March 30th, 2012

promise tea

Starting the Creative Process

Progress continues on my spring cleaning. The downstairs "public" areas are mostly livable, and the loft is significantly improved. I have way too many books -- and yes, there is such a thing as too many books when most of them are books you aren't really interested in. I have hundreds of books obtained through conference goody bags or publisher hype mailings, and few of them are books I would have bought for myself, but I can't seem to make myself get rid of them without at least trying to read them. I have had a few times when I've started to box or bag some up to donate to the library sale, and then I read a later book by one of those authors and realize that I have that author's first book somewhere in a bag. I have, on occasion, found a gem I would have overlooked otherwise. So I can't just get rid of them, but they're on the bottom of my reading priority list. I did start tossing those books into a large shopping bag, so that I now have a to-be-read grab-bag. If I'm ever out of reading material (ha!) I can just reach into the bag, and if I don't like the book after a few chapters, I'm allowed to get rid of it. That's making a little more room on the bookcases for the books I want to keep.

Today's epic task: Cleaning the kitchen. So that I can cook dinner tonight and immediately mess it up again.

I think I'm going to declare next week "spring break." I'm between projects, with everything in someone else's hands, and my house will be mostly clean, so I can relax. I had all these requirements in place for when I got to take a "vacation," but then I decided that was silly and my weird perfectionism was creeping in -- unless everything is perfect, I won't do it at all. I may not make this the true at-home vacation with excursions and all, but I may allow myself some down time to read, watch movies, etc., before I gear up again and get back to work.

However, I'm already getting twitchy about not having a book in progress. I started brainstorming an idea yesterday. And then I thought it might be fun to share the creative process. I'm developing that possible mystery series, and since it's not a book in my existing series, it's not like there will be actual spoilers. I may or may not even get around to writing it, depending on what happens with other stuff. Feedback, comments or questions are welcome, so I guess this is sort of a focus group, but I may or may not use it. No story or character ideas, please. Just feedback on my ideas (I wouldn't be able to use any of your ideas for fear of getting into a "you stole my idea and now you owe me money" situation, and that would suck if you happened to propose an idea I'd already had).

So, I'm planning to set this series in a fictional small town, in part for practical reasons, as I can make everything up instead of having to stick to reality, and in a mystery I don't have to use specific policies or procedures of any particular police department. There's a lot that can be swept under "this is how we do things here." Also, since this is going to be a paranormal series, it's going to be a town where Things Aren't Quite Right. I've always been a sucker for the odd little town story (thus my Haven obsession). I think it's something of a survival mechanism when you are stuck in a small town. Even normal small towns have real secrets and open "secrets" that everyone knows but no one talks about, and imagining that there's something truly odd about those secrets makes a boring little town a lot more interesting. Plus, the Things Aren't Quite Right angle explains a per capita murder rate that's higher than that of any big city (which happens when you have to kill at least once person per book) and it provides motivation for an amateur sleuth to get into the investigation, if she thinks the police are in on the Things That Aren't Quite Right and therefore justice won't be served if she doesn't get involved.

My heroine the amateur sleuth will be an outsider, a newcomer to this town who's there for career desperation reasons. But I can't quite decide on her actual role. One possibility is that she's come to work for the small town newspaper (or possibly the chain of newspapers covering small towns in the region, which opens up more crime possibilities -- one of my former bosses is running a chain of small-town papers like that). With journalism being one of those dying career fields, a young reporter may not have a lot of job options and will be fighting to make the most of this job. Figuring out that Things Aren't Quite Right in this town and trying to uncover that while solving the crimes might be her chance at getting a better job at a big paper or maybe even her own TV show. It would certainly be easier for me to write, since I know about journalism and have dealt with small-town papers. But I'm not entirely sure I would like that character enough to make her my heroine. In books, I tend to dislike the "ambitious journalist who'll do anything to get her story" character. Then again, if I write her, she may come out a different way, where maybe her initial motivation starts to change once she learns a few of the secrets and she might even start helping protect those secrets (like Vince and Dave on Haven).

My other idea was that she's a young doctor, just finished with her residency, and she's done a kind of "Northern Exposure" thing where the local doctor paid her way through medical school in exchange for her agreeing to come take over his practice when she finished her training. She's supposed to have spent a few years working with him and gradually taking over from him, but he dies soon after she comes to town, and his death could be the thing that gets her accused of murder so she has to clear her own name, which sets her on the amateur sleuth path. Then as the doctor in a small, fairly isolated town, she'd be the one called when there was someone dying or dead, even if she isn't officially a medical examiner, which gets her into other cases. In this scenario, the reporter for the chain of small-town papers who's determined to uncover the Things That Aren't Quite Right is a potential love interest who may also become an antagonist (though not the villain) or irritant. This one would require more research, though I do have a lot of medical background from working at a medical school. I'd probably need to find a small-town doctor to interview about what her life is like, and I'd need to be more specific in detailing things like wounds or cause of death, since it would be from an expert's perspective. But I also think this would be a more sympathetic character who'd get woven into the life of the town, and I like that idea of a fish out of water who finds herself getting a lot more than she bargained for when she's essentially had the training wheels yanked off before she's ready (mixing metaphors -- now I'm picturing a bicycling fish). Plus, I have this sense that she was hand-picked by the doctor for certain reasons that relate to the Things That Aren't Quite Right, so maybe she's not entirely Right herself (since usually the heroine of these paranormal mysteries has some abilities).

Any thoughts on these possibilities? Which would you rather read?