, I’m not really sure about my work-in-progress. I can’t figure out how to move this one scene along and the characters aren’t gelling like I want them to.”
No. Instead we say, “It’s going well! I’m really into my work-in-progress and I can’t wait to finish it.” We say this because a) it’s true even if it’s a bit misleading, and b) because that mask of confidence has wormed its way into our words and put a positive spin on our feelings.
Because wants to read a book the author isn’t confident about? No one.
The mask of confidence is a good thing. It helps protect our feelings as writers, it helps us to project an image of strength, and it can even teach us to think more positively about our books when we may not always feel our words are worthy.
Do you wear a mask? What does it say about you?
To be truthful, I didn’t set out to write a book set in the mid-1800s, but when I put pen to paper what came out was a heroine who stranded in London in 1866. I happily wrote about a third of the book, then came to a screeching halt.
I knew very little about the mid-Victorian era. I knew what I wanted to have happen in the story, but I also wanted the facts of life in the mid-Victorian times to be accurate. So, research time. I jumped online—which makes research much easier than it used to be—and discovered that I would need to change some things, rearrange other things, and even add a new direction I hadn’t thought of before. All to accommodate Victorian reality in the fictional world I was creating.
I learned through trial and error, long hours of searching, writing, then rewriting when the facts I found weren’t accurate. Here’s what I learned along the way. Hopefully, it will provide you a few shortcuts.
1. Online sources are wonderful, but do be careful with them. Don’t look at only one and think you have the correct facts. Try to find at least 2 or 3 sources that say the same thing. Look for original sources as close to the date of your story as possible. Government, legal and court sources are fantastic when you can find them. So are church archives and newspaper accounts of events—though you need to be aware that newspaper reports from the past often included personal comments and conclusions in addition to the facts. Read them with a grain of salt.
2. Wikipedia is a great place to start, but don’t rely on it exclusively. Remember, this site is totally user-written, and the facts may not be totally accurate. Always check a second, and even third, source for whatever you find there.
3. Biographies and other historical writings are also good sources, but again, don’t rely on them alone. As much as historical writers try to adhere to facts, they might not have them all, or might misinterpret them. When you find a historical fact you want to use, look for an additional corroborating instance of it before you do, to assure accuracy.
4. Read novels and other books, essays, etc., written during the time in which your story is set. This will help you achieve accuracy in speech patterns and colloquialisms. But always keep in mind that you are writing for a modern audience. Too much adherence to the “letter of the verbal law” may make your prose inaccessible, and make readers put the story down. Concentrate more on the rhythms of speech from your historical era rather than the actual language. When you need to use the proper term for an object, etc., try to do it in such a way that readers can intuit its meaning from the way the word is used.
5. The internet is a fantastic source for photographs and images of all kinds. Viewing pictures will help your descriptions of buildings, furnishings, clothing and hairstyles sing with authenticity. They also help you define settings accurately because, in a way, you have “been there.” Caveat: don’t overload your prose with detail. Look for the essential details that will enhance the reader’s experience and that add to the impact of your story.
6. You will use only a fraction of what you learn in your research. The temptation is to put in all in, because it’s so fascinating (to you). Rule of Thumb: Only use what will move the story forward, what the reader needs to know at that moment to understand what is happening. More than that will bog down your story.
7. Last, but most importantly, don’t approach the writing and research with your story already set in stone. Times, laws, social structure, living conditions, etc., can be vastly different from what we imagine they were, and that difference can impact the direction of your story. Don’t fight it, or insist that things have to be the way you planned. Often, when research dictates a new direction, or a twist in the plot we hadn’t considered before, it actually makes the story better. That’s what happened with my story, and the change added a diabolical twist I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.
Most of all, have fun with history. The very best part of using history in our stories is that, even if it does repeat itself, it’s dancing to our tune this time. And isn’t that one reason why we write?
A Matter of Identity: American Marina Weston, just turned 20, is left orphaned and penniless in London, England. Saddled with her father’s debt and tainted by the stigma of his suicide, Marina has only three options open to her in 1866: hire out for service; become a prostitute, or starve. With the help of caring friends, Marina is offered a unique opportunity and begins to build a productive life. But fate intervenes when she runs afoul of some very powerful and unscrupulous men. Marina finds herself at their mercy, thrust unknowingly into a diabolical plot that will put her sanity, and her very life, at risk. She must find the strength to overcome the evil conspiracy, but when one’s very identity has been undermined, what is left to hold onto? Will Marina emerge with her sanity—and her identity—intact, or will she end as a pawn in someone else’s game?
Bio: Susan Tuttle is a professional freelance editor, writing teacher and the slightly twisted author of 4 suspense novels, the historical literary novel, A Matter of Identity, and the Write It Right workbook series for fiction and creative nonfiction. Susan is past president of SLO NightWriters and the Central Coast Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and is presently the newsletter editor for both organizations. Find her on LinkedIn, Facebook (susanwriter), Twitter (stuttlewriter), and Amazon (www.amazon.com/author/susantuttletheauthor). Follow her weekly writing blog at www.SusanTuttleWrites.com.