Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Western Mysteries and the Texas Book Festival

Austin might be famous for the South-by-Southwest Conference, but the Texas Book Festival is no slouch.  Last week, I listened to Phillipa Gregory, the Book Doctors, and many others, but my favorite session brought together three mystery writer,s each with a series set in the Great American West.  C.M. Wendleboe, Craig Johnson, and Margaret Coel shared stories about their characters, writing process, and why they do what they do.

As a long-time Tony Hillerman fan, I've read many mysteries set in the West. Nothing beats sitting on the back porch with a Western mystery, eating a chopped beef BBQ sandwich, washing it down with a Shiner Bock while trying like hell to keep the sauce out of the keys on the Kindle.  Maybe there is a place for paper books, after all.

Each author's personality came out as they spoke of their work, why they write the characters the way they do, and the price they pay for living as storytellers.

The big takeaway?  Each author confessed they write "why done it?" not "who done it?"  When asked if they write by inspiration or outline, Craig and Margaret gave detailed reasons as to why outlining is the only way to go.  Think of it as road map, they each said.  And both said they did things to their main heroes in the first novel they would have never done if they'd only realized they were writing a series.

Note to self.  An outline for the book is insufficient.  Must write an outline for the SERIES.  Duh.  Sounds so simple, doesn't it?

Hear that noise?  It's my shredder, consuming a flawed outline.  I'm back to the drawing board, only this time, I have a tool that matches my ambition.  


Joyce said...

Sigh. Blogger is acting up again. It lost my comment.

I think this is what I wrote: I like the idea of "why done it" instead of "who done it." There are usually several characters who could have done it, but only one with the best motive. I'll have to keep this in mind.

C.L. Phillips said...

Craig Johnson had the best comment about Why Done It - he said, "Nobody cares who did. Everybody wants to know why they did it."

And Craig is funny as hell. He said in the last sheriff's election his fictional character Walt Longmire received 13 votes. So Craig went and apologized to the real sheriff because, "In our neck of the woods, 13 votes matters."

Annette said...

C.L., I absolutely LOVE Craig Johnson. I was fortunate enough to meet him this summer when he came to Mystery Lovers Bookshop, and he is absolutely the best storyteller. I could sit and listen to him for hours. I'm currently in the middle of a Walt Longmire marathon, just waiting for the next book to arrive in today's mail from Mystery Lovers.

The "why done it" has me thinking, too.

Annette said...

Just realized I used "absolutely" twice in that last post. Ah, well, get all those adverbs out of my system now, before I start working on my revisions.

Jenna said...

There was a bit of talk about 'why done it' at Bouchercon too. And yes, obviously we all don't just want to know whodunit, but why they did, but I think there's a qualitative difference in the approach that needs mentioning. A whodunit is more of a puzzle type traditional mystery, Agatha Christie style. Who did it and why.

A 'why done it' is more psychological, since it isn't just about the killer's reason for committing murder; it's about what brought him/her to that point. I heard several writers at B'con saying that that's what propelled their writing: figuring out what brought someone to the point of seeing murder as their only way out.

So nothing against 'why done it' - I think we can all deepen our manuscripts by giving the murderer a real motive and that motive some real thought, but I also think some genres are more conducive to 'why done it' than others.

Patg said...

I totally favor the British traditional mystery with a puzzle and clues that the reader follows to try and solve the case with the protagonist. Good writing demands that the why be in all 'the showing, not telling' of the story.
Both are important and separating one from the other wouldn't be very interesting to me.