I am so thrilled to be starting this new blog feature, The Write Stuff, with Kate Dyer-Seeley, author of the Pacific Northwest Mysteries! Thanks for taking us behind the scenes with you!
Mystery Writing in the Pacific Northwest, My Apologies to the Trees
When I first came up with the idea for the Pacific Northwest Mystery Series I knew that I wanted to write about my little corner of the world. Not only is Portland, Oregon a gorgeous and funky place to live, but I have to be able to see, and touch, and smell, and feel a place in order to write about it. I have the deepest admiration for writers who can create entire worlds in their heads. That is not my skill set.
My process begins with sketching out the actual mystery—always in pencil because sometimes the killer changes as the story begins to develop, or I decide to kill someone else off. Watch out, it happens. Once I have a sketch done I write a full outline, usually about thirty pages. The outline is written scene by scene with all of the plot twists and red herrings included. At this stage, I have a small stack of paper next to my laptop, but soon that stack will grow taller and taller. My apologies to the trees.
Speaking of trees, before I start writing a first draft I get outside and “on location” for the setting of the mystery. When I was writing Scene of the Climb, the first book in the series, I hiked Angels Rest (where the murder happens) five times. Every time I hiked it something new would pop out or appear—a snag of dead trees, or a side trail that seemed to lead deeper into the woods. While working on Slayed on the Slopes, the second book in the series, I headed up to the slopes of Mt. Hood. I trekked through the snow, rode the chairlift, and explored the magnificent and historic Timberline Lodge.
I take extensive notes while I’m on location. Again, more paper. Lots of paper. Sorry trees.
With my initial research complete, I transform my office. Meg Reed, the protagonist, is a young journalist who claims to be an outdoor lover in order to land a job writing for Northwest Extreme Magazine. Let’s just say that she’s not. She loves all things pink, vintage fashion, coffee and beer. I tack the pictures that I took on location, brochures, and cutouts from magazine to my walls. Sometimes they take over my desk. I try to surround myself with the sense of the place that I’m writing about.
Then it’s time to start the first draft. It usually takes me about a month to write a first draft. I don’t do any editing as I go. I keep a notebook next to my laptop and jot down things that I know I’m going to need to change or fix, but I don’t do any of that work until the first draft is done. As soon as I type the last sentence in the draft I hit print. Are you sensing a theme of using A LOT of paper here? I let the draft “rest” for a while.
While it’s resting I do more research, and go back to the setting. Oh, and I forgot to mention beer! Meg is a huge fan of the craft brew scene in Portland, so I usually spend time doing critical research at local pubs. Every book in the series includes an adventure guide and scenic tour so that readers can bring the book along and follow Meg’s adventure. I want to make sure that readers get an authentic Northwest experience, so I use the time when I’m not working on a draft to visit all the stops on the tour and taste some draft beer.
After I’ve had some distance from the manuscript I read it through and make edits and notes in red pen. Then I repeat the process until I have a polished final draft and a giant stack of paper ready to be recycled!
Interested in sharing The Write Stuff with me and Girl with Book Lungs blog readers? (I hope you are!) Send me an email at jenna [dot] czaplewski [at] gmail [dot] com today!