Monday, April 28, 2014

My Writing Process--A Blog Tour

Rae Francoeur invited me to join this blog tour. You can read her entry at where you’ll find links to other entries.

I’ve written about my writing process so often, in various interviews, that much of what I have to say feels rote: I sit in a chair and write. As I read through Rae’s post, however, I realized that I do have a process that I barely think about. I too write in complete sentences. If I’m struggling with one, I sometimes turn to a pad of paper beside my computer and try out different forms of the sentence using a pen. I scratch out what I don’t like, try something different, add a word or phrase, and keep working till I get something that works. Sometimes the sentence changes dramatically, and sometimes I end up changing only a single phrase or word. I type this in and keep going.

I also care about vocabulary. In the middle of a sentence I will stop and check the dictionary, looking for a better word or checking out the definition of a well-known term, looking for a particular nuance. Perhaps this is procrastination, but I love spending time with the dictionary. I write popular fiction but I see no reason not to write the best English that I can. I don’t write to impress but I do want to be precise. This becomes especially important for me when I write about locations outside the United States. My current book, due out in May, is set in South India, a gorgeous part of the world that I want to convey accurately for the reader.

I care about paragraphing also. One sentence is not a paragraph, and neither are two sentences. The paragraph exists to enable the writer to develop and discuss a specific point, and doing away with paragraphs creates shallow stories. This in turn leads to shallow-thinking. I don’t like it as a reader and I don’t like it as a writer. I take the time to develop paragraphs in order to deepen the story and the reader’s understanding.

There is a trend now to using many short chapters in mystery novels. In some cases this works, but not in all. Chapters shape a story, cover particular periods in the arc, and telegraph to the reader where they are in its development. Long chapters do not put me off, but dozens of short ones do. The make the book feel choppy and needlessly like bolting along a bumpy road.

The emphasis on short chapters, plot over all else, means that I as a reader often get to the end of the story swiftly but the villain’s motives equally often turn out to be stupid, ludicrous, impossible, or still unknown. As a writer, when I set out to tell a story I like to think through why someone would do something instead of charging ahead with a plot and coming up with something at the end, to cover the bizarre and deadly behavior of one or two characters.

With this larger context for my writing process, I offer answers to the four questions that go along with this blog tour.

1.     What am I working on?

I’ve been revising a mystery novel for several weeks, trying to tighten the writing and the story. This is a stand-alone about a woman recently released from prison whose husband dies while she is away. The cause of death was given as a drug overdose but she knows that her husband never used drugs. She knew he was worried about something when he visited her a few times in prison before his death, but he never mentioned anything for fear of worrying her. This story is a lot harder edged than what I usually write, and I’ve been enjoying working on it.

2.     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write two mystery series. The first features Chief of Police Joe Silva in the Mellingham series. This series is a standard cozy, set in New England and exploring life in a small coastal community. The second series features Indian American photographer Anita Ray who lives in India at her aunt’s tourist hotel. This series gives me the opportunity to explore questions of tradition and modernity, what happens to people who have grown up in a traditional culture who are suddenly and relentlessly faced with a fast, confusing modern world.

I like to use the mystery novel also to raise questions about justice and our perception of justice, of criminal behavior and social issues. Crime fiction is more than plot. This genre is still a form of the novel with room to explore ideas, to investigate assumptions and challenges to our way of looking at life.

I also occasionally write short fiction outside the crime genre. These are stories that usually have been brewing for some time and allow me to explore the lives of other people, usually in rural communities. I recently completed three stories in a collection I think of as Backwoods Stories, and hope to write a few more before looking for a publisher for them.

3.     Why do I write what I do?
I write the stories that come to me. Once in a while I’ll get an idea for a short story featuring Chief Joe Silva, and these are usually quick and easy to write. Joe discovers a crime, investigates, and catches the guilty party. They’re fun to write and, I hope, fun to read.

I don’t sit down and invent the stories on a blank page. Ideas come to me all the time, and I pick one to focus on. I keep notes on the others and sometimes return to one of them later. Once I’ve chosen an idea to focus on, I let the story develop as I begin writing. I’m a pantser, so I never try to work things out before I start writing. That would take the life and joy out of the story for me. I like the process of discovery as I write.

4.     How does your writing process work?

I write every day. I am at my desk every weekday at nine o’clock, and later on the weekends. I write every day, review what I’ve written, edit if I’m not composing, and revise, revise, revise. In the afternoon I may do more revision, read, write a blog post, like this one, answer emails and FB, or do other things that are related to the writing business. But the key to the whole thing is writing every day.

 To learn more about my books click on any of the books in the column on the left.

Next up is Edith Maxwell. I first met Edith when she joined a writers’ group I held in my home. She was interested in setting a story on an organic farm. She eventually set the story aside to change her day job, and returned to it years later. It is now a successful first novel in a new series. Edith is the author of two series, and writes from her home in Amesbury, MA. You can learn more about Edith and her books at

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