Please welcome our guest poster today, author Claire M. Johnson. Claire graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a B.A. in history. Upon applying to graduate school for a PhD in history, she received a letter congratulating her upon being accepted, and, by the way, academic positions were thin on the ground, as in none.
Switching gears, she indulged in a lifelong passion for making and eating desserts. After completing the professional chef program at San Francisco's California Culinary Academy in 1983, she worked as a pastry chef for eight years during the height of the food revolution. The passion and frenzied pace characterizing the food scene in the 1980s are well documented in Ms. Johnson's first novel, Beat Until Stiff, for which she won the 1999 Domestic Writers Grant. This book was nominated for an Agatha for Best First Novel and was a Booksense pick. The second novel in this series, Roux Morgue, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.
Her first non-mystery novel, Pen and Prejudice, was released earlier this month. For more about Claire and her books, visit her site at http://www.rouxmorgue.com.
I always feel sad when I finish writing a book because what about all that writing—paragraphs here, chapters there—that just didn’t work. They sit by their lonesome in files with the sad names like “Temp,” “Snippet,” “Oldchaperfour,” with no connecting story to bridge all these little bits together, rather like word orphans. When I’ve tweaked as much as I can tweak, and I think I’ve caught all the typos, and maybe I actually have, there’s always that paragraph that didn’t quite fit, or that chapter that just didn’t work, which then went into the “temp” file. Or what about that back story that, yes, made a hell of a lot of sense, but interrupted the flow of the plot and wouldn’t work anywhere else so was jettisoned reluctantly.
I suppose that’s one reason why we write mysteries, because a series is a way of continuing the story. Of squeezing in that little bit more that might not have worked in book one but, gosh, in book two adds another that other dimension you were looking for. It might not be that you can salvage all of these paragraphs without a home, but it was a path your id was marching down for a reason. It was hunting for something, trying to answer a question that you didn’t even know you asked. Mystery authors who write series glory in solving the puzzle but are reluctant to let go of their protagonists. We want to “play” with our protagonists for just a little bit longer. We are curious about them. What would happen if… The puzzle is solved but we don’t consider their story over just yet. Hopefully our publishers feel the same way!
I have just finished my first non-mystery: it’s called Pen and Prejudice, and it is available as both a trade paperback and a Kindle e-book available HERE. It takes the Austen classic Pride and Prejudice and modernizes it, but instead of our saucy, witty heroine and arrogant suitor insulting each other at balls and dinner parties, they trade barbs at the various mystery conferences, including Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, and Bouchercon. Although it’s not be a whodunit, it’s about the mystery writing world and publishing, and what it’s like being a relatively small-time author with a full-time job and kids and the juggling involved in making all this work. And how all this juggling can be a wee bit exhausting. Not that it’s autobiographical or anything.
I’ve always personally felt that mystery is at the heart of every novel, not just the classic whodunit. Isn’t that the point of tension in a novel, to keep the reader guessing? In mysteries that tension is much more obvious—there usually are a couple of dead bodies that pop up—but all stories need tension in some form or another to keep the reader turning the pages. This book isn’t a mystery but a romance, and the tension is more of the howdunit as opposed to the whodunit. We know the ending—true love conquers all—but it’s a mystery how they actually triumph over their own worst selves.