To me, books are magic, and I rarely want to know how magic works. But if anyone wants to know how I work, feel free to keep reading. And if you read my books—Thanks so much! I couldn’t do this without you.
Personal preference writing spot? By windows with lots of natural light. My office on the east side of our house provides lots of lovely, screen-glaring sun in the morning, so I work there in afternoons and take over the breakfast area as a writing alcove until noon. The first picture is my a.m. work zone. I have easy access to the back patio, and often take a coffee break outside to watch the wild deer that graze for their morning meal. However, this early space with its huge window-wall gets incredibly warm after noontime, and I move to my office then. The desk in my office has another advantage in that I can stand or sit to write. I often gain a different perspective when writing on my feet.
These office shots were taken in winter, but because I’m surrounded by grass and mature trees the panoramas in spring and summer are filled with leafy green hues. Fall brings seasonal jewel tones. I gaze outside, let my mind work over plot holes and character challenges, and watch wildlife venture by—industrious squirrels, a wandering beaver, and an intermittent hawk that catches my eye and fills me with wonder as it soars. This may sound distracting but actually helps me stay focused. I watch for ‘ah’ moments or laugh at animal antics, then return to the manuscript refreshed and with new direction.
I’m more plotter than pantser. Before I start a new project, I spend several days scrawling bits into a notebook. Like I’m having coffee with the page and telling it what’s going to happen to my characters and things they’ll say. A very messy process, but it works. I don’t include everything, but cover all the major bases—beginning, middle, and end. Detours, of course, crop up. That’s fine. My notes keep me from getting too far afield.
I probably should mention that I write two very different mystery series. The Organized Mysteries is a traditional-style series. My main protagonist is (surprise!) organization expert Kate McKenzie. In those books, two married moms solve crimes as amateur sleuths (mostly ignoring their husbands’ wise warnings), in a lovely southwestern Vermont venue. Besides plotting murders, the novels offer organization tips from Kate’s professional bag of tricks. And, no, I’m not an organizational pro, and my house may not be as neat as Kate’s, but I do despise having to look for things. Tips in the books are usually things that work in my household, or epiphanies my brilliant kid dreamed up and I appropriated. Also, writing lines for Meg Berman (Kate’s next door neighbor and other half of this sleuthing duo) is easy because nothing comes out of Meg’s mouth I haven’t actually said myself. Yes, she’s the redhead I’ve always wanted to be.
My other series, the Bodies of Art Mysteries, requires an extensive amount of research and preplanning. The first two books will be released by Henery Press in February 2016, but go on pre-order November 2015, with a third book out mid-year. This series is a blast to write, and luckily reader feedback tells me it’s a blast to read, too. My characters lead readers (and the author) on a merry chase through amazing European capitals and well-known art-world locales. Everything is written from the viewpoint of art recovery expert Laurel Beacham, but mystery man Jack Hawkes is paramount for each adventure’s fun and success. And in the style of the television show Castle, or any of the wonderful pre-WWII era Cary Grant movies, both main characters’ stock in trade is witty dialogue and quick instincts, as well as an ability to pull each other’s backsides from the fire in more than a few challenging incidents. Laurel’s goal focuses on recovering the missing art masterpiece ahead of Jack, and Jack’s is to finally get the upper hand over Laurel. It’s fabulous fun to see where their verbal sparring and ingenuity take them.
Since I have tie-ins to art, art history, European locations, gala events, and all means of transportation—oh, and escape techniques when main characters run afoul of bad guys—I do a LOT of research. This little tray of notecards stays on my desk at all times. Each day, I scatter notecards around my desk and in groupings on the floor, but at night they’re tucked safely back into their ceramic tray. The little paper soldiers seen here are what’s left of Book #3 notecards after I’d already ‘processed’ a third. I tuck all reference material—especially the notecards—away every night because even my husband wants to know more about these books than I’m ready to reveal. No one gets a sneak peek.
Each Bodies of Art book is written as a standalone, but all are part of a larger series arc, so I must constantly consider both the last book and the next book as I work on the current manuscript. Otherwise, I run the risk of plotting myself into a corner in a later book, or missing an opportunity to tie up an end at its proper resolution.
Because of that, I have extensive series notes. This picture shows my Bodies of Art files. The messy pages on top are what I pulled for the current week’s writing. The rest include web pages of places and art to include later, drafts of scenes in current or upcoming manuscripts, character sketches, back stories for all characters—even the walk on parts—to refresh my memory.
Getting through a first draft feels fantastic, but real work begins at the revision stage. It’s those weeks, polishing and refining, when lines ring exactly right. So every character gains his or her best moments, and readers get the fun surprises and pleasing plot twists that make jaws drop—with more than a few laughs along the way. And even the best planned fiction often surprises the author. Another reason I love my craft.
Oh, and framed picture on the wall in the last photo isn’t there because I’m a space/sci-fi aficionado, though I do love Doctor Who and Firefly reruns. I fell in love with the caption: “Reality is for People Who Lack Imagination.” Those are words I live by. And not just because I write fiction.
Thank you, Jenna, for inviting me, and thanks everyone for stopping by.
About Ritter Ames
Ritter Ames is the USA Today Bestselling author of the Organized Mysteries series and the Bodies of Art Mysteries series. When she’s not writing or brainstorming new mysteries, Ritter is usually trying to get her favorite yellow lab to stay out of the pond, or keep her grouchy black cat from trying to give the dog away on Freecycle. Ritter would love to live on a boat and write from far flung locations around the globe, but the dog would constantly have to be fished from the water, and her husband and cat would just complain endlessly about the dog’s smell, so staying on land seems to be the only good option to keep her sanity and not get sidetracked from writing.
She is on Facebook at Ritter Ames Books, her FB author page, and you can follow her on Twitter @RitterAmes. Subscribe to Ritter’s Monthly Email Newsletter to get more upcoming news, and special features and contests open only to “email newsletter subscribers”. Ritter uses her Pinterest boards at http://www.pinterest.com/ritterames/ to capture great places and ideas she wants to use in both series. Follow her website blog and boards to learn more about Ritter and her upcoming books.