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Write What You Know

...and always listen to your best friend

When I first started writing fiction six years ago, I turned to romance. It was a genre that I’d read and loved — along with mystery and true crime, of course. When I told my oldest friend about my plan to write a steamy novel, she scrunched up her face.

“Why aren’t you writing crime fiction?”

It was an excellent question. I’ve been a newspaper and wire service journalist in Florida for two decades, with many of those years devoted to the weird, the horrific, and the criminal. I’ve covered many of the state’s biggest crime stories. High-profile ones such as Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin. Lesser-known murderers who had abducted children and those who attacked fellow citizens in a drug-induced haze. I’ve also covered eleven mass shootings (including Parkland and Pulse) and witnessed thirteen executions in Florida’s death chamber.

“Pfft. Why would I write crime fiction?” I asked my friend. “It’s too depressing. Too much like my day job. I want to do something different. My muse is telling me to write about sex.”

And yet, my muse told me to write a romantic suspense for my first novel. I moved on from there, writing contemporary romance and erotic romance. And while I had some measure of success — a RITA finalist book in 2018 — it never felt a hundred percent right, either.

In 2019, I was on a trip to Vermont and sitting around my best friend’s house. I was musing aloud about my next steps for my fiction career. Self-publishing contemporary romance was increasingly difficult and competitive, I told her, and writing the happy-ever-after between the couple wasn’t as satisfying as it had been in previous years. I wanted to tell a story about justice, but with humor and nuance.

I’d recently finished a series about couples in a quirky Florida town, and let’s just say the eccentricities of the characters weren’t resonating with romance readers. I was frustrated.

“What about a mystery novel?” my friend asked.

I mulled this over for the entire month of August while I was on a monthlong vacation. I’d been reading Kathy Reichs’ Deja Dead, and although I loved it, I couldn’t imagine myself writing something so dark. There was the matter of the day job trauma, after all. But what if I could write something softer, something with a little romance and a twisty murder… something gentle.

A cozy mystery, perhaps?

While sitting in a café in Quebec City and drinking the best espresso I’d ever had, I sketched an outline for my cozy. I used my experience as a crime reporter to plot the murder. First I chose a victim. Then I chose a murderer. I worked backwards with the details and clues, thinking about all the police reports I’d read over the years, all the news conferences I’d been to, and all the cops I’d chatted up. Suddenly everything made sense.

You know those wooden puzzle boxes, the ones that seem so hard to open? That’s what my brain felt like. Each clue, each detail, unlocked something inside my creative soul in a way that romance didn’t. I was able to blend my quirky characters and my love of a Florida setting with a murder and a romantic subplot.

That fall, I wrote my cozy mystery and in March of this year, sold it to Crooked Lane Books.

The lesson here is to always listen to your best friend. And perhaps, listen to what your muse is whispering.

 

 

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