April 2nd, 2012


Further Developments

I've got a crazy week ahead of me. I've sort of declared it "vacation," but that really means I'm not writing a book this week. I need to finish my taxes and clean my house, plus it's Holy Week, which means choir rehearsals and extra church services, so my week "off" is going to be busier than my usual weeks. I'm trying to do half days -- finish all the work in the morning and allow myself some afternoon free time.

It seems like those of you who responded to my last post are thinking along the same lines as I am. The doctor scenario was what I came up with initially, but I don't like to stop at my first idea because the next one could be even better, so I like to at least toy with other possibilities. I did realize upon further thought that the reporter scenario is self-limiting. If she solves a crime that the police couldn't and then publishes the story, you'd think that after doing that a couple of times she'd be able to get a better job and would be out of there, ending the series (or else it would mean forgetting that one of her main character traits that got her into investigating crime in the first place was ambition). Not to mention that once she publishes a story that even hints at revealing the town's secrets, people are going to be far less likely to talk to her in the future. On the other hand, if she decides that the secrets need to be kept and doesn't publish the story, then that removes her motivation for investigating crimes. Why stick her neck out and put herself at risk if she can't do anything with it? She might be sympathetic to their situation, but if she's ambitious, then she's going to try to find another job, even if it's a lateral move. Plus there's the fact that I'd like to structure this a lot like the current TV paranormal procedurals, Grimm and Haven, where each episode/book has a (mostly) self-contained case that's solved in that episode/book, but then there's a larger big-picture mystery that they get insight into through the investigating they do on each case. For her to understand enough about the town's secrets to not publish the story after the first book, I'd have to reveal more than I'd like to from the start.

So, my heroine will be a doctor. But don't worry about this turning into a CSI or Bones thing because she's a family physician, not a pathologist or medical examiner. She might get called to scenes of violence because she's the only doctor within about 50 square miles, but I think her crime solving will have more to do with the fact that her work gives her a lot of access and insight to people. Plus, the set-up I have in place forces her to stay in town unless she wants to pay back the cost of her medical education. And since the heroine of a paranormal mystery generally needs to discover some abilities of her own, it makes more sense if she was hand-picked to come to this town. I suppose the reporter who happens to turn out to have these abilities only being able to find a job at this one newspaper could have been arranged, but then that's getting at Haven levels of conspiracy and freakiness, and I don't quite want to go there.

One trick will be to avoid the usual fish-out-of-water tropes without being dull. I don't want to do a full-on Northern Exposure thing where it's a complete culture clash and she hates being there. This is someone who planned to be a family doctor in a small town, and this deal she made just made it possible for her to do it by dictating which small town. Maybe some of the conflict comes from the fact that she's a little overly idealistic about what being the town doctor will be like rather than from her resenting having to be a small-town doctor. I also don't want her to be a big-city sophisticate type, the sort who'll spend a lot of time bitching about not being able to find sushi or complaining because the local cafe's coffee menu consists of decaf and regular, and there's a little pitcher of creamer if you're into that sort of thing. I think she's going to be a lower middle-class suburban girl -- someone who falls into that gap where she's not poor enough to qualify for financial aid but not rich enough to actually pay for medical school, and smart enough to get into medical school and do well but not so brilliant that she can rack up the merit-based scholarships (since "brilliant" is pretty much the baseline for medical school). Again, maybe the culture clash is that she's idealized small-town life from living in the suburbs full of tract houses and retail chains and then finds that people are people, wherever they live. It's not so much that she doesn't want to live in a small town as it is that she wants the small town to be the way she imagined it would be and is a little disappointed that it isn't -- and then maybe a little freaked out when it is. The idea of people looking out for their neighbors is lovely, until you realize it also means your neighbors knowing all your business.

Now I need to figure out who the romantic possibilities are, since there do seem to be at least a couple in series like this. I want to avoid the standard love triangle, where the heroine wavers back and forth between them. Maybe something more like them both being possibilities as she's getting to know them, but then as things progress she finds herself drifting toward one. I think one will be that ambitious reporter -- with him not being the hero, he doesn't have to solve the case, and that avoids the problems inherent with the reporter as heroine scenario. I may even go out on a limb and try to write him as a sexy bad-boy type. Can I do that and still have a character I like? The other one will likely be a local cop. I think there's going to be a mystery about him, that he's the kind of person you have to get to know in layers, and that will have something to do with the mystery of the town. Maybe I could play with surface vs. reality, where the guy who initially seems better is only that way on the surface but as she gets to know both of them her feelings shift. I hesitate to plan how it's going to work out before I start. After all, Owen was supposed to just be a co-worker until I started writing and he came to life. And in a book I just finished, I ended up changing allegiances mid-way through.

Of course, the real trick will be to find out if publishers actually want things that don't go with the usual tropes. They say they want something different, but they generally don't want anything too different. Oh, and I need to come up with a crime. The fun part for me is developing the characters and situation. Plot is the real challenge.