Mystery authors tend to break down into two camps: plotters and “pantsers,” i.e., those who write by the seat of their pants. I tend to be a pantser. I start with an idea, a scenario, or a basic problem, and write from there, letting the story unfold as I go. This is more fun for me, and because it allows for more surprises than a strictly outlined story would, I like to think it will prove more fun for the reader too. Encourage the unexpected. Go where the heat is, and all that, and clean up after. (Writing without a plot does mean more revising is necessary, but that’s a fine tradeoff, as far as I’m concerned.)
Of course, few things in life are strictly black or white (or plotted or improvised, as the case may be). The book I’m currently working on has some parameters. I know the central crime I want to get at, and, after some flailing, I’ve decided on a structure that seems to impose some order on my meanderings. Plus, I’ve done enough of these (24 mysteries in the publication process, 21 out in print!) that I have some innate sense of timing and pacing (I hope).
But for the first time in a long time, I’m writing without a net in another way: I am working on a mystery that isn’t under contract, that doesn’t have a particular publisher waiting for it, and that isn’t part of a series. This current work-in-progress has none of my usual characters, and, for once, the protagonist – a deeply flawed character – has a career that I’ve never held (I’m doing my research, though) and some life experiences that I can relate to, but that are essentially new to me. I’m exploring new territory, folks, and so far I am loving it.
I’m hardly going rogue: I’ve got the third Blackie and Care mystery (CROSS MY PATH) coming out from Severn House in July, the same month that Poisoned Pen Press will bring out my seventh Pru Marlowe pet noir (FEAR ON FOUR PAWS). And Polis Books is debuting my new “witch cats of Cambridge” cozy series in December, with A SPELL OF MURDER. (Polis has also committed to a second witch cats mystery, which I intend to start soon – as soon as my current project is drafted.) So I think I can reasonably assume this new book will find a home … somewhere.
But for the first time in a long while, i’m just writing. Writing and trusting the universe. Trusting that this book will take shape in some recognizable and enjoyable form. Trusting that it will incorporate at least some of the themes I’ve been thinking about. Trusting that it will find a home, and a readership, for whom these elements will have resonance.
What’s life without a little adventure, right? And, now, back to work.