Writing Mystery novels, with a twist


Patty Brant

Patty Brant

Hmm . . . It’s a little difficult for me to categorize my genre – maybe I’m too close to it. I have now published two books – Bitter Secrets and its sequel Full Circle – which I feel are mainly mysteries, incorporating a smidgeon of romance and the paranormal.

Not sure if I have a real “method” for writing, but this is how I’ve worked it out so far.

The concept of Bitter Secrets began with three words that just popped into my head – “I see faces.” That triggered weeks of mental development – who were these people . . . where were they . . . what was their story?

I settled on the most basic characters and a rudimentary story line when the first couple paragraphs formed in my mind. I liked what I had and decided it was time to start writing it down.

For years the thought of writing a book would sort of drift through my head, followed immediately by “Shoot! You need to know something to write a book!” And that was the end of that.

So, this time, I called a friend – an excellent author I knew who has since passed away. I knew she would help keep me on task and that was exactly what she did. Bless her heart, she never let me down. She’d read my latest effort, make suggestions and generally be my cheerleader.

I’m a natural born foot dragger, so I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her.

Anyway, I know you’re always told to make an outline first, and I’ve tried that. Trouble is, I change my mind too much. I rearrange. I think of something I like better than what I have and there goes my outline!

So, I’ve pretty much decided that my “process” is no process. (Not very helpful, is it?) I think lot about the story I’m working on. Do a little research when I need to so I can develop authentic background, then start to write. Mostly by that time it just begins to flow.

My biggest stumbling blocks to this point  – besides my propensity to drag my feet and let other things get in the way – have been writing about traumatic incidents that I have not experienced personally. I know you’re always told to write about what you know and that’s good advice, I’m sure. But you can’t possibly experience everything personally.

For instance, in Bitter Secrets I came to a place in my story where a young girl was about to be raped. It was 1927, the girl was 15 and alone with her favorite uncle in an isolated farmhouse. He was drunk and there was no one there to help her. The story was flowing, my fingers were racing across the keyboard almost ahead of my mind. The scene was unfolding pretty much by itself. I kept thinking as I typed, “This can’t happen. I can’t write this.”

Bitter Secrets Patty Brant     Full Circle Patty Brant

So I forced myself to stop writing and just think. I was very reluctant to write about this very sensitive subject. After all, I have never been in that position and I was very concerned that, if I didn’t get it right, it would be like a slap in the face to the thousands and thousands of young girls and women who have.

Who was I to write about this kind of horror? How could I write a realistic scene and do it with objectivity yet sensitivity?

I had to reaffirm that I truly wanted to be an author, that I wanted to write stories that are realistic, with emotional depth but not “soap opera drama.” I was not at all sure I could do that without somehow disabusing real victims.

I did some soul searching and finally decided that an author can’t possibly know everything.

As a reporter for many years, I have done many interviews with experts and various victims. I decided I have to rely on what is MY personal experience and on my understanding of human nature. If I was going to be a serious author, I’d have to step off the cliff and just do it.

So I started typing again and let it flow – all the while checking myself to be as sensitive as I could. I think the “process” has worked pretty well for me.

I came across the same problem when writing about one of my characters who is a Viet Nam veteran in a wheelchair and one who is an old black man. – two characters I truly admire. (Is that even possible? Can you admire “people” who aren’t real!?

Well, I guess it is for me. I’ve actually come to tears thinking about another one of my characters whose life had been a living hell for 40 years. I like characters who meet immense challenges with human strength and frailty.

For me that’s a tall order. I guess doing justice to their stories – even if they aren’t “real” – is my challenge.

Thanks Patty, for the great post. Readers, click below to order your own copies of Bitter Secreats and Full Circle.

Bitter Secrets 

Full Circle

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