My First Time…Mystery: The First Time I Loved Mystery

By Michael Guillebeau (Author of JOSH WHOEVER, SHARK’S TOOTH and A STUDY IN DETAIL)

 Growing up, I was the kid in the corner with a book while the other kids played. I read everything—literary books (J.D. Salinger and Ibsen), history and science, and sci-fi (Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov). But no mysteries. No interest in reading puzzles disguised as books.

And then one day someone dropped a book on my desk and said, “This one’s really good. It’s about a detective who lives on a houseboat.”

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Flawed and Fabulous, for Mystery Writers

This obviously wasn’t written for mystery/crime writers. After all, we spend all of our time writing about killings and people who punish killings.

But mysteries–more than any other genre–are stories of the flawed and fabulous, rising again to be gorgeously human. Mystery writers who forget this, even for a page, are in danger of writing something unworthy of our genre.

Thanks to Malisa McClure, Yoqi Extraordinaire, for this quote.

A STUDY IN DETAIL bought by Five Star Mysteries!

A STUDY IN DETAIL has been bought by Five Star Mysteries for a 2015 release! You can get a jump by reading the first chapter in the Books page.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

Paul was content to run his rafting business and hang on to a difficult relationship with his complicated and volatile artist wife Marta—until Marta’s bike is found crumpled on a bridge span with blood on the rail and her body missing. The police suspect murder or suicide but Paul finds a message in her last painting telling him that Marta faked her death so her paintings would get the attention they deserved.

Marta’s paintings soar in value, and now Paul’s quiet life includes lecturing on the life and work of a woman he knows is not dead, and searching for the woman who left him. An insurance investigator questions a $5M policy Marta took out shortly before her death. A Native American enforcer from a casino shows up demanding that Paul pay him the $5M the enforcer says Marta stole from his casino. A gallery in Sedona, Arizona claims to have a collection of Marta’s paintings—paintings that Paul knows nothing about.

Paul goes to investigate, followed by the insurance investigator, the enforcer, and a young girl determined to help Paul forget his dead wife.

 

Yay! Hope you guy’s enjoy reading Paul and Rue’s story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

At the keyboard: A lesson from the grave

My mother’s parents were poor dirt farmers way back in the hills in the 1920s and 1930s. Despite that, they put all seven of their children through college.

Grandma Spears rarely read or wrote. I think most of us assumed she was barely literate. After she died, we found a trunk of stories that she had written for each of her children. This is the story she wrote for my mother, Una.

 

Pa got out old red and his plow and started skipping his plow up and down over the old road to the field. When he reached the field, Mr. Boll Weevil stood high upon a stump and said, “Old man, if you plan to make cotton here you might as well go back for this is my field this year, for I have millions of children coming soon.” 

Pa argued awhile but decided to go back and change plows and plant something else. But on reaching the house Una asked, “What are you coming back for, Pa?” 

When he explained, she said, “Let me have that plow.” Off she went. 

“Oh yes, you lazy old flop ears,” [she said to the mule] “You don’t get out as light as you thought. Shall not work, shall not eat.” 

By now, she was reaching the top of the hill. Mr. Boll Weevil, hiding a little behind the stump, didn’t feel so high-spirited at the sight of that bold girl but peeped out and said, “Miss, you had better work where you can make a profit for I will get your crop this fall on this field and besides you will ruin your pretty skin.” 

“Shucks,” said Una. “You crawl under that bark or better still go tell your millions they had better not come to this field if they don’t want their eyes put out with the worst dust storm they have ever seen. 

“So, Mr. Boll Weevil, you are more than up a stump in this good rich field and when you see that big winged weevil with his dust storm you are going to play your prettiest tune but it won’t be the tune of bluffing girl’s with pretty skins. You are behind the times, they know how to work and have pretty skin, too.”

 

I’ve written four books, published one, and have a shelf of books on writing that I’ve almost worn out studying writing. I don’t think I have thing one to teach that sweet old lady about writing. Maybe I’ll read her story again, and learn a lesson for myself.

At the keyboard: Tunes

You’ve got to have music to write. Music is nothing but the passion of one person (the songwriter/artist) trying to fire the passion of another person (the listener). So, if you want to write with passion, you’ve got to bath yourself in it. Music.

Hopefully, you can stand to listen to the music your character listens to so you can get inside their world. My first book, JOSH WHOEVER, was written purely listening to Steely Dan and specifically inspired by the song “Here at the Western World.” If you’ve read JOSH, or listened to the song,  the idea of a guy hanging with the mayor and the skinny girls at the Western World Bar will feel familiar.

This morning, listening to random music while I worked, I heard “When Love Came to Town,” done by Herbie Hancock, Johnny Lang and Joss Stone . It’s a song both centered on the transformative power of love in our lives.

If you’re a serious writer, you sit down at your keyboard every day, whether you feel like it or not. You do it even when your characters just stand there and woodenly repeat the dull words you’ve forced in their unappealing mouths.

And you do it because, once in a great while, your characters stand up and sing on their own and you’re typing as fast as you can just to get it down and you’re giggling or crying or both and the whole damned world  transforms from drudgery to magic.

You do it for that moment when the love of your writing and your characters comes to town, and you know that you brought it there because of the hard work that you have done in the dark and boring world where no one but you cares.

Pat yourself on the back. And listen to the music around you.

 

Life of a Small Writer

At this point, you might even say insignificant writer.  To date, I’ve published thirteen stories, with only one making it into the print media (Ellery Queen, May, 2011).

But when my butt is in front of a computer for 2 – 6 hours a day, every day, it feels as real as it ever will.   And like it always will, sometimes the words flow like wine and I never want to stand up and leave my characters and sometimes I wonder if I will ever write another word and why I wrote the first.    I have a sign painted by my daughter over my desk with one word: Faith.  Many days, I sit down miserable at the struggle of pushing turgid words across the page.  But if I hold the faith long enough, a character will take those same words and tear off in a better direction than I ever imagined, and I’m sitting there laughing and crying after him.

I hope I always get to follow.