Creating a Story

When I first moved here and started having work done on the house as well as working around the place myself, I kept finding odd things, such as a deep pit under the enclosed back porch, a bloody shirt that had been buried, bone fragments. Back then, I considered writing a “Pat as protagonist” mystery using all these various oddities, but at the time, I had no interest in writing. Now that I’m getting the itch to write again, my own experiences seem like a good place to start.

My sister, who spent a couple of nights here, wouldn’t sleep in the second bedroom because she claimed the ghost of an old woman sat and watched her. I’m sure it was some sort of lucid dream because no one around here remembers anyone dying in this house. Still, that old woman seems to have served herself up as a handy victim.

I have no idea where to go with the story, which makes sense since if it turns out that the fictional woman was murdered here and her body disposed of, perhaps in the cistern under the porch or maybe in the dungeony basement, I can’t see that there would be any resolution to the story.

Would you dig up part of your house on the mere suspicion that someone was buried there? (I really would like to know.) I sure wouldn’t, especially since I spent so much money pouring a new basement floor and redoing the back porch (foundation, new sewer line, new floor).

And anyway, if it happened a long time ago, the person who did the dastardly deed might even be dead now, too, so there’d be no resolution to that, either — no bringing the killer to justice. I suppose the mystery could be why she was disposed of in whatever way I choose to deal with her, but there’d still be the problem of no ticking clock. If it happened a long time ago (even a decade or so ago is a long time) and no one seems to miss the woman or even know or care what happened to her, where’s the urgency to solve the mystery?

Obviously, there is no urgency for me to write the story, either, since it’s been percolating (albeit exceedingly slowly) in the back of my mind for more than two years, and it will probably be another year before all the current foci of my life have been dealt with so as to give me the mental space to write.

In all my previous books, I knew how the story started, and I knew how it ended, so it was just a matter of making the convoluted journey from one point to the other. It’s entirely possible that this book will be different, in that I might not have a clue how it ends. Or even begins.

If, in fact, it ever does begin.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

What Happens When You Find a Dead Body?

My dance class suggested I write a book about them. One woman even volunteered to be the victim, though I can’t imagine why anyone would want to kill her. She is lovely, charming, and utterly delightful. Yesterday we discussed what we would do after we found her body on the dance and before the cops showed up, and we decided we’d have dance class anyway. Why not? It was a mostly empty dance floor (except for the body, of course), we’d be dressed for the occasion, and our minds would not yet have processed the information that our classmate was truly gone. The will-be victim’s comment? “I am truly hurt that you would not mourn me.” In real life, of course, we’d mourn her, but a — hopefully — humorous book about aging women dancing despite the deaths they have had to deal with (not their own death, obviously) should be more about dancing than death.

I can never start writing a novel until I have the beginning of the story, and the end, which I do have. I begin with our plans to write the book about the murder, then segue into the “real” murder. I end with our dancing the perpetrator to death. (Well, it is a dance class, after all. Dance should have a significant part in the story.) I even know who the perpetrator is, and I think I know why he killed Ms. Delightful. (He thought she was Ms. Teacher.)

Most of all, I have everyone’s permission to use them in the story. A couple of the women were wary, some were looking forward to what I’d say about them, and most lit up with excitement at the thought of being in a book.

Now comes the hard part. (Well, the second hardest part. The hardest part will be actually sitting down and putting words on paper.) What happens after we discover the body? Who comes to the scene? What do they do with us? How/where do they take our statements if in fact they do take our statements? How/where do they take our fingerprints?

Most of what I know about crime scene handling comes from movies and TV shows, so most of what I know is probably wrong. And anyway, such information is from the point of the cops, and in the book, I won’t be a cop. I’m only one of a half-dozen women who discover the body. So where am I when the cops, the criminalists, the DA, and everyone else are there? Have they taken preliminary reports — perhaps names, addresses, relation to the deceased — and sent us home? If so, when do they take our statements? Do they call us to come in to the police station?

I found information about the review process here: Criminal Defense Witness Interviews & Statements, which answers many of my questions about the interview process but not actually the beginnings of the process.

Some of those questions are answered here: Investigating the Crime Scene. According to this article, the first cops on the scene are supposed to preserve the crime scene, isolate witnesses, take “names, addresses, dates of birth, and telephone numbers, etc.” (Etc? what the heck does that encompass? It’s those etcs I need to know.) According to this article, the patrol supervisor will interview witnesses. The detective will interview witnesses again and arrange transport for witnesses to be sent to headquarters and will take written statements. Another article about searching and examining a major crime scene contains no mention of anyone but various law enforcement folk.

So, are those who find the body considered witnesses? I guess. Oddly, there doesn’t seem to be much online about what happens to those who find a dead body, except for articles about how doing so can mess you up for life. But those people obviously weren’t taking dance classes. Dancing can unmess you up.

I’ve been trying to find out how those who find a body are dealt with by the police, but most answers to that question involve describing what the police do. In my proposed book, I’m not a cop. I’m me. What do I do? Or more to the point, what will they do to me? (I did come across this humorous (at least, I hope it’s supposed to be humorous and not someone’s experience of what actually happened) article about what to do if you find a dead body. Another article I came across is HowTo:Commit the Perfect Murder. Oh, my.

Nor can I find out how long before the crime scene will be released. We want to dance! How can we dance if the studio is barred from us? It also will need to be a quiet little murder, not much smell or gore, because . . . well, that would put a damper on dancing.

Hmm. Maybe I need to think about this a bit more.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Let’s Play the Cliché Game!

My exercise class suggested I write a book about them. One woman even volunteered to be the victim, though I can’t imagine why anyone would want to kill her. She is lovely, charming, and utterly delightful. I wasn’t going to write the story since it seemed a good way to lose a lot of friends, but at the lunch the other day, I almost whacked one of my classmates with my exercise bag, and she deadpanned, “I’m not the one who volunteered to be the murder victim.” So I decided to write the book. I mean, how could I not use such a perfect line?

I’d like to do the book campy with exaggerated uses and sly mentions of mystery clichés. For instance, I could get a call from one of the women who says she has information, but won’t give it to me over the phone. I immediately rush over there, of course, since such a call is a precursor to being murdered in cheap mysteries, but when I get there I find . . . I don’t know. Something innocuous. That the cell phone battery went dead. (Or better yet, I call the cops, and they think I’m hysterical.) Then there’s the “Don’t Go There” ploy, advice that a character ignores. When she does Go There, she almost gets herself killed. (Someone suggested this should be a buxom blonde, and of course, I know the perfect person for the role — a lady in red who is a buxom blonde or rather a buxom sometimes-blonde, and she definitely would Go There.) Of course I would also mention the old fictional women from small towns who stumble on so many murders, there couldn’t possibly be anyone left alive in the vicinity. Perhaps even use the alcoholic, donut-eating cop, misogynous cop.

I’m going to start out writing the book the way the idea unfolded in real life, beginning with the suggestion of my writing the book, our planning the murder, etc. leading up to the day we go to class and find her dead for real. The victim is such a good sport, she let me take a photo of her being dead to use for the book cover. (She sank to the ground gracefully, and fell into the perfect pose. Hmm. Maybe she is an eminently suitable victim after all. In the mystery world, she would be too good to be true.)

For now, I’m collecting clichés to use in the book. What do you think are the top clichés in mystery/suspense/thriller fiction? Who are the stock characters? What clichés and other mystery genre conventions do you absolutely hate?

But be careful! You might just end up in the book.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.