On Writing a Mystery Novel

I love mysteries, whether in novel form or in good movies and TV shows. I love the hard-boiled Noir as well as the more sophisticated works of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. I discovered mysteries in the 1980’s, not long after getting burned out on Westerns. (By the way, where are the good new westerns these days? I’ve made a few tentative efforts to find some but seems like all that’s out there are old recycled Louie L’Amour novels and variations thereof.)

In the late 80’s, somebody introduced me to the Sue Grafton books, and then I found Earl Emerson’s Thomas Black series, and from there on to Tony Hillerman, Nevada Barr, John D. MacDonald, Aaron Elkins, Walter Mosley, J.A. Jance, Gregory McDonald and many more. I finally got around to reading the classics, too. The ones that started it all. Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett. And how could I forget Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? I read and re-read the Sherlock Holmes stories as a kid in high school, having been lucky enough to have that bulky “Complete Sherlock Holmes” volume. At that time, I didn’t explore mysteries beyond Sherlock Holmes. That might’ve been due to my high school era obsession with “Lord of the Rings”. Also, there wasn’t the plethora of great choices in mysteries that showed up later.

Anyway, having found that I enjoy writing, and given that I love mysteries and admire their authors, I thought I’d try my hand at writing one. Credit National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) with getting me started in November of 2015. I didn’t complete the goal of a 50,000+ word novel that month, but I did come up with the solid groundwork for a mystery novel that eventually became Pacific Crest. When I left my day job in April of 2017, I finally had the time to really focus on the book. It was great to have that time for more in-depth research, new writing and editing of old writing.

As with most things one hasn’t done before, the task turned out to be more challenging and difficult that I’d imagined. How can you know how to do it until you do it? It was hard work, but rewarding. There weren’t many moments when I didn’t like what I was doing. Over the last year and a half, I made adjustments and changes in the manuscript, finally wrote what I thought was a satisfying ending and then edited the hell out of the manuscript, several times. Using the word processing program Scrivener was a huge help in keeping the book organized while I wrote and made changes. For the final edits, I transferred the book to MS Word and used Track Changes to keep tabs on what I was doing. And then I sent it to two different editors. Both (Erin Cusick and David Downing) provided invaluable insights and advice for the book and were key in turning out a readable manuscript.

After that came the hard part. The early days of carefree writing were done. The joy of storytelling had passed its peak. The thrill of thinking up new plot twists was over. Now came the grunt work. The time of reckoning when all the grammar and spelling mistakes, plot and character inconsistencies, timeline errors, erratic story flow, etc. must be remedied, as per the observations and advice of the editors. But of course when you change one thing, that affects other parts of a book, so you have to change those too, which leads to further changes elsewhere, etc. etc.

To make an already long story a bit shorter, I made a lot of changes. I threw out over a hundred pages that the book didn’t need; most of it superfluous character development and incidents that had no real bearing on the story line. It was all good background for me in terms of developing the characters and plot, but not important to the actual story telling. Once that was done, it was time to polish the book into a coherent manuscript.

When it came to the final copy edit before publication, I did that myself. So any typos, grammatical errors, etc, are all mine. Finally, I self-published the book on Amazon in late October of 2018, first as a Kindle e-book and then as a paperback. I hope it turns out to be a story that readers will enjoy. My sincere thanks to those who’ve purchased and read the book and provided valuable feedback! I encourage readers to leave a review on the book’s page at Amazon.

Addendum, February 12, 2020: I’m updating this post because I updated the book again! A University of Washington course on proofreading and grammar opened my eyes to various minor errors in the previous version of the book, so I went over it yet again. Along the way, I found a few other errors in timing and continuity that I repaired. I think the latest version, recently updated, is easier to read and more coherent than before. The new version was published last week and is, as before, available on Amazon as a Kindle ebook and a paperback. Work on the as-yet unnamed sequel continues, slowly but surely.

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