When I drive my car to the grocery store I rarely (if ever) think about what went in to making the vehicle that reliably (so far) gets me from Point A to Point B. If I remember correctly, there are hundreds of feet (thousands?) of electrical wiring, at least a half-ton of various types of metal (steel, aluminum, even some rare stuff like chromium) and don’t even get me started on all the moving parts that make up the engine. The car just “is” and I’m glad I have it.
I think perhaps readers feel the same way about the books they read and enjoy. You pick up a book, whether paper or “plastic” (ebook) and start reading. The story either grabs you or it doesn’t. At the end of the book you mentally grade it as either a “good” book or “meh.” (Personally, I rarely get to the end of “meh” books as there are too many good ones and never enough time.) Hopefully, you take a few moments to write a helpful review on Amazon and Goodreads. (That’s a shameless plug for reviews. We writers live and die by the number of reviews we get).
But what went in to writing the book in your hands? It’s more (or perhaps less) more complicated than you might imagine. If you’re curious like me (it helps if a writer is curious) I thought you might want to know the process I use to create an “Islands of Aloha” mystery. My process is complicated by the fact that I’m something of a control freak. I do it all.
To avoid making this a novella instead of a post, I’m going to break it down into a few parts. We’ll start with the first draft. My least favorite aspect of the process. I call this my “eat your vegetables first” part.
First, I see or hear something that sparks a question in my mind. I get asked all the time, “Where do you get your ideas?” Well, in a nutshell, I get them from the world around me. I read the newspaper, I eavesdrop on people in coffee shops, I watch the interaction of complete strangers and try to figure out what’s going on with them. I remember I once overheard a young woman barking at a young man at Penney’s. They were obviously a couple, and she said, “You better get those vows done. If you think you can just get up there and say, “I do”, you’re gonna be sorry.”
Whew. The way I figured, he was probably already sorry. Sorry he’d spent a month’s pay on a ring, sorry he hadn’t listened to his mother when she told him he could do better, sorry he hadn’t accepted that job at the tire store two states away. Anyway, it’s stuff like that that plants a seed in my mind. From there, I create a world in which a timid young man somehow wins the hand of a spiteful, albeit wealthy or beautiful or well-connected, young woman and his life is no longer his own. You get the picture…
Then I sit down and plot it out. A mystery always needs a dead body (either on-screen or off) and together the protagonist (in my case, Pali Moon) and the reader have to find out who is the killer and why they did it. Both things: who and why. Everything else is window dressing. But in order to have a 70,000 word book you need a lot of window dressing. Otherwise, it would be a newspaper article. So, the work begins. I come up with two or three sub-plots (again, these usually revolve around what’s going on with Pali’s friends, namely Farrah, Steve, and Sifu Doug.) Because of their diversity and their unique histories each of these characters offers a lot of opportunities for both funny and poignant storylines.
Once the book is plotted out (about five or six pages) I begin to write the first draft. Oh, and I almost forgot: there’s always a theme to the book. I like to make it an ethical or social dilemma because I enjoy delving into those types of things.
The writing takes about five months to a year, depending on what else is going on in my life and how disciplined I am. I’ve finished a book in four months (grueling) and it’s taken me more than a year to finish others, notably my first and my last books, to date.
When I finish the first draft there’s much celebrating around our house since, as I said, it’s the part I like least. But the funny thing is, once the story is wrapped up and I’ve laid out who did it and why and what went on during the process, I’m eager to share it with my readers. That’s the fun part, and that will be the focus of Part 2, so stayed tuned.
Yesterday I finished the first draft of “Isle Be Seeing You,” the “encore” novel to the Pali Moon Islands of Aloha Mystery Series. I’m excited to go back and firm it up, plump it up, and get it ready for its close-up. Looks like it will be out sometime mid-summer.