I've lost count of the number of people I've murdered since the year 2000, when my first novel, Cruel as the Grave, was published. If I sat down and really thought about, I could come up with a number. Over the years since 2000, I have been for the most part frugal in my slaughter, since my books are what are known as "cozies." In a cozy, writers don't generally kill that many people per book. The ever-inventive Marian Babson holds, I think, the record for the most dead bodies in a cozy mystery in The Cruise of a Deathtime. The killer offs one person the first day, two the next, three the day after that, and so on. The total rises rapidly at that rate. Marian, a wickedly funny writer, pulls it off.
On Monday, two days ago, I emailed to my editor the manuscript of what will be my twenty-fifth published novel. (Number twenty-four, Digging Up the Dirt, will be out on September 6th). I had to stop and count them all, and every time I do that I somehow am surprised. Did I do that? Have I done this that many times already. Because, you know, each time I start a book, in so many ways it always feel like the first one. I tell myself, you've got this, after all, look how many times you've done it before. No sweat. Easy-peasy. Sit down and knock it out.
Except that it doesn't work that way, at least not for me. Perhaps one reason is that I don't create a detailed outline of the plot and the characters before I write the first sentence of the book. I do have the basics of the plot in mind. For example, in book #25 (Twelve Angry Librarians, to be published on February 21st, 2017), I had a premise. There's a library conference going on in Athena, the setting for the "Cat in the Stacks" books, and one of the keynote speakers is a man with whom Charlie Harris, my amateur sleuth, went to library school many years ago. Charlie loathed him then, and the man turns out to be every bit as loathsome when Charlie encounters him again. Want to guess who the murder victim is in this book?
So there's the basic premise, and the title of the book -- a gift of someone at Berkley, not my own inspiration -- provided the rest. Why are all these librarians so angry with the murder victim? I came up with names for the secondary characters and started to write. This is called by some seat-of-the-pants writing, meaning writing without an outline. Some writers don't do this and think it's crazy. Some writers can't stand the thought of outlines. I'm not fond of outlines myself. I like the process of discovery as I write, letting the characters tell me the story in some cases. It's fun, and it's scary, but it's how I work.
I make it work, somehow, and twenty-five times I have written "the end" (in my mind, anyway), and sent the book in. I will have to start number twenty-six pretty soon, and I have a basic idea for that one...