Writing: Alison Daniels on Mysterious Addictions

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Mysterious Addiction

There is no other way to say it: I have become an addict. Not just to reading mystery novels, but to writing them.

So addicted, in fact, that I can barely wait a day after finishing one book before beginning another.

 

I have written four books in less than a year — one in collaboration with my friend Dean, and another by completing an old unfinished manuscript. And then there are the two mystery novels, and I now have the beginnings of a third.

In some scary way, I seem to be learning the lingo of crime. I stand silent behind and looking over the shoulders of my two – extremely fictional — police detectives and eavesdrop on how they will proceed to solve the murder.

The first book and the first mystery featured a female victim — a woman about my age who’d managed to alienate nearly everyone who knew her. The second book killed off a handsome, charming womanizer who happened to be a movie star.   In the latest venture, the victim seems to be a blackmailing artist, though I don’t yet know who killed him.

What I do know is that writing fiction is itself a mystery. How and why one puts certain words together, and how characters are created, and how they begin to tell you who they are and what they will do.

Once I get started, everything will somehow fall into place. Even if I did not originally intend certain things to happen, plot twists will sneak their way into the narrative. As an example:

My friend Dean challenged me to use one of several sentences as an opening line and to see what I could develop from that line.

I chose: “By the time I reached the train station, she was gone.”

I wrote about a man named David who had just missed the former love of his life—Clare – at the station. I gave them some dark and murky secret past. Clare had already ruined David’s life once and he was afraid he might allow her to do it again. They were both married to other people.

It was only a few paragraphs. But I had managed to intrigue myself. I thought I might have something here. Another mystery. No. I was already writing a mystery, set in the art world. But couldn’t I? Couldn’t they – David and Clare – fit into that mystery?   Neither one was an artist and they had no connection to the female murder victim. But maybe…

So I took what I had written – sloppily and quickly, without any real purpose – and dropped it into my existing manuscript for which I had only a prologue and chapter one. I now had my—unrelated – chapter two. This would be another part of the story. David and Clare. Why had she come to see him? They would still be former lovers who hadn’t seen each other for years, but I now knew that Clare needed a favor from David. He wouldn’t want to get involved, but he can’t help but be drawn into her troubles. Clare was being blackmailed.

And now my murder victim became not a woman, but a man who was blackmailing Clare—and who knows what else he was doing.

Now where all this is going I have no idea. But the fun is in getting there, Googling questions about police procedure, locations I can use, coming up with exotic names for the supporting characters who are still unfolding. Some have not even introduced themselves yet. I have David and Clare. I have Steven, a gallery owner who finds the body when he gets to work. I have two assistants who work in the gallery. I have a victim and a rather gruesome murder. And I have characters who appeared in my last book. My detectives Deke O’Hara and Naomi Loomis, and Dr. Caldwell the medical examiner. I am getting to know these characters better and better. Or is it that they are getting to know me?

I won’t know the whole story until I am further along. I just know I don’t dare do any more of Dean’s writing exercises right now or more characters might try to insinuate themselves into the story. I would need to tell them they’ll have to wait for the next book. But I’m not sure they would listen.

 

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