Those Pesky Details

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. Today I’m going to share one of the perils of writing a long-running series. I’m currently working on the thirteenth Liss MacCrimmon mystery and although I kept some notes on characters and setting as I wrote the previous twelve, I’ve realized for a while now that I haven’t been anywhere near thorough enough. I’d be writing a scene and have to stop and try to remember, for example, in which previous book I had Liss go into the back section of the town office to talk to one of the selectmen. Was there an office? A meeting room? A records room? Did she walk down a hall to get there or were all the rooms connected? I had to spend way too much time hunting through scenes in earlier books to locate what I already described so I wouldn’t contradict myself, and even then I couldn’t be certain I hadn’t added more details in another book in the series.

It got to be that I was doing so much of that sort of fact checking that I finally decided it was time for some organized research. In other words, I needed to read the first twelve books in order and take copious notes, especially concerning any casual mention of family members (what did happen to Dan’s mother?) and descriptions that I might need to use again—everything from a character’s taste in drinks to details on the interiors of buildings to the way the road twists and turns between Moosetookalook and nearby Fallstown.

I finished writing Kilt Dead, the first book in the series, in March 2006 and it was published in August 2007. I think I may have reread it once in the last eleven years, but I’m not sure when. Suffice it to say that although I could remember the broad outlines of my plot, I’d forgotten most of the small stuff. When I reread it last month, I ended up with four pages of notes. Most concerned minor details I’d thrown in without much thought and then forgotten about.

Did you know that Liss’s first Scottish dance teacher was her mother? That fact doesn’t change anything too significantly, but it’s a detail that I can now toss into the prickly mother-daughter relationship as it exsits in the current book.

Apparently the original Patsy’s Coffee House only served coffee and pastries. In Scotched, the fifth book, she’s serving lunch. At least that’s not too hard to accept. Patsy just expanded her offerings. I’d forgotten, too, that I had beautician Betsy Twining living above the Clip and Curl in Kilt Dead. Apparently she’d moved out of that apartment by A Wee Christmas Homicide, as it had been empty since September. Liss’s gal pal, Sherri, newly married, is living there in Scotched. Sherri moves around a lot, but at least I already have notes on her next two residences.

More crucial are the discoveries I’m making about Liss’s family. I’d completely forgotten that I gave Margaret Boyd’s late husband a first name in Kilt Dead. When I was making a MacCrimmon family tree to keep the genealogy straight for the work in progress (A View to a Kilt), I gave him a different one. Oops. Good thing I caught that. If I hadn’t, some sharp reader would have.

Yes, readers always catch bloopers. The worst one I’ve let slip past me was describing scones as “flaky” in Kilt Dead and then repeating that error, not once but several times, in Scone Cold Dead. It isn’t that I don’t know what a scone looks and tastes like, and I never meant to imply that a scone was flaky the way a croissant is flaky, but somehow I got the wrong adjective stuck in my head and no one called me on it until after Scone Cold Dead was in print. By then it was too late to correct it.

My hope is that by doing my “research” in the first twelve books, number thirteen will be published without continuity errors. As a side benefit, this read-a-thon is also reminding me of lots of long-forgotten details I can reuse in describing people, places, and things in the WIP and future books.

As of today, I’m up to number six, Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides, in which Liss’s annoying mother first appears in person and in which Liss’s father becomes the prime suspect in a murder investigation. This one ends with a wedding. It appears that marrying off my amateur detective didn’t hurt the series (although some readers felt she chose the wrong suitor). I still have six more books to reread, including the one that won’t be in stores until October 30 (Overkilt). Then it will be back to writing A View to a Kilt, the fall 2019 title, which is due on my editor’s desk on December 1. And after that? I’ll be working on a proposal for even more Liss MacCrimmon mysteries, and much better prepared to get all those pesky details right.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of nearly sixty traditionally published books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (Overkilt—November 2018) and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at www.TudorWomen.com

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4 Responses to Those Pesky Details

  1. Marian McMahon Stanley says:

    Sounds like a pleasant task to reread all your books, Kaitlyn! Must have been fun to find all these details. I hope you had a good time reading your collection and that you also felt good about your writing accomplishments!

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  2. kaitlynkathy says:

    Thanks, Marian. To my surprise, I am enjoying the journey. It’s been long enough that it seems as if someone else wrote the books, so I’ve been able to turn off the editing part of my brain and just read. And aside from the scone thing, I haven’t found much I’d change, which is indeed reassuring.

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  3. bethc2015 says:

    So glad you’ve had that experience of re-reading and it has been rewarding. The research sounds painstaking. I remember that, in her book Living and Writing on the Coast of Maine, Lea Wait talked about how she keeps her characters and “facts” straight – something that non-writers may not realize but is so important.

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  4. Pingback: Previously on Maine Crime Writers . . . | Maine Crime Writers

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