Saturday, August 4, 2012

Three Ways to Ruin Your Mystery Series by Nancy Martin

Nancy Martin is the award-winning author of nearly fifty popular fiction novels, including the Blackbird Sisters Mysteries, for which she won the 2009 Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award for mystery writing. Nancy has served on the board of Sisters in Crime, is a founding member of Pennwriters, and she teaches writing workshops around the country.

On Pinterest you can take a tour of Blackbird Farm, peek into Nora’s closet and see Nancy’s 50 Shades of Pink:

Three Ways to Ruin Your Mystery Series
By Nancy Martin

I’m a sucker for articles with titles like “Ten Traits That Mean Your Child Could be a Bully.” Or “Five Qualities Men Dislike in Women.” Lately, I ran across “Four Things to Consider Before Taking Back a Cheater,” which was a doozy. I click over because the ideas are enticing, and I’m always looking for ways to juice up or add a dash of the absurd to my books. And I like finding out what people are thinking about.

A few years ago, I started running out of ideas for my Blackbird Sisters mystery series.  I don’t mean I ran out murderous possibilities. That part was always easy. (What does it say about me that I can find plenty of reasons to bump off my fellow man?) But when I set out to create Nora Blackbird and her world, I knew wanted a protagonist with the capacity to grow and change—an uncommon attitude in the mystery world, where readers (and editors!) seem to prefer characters who remain the same book after book, who bounced back, kept going, continued wisecracking while solving crimes. After writing nearly forty novels in the first part of my career, though, I knew I’d get bored writing this kind of Energizer Bunny amateur sleuth. I threw a lot of spaghetti at the wall before coming up with a layered, witty, yet troubled character whose voice I liked and—most important to me--whose story arc would take a while to unfold.

But after seven books, Nora Blackbird had reached the end of the emotional story arc I originally designed for her. And she seemed to have been—I couldn’t help seeing--left behind as the real world evolved. She was no longer current.

My editor thought I should keep going even though Nora had reached a plateau in her emotional life.  So did most of my readers. But I had seen a lot of mystery series lose their steam or jump the shark or get too silly or too dark or . . . too rote. I didn’t want to find myself getting mugged online by reviews written by an annoyed readership.  Nor did I want to get so bored with Nora that I’d lose my passion for writing.

While writing Book 7, I thought long and hard about where my characters could still go. And the answer seemed to be: Nowhere. 

So I told my editor I needed a break, and I stopped writing the Blackbird mysteries. I turned my attention to a new character.  I had noticed how much my Blackbird readers were interested in the trials and tribulations of Emma Blackbird—the alcoholic sister with a sex addiction and numerous personal and emotional problems. I decided to take the most intriguing parts of her character to create Roxy Abruzzo.

Not everybody liked Roxy, but I loved her. Troubled and angry, she also had a streak of loyalty and determination that made me love her and want to explore her character.  Her mission: to rescue people who couldn’t go to the police when they needed help.  Roxy’s life was a mess, and I enjoyed exploring it.

As I wrote about Roxy, however, I often found myself thinking of the Blackbirds. Nora was never far from my heart—perhaps because her voice and sensibility are closer to my own than Roxy’s are.  Looking at Nora from a distance—no longer pounding out pages about her every day--I began to see where Nora could go next, how her character could travel other arcs, and she could become entangled in other issues—ones that intrigued the creative writer in me, but were also up-to-date enough to hook my readers all over again.

Which is a long way of explaining how I came back to write about the Blackbird sisters again.

The new book is NO WAY TO KILL A LADY, and it sends Nora Blackbird on a new journey with her sisters Libby and Emma, as well as her lover, Michael Abruzzo, who is drawn to his life of crime the same relentless and dangerous way Nora’s first husband was drawn to cocaine. Nora’s trying to decide if she’s enabling him or helping him away from the dark side . . . all while wrestling with her own new life issues. I wanted Nora’s life to be rich again—full of ideas that interest women these days. I want my readers to laugh at the wit on my pages, but I want them to think about the context of their own lives, too. I want Nora to face new challenges, change her mind, fight new demons . . . and rise above.  

So? Could your child be a bully? Do men really like women who are narcissists? And what happens if a woman is not just the cheater, but the instigator of adultery?  Most of all: What’s your thinking about mystery detectives who never change, who seem unaffected by the death they encounter so frequently? I’d like to hear your opinions.


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Nancy Martin, Honey!!! I am tickled pink to have you here!

AND - I'm thrilled about your new Blackbird Sisters Mystery. I have missed Nora and the rest of the gang.

Thanks for taking the time to play with us here at Meanderings and Muses.


Unknown said...

HIya Nancy,Loves the post, I am just starting this series and so far am loving it, I look forward to reading through the series and getting to book 7 to catch up! Thank you for writing this series looking forward to many more!

lil Gluckstern said...

I, for one, really liked Roxy, and her being so very human. That said, I'm looking forward to reading about Nora, and one of my major crushes, Mick. I like when characters grow, and change because I think such people are more interesting, and your characters come alive for me. Good reading coming for me.

Earl Staggs said...

I don't think people in real life ever stop learning and changing. At least,they shouldn't. Every day can bring something new if we leave our minds and hearts open to it. Characters in books should be the same or they become stale.

Nancy said...

Kaye, you are so kind to have me here! Thank you. (although "here" is the Dallas/Ft Worth airport where I sit waiting for my flight to---GRANDCHILDREN! Can't wait.)

Shelley, I am so pleased to ahve new readers. Every year I cross my fingers that the first Blackbird mystery hasn't gotten passe. I was lucky, I think, to start that series just after 9/11. The world has changed considerably since then.

Nancy said...

Thank you, Earl. You said it much more succinctly than I did.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for books filled with surprises! I know it's a risk, but the unexpected is what makes it worth coming back to a series . . . and the clothes are nice, too ;-)

Nancy said...

Surprise and delight. Two things a storyteller must always do. And it's trickier than it looks, right, Mary?

Deb Romano said...

Looking forward to reading the new Blackbird sisters book. Are you still going to be doing Roxy? I would miss her if you sent her on hiatus, just as I've missed those most interesting sisters!