THE LAST PAGE FIRST by Delia James
So, as I was trying to decide what to write for this post, I took a very unscientific and short poll of the people around me. I asked; What’s one question you’ve always wanted to ask a writer?
The results were…interesting.
You see, unlike a lot of full-time writers who work from home or coffee shops, I’m lucky enough to have a co-working space near my home. Co-working is a relatively new concept where people who are freelancers, or who spend a lot of time telecommuting, can have access to a shared workspace outside the home without the expense of trying to rent a whole office. I know, working from home sounds fantastic, but after awhile with no one to talk to but the cat and the fridge, it can get a little lonely. And the laundry can start to seem more important than meeting the deadline.
On top of that, there are fewer people you can consult when it comes to questions for blog posts.
The question my co-workers agreed on was this:
Do you start at the beginning, the middle, or the end?
That one’s interesting for me, because it’s entirely different when I’m writing mysteries than all the other kinds of writing that I do.
I’m a multi-genre author. I have at one time and another written Young Adult, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Romance and a few things that cross the boundaries between them. I love them all, but I have to admit, mystery has a special place in my heart. I’ve always read mysteries and loved mysteries. I grew up on Sherlock Holmes, of course, and there was this strange story my dad gave me called The Nine Wrong Answers by John Dickson Carr that I must have read a dozen times. I discovered Agatha Christie browsing the shelves at my grandmother’s house in the country. I found Dorothy Sayers in college and I was recently introduced to the wonder and delight that is Josephine Tey.
But when I’m writing mysteries, I do the one thing I don’t do when I’m reading them. I skip straight to the end.
Okay, maybe not straight to the end, but pretty darned close. I will sketch out a few beginning scenes to get an idea of who I’m “talking to” and where things are happening. There will probably be some research at this time, and, if I’m writing about someplace like Portsmouth, say, where I’ve visited (and loved), but don’t live, there’ll be a lot of time with Google Street View. Of course, there’s always going to be something new about the means, the motive or opportunity that has to be — you will forgive the expression — dug up.
But as soon as I’ve got some names and faces, I flip through straight to the end, and I write those chapters, solidly and in detail.
Why? I don’t do this with anything else I write. In fact, I kind of can’t.
But mysteries are different. For every scene in a mystery, there are actually at least two scenes. There’s the scene on the page, where all (well, most) of the characters know is going on in front of them. Then, there are the invisible scenes, which are just as important, if not moreso. The invisible scenes are the ones that are happening inside the characters, based on the things only they as individuals know. These scenes underpin the entire book, and drive the plot. The only way I can write them properly is if I know where the plot is going. This means I have to have the ending solidly fixed in my head before I can write the beginning.
I suppose it makes sense, though. I mean, what is the first, and last question in a mystery?
If I don’t know that, how can I tell you my story?
Delia James writes her magical mysteries from her home near Ann Arbor, Michigan, assisted by her loving husband, Tim, her magnificent son, Alex, and her vocal cat, Buffy the Vermin Slayer.
A Familiar Tail is the first of her Witch’s Cat mysteries. To hear more about the series and read a sample, you can go to www.darciewildemysteries.com, where you’ll be able to seen the latest news, order the latest book, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.
A FAMILIAR TAIL (Witch’s Cat #1)
Unlucky-in-love artist Annabelle Britton decides that a visit to the seaside town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is the perfect way to get over her problems. But when she stumbles upon a smoky gray cat named Alastair, and follows him into a charming cottage, Annabelle finds herself in a whole spellbook full of trouble.
Suddenly saddled with a witch's wand and a furry familiar, Annabelle soon meets a friendly group of women who use their spells, charms, and potions to keep the people of Portsmouth safe. But despite their gifts, the witches can’t prevent every wicked deed in town....
Soon, the mystery surrounding Alistair’s former owner, who died under unusual circumstances, grows when another local turns up dead. Armed with magic, friends, and the charmed cat who adopted her more than the other way around, Annabelle sets out to paw through the evidence and uncover a killer.