Mystery Author: Strong Women, Great Stories

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I write three series: The Loser Mysteries, The Dead Detective Mysteries & the Simon & Elizabeth (Tudor) Mysteries as well as stand-alones that offer readers "Strong Women, Great Stories."
These days I also answer to Maggie Pill, who writes a cozy sleuth series. Maggie is a lot like Peg, just younger, cooler, and funnier.

Plain Talk For Writers: A Sense of Place

No, I'm not talking about book settings, though they're important and wonderful when done well.

I'm talking about YOUR place in the world of writing.

If you're published, you probably already have an idea of where you fit, and it probably bothers you a little that it isn't where you'd like to be or where you thought you'd be. If you're not yet published, you should spend some time thinking about where you will fit in once you show your work to the world.

Before publication, many writers have an inflated idea of the importance of their work. I'm approached all the time at book signings by people who claim they have the next bestseller in mind or in progress. The fact that they tell me about it is a hint that they don't know the process at all. There's hope in their eyes, a fantasy scenario where I grab them by the arm and say, "Wow! I need to tell my agent right away about your completely awesome idea." Well, I won't. In the first place, I fired my agent, and in the second place, I've heard it before. Really.


Honestly, 99% of books, including my own, are not that original. Most of us take a theme that's well known (In mystery it's usually the search for justice), find some characters we like, and work out a story. However, the number of variations on any theme is limited. For example, I'm aware of three best-selling authors right now who have a new book where the protagonist has amnesia. I bought two of them, and I had to quit reading one until I finish the other, because I kept getting them mixed up in my head. Amnesia as a theme in mysteries comes in waves--as do other themes, alcoholic protagonists, divorced sleuths with children at risk, cops with bosses who hate them, etc. Apparently it's been long enough since writers did amnesiacs as protags that we can use it again.

What's your place in the writing world? Chances are your plot isn't original (Nor are those of most best-selling authors). Chances are the people in your book are re-hashes of stereotypical characters readers have seen before, probably many times. That's okay, as long as you recognize it. The most honest thing a writer can do is accept that she isn't doing anything groundbreaking. Once we accept that truth, we won't expect to shoot to the top of the ranks like Nike rising from the sea.

If you're lucky, you write something entertaining enough that a portion of the population will read it. Then you build on that, so they learn to come back to you for the kind of story they like. If you're even more lucky, a few of them will say nice things about it to other readers (Most don't. They just reach for the next book on their TBR pile).

That's your place, and when you understand it, you'll stop wondering why awards aren't lining your office wall and movie producers aren't knocking on your door. You'll be happy brightening the corner where you are.


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