As promised yesterday, fellow Colorado mystery author Donnell Ann Bell is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. The photo above is the cover for Donnell's most recent release, Deadly Recall. It is her second novel. Seventeen years prior to when the book begins, Eden Moran blocked out a murder. Heaven help her, she’s about to remember. Nine-year-old Eden Moran thought she was saying good-bye to her mentor that fateful day in St. Patrick’s. She had no idea she’d witness the nun’s demise, or that her child’s mind would compensate. Now seventeen years later, Albuquerque cops have unearthed human remains, and the evidence points to Eden as being the key to solving Sister Beatrice’s murder. When a hell-bent cop applies pressure, Eden stands firm. She doesn’t remember the woman. Unfortunately for Eden, Sister Beatrice’s killer will do whatever it takes to keep it that way.
Scary stuff! Below is Donnell's guest article. Please leave a comment for her, and if you have a question for her, ask it!
Hi, Beth: Thanks so much for inviting me to your wonderful blog. I’m particularly excited to be here because, unlike my debut book, The Past Came Hunting, which is romantic suspense, Deadly Recall is a full-blown mystery. I had so much fun writing Deadly Recall, with the exception of one little burr in the keyboard. Let’s call him Donald Maass.
Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘listen to your mother?’ or watched the old sitcom, ‘Father Knows Best?’ If you’re a writer, somewhere in there you need to throw in, ‘Listen to Donald Maass.’
For you readers out there, Donald Maass is a veteran literary agent and speaker who has written bestselling nonfiction books for writers, including Writing the Break Out Novel, The Fire in Fiction, and most recently, The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers. Most might call him an expert in guiding authors to writing the best book that’s in them.
I’m no exception. I’ve bought Mr. Maass’s books. I even attended a two-day workshop in Albuquerque, New Mexico (incidentally, where Deadly Recall is set). I agreed wholeheartedly with his statements: Eliminate needless backstory; every passage, every word you write must belong in that book—or get rid of it; and you must have tension on every page.
Yes, I was fully in his camp of devoted followers until he made a comment that sent my tightly plotted novel into a tailspin. He said if you’re writing a mystery, and you know who your killer is from the start chances are your reader will, too. His advice to attendees in the room—when you reach the end of your novel, turn your killer. Make your antagonist someone your reader will never see coming.
I sat with my head in my hands thinking this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I’ve plotted my book; it works. I KNOW who the killer is. It HAS to be this person. Like a stubborn teenager unwilling to listen to her parents, I went home and went about my business and the way I wanted to write Deadly Recall. The killer who I envisioned in my synopsis stayed my killer.
But darned if Donald Maass hadn’t planted the seeds of uncertainty, and as I proofed that document and prepared to submit to agents and to enter the Golden Heart®, his words led to many a sleepless night. If you know who your killer is from the start, chances are your reader will, too. He taunted me like a construction worker walking into a two by four.
So I went back to my already perfect manuscript and got back to work. I sulked all the way as I took Mr. Maass’s stupid advice and I made my killer somebody else. Then, to my surprise, something magical happened. If I didn’t know who the killer was from the start, maybe my readers wouldn’t know, either. (Okay, so I’m a slow learner.)
I sent my work through critique, and as my very discerning critique partners read through the numerous red herrings I’d set up, I relished their comments: “Who on earth is the killer?” “I have no idea.” Finally when they were getting toward the end of the book, they took out an envelope and wrote who they suspected. When we opened the envelope upon reading the ending, only one critique partner out of six had gotten it right.
I jumped up and down with glee, particularly when Deadly Recall became a 2010 Golden Heart® finalist and Bell Bridge Books made an offer to buy it. So who does that Donald Maass think he is, anyway? In my mind, and countless others, he’s somebody brilliant and worth listening to.
Thanks, Donnell! Now, readers, have you ever tried to ignore advice that proved to be the best thing you ever heard? Tell us! Also, if anyone else has had an experience with Donald Maass, Donnell and I would love to hear about it. And, if you have a question for Donnell, ask away!