Kate Flora: One question that writers are frequently asked when we give book talks is for information about our process. Do we write every day? Do we outline? Do we know what’s going to happen before we start the book? I’m as interested as anyone in the answers to these questions. The real answer is that for everyone, it’s different. Some people can’t write a book without a lengthy outline. Some are totally flying by the seat of their pants. I describe myself as a “cooker.” I tend to carry the story around in my head for a few months before I ever put words on paper, trying to sketch out the shape of the story.
Then comes the story, which can take anywhere from four months to fourteen months to finally get down on paper (or on the screen.)
For the past few days, I’ve been digging into a full review of the draft of my sixth Joe Burgess police procedural, A Child Shall Lead Them. It’s always such an interesting process to finally read though a story that’s been put together slowly over many months. One of the challenges and surprises of reviewing a manuscript is discovering the holes in the plot and which loose ends need to be tied up and what can be left open for book seven.
While I’m doing that, I’ve trying to be sure that my scenes and my character development may tee off from earlier books, but don’t repeat what has happened before. It’s a challenge to keep three characters, and a lot of crime scene investigation, fresh, after five books. I have to constantly be asking myself what has changed for Burgess, Kyle, and Perry, and what may be different about their family lives. When I go into a book, I usually know about the crime, but far less about what the effect of investigating the crime will be on my characters’ lives.
Here, so you can see how it is going, are some of the questions I’ve written down so far:
Why put the body there? Is it a message to someone? If so, is it clear later in the book who the message is for?
Okay, Kate, now you finally have to deal with that pin, right? So where are you going to put the details when Burgess discovers them?
Do we need to deal with the saw?
Wait – you never dealt with the dog. Guy says his wife came to pick up the dog. But the guy has no wife. Did anyone else see the dog? Or the wife? Or anyone come to pick it up, or is this just a story the guy’s telling?
Where is the computer? The photographic equipment?
How much needs to be tied up with respect to the Guatemalan girls?
Will Stan Perry finally get married, or is that for the next book?
I still have more than 150 pages to go in my review, but if this were on the printed page instead of a computer screen, there would be a lot of little red pencil notes about what needs to be fixed instead of lots of notes to myself in the margin.
This review also makes it evident that my typing skills are deteriorating. But overall, I’m pleased with how the story is moving, and feeling like the banter between Burgess and Kyle, and Perry’s struggle to grow up, are developing nicely. I also find I’m wondering what this cover will look like.
And as I read through it, I am always aware that when I write the characters for the first time, they belong to me, but by the time I get to book six, you, the reader, also have an investment in how their lives are going. I hope I won’t be letting you down.