“When I decided to get serious, I chose mystery because it was a genre I both liked and ‘understood;’ I’d read hundreds of them and felt I’d internalized what went into a mystery.”
Karen MacInerney is the author of numerous popular mystery novels, including the Agatha Award–nominated Gray Whale Inn Mysteries, the Margie Peterson Mysteries, the Dewberry Farm Mysteries, and the trilogy Tales of an Urban Werewolf, which was nominated for a P.E.A.R.L. award by her readers. When she’s not working on her novels, she teaches writing workshops, chauffeurs children, and dodges housework. You can find her online at www.karenmacinerney.com.
Karen is teaching a class for the Writers’ League called “Taking the Mystery Out of Writing Mysteries” on Saturday, May 7, 2016, at St. Edward’s University. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Karen MacInerney: I grew up reading Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, and I always wanted to write a novel—but, like most people, I had hundreds of false starts that kind of dribbled off into nothing after about 30 pages. When I decided to get serious, I chose mystery because it was a genre I both liked and “understood;” I’d read hundreds of them and felt I’d internalized what went into a mystery. I had a tough time coming up with plots at that point in time, and that’s one thing mystery is really great for. In every mystery, someone is murdered and someone else has to solve it. The variations are endless, but the stakes are high to start with, which is terrific!
Scribe: What mystery writers/books have most influenced your writing?
KM: In terms of mystery writing, Diane Mott Davidson, Susan Witting Albert, Agatha Christie and Nancy Drew. For humor, I am inspired by Bill Bryson and P.G. Wodehouse, both of whom I love, and of course Janet Evanovich.
Scribe: What is one way the mystery genre has changed in the last 10 years?
KM: First, self-publishing has opened the field up; the gatekeepers are not as influential, which is great, but on the downside, there’s a lot more out there. Second, there’s a lot more cross-genre work than there used to be. People are mixing things up, which is fun; several years ago, paranormal was largely a romance “thing,” and now there’s tons of it in mystery! And third, which is a plus and a minus, the downtime between books is decreasing; people like to read things faster. Some mysteries are also coming in shorter as a result.
Scribe: You mention that this class will discuss how to structure a killer plot and select a victim (or victims). Is this generally the way that you start a new story: by considering the crime first and then how the crime is revealed?
KM: It always goes much more smoothly when I kill someone who has actually done things to make other people want to kill him or her; sadly, I seem to forget this sometime, and when I do, I have to go back and do some fixing. I generally start with character and go from there, although occasionally I come up with a great twist at the beginning and everything else follows from that. It varies from book to book, but there are some basic boxes that get checked as I start plotting my next murder, and we’ll discuss that in the class. (I’ll also share my secret weapon—the Book Map—which makes the whole process SO much easier.)
Scribe: You have supernatural elements in some of your books like the Urban Werewolf trilogy. How did you start getting into supernatural mystery writing? Will this class discuss supernatural mystery
KM: I’ve always been interested in the supernatural; in fact, I’m working on an epic fantasy right now that incorporates a lot of it. There are lots of ghosts flitting around my more traditional mysteries, too; I love them. The thing about making the supernatural a key element is that you have to have rules for what does and doesn’t work, and you have to follow them. I’m happy to talk supernatural if anyone in the class is interested in writing it!