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Writing Blog Hop

When Tim Hallinan asks you to answer four questions on writing, the sensible thing to say is:

1. Read Tim's blogposts on writing.

2. Read Tim's Poke Rafferty  thrillers.

3. Read Tim's Junior Bender mysteries.

4. But that's not really playing the game.

5. Neither was 4.

So here are my answers.


1.What are you working on?

Okay, first a ground rule. I’m working on some things I can’t talk about yet. This isn’t because of copyright concerns or high-flying contract negotiations, but for reasons I’ll discuss under Q4 below.

So. On that diva-ish note!  What am I working on? Well, it’s Sunday the 1st of June and on Friday I finished the first draft of the 10th book in my DANDY GILVER series, which is just about the best feeling in a writing life.  I hit save, then printed it out, dancing around to Pharrell Williams’ Happy.  It’s been ELO’s Mr Blue Sky for a few books but I knew this one would be Happy from the first minute I heard it.

The series is set in Scotland in the 1920s (oh, except it’s actually 1931 now) featuring that stalwart of the British golden age, a gently-born female private detective. They’re preposterous – one is set in a circus, for crying out loud – but I’m serious about them and proud of them. This week, I am. Last week, trying to get one finished, I hated Dandy Gilver, the 1930s, Scotland and the spirit of Christie and Sayers with a passion.

Tomorrow, I’m turning back to my other strand of writing – standalone contemporary suspense – to begin to deal with my editor’s notes on Book 3. It’s the story of a Japanese PhD student, studying at Edinburgh University, who comes to live in a flat above a butcher’s shop that’s been provided by benefactors in a small satellite town. I’m not going to say too much about it except that its working title was THE HOOK AND THE SLAB  and its current title is HE CAN SEE YOU so, you know – bad move.

After that, I need to do my own edits to get the Dandy Gilver story ready to hand over to my agent and then do my edits on standalone No. 4. That’ll take until the end of the summer at least.


2. How does your work differ from others in this genre?

Hah! I’m the fourth blonde Brit in the north-west of the US writing mysteries about Britain in the 1920s – after Carola Dunn, Jacqueline Winspear and Rhys Bowen. Does my work differ from theirs? Well, yes of course it does.  Voice is the thing. All four of us could be given the same premise and we’d end up writing four completely different books because each of our voices is nothing like the others.

There’s tone too. The Dandy Gilver stories explore pretty murky aspects of humanity – jealousy, hatred, obsession; to some extent, a lot of my villains are sociopaths – but they’ve got humour in them. My delight in that time and place isn’t nostalgic or reverent.  I look at the snobbery of the class system, the unthinking sexism and the endemic racism and can’t help blowing a raspberry.

As far as the stand-alones go, again I would say that perhaps what sets my books apart, if anything does, is the mixture of dark and light. (There’s a thriving cozy sub-genre in mysteries, of course, and some excellent proponents of it. Laura Morrigan’s A WOOF AT THE DOOR and Sheila Connelly’s BURIED IN A BOG are two I’ve enjoyed recently. I’m not talking about that.)  AS SHE LEFT IT is about a missing child and a damaged young woman’s attempt to find him after ten years. THE DAY SHE DIED concerns in part the suicide of a young mother and what happens to the children left behind. Dark. But at a reading on Thursday night I had to channel sit-com actors and judge the point when the laughter had died down enough for me to start talking again.


3. Why do you write what you do?

This is a toughie. I have no control over what I write. Of course, I can see where some of it comes from but I’m helpless to direct the path it takes. I love poetry but I could sit in a field of daffodils with my neighbours just over a good fence and stare at a blank notebook til the sun went down. Poetry doesn’t come out of me. 

Short stories are a stretch too. Or maybe a clench would be a better description. I’ve written three short stories in my life. One a PG Wodehouse pastiche (unpublished and, I think, now lost), one a cry of pain during a dark time, and one a paranormal comedy for a friend’s anthology. Oh wait, I’ve just remembered a fourth, but it doesn’t really count.  Yes, I’ve started writing short stories about the satellite characters from the world of Dandy Gilver, but they’re more like subplots that don’t get sprinkled into the book. The fifth short story I tried to write ended up 70,000 words long.


4. How does your writing process work?

I used to be embarrassed about  my process until I found out Stephen King does it this way too. Also until I tried it the other way and found out what a disaster that was. In essence, I write a first draft flat out, without reading it over, editing anything, showing a living soul a single word (including the publisher who has already bought it) or doing any research.

In other words, my two principles are that no one sees what I’m writing, including me, and research comes second. (This sounds bonkers but can be done: I make up what I don’t know, write down what I’ve made up then see if what I’ve written down is possible.)

And I don’t talk about it. (See ‘diva-ishness’, above). I’ve never been in a critique group or handed in a proposal. Never “developed” a book or series with an editor.

Once the book is written – Stephen King describes this as “once the story is chipped out of the ground without breaking any bits off” and I remember, when I read that in ON WRITING, suddenly feeling like a legitimate writer for the first time – anyway, once it’s written everything changes. I research like crazy, online, in archives, on the ground, bugging complete strangers trying to get everything right. I devour my edit notes and I think I’m towards the amenable end of the scale when it comes to changing things that don’t make sense or are daft and/or boring (although I’ll admit to an ongoing dialect war over Scottish English). And, once the first draft’s out, I can talk about it.

So – drumroll – here’s the first word I’ve said to anyone about Dandy Gilver No. 10. It’s set in Glasgow among the professional dancers of the Locarno Ballroom and its working title is DANDY GILVER AND THE DANSE RATHER MACABRE.

Next week:

Laura DiSiverio: author of a dozen mystery novels in four series under three names, Laura DiSilverio is a former Air Force intelligence officer.  Upcoming publications include the first two books in the Readaholics Book Club Mystery series (NAL/Jan & Sep 2015), and The Reckoning Stones, a standalone suspense novel(Midnight Ink/Fall 2015). She is currently working on the third book in a YA dystopian trilogy.  She conducts workshops for writers’ conferences and MWA’s Mystery University, and serves as President of Sisters in Crime.  She plots murders and parents teens in Colorado, trying to keep the two tasks separate. 

Clare O'Donohue: is a TV producer and writer, whose work on shows for The History Channel, truTV, Food Network, A&E, Discovery, TLC, and others has taken her across the US and beyond and thrown her in with everyone from CEOs to prison inmates, Malaysian orphans to famous athletes. She is the author of two critically acclaimed novels in the Kate Conway series -  MISSING PERSONS and LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE, as well as five Someday Quilts Mysteries and two e-novellas. She is the current Mystery Writers of America Midwest chapter president and lives near Chicago, IL.  Her latest book The Double Wedding Ring is on the shelves now and Clouds & Darkness follows in 2015.

Hank Phillippi Ryan: is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston's NBC affiliate. She's won 30 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and is a Daphne and Anthony finalist. Her next, TRUTH BE TOLD, is out on October 7, 2014.



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