After the Kansas Authors Club convention in early October, some participants asked if I would post the content of my class online. The next few posts are in response to that request.
I didn’t set out to write a suspense novel. There was a story in my head and it needed to be told. The genre identity was a puzzler for me. People suggested it would be classified as a mystery, and in a very broad sense, I suppose it is. But in a traditional mystery, the reader is presented in the beginning pages with a crime–often a murder–and spends the rest of the book analyzing characters and clues to figure out whodunit.
That’s not the way it is in Sundrop Sonata. The reader knows early on whodunit but the protagonist does not. Indeed, the poor protagonist isn’t even sure what’s happened. The reader knows. The character doesn’t. This keeps the reader cheering for the innocent and naïve protagonist, wanting her to figure it out before it’s too late.
At the same time, nobody knows why the antagonist has acted so irrationally. In this story, motive is a mystery. The answer is to be revealed as the pages unfold.
How would you describe the difference between a mystery and a suspense novel?
I like to think that from my very first memory, I have been conducting research for fictional stories. Everything I have ever done, every place I have toured, every age I have lived through–all things are ripe for plucking and setting into a new story.
I have lived almost my entire life on farms or in rural Kansas. But I have traveled extensively throughout the North American continent, as well as a few other places. My interests are many: music–piano music, handbells, symphonies and folk instruments as well. I like the instruments themselves, especially piano technology and construction.
I have a deep love and respect for nature and the environment fostered from many camping vacations in the great outdoors. I chose science as a field of study in college, earning a bachelor’s degree in geology.
I have always loved to read, which led to my interest in writing. And I am a spiritual person with a focus on supporting and uplifting folks, especially those whom others may have looked down on.
There are snippets of all these interests in the pages of my books. I never really know when a tidbit from my scientific training, for instance, may collide with my love of music to weave a new thought into the plot of a developing story. It’s much like making a quilt–you find patches from various scraps of the past and stitch them together into a new creation.
To write a novel is to make a quilt from patches of the past.
What are the areas you take special interest in? What experiences filled your life that will provide background and ideas for your writing projects?
Given that each of us has different interests and different experiences, even if we start out with the same premise, we’d end up with an infinite number of fresh new stories. If I were to suggest that you take a product you know and love that is often imported from another country, and make that product a vehicle for smuggled goods, what product would you choose? What is being smuggled into the country? How would it be hidden? Who is going to discover the plan? And what will they do about it?
No two quilts would ever be identical. We’d all have different stories to tell.
(Stay tuned for Part 2: Character and viewpoint)