There comes a day for every artist when she must face a fresh canvas, or, for a writer, a blank page. I’ve learned not to fear that great wide emptiness, but to embrace it, and to jump right in. When I first started writing, I worried obsessively that I would run out of fresh ideas, or get things wrong. Now I’ve learned to trust the process. If I’m willing to put in the proper amount of time, strange and wondrous things will be revealed.
This year, I decided to start writing an entirely new mystery series set in New Orleans. Why NOLA? That one’s big and easy (pun intended). When I attended Bouchercon 2016, I had a new female protagonist already in mind. I began to noodle around with the idea for the new series in the hotel bar, and I needed to find a stunningly good setting. Before that trip, I had been thinking about using Vegas, but after the spooky midnight vampire tour through the damp and puddly French Quarter, NOLA stole my heart.
They always tell you to ‘write what you know.’ I have reached a grand maturity, and I am now ‘a woman of a certain age.’ I attended a recent workshop, and I was reminded to consider my audience as I write. That suggestion struck a magical spark. My readers are all ‘of a certain age,’ and we have our scars (and our bad knees and hips) to prove it. But we also have a deep well of crystal clear memories from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s that we wouldn’t trade for all the tea in China. That landscape is my private gold mine. I don’t need a metal detector to know where those 24K nuggets are hidden. Who needs historical research? I don’t. I lived it, and so have my readers.
What comes next? My new protagonist Jane is only 31. I needed to freshen up my youthful hipster vocabulary for her to sound current. That mostly entails me lurking around my day job marketing department and listening to ‘the kids’ gossiping in Starbucks to pick up the latest slang terms, catchphrases, and trends.
One of my secondary characters is an aging, reclusive rock star. Kenny Pascoe is more to my speed, and researching him gives me the license to attend anniversary rock tour concerts and to watch vintage YouTube videos of The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Starship, and Stevie Nicks. And then there are the stunning research surprises that I’ve turned up that I never knew before. I’ve discovered the story of backup singer Merry Clifton, who hit such incandescent high notes on Gimme Shelter that she suffered a miscarriage. Yes, it’s a tragedy, but it’s human and true, and that’s what great fiction is really about.
Starting a new series also gives me an excuse to travel to new locations, and to fearlessly ask impertinent questions. I’m amazed to see the places I can get into or the behavior I can get away with simply by saying “I’m sorry. I need to do this. I’m a writer.” This phrase has super magical power. It is especially helpful when you are traveling with a companion or some family or friends who will roll their eyes at the remark, cross their arms, and say: “Yes, she is. Let her go,” as they seek official pardon and/or sympathy.
When I think of that fearsome new blank page now, I consider it a license to thrill for both me and my readers. No, I don’t know the whole story, yet. What fun would that be, if I knew how everything ended? Starting a fresh manuscript is a gift that gives, twice. I get to enjoy the fun of exploring my brave new world with all of its surprising new characters, and its twists and its turns on my own, and then I get the pleasure of sharing it with my readers. What fun.
Martha Reed is the author of the award-winning John and Sarah Jarad Nantucket Mystery series. In NO REST FOR THE WICKED, Book 3, Detective John Jarad investigates Nantucket’s most notorious cold-case crime, the Baby Alice Spenser kidnapping of 1921. Sarah Jarad has a slightly different focus. She’s convinced that her control freak ex-fiancée Mason is on the island, seeking revenge. NO REST FOR THE WICKED is available in trade paperback and e-book format. It is garnering 5-star reviews.
Amazon link: http://tinyurl.com/hswrwsb
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