Anita Page (Guest Blogger)
About twenty years ago, my husband and I decided to write a mystery. We were both writers—he was a journalist and I’d published a few short stories in addition to working as a freelance journalist—so we knew something about putting one word in front of the other.
Scheduling was a problem since I was teaching and he was facing daily deadlines, but we would use our two-week vacation in the Smoky Mountains to plan the book—plenty of time, I thought. As I’m sure is obvious, I was in a state of oblivion, aka: When you don’t know what you don’t know.
The lodge in the Smokies, with its mountain views and wood fires, was the perfect place to write except that our room was the size of a large closet. When we explained the situation to Ginger, the innkeeper, she graciously gave us the use of a large sitting room where we could work undisturbed. She seemed unimpressed by the fact that we were writing a book, which surprised us since we were awfully impressed with ourselves the first morning we sat down with our spiral-bound notebooks and pens.
By the end of two weeks, we had a chunk of the book planned, not as much as I’d hoped, but enough to make a start. We would write alternate chapters, my husband from the point of view of the investigating journalist, I from the point of view of his artist girlfriend. We knew who the killer was and we knew his motive. We also knew the victim. The setting would be Jersey City, New Jersey, where my husband had worked years earlier. Jersey City in those days was a gritty town that probably set a world record for the number of crooked politicians per square foot—perfect for the crime we had in mind.
We continued to work on the book at home, and I think got to chapter five before we hit a wall. So here was my first lesson in writing a mystery: You’ve got to have a plot.
I’m happy to say I figured that out by the time I sat down, twenty years later, to write Damned If You Don’t. Fortunately crime doesn’t go out of style, so I was able to adapt the murder in the first book to the new one.
I worked on the manuscript full time for two years, taking it through six or seven drafts, and then spent a year submitting to agents. (My favorite rejection was a terse, “No thanks,” a great improvement over: “Unfortunately, I don’t feel passionate enough, etc. etc.”) Eventually I sent the manuscript to L&L Dreamspell and was offered a contract. Lesson three: While writing mysteries is a great pleasure, it’s also very hard work that comes with no guarantee of success. I realize that’s not everyone’s idea of a good time, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.
Anita Page’s first novel, Damned If You Don’t, is set in the Catskill Mountains where she worked as a journalist. Her short stories have appeared in journals, ezines, and anthologies. She received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story in 2010. Anita and her husband live in New York’s mid-Hudson Valley. She can be found online at Women of Mystery and anitapagewriter.blogspot.com.