Welcome to Cozy Wednesday Part 2!
Yes, I doubled booked myself today! I am excited to have Anne stop by today!
3 ½ THINGS I’VE LEARNED FROM WRITING THE BLACK SHEEP MYSTERIES
The latest adventure of the Black Sheep, A MURDER IN MOHAIR, is the eighth case the knitting friends have solved and their first double homicide. In the midst of writing the next book, KNIT TO KILL (coming Feb. 2017) I celebrate eight years of creating these escapades for my stitching and sleuthing friends. Here are a few things I’ve learned from the Black Sheep, about crafting mysteries and life in general.
# 1 Go In For A Quick Kill
Mystery readers want a dead body and want it fast. Mystery editors want to see a corpse on the page even faster. I try to meet this deadly deadline ASAP, but sometimes it’s tricky.
While plotting A MURDER IN MOHAIR, I knew the “starring victim” would not be killed off easily. It was necessary to show interaction with the Black Sheep and others in the town. I solved that glitch by opening with the murder of a local businessman, a situation that simmers on a back burner for most of the story. Then connects when the Black Sheep solve the entire puzzle. I also wanted to set the bar higher for the Sheep, who had to connect more dots and more corpses in this one. Good job, Ladies!
As Steven King said, “The story is the boss.” Sometimes, a story demands that the murder victim interacts on screen long enough so that readers care when they hear the chilling news. And so that readers are eyeing a cast of possible victims, wondering who will be picked off. That’s set up is fun, too. Don’t you think?
In THE POSTMAN ALWAYS PURLS TWICE, a Hollywood cast and crew come to town and film in Maggie’s knitting shop. My strategy was to pile up menacing events that build to murder. Or two. Many are set up to meet a cruel end, but I chose one of the most engaging in the group, and even I felt sad seeing that character go. I won’t say more. Except that my priority was a lively plot where “bad stuff” keeps happening. And for readers to wonder who will the victim be? And who will be next?
As a mystery fan, I don’t mind if the cadaver is a little late to the party, as long as suspense builds. What do you think?
# 2 The Dead Have Secrets (Which Should Be Juicy and Create Suspects)
Once I’ve killed someone off in an early chapter, I need plenty for the knitters to talk about. Everyone has a public face and a private side. And everyone has secrets. The detectives – amateur and professional – must start peeling back the layers before the body is cold. Which makes for great dialogue among the knitting friends, who live in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Or thinks they do.
Revealing these secrets not only pulls back the curtain on the victim’s private life, but pulls in other characters as well, creating suspicion and motives …which adds up to suspects.
In the second book of the series, KNIT, PURL, DIE, the Black Sheep lose a dear friend, Gloria Sterling, who they believe to be a woman who has it all – beauty, brains, charm, a successful career and a handsome, younger husband. When she dies under suspicious circumstances – which could have been an accident, a suicide, or murder — a darker side to Gloria’s life and personality is revealed.
Clandestine relationships, secret business deals, money trouble, black mail and betrayals-– this is the high octane fuel of a good mystery. All these secrets are floated out, each trailing motivation for murder like ribbons on helium balloons. This is how a mystery writer creates cognitive dissonance and distraction.
These nasties may be true or false. But the unraveling makes for interesting story telling and colorful dead ends for the Black Sheep to explore. While none may be the actual reason for the murder. A mystery writer’s art is very much akin to magic; you need a lot up your sleeve to distract from the “real plot” and the real culprit. You need two or even three “fake” plots, or possible solutions. An interesting corpse, full of secrets and a colorful history, helps create those dead end paths in the maze.
#3 All You Need Is Love…Or Revenge…Or Most Any Strong Emotion
I find the most compelling mysteries to read and write are emotion driven. The killer has a deeply felt, even passionate drive, to commit the crime – revenge, thwarted love, seeking justice — to name a few. And the amateur detectives are driven by emotion to solve it. I cannot always manage to spin both these plates perfectly, but if I get it even half right, the story has a great chance of succeeding.
In regard to the killer’s emotions and motivation, that aspect is largely hidden, moving through the pages as an undercurrent. It can still be a powerful influence but hopefully, the reader won’t realize how powerful until they look back at the end. I’m a mystery fan who wants to look back and see where the clues were seeded, and feel satisfied that the story “adds up.” Even if I didn’t guess the murder’s identity.
When it comes to the Black Sheep’s passion for solving a crime, it may bubble up from a need to prove someone’s innocence, or find justice for a beloved victim. Those emotions are another way to draw the reader closer to the narrative. Perhaps the victim is well known to the knitters, a good friend, relative, or lover. Or someone from their past. Always fun, since I can add even more emotional baggage. Or, the knitting friends can’t abide watching someone that they believe is innocent take the rap.
In their first adventure, WHILE MY PRETTY ONE KNITS, the Black Sheep rush to the aid of their fearless leader, Maggie Messina, who is accused of murdering the owner of a rival knitting shop. Of course, I can’t make suspects of the knitting friends in every book. But I can show their drive to solve crimes is based in emotion. This makes their sleuthing more than gossipy fascination with murder, or a clever exercise in deduction. Though there’s a touch of both those spices in the mix.
#3 1/2 A Mystery Story Is A Metaphor
Last but not least, I’ve learned that a mystery plot is always a metaphor for the essential, infinite and unsolvable quest to understand our own identity, our relationships and the complicated, tangled threads of our own life. Perhaps that’s what keeps us returning again and again to this genre…and keeps me, and many others, writing them, too.
But far better minds than mine have tried to crack that nut. I’ll leave this last one for you to ponder and comment on.
Thank you Anne for visiting today. This is a new series for me but will definitely add them all to my wish list.
About This Author
Anne Canadeo lives and knits in Northport, New York, with her husband, daughter, and canine office assistant. She is the author of the Black Sheep Knitting mystery series, and writing as Katherine Spencer, she has also authored the popular Cape Light and Angel Island series.
You can find her on Facebook .
A Murder in Mohair
Series: A Black Sheep Knitting Mystery (Book 8)
Publisher: Gallery Books (December 1, 2015)
Paperback: 304 pages
E-Book ASIN: B00UDCNI1I
In Anne Canadeo’s cozy eighth Black Sheep Knitting Mystery, a cold-hearted murder in Plum Harbor leads the knitters to investigate a new psychic who may be far more dangerous than she seems…
When Jimmy Hubbard, the manager of the local cinema, is murdered in a robbery gone wrong, the residents of Plum Harbor are mystified. Everyone liked Jimmy, and the struggling theater seems an unlikely target for burglars.
The Black Sheep Knitters are surprised and saddened by the crime, but are more suspicious of psychic-medium Isabel Waters, who has recently set up shop in town. Isabel has hoodwinked one of their friends into shelling out big money every week to keep the memory of a lost loved one alive. Determined to reveal Isabel as a fraud, the knitters are pulled in the web of Isabel’s world and find themselves in a tangle of secrets and lies. They must solve two murders before the truth about all of Isabel’s clients—past and present—are revealed.
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