Write what you love is counsel often given to aspiring novelists. I took that advice when I focused on romance at the start of my writing career. My first novel—which I called “Love Letters From Grace” and which Harlequin Superromance titled “Jessie’s Father”—was published in 1999. After that, I wrote an average of three to four books a year and before I knew it I had thirty-five romances to my name. While proud of each of my books, I began to feel creatively drained.
So I revisited the adage to write what you love. Did I still love romance now as much as I did ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago? Truthfully, no. When I was looking to escape into a page-turning read, I was more inclined to buy a good character-driven mystery. Should I try to write one of those?
I decided yes, if only to recharge my creativity, I would give it a try. Out of that first attempt came the Twisted Cedars Mysteries, which ended up selling well enough that I was encouraged to write a second series—which I’m currently working on—the Bitter Root Mysteries.
Writing mysteries has definitely revitalized my career. But it hasn’t been as much of a departure as you might think. I’ve always been a plotter. I spend a lot of upfront time thinking about my story and my characters and planning out the sequence of my scenes. This approach worked to my advantage when I switched to mysteries, especially since I love to write multiple story lines, threading together a variety of subplots and including the sort of twists that completely change everything for the reader. Stories with that level of complexity are very difficult to write “off the cuff” or as a “pantser.”
I can’t remember ever writing a romance novel that didn’t require me to do some research, but there’s no doubt I spend more time on research for my mystery novels. Having a few good contacts in law enforcement and in the medical field is extremely helpful. (Special thanks here to my emergency room doctor brother-in-law and the knowledgeable deputy in Montana who has helped with every one of my mystery novels.) I also use the Internet…a lot! I do like to travel to the places where I set my novels, but since my husband and I love a good road trip that’s not a hardship.
Keeping track of details is especially challenging for the mystery genre, especially since my mysteries are populated with a lot more characters than my romances. It can be tricky to remember appearances and ages, not to mention what kind of vehicles they drive, what their houses look like, etc. A good Excel spreadsheet is invaluable for these details. Another necessity is a timeline. If aunt Bertha was murdered five years ago in chapter one, when you confront the murderer in chapter ten, you better remember he’s five years older than when he committed his crime.
When I was writing romances, I often included subplots of mystery or intrigue. Now that I’m writing mystery I find myself naturally including romantic subplots. Maybe the truth is I still love both romance and mystery. And I’m okay with that. I’ve always felt that as long as I’m writing something that I find interesting, there’s a good chance my readers as going to enjoy it too!
USA Today Bestselling author C. J. Carmichael has written over 45 novels in her favorite genres of romance and mystery. She has been nominated twice for the Romance Writers of America RITA Award, as well as RT Bookclub’s Career Achievement in Romantic Suspense award, and the Bookseller’s Best honor.
When not writing C. J. enjoys family time with her daughters and husband. Even better are the times they spend hiking in the Rocky Mountains around their home in Calgary, and relaxing at their cottage on Flathead Lake, Montana.