An Evening with Mystery Writers' Ink

One of the many pleasures of being Writer in Residence is invitations to talk to writers’ groups.  Last night, Ted and I braved the snowy, traffic-y streets of Calgary to join the Members of Mystery Writers’ Ink.  We had a lot of fun, exchanged ideas and MWI member, Ana Bateman, invited Ted and me to stay with them in their home in the beautiful foothill country south of Calgary next time we’re in town.   Ana has a Bouvier named Nev, so we’re going to set up a play-date with our Bouvier, Esme.

At any rate, it was a very pleasant evening and MWI member, Ann Cooney, wrote a thorough and amazingly accurate blog about our meeting.  Here it is.

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A delightful evening with Gail Bowen

You know she’s from Saskatchewan – three days of snowstorms, -20°C weather and icy roads were no match for Canada’s mystery darling Gail Bowen. Gail’s warm and exuberant personality captivated Mystery Writer’s Ink November meeting as she shared her insights on writing and on being a writer.

On craft:

·      The biggest problem with writing is that opportunities to the basic elements of fiction are missed. Consider: theme, character, secondary characters, point of view, setting, symbolism, structure. There is interplay between all these elements which gives your characters depth and your work meaning.

·      Mystery writing falls flat when plot is the primary tool used to advance the novel and the other elements of fiction are neglected.  So how do you create a robust and captivating story? Remember to:

o   Give depth to your protagonist. Ask: What does she want more than anything in the world? What does she fear more than anything in the world?

o   Create a secondary line of characters who’ll add depth to your protagonist, theme and plot.

·      Look at a book you admire – if it goes off rail, then the author has failed to use these basic elements. Understand why it didn’t work.

·      Good mysteries are more than just a who-dun-it and catch the criminal. Every good mystery also explores a theme. What is the larger issue behind the book? Who is your audience? What are you trying to say? For example, in Gail’s latest book of the Joanne Kilbourn series, The Nesting Dolls, the larger question or theme is one of nature versus nurture. A theme adds depth not only to primary and secondary characters, but also embellishes the other elements of fiction such as symbolism and setting. Theme can be carried along by the secondary characters which helps avoid a strictly plot driven novel.

·      Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish with this piece of writing. Is the genre you’re working in taking you where you want to be? If not, go somewhere else. For example, is mystery the best vehicle to explore your theme or observations on humanity? Is it romance, fantasy or a literary novel?

·      With a series, there are a lot of pages to develop a character – it is akin to living a human life. The character grows, changes and is affected by the world around them (especially by those secondary characters).

On being a writer:

                 ·      No manuscript is ever finished – have faith in what you’re doing and send it off.

                 ·      Consider your manuscript a university essay – after doing the best you can, hand it in and wait for the grade.

                 ·      High school is the hardest thing we’ve all done and we survived it. We’ve all been rejected in high school so what’s a rejection by an editor?

                ·      For anyone to write anything is a miracle so never be critical of effort. It takes a lot of courage to write, to send it off and be rejected. But, it’s worse to never have taken the chance.

                 ·      Gail doesn’t read in her genre and there are many authors who don’t. Why? She doesn’t want to pick up echoes of someone else’s work in her own. As she so eloquently put it, “You always run your own race and that’s hard to do if you’re always watching the other guy.”

Find your passion and the genre to express it. Think about your themes and characters while never forgetting about the basic elements of fiction. But always remember, what writers do is special and takes a lot of courage. So, keep your courage up and run your own race. Happy writing!

©2017 Gail Bowen.  All Rights Reserved.