Note by Note and Scene by Scene–Suspense Novels: Part 1

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.

Sundrop Sonata Cover

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?

Nola's deck

Plot

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.

"The gate is open."

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.

quilt-collage-2

(Stay tuned for Part 2: Character and viewpoint)

Field Trip!

DSC00169

Quite by accident the other day, I stumbled upon an exciting place and an equally exciting way to promote a book. I met my writing friend and naturalist, Mary Coley (marycoley.me) for lunch in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Like me, Mary has spent much of her adult life occupied with making a living wage and raising a family and has returned to her love of fiction writing in recent years. She is the author of Cobwebs, Ant Dens, Beehives and soon to be released The Ravine. The day was perfect, a rare break in the nagging winds which have blown from the north one day and the south on the next for nearly two months. I drove through greening hills in my Kansas County, crossing into the rolling hills of Oklahoma. I met few other travelers between Winfield and Pawhuska.

After lunch and a long chat to catch each other up with events in our writing lives, Mary asked if I’d have time for a tour of Pawhuska.

A tour! Of the setting of her 2014 novel Cobwebs? Of course I had time to tour the setting of a book which won a 2015 Creative Woman of Oklahoma award and was a finalist in the New Mexico/Arizona book awards as well. And I’m glad I did.

 

Check out her books and her blog at these locations:

www.marycoley.com

www.marycoley.me (blog)

Mary is skilled at weaving local history and places into her books. I soon realized why she selected this sleepy little town. Pawhuska, Oklahoma is the perfect setting for a mystery. Touring the town with the book’s creator made the story come alive. Though the story takes place largely in Any House on Any Street in Pawhuska, there are several locations that figure significantly into the plot.

Along the way, I became captivated by the fascinating history of Pawhuska itself. Places Mary showed me included the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, where Cobwebs protagonist Jamie Aldrich went to find solace after puzzling and frightening events unfolded around her.

The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Pawhuska, Oklahoma
The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Pawhuska, Oklahoma

I lingered on the steps leading to the Osage County Courthouse, where so much drama between the Osage Nation and white opportunists occurred a century ago. (See marycoley.me/2014/09/05/pawhuska-means-white-hair-a-mysterious-setting/)

Osage County Courthouse, Pawhuska, Oklahoma
Osage County Courthouse, Pawhuska, Oklahoma

We drove through the cemetery where in the book Jamie discovered that her new friend Sam had also lost a spouse in recent years.

Pawhuska Cemetery
Pawhuska Cemetery

We turned around in the parking lot of the little grocery store where Jamie was snubbed by a local woman and had no idea why.

Grocery store
Grocery store

We drove by the Pawhuska Museum. Mary described a real fire that temporarily closed the local museum where she had written about an arsonist’s handiwork in her fiction book. The museum provided much background for protagonist Jamie to uncover chilling details that helped explain events that brought her to Pawhuska.

Museum
Museum

We cruised through the city park where Sam revealed to Jamie that she has a blood connection to the Osage Nation.

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The picnic table in Pawhuska City Park where a fictional conversation occurs between characters.

The tour was energizing–an excellent way for Mary to promote her book! If you ask, perhaps she’ll schedule a tour for you. I’m looking forward to a personal tour of the locale covered in Ant Dens (Sante Fe, NM area) and Beehives (Osage Hills State Park, Oklahoma). It makes me wonder about settings in other books I’ve read. Several locations in my own Sundrop Sonata are based on genuine places I have been, but they are scattered over a much broader area. Still, a tour. . .makes you wonder, doesn’t it?