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Entries in #genre (1)


Building a Mystery*

I've been half-joking for a long time that I have to write a mystery novel at some point. This is not only because it's the one genre I've read steadily since adolescence (hat tip to Dame Agatha), but because my initials plus my husband's last name make a marvelous nom de plume.

Thing is, though, I think I've actually got one going. And it is really fun to jump into a project that's so tangible after years of revising a literary fiction novel, because the structure is so much of what matters here. It feels like sitting on the floor surrounded by legos, all perfectly designed to snap into beautiful alignment. Perhaps more than in the genres where I've previously worked, there are conventions here, clear expectations for both writers and readers, a prescribed way of interacting around and within the text. There's a release in leaning on these things as I consider where and how the deaths will happen, the clues that will remain, and the motivations of the hapless narrator swept up in it all.

(Not that genre conventions guarantee success. There are some horrible lego creations out there, which is where this metaphor breaks down: I built many of these tottering, unrecognizable creations as a child before I got bored and went off to make up plays with my stuffed animals. I've always had a longer attention span for stories.)

I'm also fascinated not by what writers do in spite of genre conventions but what they manage to do because of them. At their best, they have an intense focus on time and place, both literal and figurative. Gillian Flynn is the obvious writer to point to in this particular moment, and I loved both Gone Girl and Dark Places for their tight plotlines along with their social commentary and sharp observation.

I've got a time in mind; I've got a place. I've got a small, insular community with all sorts of denziens, some well-intentioned, others not. I've got at least a couple of suspicious deaths, and I've got a narrator who doesn't fully realize what she's gotten herself into. Not a bad place to start.




*Why yes, I did come of age in the '90s. I even went to Lilith Fair when I was 16.