The Craft of Writing a Mystery Series

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This week, we’re celebrating the release of the 18th  in the Melanie Travis mystery series by the talented Laurien Berenson (four-time winner of the Dog Writers Association of America’s prestigious Maxwell Award). Check out the previous post to see what she has to say about her long-running series. Today, she’s back to talk about the writing process. I hope you’ll leave a comment for Laurien so we can enter you into the drawing for a signed hardbound copy of her new book,  The Bark Before Christmas. The drawing closes at 2 p.m. (Central) on Friday, October  2nd and we’ll announce the winner here Friday afternoon.

Laurien Berenson, Author

Laurien Berenson, Author

Writing a long-running series takes a special kind of writing talent, and Laurien has proven she has that talent and much more. The first Melanie Travis mystery, A Pedigree to Die For, came out in 1995. In the 20 years since that first in the series was published, Melanie’s life has changed considerably, and it’s been fun seeing the characters grow and change over time. Here’s Laurien, talking about the craft of writing a long-running series:

 

What’s most important for you in telling a story?

I know I should say the intricacies of the plot, but truthfully, it’s the characters. It is so important to me to populate my books with characters that readers want to spend time with and experience an adventure with. And in my Melanie Travis series, that means both the humans and the canines! There’s nothing that bugs me more than books that have animal characters and every one has the same personality. The Standard Poodles (and other dogs) in my books are every bit as individual as Melanie Travis and her extended family. Readers write and tell me that my characters feel like old friends and I think that’s the highest praise they can give.

Like most professions, the dog world has its own vocabulary, with much of it unfamiliar to people who don’t breed, show, or train dogs. How do you decide what (and how much) to include for readers unfamiliar with dog shows, breeds, or canine behavior?

If I’m using terms that most non-dog-show people are unfamiliar with I always try to provide a quick explanation. I believe I’ve explained how dog shows work and how a dog achieves its championship in just about every book so far. Also, I don’t shy away from using words (like “bitch” meaning a female dog) that dog people use all the time without thinking twice, but that occasionally offend readers’ sensibilities.

The publishing industry has changed significantly since your first book. How have those changes impacted you and your series?

Fortunately for me, many of the changes haven’t affected me much at all because I have been working with the same publisher and the same wonderful editor since the early 1990’s. Most notably what is different now is that my books are not only available in paperback and hardcover, they can also purchased in ebook and audio format–two things that were only pipedreams when I first began writing in the 1970s.

Readers are often curious about a writer’s process. Do you, for example, know the end before you start? Or does the solution come to you as you’re writing?

I usually have a pretty good idea of the ending but it’s never set in stone. I find that my characters often do and say unexpected things so if they want to take me some place more interesting than I had planned, I am always happy to follow their lead.

A very successful writer once told me that he never plots his books ahead of time because if he’s not surprised by how things turn out, how will the reader be surprised? I thought that was an interesting take on the writing process, and I’ve tried to keep my plotting more fluid ever since.

What do you find most/least enjoyable about writing?

Most enjoyable: you can do it at any time of day or night, there’s no commute, and you can always write with a dog on your lap.

Least enjoyable: the amount of time between when I finish writing a book and when I finally find out if readers like it or not. By the time a book is published, I’m already mostly finished with the next one, so emotionally I’ve moved on. I wish that readers and I could be excited about the same book at the same time.

Some visitors to this site are interested in writing mysteries. Suggestions for them?

Read. Read. Read! There’s no better way to figure out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to writing a book.

*

Bark Before ChristmasThanks, Laurien!

Laurien’s books can be bought online and in brick-and mortar stores, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, Kobo, Apple, Target, Walmart, and many independent bookstores.

Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Books A Million

Kobo          Kensington Books     IndieBound

Okay, readers and fans: it’s your turn! Leave a comment here for a chance to win a signed copy of Laurien’s book. If you’ve read the series, let us know if you have a favorite. New to the series? Don’t be shy; ask questions about dogs, writing, mysteries, etc. The drawing closes at 2 p.m. (Central) on Friday, October  2nd  and we’ll draw the winner then.

10 thoughts on “The Craft of Writing a Mystery Series

  1. I love reading about Melanie and Faith and Aunt Peg. Those three (plus Davey) are the original characters that made the series what it is. I hope Laurien keeps this going because I couldn’t do without a dog show mishap! She has to grow Kevin up now! Plus she takes the time to respond to her readers that she makes interactions awesome!!

  2. I love this series, but I have not read them all. Doggie Day Care Murder sticks out as one of my favorites. My dog was going to day care at the time 🙂

  3. I have read every book in this series and have loved them all. I’m anxiously awaiting this new book. Please keep them coming!

    • Kim, I was too! The series took a break for a few years but then reconnecting with Melanie and company was, for me, like meeting up again with old friends. I couldn’t wait to find out how everyone was doing.

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