Friday, March 16, 2007

Meet Evelyn David

What's a 13-letter word for puzzle lover?

How about mystery author?

Sure it's two words and the answer probably wouldn't satisfy Will Shortz, the reigning puzzle king. But it goes a long way to explain how our hobby, solving all kinds of puzzles (word, number, jigsaw), spurred us to create our mystery, Murder Off the Books.

We're Evelyn David - the writing duo of Marian Edelman Borden and Rhonda Dossett. Our debut mystery, Murder Off the Books, is a modern cozy with a story to keep you guessing, characters you'll love, humor to make you laugh out loud, a touch of romance, and an adorable and adored Irish Wolfhound.

Our lead characters, Mac Sullivan, a retired DC cop turned private detective, and Rachel Brenner, makeup artist to the recently departed, don't meet because of their hobbies. Mac is investigating the murder of a college comptroller and Rachel's brother is the number one suspect. But it's our hobby that led us to create our most challenging puzzle of all.

We delight in that seesaw of emotions that puzzle lovers get when first confronted with an overabundance of unrelated pieces. It begins with gnawing doubt. Can you possibly fill in all the blanks in the crossword puzzle; find the right combination of numbers to complete the sudoku; unravel the secret code of the cryptogram; organize hundreds of uneven-shaped cardboard pieces to reveal a beautiful picture? Slowly, but surely, you begin to piece together the clues, stumped occasionally by the letter, number, piece that doesn't fit no matter how you turn it or try to force it into the slot. You begin to see the outlines of the solution, but maybe confront another deadend or wrong turn. And then suddenly! Bingo! Somehow all the pieces fall into place.

Plotting a mystery is a similar process. First you make sure you have all the pieces (characters, plot, suspects, victims). You take a good long look at the big picture on the outside of the box (Where will you begin? How will you tackle the project? What will the end result look like?) Then you line up the straight edges (rough in the location, characters, framework for the mystery). And then the real work starts…fitting it all together.

Our first draft of Murder Off the Books was 168,000 words. It had too many pieces for the cozy mystery framework we had chosen. The frame bulged at the sides, the picture was fuzzy, and the project was unwieldy. We sorted the pieces again (altered the plot), eliminated pieces that were duplicates or unnecessary (removed characters and events), and reduced our word count by about 30,000. The end result was better, but still overstuffed. Instead of moving things around again, searching for a different way to make things fit, we realized that, to continue the metaphor, we actually had some pieces that didn't belong in this particular puzzle. So we trimmed scenes, sharpened dialogue, and put the pieces that didn't fit aside, to include in the next book where they belonged. The finished puzzle, Murder Off the Books, fit so tightly together that no editor or publisher was going to find any plot holes or mistakes. A mystery was born.

We solved our puzzle. And the satisfaction was enormous. But then, of course if you're a puzzle lover, you understand that feeling of triumph!

So, what's a six letter word for "what's next"?


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