By Sally Goldenbaum
The winner of the autographed copy of Patterns in the Sand is Dave Chaudoir. Congratulations! Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your mailing address and I'll get the book out to you asap.
I used to wonder why people wrote mysteries around a theme, like food or knitting or gardening. Why isn’t a plain old murder enough? Who needs herbs and bamboo needles and a trowel when you have a dead body?
I didn’t really know the answer, at first, even though I have, or am, writing two cozy mystery series that do exactly that, one revolving around quilting (at which I’m a failure) and the other around knitting (for which I have a passion that far exceeds my actual ability). But why bring them into a mystery?
After some head scratching and pondering, I’ve decided one of the answers for me is that it provides a kind of centering. In a mystery series, you’re not only inviting readers back to follow the same characters story after story; you’re also inviting those characters back. The same ones, book after book. And having some sort of anchor—a ready-made reason for those characters to get together, to interact, to gossip, to grow together and develop their friendship in new ways—is very helpful in structuring a plot.
Okay, I say to myself, why not have them simply live on the same cul-de-sac, like the desperate housewives? Or work in the same office? Or shop in the same stores? And I think the answer is that that might work just fine, too. It’s not unlike a craft that the characters share and it probably works just fine. It seems to have kept the women of Wisteria Lane in business for a while. I think the anchors in mystery series can be a lot of things, and there are probably very clever anchors out there that haven’t even been thought of yet.
But a craft like knitting does something more than just provide a place and an excuse for Nell, Izzy, Cass, and Birdie (my Seaside knitting friends) to gather. It also, I think, injects a sensuousness into the mystery, just like writing about food does. And injecting sensuality into my writing is all-important in pulling readers into the story, I think. Sinking one's fingers into a basketful of Izzy’s buttercup yellow cashmere yarn, for example, or savoring Nell’s garlic grilled shrimp salad with fresh flakes of basil sprinkled on top—and clinking together four glasses of Birdie’s chilled pinot gris—are sure ways to stimulate and sharpen the senses and help the knitters of Sea Harbor explore the intricacies of a neighbor’s untimely death.
In Patterns in the Sand (the second book, just released, in the Seaside Knitters series) the knitters meet to knit, but also embrace a fiber artist who is involved in the story line—so sometimes the craft provides helpful offshoots.
Is it constraining in any way to have to tie the characters—and connect the readers—to this craft? Not exactly constraining, but it joins the list of other elements that a writer needs to be sure are included in the mystery—like conflict, action, clues, description, red herrings. Sometimes I realize that I’ve gone awhile without bringing in knitting, so I have to go back and plug it in here and there—and the story ends up being better for it. A writer friend, Nancy Pickard, talks about the CASES review—does every chapter include Conflict? Action? Surprise? An Emotional shift? And appeals to the Senses? And in writing a knitting mystery, I add “knitting” to the list.
And then I take a break and head for my knitting basket (and the refrigerator).
Learn more about the author and her books at www.sallygoldenbaum.com.