Friday, February 27, 2009

Patricia is the author of 19 plus novels of fiction and at least 4 works of non fiction. Her Thoroughly Southern Mystery series is one of my absolute favorites and I am so honored to have her on Murder by 4 today. kim

When Kim invited me to be a guest on this blog, she suggested that I write about the challenges the mystery genre presents to a writer and how I and others overcome those challenges.

After a day when I had to run seven errands and get my hair cut, what I am more aware of is the biggest challenge facing any writer: how to immerse yourself in your writing while at the same time coping with daily life.

Things like dentist appointments, haircuts, taking the vacuum to be repaired, and buying manure and potting soil don’t fit neatly into a writer’s life, much less getting outside to spread the manure before spring arrives, or repotting the African violets before they all die. I find myself constantly in flux between what I want to be doing—writing—and what I need to be doing (most of the above).

Granted we can postpone some things almost indefinitely, but the temptation for most writers is to postpone writing. “I’ll do it when I finish ______,” we say. But once we finish one set of piddly errands, there’s another set waiting in the wings.

And so today, while I would rather have spent the day working on a novel, I only got to write a couple of hours. But wait! At least I wrote a couple of hours. By doing it first, I achieved the satisfaction of knowing I didn’t spend the whole day on the minutiae of daily living.

Now, at the end of the day, I sit here mulling over what unique challenges the traditional mystery genre presents its writers.

First, of course, we have to keep killing people, and doing it in believable ways for believable reasons. Years ago I vowed never to use a clever method of murder that might inspire a copycat, so I’ve pretty much stuck to blunt instruments, guns, and poison. But finding a good reason for somebody to terminate another person’s life has been harder. I rely heavily on the Seven Deadly Sins. Those provide almost all my motives.

Second, we have to play fair with our readers. Traditional mysteries—those which feature an amateur sleuth and a limited number of suspects—are largely a puzzle for the reader to solve from clues scattered along the way. That means the writer must give enough clues while concealing them in verbiage, lists, action, and off-hand remarks so, hopefully, the reader will miss them altogether. That gives both the reader and the writer the satisfaction of knowing the puzzle has a solution if one can only find it. But this also means that the writer must keep track of clues and red herrings and plant them frequently enough to help the reader along.

Another challenge the mystery genre presents to readers, unfortunately, is that this genre pays probably the most poorly of any writing field. I don’t know if it’s because there are so many of us writing them, or because publishers, like so many academics, feel scorn for the genre even as they continue to make money for the publishers, but a first mystery will probably bring in about half what a first novel will and the increase per book after that is not very much. So my advice to a would-be mystery writer is, either plan to live frugally, keep your day job, or marry well.

On the other hand, writing traditional mysteries is such fun. Plots twist and turn, bizarre characters wander in and out of the plot, there’s enough suspense to titillate without enough gore to disgust. The writer can put in bits of humor, recipes, travelogue, or crafts and find an audience out there willing to give at least one of your books a try. Mysteries readers are always looking for new authors to add to their “favorites” lists. So don’t give up.

Put off your hair cut for one more week and write that next chapter!

Newest books:

DAUGHTER OF DECEIT - ISBN 978-0-06-081983-5 - third in the Family Tree series

THE REMEMBER BOX - first book in Job's Corner Chronicles (reissue) - isbn 978-1-933523-09-5

CARLEY'S SONG - second book in Job's Corner Chronicles (reissue) - isbn 978-1 933523-10-1

WHAT ARE YOU WEARING TO DIE? Final mystery in Thoroughly Southern Series. ISBN 978-0-451-22325-8

SINS OF THE FATHERS - 2nd in Family Tree Mystery series ISBN 978-0-06-081976-7

For information and to order from Barnes & Noble online, visit Patricia

Thanks Patricia for your words of wisdom and for joining us at Mb4 today!


s.w. vaughn said...

Hey, Patricia! It's great to "meet" you. :-) Boy, do I ever hear you about real life intruding on writing! Endless frustration. Definitely.

I gotta say, I admire anyone who can use the word "minutae" in a coherent manner (I love that word!). And even though I don't write mysteries, you've brought up some great points that I think can also apply to thriller and suspense.

Thank you for posting with us - all the best to you!

s.w. vaughn said...

*cough* Er, that'd be "minutiae" - sheesh, you'd think I'd know how to spell the words I love. :-) At least I can pronounce it! LOL

Mayra Calvani said...

Thanks for the great post. I can sooooo sympathize! It's so hard for me to divide my time between writing and running errands and dealing with daily life!

And when I don't write, I get really moody and nasty! I just feel awful.


Marta Stephens said...

Hi Patricia and welcome to MB4. I bet you were thinking of me when you wrote this, weren't you? :) It's a constant struggle to manage time and walk that fine line between balance and total chaos.

Many thanks!

~Sia McKye~ said...


Thank you for sharing your thoughts on writing mysteries and why you do.

I have to agree with your statement:

"...the biggest challenge facing any writer: how to immerse yourself in your writing while at the same time coping with daily life.

It's a balancing act and for sure, it takes time to learn the balance. :-)

Sheila Deeth said...

Thanks for this insight into your balancing act. My act keeps tripping up over family members who know I'm wasting time.

Anonymous said...

It took me three days to learn how to reply to these great comments. It's good to hear from each of you. If you want to be added to my database and notified when new books come out, send a note to

Happy Reading!
Patricia Sprinkle