I’ve been addicted to murder mysteries since the age of six when I discovered the Nancy Drew series was far more intriguing than the adventures of Dick and Jane. My first manuscript, “Cindy Parker and the Haunted Mansion,” was written when I turned my third-grade spelling words into a sixteen page novella. If my mother hadn’t made me go to bed at 8:30, who knows what kind of masterpiece I could have created. When the teacher gave me an A plus, I was officially bitten by the writing bug. It’s somewhat similar to malaria. Once you’re bitten, it may go dormant for awhile, but it will never totally go away.
Although a corporate career, marriage, children, and divorce intervened, my personal anti-depressant has always been to read a mystery by one of my favorite authors, a group of writers who not only devised a puzzle for me to solve, but also kept me laughing. They could turn the gloomiest day or mood into pure sunshine. When I sat down to write my first novel, I had one goal in mind. To write an intriguing murder mystery that also provided plenty of giggles. Seems simple, right? NOT!
I discovered it wasn’t that easy to mesh the suspense of a murder investigation with those special laugh-out-loud moments. We can’t have our heroine blithely tripping over dead bodies, right and left. While the premise of mid-life dating itself can provide laughs (ah, the true stories I could share) there is still a definite fear factor involved. What if you don’t meet Mr. Right and instead meet Mr. Wrong?
It’s critical that readers identify with and root for the protagonist as she searches for the killer. She may be forced to do so to save her reputation or to stay out of jail. It definitely helps if your protagonist is relatable to her readers. In one scene in DYING FOR A DATE, Laurel McKay discovers that when faced with a gun, she didn’t want to flee, she just wanted to pee. I know I’m not the only member of the “hot flash” set who can relate to that.
There’s also the romance factor. How do you maintain conflict and tension between your protagonist and the investigating detective? Especially when he can’t decide if he should arrest the adorable soccer mom, or kiss her? We need to keep the audience engaged in the mystery but still provide those moments that sizzle and sparkle with laughter.
I would love to hear from both mystery readers and authors. Does anyone else enjoy a little slice of humor with their homicide?
Although Cindy Sample’s initial dream was to be a mystery writer, she put aside her literary longings and applied for a job as a receptionist with a real estate office. Her career eventually led to President of a national mortgage banking company. After one too many corporate mergers, Cindy decided it was more fun to plot murder than plod through paperwork. Her experiences with on-line dating sites fueled the concept for Dying for a Date, a humorous romantic mystery set in the California gold country.
Cindy writes a column entitled Hot Flash for the Gold River Community Newspaper. She is a past president of the Sacramento chapter of Sisters in Crime and is the co-chair of the Left Coast Crime Convention, which will be held in Sacramento in 2012. If you’re interesting in volunteering, she’d love to hear from you. Contact Cindy at www.cindysamplebooks.com