Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mysterious Creativity

My family found it mysterious when I turned from a life of professional music to fiction writing. Then they found it even more mysterious that I was happily tapping out romance, romantic suspense, and the like. Now, I suppose they’ll find it—you guessed it—even more mysterious that I’ve turned to mystery writing.

They shouldn’t. I’ve always been fascinated by various mystery writers’ characters. Ah, the plot’s the thing, you say? Granted, a mystery plot is key to most readers. But not the only key, in my mind. When I think of the genre, I always identify by the protagonist, whether it is Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Jesse Stone, or Stephanie Plum. Give me a great character and I’ll give you a great book. Well, I’ll do my best to make it a memorable read.

First, a caveat to my fellow ‘pantsers’. I’m well-known as an advocate for the sit your butt in the seat and let your characters tell the story style of writing. Worked well for most of my books. But not for mystery writing, I must confess. Oh, a storyteller will always let his characters flesh out his inspiration, and I’m still convinced a truly great writer must be a storyteller whether he does a lot of plotting along the way or not. Now finishing the second of my ST. LOUIS BLUES MYSTERY series, and beginning work on the third, I’ve learned a new way to create a story. New for me.

My concept for the series? Develop a pair of characters from disparate backgrounds, with conflicting styles and values, individual strengths and weaknesses, and draw them together to solve a major crime. In TOCCATA, I present Sera Moreland, an early-thirties clinical psychologist who specializes in teen sexual dysfunction, and Daniel Quinn, a handsome rogue cop who’s on suspension from his homicide beat.

The third character in my little play is the city of St. Louis. A city known for its world-class symphony orchestra, a world series winning baseball team, and a crime rate rivaling most of the largest cities in the country, it is also a great city with old-world charm, architecture, art, and a nearly impregnable moneyed-class who rule the roost while residing in their mansions outside the city limits.

TOCCATA will take Sera and Quinn from totally opposite environs and twist them inextricably together as she becomes the ultimate target of the villain they’re trying to catch. Can’t tell you more about the outcome before the release date of April, 2012, but it will not end as you might guess. And speaking of outcome, one more facet of mystery writing is that you must know the end before you begin writing; absolutely demanded. Start with a crime, end with a solution.

My conception consists of a series of five full length mysteries, each a continuation of the last but with totally different crimes and outcomes. The overriding character arc for the protagonists will put them through all manner of pressure, internal and external as they mature into the final episode.

St. Louis Blues Mysteries will be an ‘out of the box’ foray into crime detection, and can be described as a romantic mystery series. Some will no doubt call it ‘off the wall’, with more than a little justification for doing so.

I’m also in the early stages of developing a second mystery series, set on the other side of the state of Missouri. THE ARCHER CHRONICLES will be a more traditional hard-boiled kind of mystery with C.T. Archer as the protagonist who narrates his stories to the reader in first person.

The Chronicles will also consist of five books, each separate from the others, but with a common cast of characters, somewhat on the order of an American Inspector Morse. The setting for the series is an old but fabulous hotel that was once a haven for national luminaries who came there to enjoy the natural hot spring waters for their supposed healing properties.

The hotel actually exists, and the above statement is no exaggeration. I'll use a fictional name and make sufficient changes for artistic purposes, but that place has a mysterious history of its own and I’ll make good use of that.

So there you have it, the ying and yang of my creative soul as regards mystery writing; an offbeat series with a pair of love-struck protagonists who shake up the criminal element in their city, and a traditional series with an offbeat protagonist who’s trying to avoid anything romantic while he solves heinous crimes.

Now for a few words on a topic I love. Dialogue. One of the reasons I think people become addicted to watching the old mysteries on the screen is the dialogue. Some protagonists are downright verbose, while others barely speak at all, letting their actions do the talking. But somebody talks in virtually all mysteries. What must that talking have to keep the reader on the edge of her seat? Authenticity, above all.

Take one of the fictional detectives I mentioned above. Miss Marple is who she is because of her particular personality. How do you recognize her personality? By the way she communicates, pure and simple. And who cannot recognize Hercule Poirot by his clipped and assertive sentences?

To my way of thinking, one can only develop authentic dialogue if one listens well to all the intricacies of the spoken language. It is a no-brainer that an American from the south will speak differently than a northerner. How, then, do you identify one southerner from another?

I know, but the telling would take more space than is available here. One clue; use your ears to detect all the vagaries of the spoken word. Not only the words, but how we say them, how we say something by not saying it, and a thousand other ways to make our character indelible in the mind of the reader. Dialogue is the answer, but not the whole answer, of course. If you, as a writer, have been told you have a gift for dialogue, then you have a leg up on the trail to success. If not, you can still reach the pinnacle though the climb will be harder.

Bottom line, if you’re a true writer, you will find a way to make it. Now it’s back to work, pounding out Dan Quinn’s latest beat. And making sure his heart keeps beating for Sera, the love of his life. Ah, yes, even in mystery there is always room for romance.

St. Louis Blues Mysteries: Book One TOCCATA

available from MuseItUp Publishing April, 2012

Excerpt One (PG):

Sera felt him deep in the heart of her, pressing them relentlessly onward as their spirits merged... The music pulsed, and he urged, then held her back. It was she who worked, but he who set the pace, he who created the nuance, the power...the exultation!

She sensed their mutual climax approaching as her body trembled with excitement. She could only allow her soul to lift to meet it. Embrace it.

Revel in it!

Her fingers hammered out the final chords of Toccata, and the audience jumped to its collective feet, applauding wildly. When the piano’s strings had echoed into silence, she stood away from the instrument and faced the standing ovation. Her fantasy lover’s music had triumphed again. Debussy’s music and Sera’s performance — what a sweet coupling!

The crowd called her back to the stage three times before the cacophonous chatter died away. As they vacated Sheldon Concert Hall, she floated to her dressing room, her senses thrumming in the afterglow. Excellent performances were always this way. Wispy images drifted across her mind, much as her musical amour’s Clouds would have floated through a lazy nineteenth-century French summer sky. Music! What an aphrodisiac!

Excerpt Two (R):

Daniel Quinn glared at the unread newspapers, empty pizza boxes, and smattering of empty beer cans that littered his living room. He’d not lifted a hand to clean house since two days ago, when Angel cut his heart out. That was what it felt like she’d done.

Sending him home had been a prison sentence. This dump was more prison cell than home in the traditional sense. No kids, no wife, no pets — nothing but an empty flat in Midtown. That’s the way it had been for over two years now, ever since his lovely young wife Eva had fucked her wealthy boss to get a big raise. And something more. The bastard had moved the bitch into her own high-rise just off downtown, where he’d set her up in style, with the kind of fancy trappings a detective couldn’t afford.

His dreams of having kids and a dog, a picket-fenced home in the suburbs where he could get away from the scum that infested his professional life… All had gone down in flames.

And now Captain Caldrone, my sweet, sexy Angel, has put me in purgatory. For six long damn months, no less.

Hell, by the time I’m back on duty, I won’t remember what to do.

The shrill ring of the telephone broke into his pity party as he headed back from the fridge with another beer. He grabbed the cordless from the desk and growled, “Yeah?”

“Excuse me. This must be a wrong number. I was calling for a Daniel Quinn.”

“Right number. Wrong attitude. Sorry. What can I do for you?”

“I’m calling to discuss a project our foundation is planning. We need a man with your connections, and you come highly recommended.”

Her acid tone told him she wondered why anyone would recommend him. “Yeah? What’s the foundation? Oh, and which fool recommended me?”

“Our group is called Allegro Exactamundo. We’re so new, you wouldn’t have heard of us, but our mission is to recover abducted teens. We need an investigator who knows the streets and can get behind the usual fa├žade out there. Sound interesting?”

“Extremely. How’s the pay?”

“Pay? You expect to be paid for performing a public service, Mr. Quinn?”

“Hell, yes. Just because this little gig helps the public good doesn’t mean a man has to starve. And it’s Detective Quinn”

“I understand you’ve been suspended with pay for not keeping your piece in your pocket. Doesn’t the city pay you well enough to get by?”

“I get by.” He hesitated.

How the hell does this babe know about my gun problem? Time to reign in my temper.

“Never mind. I was baiting you, and you handled it very well, Miss… Who did you say you are?”

“I didn’t, yet. My name is Sera Moreland, and I’m a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with adolescents experiencing sexual problems.”

“And it is Miss, not Mrs., is that right?”

Sera groaned. “Yes. I’m not married. Actually, it’s Doctor Moreland.”

“Good. I’m glad to hear that.”

“Mr. Quinn, why would my marital situation make any difference to you?”

Daniel let out a groan of his own. His paranoia over married women had tripped him up again. If he were to ever have a normal relationship with one of them, he had to get over this. “Actually, it wouldn’t. I don’t know why I went into that. Sorry.”

“Well, we could analyze your response another time, I suppose. Now, if you’re interested in what I propose, I suggest we get together to discuss our project.”

“You haven’t answered my other question. Who recommended me?”

She snapped, “A good friend who prefers to remain anonymous for now.”

“I have no good friends.”

In a tone revealing growing irritation from his gruff manner, she said, “Oh, yes, you do. At least one, though after talking to you, I don’t have a clue why. Tell you what, Mr. Quinn. Since you’re so hell-bent on knowing that, I’ll explain it when we meet.”

“Now you’ve got my full attention, Doctor Moreland. Time and place?”

“You’re a man of few words, aren’t you?”

“Usually. On the other hand, I’ve been told my Irish penchant for charming folks has turned me quite effusive on occasion.”

“An Irish storyteller? I can hardly wait to meet you.”

“While we’re chatting, could we dispense with the formalities? I love your name, Sera, and the pleasant way it rolls off my tongue. I’d like to use it, if you don’t mind. Except when we’re in formal settings.”

“That works for me. And I’ll call you Daniel. As for where and when, we need to meet as soon as possible. I want to tackle the Holst abduction. It’s possible we can still save Brianna if we act fast. As to where, that depends on your taste in food. Do you like Shannon’s in downtown?”

“I know where it is. Love it. Can’t usually afford to eat there, but that sounds good to me.”

“Excellent. How about this afternoon for lunch? Or have you already had yours?”

Had mine?

He scowled at the still-dewy can sitting on the desk. “No. Will an hour give you enough time?”

“I’m ready now, Daniel, but I’ll come by in an hour, if that works for you.”

“Don’t you want me to meet you there? I mean, Midtown’s a real jungle.”

“No. Unless you’d rather not ride in a shiny red Ferrari Spyder, I’ll do the driving.”

“Oh! I like your style already, lady. Lady in red, in control. You do like control, I bet, don’t you?”

She laughed. “Of course. Control is a psychologist’s middle name. See you soon.”

“Wait!” He remembered that she wouldn’t know where to pick him up. “I need to give you my address, unless you already have it.”

“I don’t.”

His place was within walking distance of Tower Grove Park; that was, if you felt really lucky or if you were looking for trouble. This part of the city had long since lost its civility, but rent was fairly reasonable. After rattling off the address, he put down the phone and lit out for the bathroom.

That two-day shadow had to go — along with the bags under his eyes. He couldn’t help that. But at least he had something to do, now. No clue what this lady looked like, but she sounded sexy as hell.

Sexy as old Angel for sure.

Besides, he’d just remembered where he’d heard her name; the concert he’d attended recently and that gorgeous blonde pianist. Could it possibly be the same woman?


So now you’ve met my erstwhile protagonists from Toccata, about as different as two people can be, though they share a common interest in solving a girl’s disappearance. And something else, each has a dangerously volatile sensuality that attracts the opposite sex like flies to the spider’s web.

Book Two: Blood Lust will be available next fall.

While it isn’t a mystery as such, my recent release, The Evil Within, gives a taste of my writing style, along with a chilling read that will leave you shivering. A family saga suspense gone bad, and for adults only. Also available at: or at Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

If you’ll drop by my somewhat irregular blog from time to time, I promise to update my progress as I write these two series. Oh, and I invite you to drop by my new website (not yet open) which will be devoted totally to mystery and suspense writing. Links to the sites are listed below. (open soon)


angela robbins said...

So was your family supportive of your first career venture? My cousin got a lot of flack from his mother for wanting to be a professional musician ("they make no money," she moaned). He's a jazz musician, so he's nestled in perfectly in KC and, by golly, makes a living at it. Were you classicaly trained? What music did you play professionally? Just curious...

So you choose music, then the masochistic profession of writing--interesting... (big grin)

I enjoyed both excerpts. I like the innuendo in the first excerpt, way to lead me on, mister...

Regarding the second excerpt, I quite enjoyed the emotions and mood you set with the male MC in that piece. It definitely rang true to a male voice. I also liked the playful banter, which only tells me it will get even punchier and likley hotter in the pages to come.

It was interesting to have the setting be Saint Louis. I handle a rather large account there, but have never had the chance to visit the city (except when I was youn with my father for his work), because they leave that to the fat-cats in suits that have different body parts than I and like to play nine holes.

Angela Robbins
(soon to be published author or YA paranormal Beast of Burden with Muse)

Web with blog:
Twitter: @Angela_Robbins_

Pat Dale said...

Hi, Angela. You're pretty perceptive. I was classically trained, BM performance (trumpet) and MM (composition). Spent lots of years in Nebraska and Missouri playing and teaching. I didn't make much money doing that, either. LOL
My history with St. Louis is a long and spotted one, so I'll not bore you here with the details. I do have a love-hate relationship with that amazing city, though.
Just this morning finished my final edits on Blood Lust before submitting it. I almost changed the title to Food Chain, as it contains an ever increasing body count, with the stakes rising higher as it goes.
Thanks for dropping by.

Sue Perkins said...

Wonderful excerpts especially the first one. Sounds like a "must have" series. It was interesting to learn about St Louis too as I don't know much about that part of America. Well done Pat, this will definitely go on my tar list.

Unknown said... Missouri friend. St. Louis has its charm but I much prefer Kansas City. The Hill is a fabulous place for Italian lovers.

Great excerpts and I'm so excited for you. Interesting about your musical capabilities. Certainly explains that passion you sometimes cannot hide. hehe


J.Q. Rose said...

Music and writing. Both require talent and creativity. You have both. I played the trumpet when all the way through high school. My older brothers also played, so when I practiced at home, they would stay on the front porch so no one thought they were the ones producing those pathetic notes. Looking forward to reading your mysteries.

Pat Dale said...

St. Louis is an old-world type of city, as contrasted with Kansas City. KC is 'up to date' as the old Broadway song told us. I love both for what they are.
Of course I spent some of my childhood in St. Louis and didn't live in KC until I was an adult. Both have amazing musical heritage, St> Louis more classical, and KC is more jazz oriented. St. Louis does have a legitimate heritage in jazz, however, and KC's symphony, now directed by Michael Stern (the great violinist, Issac Stern's son) and is making great strides.
As for crime, both cities have a dark side to their personality that keeps law enforcement busy. And then some, which gives the writer lots to write about.