Writing a mystery: 3 essential questions

Writing a mystery: 3 essential questions

RUSSIAN MOJITO, Detective Emilia Cruz Book 7, will be released on 6 June. It is undoubtedly the most complex mystery I’ve ever written.

Emilia’s whole future is on the line.

Mystery writing: the big start

Every Emilia Cruz novel has multiple plot lines. My sticky note outlines are color-coded by subplot and spread across the wall above my desk. It grows as the book evolves, like a weed watered with Miracle Gro. 

But before I can build that ever-evolving outline, I have to answer 3 essential questions:

  1. What personal aspect of Emilia’s life will be impacted?
  2. What uniquely Mexican cultural element will drive the crime?
  3. Where does Emilia end up emotionally?

Here’s how the 3 essential question exercise worked for RUSSIAN MOJITO:

1. What personal aspect of Emilia’s life will be impacted?

Detective Emilia Cruz

After the dramatic events in PACIFIC REAPER and 43 MISSING which basically destroyed Emilia’s personal relationships, in RUSSIAN MOJITO she needs to either rebuild or move on.

Emilia must decide what sort of relationship she wants with her mother, whom Emilia believes lied to her for years about the brother Emilia never knew. Emilia must also deal with the feeling that her life would have been much better if she’d been the child her mother gave away, instead of the brother who ruined all the advantages he was given.

And yes, Emilia must either salvage her affair with Kurt Rucker, the gringo manager of Acapulco’s most luxurious hotel, or finally let him go.

2. What uniquely Mexican cultural element will drive the crime?

Reuters Mexican fuel thieves

PIPELINE NO DIGGING: Warning sign at Pemex’s refinery in Salamanca, in Guanajuato state, Mexico, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

For some time, I’ve been tracking the phenomenon of fuel thieves in Mexico, called huachicoleros.

For most of us, living in tidy places were gas stations have credit card pumps and convenience marts, it is hard to imagine people driving through the night to the middle of nowhere to dig up a hidden gas pipeline, drill into the steel, insert a spigot, and fill cans with stolen gas to sell on the black market.

Think about the danger! Sparks from the tools used to drill through the steel. The dizzying fumes of gasoline drenching you as it gushes out of the tap. Wrangling heavy vats of gas and selling it by the gallon in some village square. The ever-present fear of fire and arrest.

It’s astounding that people are actually stealing gas out of underground pipelines but in Mexico, the problem has become big enough to close gas stations and have its own saint. Read Borderland Beat’s article about El Nino Huachicolero here. Read the Washington Post article on gas stations closing due to fuel theft here.

The danger is very real. For example, in January more than 80 people died when huachicoleros created a literal fountain of gas from a breached pipeline. Dozens of people rushed to fill containers. When the pipeline exploded, all those people were caught in a deadly fireball. Check out this stunning video from Euro News

3. Where does Emilia end up emotionally?

Again, after the cliffhanger endings of the previous two books, I wanted Emilia to get her life back on track.

RUSSIAN MOJITO has a  satisfying wrap, akin to HAT DANCE and DIABLO NIGHTS, yet also teases us with the next book in the series, NARCO NOIR.

Hey, what about the Russian angle?

Russian Mojito cover

What, there are Russians in this book? LOL Only kidding. 

Without giving away any spoilers, the Russians in RUSSIAN MOJITO insidiously find their way into every aspect of Emilia’s challenges. From her relationship with her mother, to what happens with Kurt, to multiple murders, to the huachicolero trade . . . well, you get the idea.

The cover hints at the type of cocktail the Russians bring to the party. Did I mention the cover is the 8th for the Emilia Cruz series by the talented Matt Chase?

Mark your calendars! 

23 May: Kindle pre-order

6 June: Kindle release

23 June: Paperback release

Need to catch up on Emilia’s adventures?

Get 43 MISSING on Amazon today!

 “A fast-paced procedural . . . a real page-turner [and] a very original plot.” — The Booklife Prize 

43 Missing by Carmen Amato

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Detective Emilia Cruz series

Find the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series on Amazon

“Authorize” Advice from Pulitizer Prize Author Richard Ford

Last year, I was lucky enough to attend the  F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival. Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Ford was guest speaker and winner of the 2015 F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature.

Ford is the author of five collections of short stories and eight novels, including the acclaimed Frank Bascombe series. The second novel in the series, Independence Day, won the Pulitzer in 1996

In his acceptance speech at the Fitzgerald festival, Ford was humorous and articulate, with a soft Southern sway to his voice as he described his writing journey from Mississippi to New York.

An author’s discipline

I took notes as he talked. Ford drew laughter several times from his rapt audience, but he had a message about writing that resonated for its gently forceful lesson for authors. Ford said that ordinary human beings can write great books but that it takes great discipline. His exact words were: “A sternness I live with and have learned to enjoy.”

As an example of this, Ford described how before he writes a book, he creates a tabbed binder full of research on characters, location, and events. All this research—which might take more than a year—is needed to get the book’s concept and setting firmly fixed in his head before he writes anything. Validation! I do something similar except that I use an archive box.

Ford also declared that as an author, he “authorizes.” For him, there is no such thing as the characters “taking over” the story. As a writer who writes to an outline, this really resonated with me. Ford also claimed that literature is most interesting “when the villain says something true.” I liked that pronouncement as well and have enough dialogue under my belt to that this type of writing cannot be achieved by letting characters meander “unauthorized” through the story. Bottom line: discipline.

“Sternness” matters because . . .

I pulled out my notes of Ford’s talk when I saw his article on assessing short stories in the 18 April 2016 edition of America magazine. After discussing how and why to define short stories, but cleverly managing to avoid actually doing so, Ford took the reader’s point of view to tell us why an author’s “sternness” matters:

“I like stories that understand they are husbanding my precious attention and need therefore to give me back something important. And I like stories that are up to telling me directly something important about life, something I did not know and in language I can understand.”

Thank you for putting it so perfectly, Mr. Ford!

You, dear readers, are sharing your “precious attention.” I hope that myself and fellow writers offer you valued entertainment–be it humor, excitement, curiosity, joy, or a tingle up the spine–in return.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Detective Emilia Cruz series

Find the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series on Amazon

Anne R. Allen’s Essential Tips for New Authors

Anne R. Allen’s Essential Tips for New Authors

Lately, several emerging authors have asked me what to focus on as they start their careers. For a pro opinion, I turned to Anne R. Allen, author of How To Be A Writer In the E-Age. Anne writes the essential blog for today’s writers at http://annerallen.com/. When I asked her for a few tips, she shared this great advice:

1) Concentrate on writing short work (both fiction and personal essays).

Yes, you’ve got that novel or memoir you’re pounding away at, but spend at least half your time on short pieces. Short stories and essays will help you hone your craft and get you published in journals and anthologies. They might even make you some money. Some short story contests have big prizes.

And yes, you can write some of those short personal essays on a blog—either your own or as a guest—which will do amazing things for getting your name out there.

When you finish a short work, it gives you a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, and you can send those out to contests and journals and anthologies. There’s nothing more empowering than getting something in print and putting “published author” after your name.

2) Don’t write in a vacuum.

Take a class, join a critique group, find beta readers or a critique partner. You want to do this fairly early on. Writing in a vacuum can lead to bad habits and unrealistic expectations. Learning to write well is a long, steep learning curve. Don’t stay stuck at the bottom longer than you need to.

3) Read contemporary books in your genre.

If you only read the young adult books from your own youth or you read the regencies or mysteries you loved 20 years ago, you won’t be able to compete in today’s market. What was hot then will be clichéd now.

4) Network with other writers.

There are lots of great online social media groups and forums. (Some are fantastic and others not so much, so run if you see any trollish behavior!)

Blogging is a great way to network with other writers, and there are great blog networks for new writers like the Insecure Writers Support Group.

Simply commenting on well-known writing blogs gets your name into search engines and raises your profile. Get to know people and get known!

Genre groups that welcome both amateurs and professionals can be especially helpful, like RWA, SCBWI, and Sisters in Crime. They usually have online and in-person meetings.

You may be lucky enough to live in a community that has in-person writers clubs that meet at local libraries or bookstores. Network anyplace you find kindred spirits.  But you want to be online too. That’s where you’re going to make your sales and establish your career.

Online networking is a great way hear about agents who are looking for work like yours and to learn from people who are self-publishing and decide if it will work for you. This is where you’re going to find out about the business and learn the latest scams to stay away from (there are always scammers looking to pounce on newbie writers.)

5) Write everything down.

Don’t “talk out” your novel or story. Jot down your ideas—in notebooks, on Evernote, or whatever program works for you to save those thoughts, names, settings, weird stories that you can work into plots. Take it with you everywhere. They will be a goldmine later.

Thank you, Anne!

To learn more about Anne R. Allen and mine her trove of great advice, check out http://annerallen.com/ and her book How To Be A Writer In the E-Age.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Detective Emilia Cruz series

Find the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series on Amazon

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