There’s a huge difference between writing a novel prior to having a contract and after signing that much sought-after three-book deal. At least there was for me.
The first two books were written over a period of years. I could let the manuscripts sit and simmer when I was stuck. I would go back and add something that might be wonderful and then do the necessary revisions and rewrites. I would submit pages to workshops. Once I received the feedback from the instructor, I’d do another round of revisions and rewrites. Basically, I was always tinkering with them.
But then came the contract. (YAY! Happy dancing all around!) The deadlines for those first two weren’t a problem. They were done—or mostly so. As for book three (Bridges Burned, released two months ago), I had one full year to write it.
No problem! Or so I thought.
Okay, so there were a few problems after all. The first being I had no idea what it was going to be about. The other problems, which I didn’t discover until well into the process, involved not simply writing a book in a year. I was writing a book in a year while also revising book #1, completing book #2, promoting book #1, revising book #2, proofreading book #1, more promoting, more revising, and more proofreading.
There were days when I was working on three books in various stages of production all at the same time. At some point, I learned that, in order to preserve my sanity, I could only handle working on two of the three in any given 24-hour period.
Which brings me back to trying to solve the first problem. What was the third book about? I thought I knew, but as I started writing, I realized my original idea for it wasn’t gelling. So I started over.
I knew I wanted to write something that dealt with people losing their homes to sheriff sales. Hardworking folks who for a variety of reasons fall behind on their mortgages and end up having their dream house seized. It was a topic close to my heart because of family members who had lived it. Still, it didn’t seem like the stuff of murder mysteries.
I became fascinated with several articles I’d read about modern-day squatters. People who moved into these same foreclosed houses and lived there illegally. Some banks looked the other way because they were dealing with other vacant properties being vandalized. At least if someone, even a squatter, was residing there, the property was being somewhat protected and cared for.
Interesting, but still not a murder mystery.
And then came a local news story about a natural gas explosion in a house not far from where I live. A young girl, the daughter of the family who owned the house, was tragically killed. My heart broke. Early news reports, scratching for a juicy angle, hinted at the possibility the explosion was not an accident. It didn’t take long for this to be debunked. The explosion was indeed accidental and the girl’s death a terrible tragedy.
However, my mystery writer’s brain had been prodded.
What if…a young family lost their home to foreclosure but chose to sneak back in and continued to live there as squatters? What if there was a natural gas explosion resulting in the death of the mother, and what if this time the explosion was not an accident?
Hence the idea for Bridges Burned was born.
For an emotional tug-of-war, I came up with the ten-year-old daughter who has now lost her mom and the handsome father, who may be a grieving widower—or something more sinister. Zoe, having lost a parent at a young age, bonds with the little girl and her father, going so far as providing them both with a home under her own roof. Chief Pete Adams doesn’t like this new situation at all, especially when his investigation throws suspicion on Zoe’s house guest.
I’m pleased with the end result, but admit to being more than a tad nervous during the writing and revising process. I had a deadline. I only had a year when I was used to a much more leisurely creative pace. There would be no epiphanies months or years later as to an even better idea, which I could fold into the story. One year. That was it.
And now I’m on to the fourth Zoe Chambers mystery. That one-year deadline isn’t so scary this time, partly because I’m not working on two other books as well. I’m less concerned about the story (although I confess I’m worried that I’m not worried—does that make sense?)
However, in true crime-writing crank-up-the-tension fashion, I only have nine months to produce book #5.
Cue hysterical screaming.
But at least I do know what that one will be about.
Annette Dashofy is the Agatha nominated, USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE was published by Henery Press in March 2014, followed by LOST LEGACY (September 2014) and BRIDGES BURNED (April 2015). Her short fiction includes a 2007 Derringer Award nominee featuring the same characters as her novels. She also serves as vice president of Pennwriters and of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime.
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!