The latter (which include me) fly by the seat of their pants. We start knowing almost nothing. We begin writing and hope a story will materialize. And strangely enough it always seems to.
I always know the environment in which I want to set the mystery. I s.ay to myself 'wouldn't it be fun to set a story within the art world of the Paris post-Impressionists and send Molly there? Then I find a way to do it. don't always know who is going to be murdered or whodunit.
I have now written thirty one mysteries and I am still in a complete state of panic for the first fifty pages. I am plagued with doubts--will this really turn into a good story? What if I say everything I want to in less that one hundred pages? What if I can't finish it? So I stumble along and then my characters start taking over and I find myself tiptoeing after Molly or Georgie, anxious to see what scrapes they are going to get themselves into this time.
I realize that writing an outline first would make life more comfortable for me. But I'm afraid that once I got the storyline down on paper I'd lose interest. And I'd know what was going to happen. I'd be the puppet master, forcing my characters to obey my will. The way I write I'm as surprised and excited as Molly or Georgie when strange things happen and we go off on tangents, when there is a knock on the door and an unexpected person is standing there.
I've just reached that blissful hundred page mark on my new Molly book and I'm heaving a sigh of relief. Yes we have a good story and it's going somewhere and it's just up to me to keep up with Molly's pace. The driving idea behind this story is Freud's book on the interpretation of dreams. One of Molly's friends has returned from studying with Freud with Vienna and is called upon to help a young girl who has survived a fire that killed her parents, but remembers nothing of the event. Since then she is plagued by nightmares and it is hoped that they might reveal exactly what happened that night.
I decided to tackle this story as I studied dream psychology at the University of Freiburg in Germany and have been fascinated ever since. It's going to be a very complicated puzzle, tying in with a case that Daniel is working on. I hope that Molly is in top form and able to solve it!
Here's an excerpt I've written this week:
My first impression of her was that I was looking at a French bisque doll with enormous blue eyes and corn-colored hair. She was so pale that she almost merged into the whiteness of the pillows behind her head. She sat up and looked at us with apprehension as we crowded into her small bedroom.
“Hello Polly.” Gus took the initiative. “I’m Augusta, and these are my friends Molly and Elena. Your aunt asked us to come because we heard you’d been having nightmares since the awful tragedy. Your aunt wondered if I could help you, because I’ve been learning about how to interpret dreams.”
“My aunt told me,” Polly said.
“May I sit down?” Gus said, pulling up a chair beside the bed. “And my friends can sit on the window seat in the sun, unless you’d prefer that they wait in another room while we have our talk?”
“It’s all right. They can stay,” Polly said in a resigned voice.
We sat. Shafts of sunlight painted stripes on the flowered wallpaper, highlighting the only color in the otherwise white room.
I could tell that Gus didn’t know how to begin.
“Polly,” I said. “We were so sorry to learn about your parents. What an awful thing to have lived through. It’s no wonder you are having bad dreams."
She sat in silence for a while then she said, “I can’t believe they are gone. I just didn’t believe it when Aunt Minnie told me. I mean, not my Papa. How could it be? He was so big and strong. I keep expecting to hear the front door slam and his big voice yelling, “Where’s my Pollywog?”
She looked down at her sheet, smoothing it with a tiny white hand. “I keep asking myself ‘how could I get out and he didn’t?”
“You don’t remember getting out?” Gus said. “Maybe there was a fire escape outside your window and not outside theirs?”
She shook her head. “It was the other way around. The fire escape was outside their window, not mine. And I don’t remember anything at all. Not the fire. Not getting out. Nothing until I woke up and these faces were over me and someone said ‘she’s alive. God be praised.’”
“So how do you think you got out?” Gus asked.
“I’ve no idea. Unless I walked in my sleep. “
“Do you walk in your sleep sometimes?” Gus asked.
“Sometimes. I used to more when I was little. But how could I not have woken up if there was a fire and flames all around me?”
“Polly, is it possible that you walked in your sleep and….” I started to say, then shut up again. “No, never mind. It’s not important.” I had been going to ask whether she might have knocked over their lamp by accident or even lit a match, tried to light a fire, and all without knowing it. But I realized as I said it that this was a burden I couldn’t lay on her. She was already carrying enough guilt that she had lived and they had not.
There was another awkward silence that seemed to go on forever.
“Tell me about your mother, Polly,” Sid said. “You must miss her dreadfully.”
Polly pressed her lips together and I could tell she was willing herself not to cry. “ Mama was so soft and gentle. She always used to braid my hair for me. Aunt Mnnie never does it right and she jerks my head with the hairbrush. Mama never did. And she let me climb into bed with them when I had bad dreams.”
“Have you always had bad dreams?” Gus asked.
“I’ve had them sometimes, you know, the way one does. But not like this. These are so vivid and horrible and when I wake up I don’t know whether I’m awake or asleep and what is real and what is not.”
“Can you tell me about any of them?” Gus asked.
“It’s hard.” Polly looked flustered now. “They are so real at the time but when I try to remember, it’s all so unclear.”
“Tell me about the first one,” Gus said gently. “What is the one thing you remember—the one thing that made you afraid.”
“The snake,” Polly said firmly. “There is always the snake.”
BEAUTIFUL DREAMER will be published March 2015. And if you need a Molly fix before then, CITY OF DARKNESS AND LIGHT comes out in four weeks time, on March 4th. (and yes, it's the one where Molly goes to Paris)