Thursday, October 22, 2015

Write What You Know

Hi all!  Please join me in welcoming Gloria Alden to Killer Hobbies today.  Personally, I can totally see a third grade teacher getting involved in murder. At PTA meetings, sports events, the staff lunchroom...But that's why I'd make a terrible teacher.  But a botanist sleuth sounds fabulous. Take it away, Gloria!
Every writer has heard that.  And yet I’ve read mysteries in which the writer didn’t seem to know what they were writing about whether it was the place or the occupation their main character had.  So when I started my first mystery some time ago, I thought about what I knew. I’d read mysteries since I was a kid a long time ago so I knew what kind of mysteries I liked. Okay, that’s step one. Believe it or not I heard a writer on a panel at a small college tell the audience after she read her first mystery, she decided she could write a mystery and she did. She got it published by a vanity press and was pleased to be published. Was it any good? I doubt it.

Okay I’ve read a gazillion mysteries in my lifetime. That’s step one. Next I had to pick a place. That was easy. All my life I’ve lived in N.E. Ohio with ancestors that go way back. So I have my place. I created a fictional town, Portage Falls, a composite of the small towns around me. So far so good. I once read a mystery set in Amish country not too far from where I live. The author was from California. Did she get the Amish culture right? No. In fact there was little about the Amish and what there was didn’t make sense.
Now I needed to create my main character. Originally I started the  book with one of my sisters.  However, it was hard to team write living fifty miles apart and both teaching, so I took over after the first three or four chapters. She wanted our main character to be in her twenties, but I found I couldn’t feel a character that young and made her forty. It felt better.  Even though I’m still much older than that, I could relate to her. I gave her something in her background that was something I’d experienced – the death of a child. That gave her more depth.

Next I needed to give her an occupation I understood. Teaching third graders wouldn’t fit. How could a third grade teacher get involved with murder? I’ve had many interests and hobbies in my life, but probably gardening was the one that had been ongoing. Because on numerous camping trips with family that almost always included gardens like Longwood Gardens, my sister and I decided we should make Catherine Jewell a botanist who works at Elmwood Gardens, large public gardens, albeit not real. She also has a small nursery Roses in Thyme, and is a relative newcomer to town. I also have another sister, who is a botanist, so I can call on her for any questions I have.

Since I’m an animal lover Catherine had to have a cat, and in later books she acquires a dog, too. And what’s a mystery without a little romance? I have that, too.

Gloria Alden writes the Catherine Jewell Mystery series; The Blue Rose, Daylilies for Emily’s Garden, Ladies of the Garden Club. The Body in the Goldenrod, Murder in the Corn Maze,and a middle-grade book, The Sherlock Holmes Detective Club. Her published short stories include “Cheating on Your Wife Can Get You Killed” winner of the Love is Murder contest, “Mincemeat is for Murder” and “The Body in the Red Silk Dress” in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, “The Professor’s Books” in FISH TALES,The Lure of the Rainbow’ in FISH NETS,Once Upon a Gnome” in STRANGELY FUNNY and “Norman’s Skeleton’s” in ALL HALLOWS EVIL. She lives on a small farm in NE Ohio with assorted critters; her collie, Maggie, two house cats, a canary, two old African ring-necked doves, two ponies, and five rather old hens, plus one loud guinea fowl. She blogs with Writers Who Kill on Thursdays. Website: 



Gloria Alden said...

Thank you, Tracy, for inviting me to guest blog today.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Welcome, Gloria, and thanks for sharing your planning process with us!

Gloria Alden said...

Thank you, Linda. I've enjoyed your books that show you are writing what you know, too.l

Monica Ferris said...

Write what you know is, of course, the First Rule. But it has a subhead: Go and find out. Very often it's in research that I find the story, or some aspect of it that illuminates a character or a plot.