Murder at the End of the World was born from a single idea: “I want to write a British-style mystery like the kinds that Agatha Christie wrote.” Shortly before I started writing the story, I got caught up in a phase of watching BBC’s adaptation of the Hercule Poirot series. I’d also watched a bit of Granada’s excellent Sherlock Holmes series from the 80’s and 90’s. They reminded me all over again of just why I so enjoyed watching a good mystery. I like the way all the clues and evidence are built up, the way things are complicated by red herrings and witnesses that have their own agendas, and then watching as the skilled detective slowly fits everything together and exposes the murder. So I decided to write my own.
Part of what makes a great setting is how it feeds into the mystery. I knew from the start that I wanted the setting to play a huge role in the mystery and to almost be a character of its own. I’ve always enjoyed the works of HP Lovecraft, so I borrowed a few bits of inspiration from his work and went with an isolated city by the sea. The town itself is awash in mystery, as few people know very much about it. The city’s nature also leads its people to be very insular and suspicious, almost to the point of being openly hostile to outsiders. They’re not evil people, but their view of the outside worlds has led them to view the appearance of outsiders in their streets as invaders into their private world. Like if you woke one night to find a stranger standing in your living room. You’d want that person gone as soon as possible, even if their intentions weren’t bad.
Of course, without characters there’s really not much of a story. With Allison Newberry, I didn’t want a character who was basically a skilled super-genius that was going to swoop in and solve the mystery in a flash. Allison is young and inexperienced, this is her first real case and she’s not entirely confident that things are going to turn out well. Even so, she’s got a good head on her shoulders, good instincts, and determination. A murder has been committed, that means someone has to be brought in to answer for the crime. A lot of this comes from her experience with her father, as the story eventually reveals. Though he doesn’t not appear in the story itself, his influence on her is clear. Allison does what needs to be done, even when no one else cares.
This leads us to the mystery itself. This is the most difficult part of the whole affair, because you need something that’s not immediately obvious and interesting enough to hold your reader’s interest until the very end. It would have been easy to go with a straight-forward murder mystery with a set of clues that led to the killer, but I was determined to avoid something that simple. Obviously I don’t want to give anything away here, but my goal from the start was to use a mystery that becomes deeper and more complex the further along Allison’s investigation goes. Nothing is simple in Illdara, as one of the characters says. How very true that is.
Any writer will tell you the same thing: writing’s all about stealing from other writers. Not to say that you should plagiarize other people’s works, but all your ideas, characters, settings, themes, writing styles, and so on probably came to you from something you read or saw or heard somewhere. That’s where the importance of always reading and absorbing information comes into play, as that feeds directly into your own writing. You may think you’re being clever and original, but most likely somebody already did the same thing before. But that’s okay! Writing is all about taking those things that have been done before and mixing them together and writing with enough skill that your readers are still entertained. That’s the trick, it all comes down to how well you mix and how well you write.
For me, inspiration comes in all forms. I’ve written an entire novel based around a minor plotline of an episode of a TV series. I saw something that interested me and I decided that I wanted to expand that little nugget into an entire self-contained story. And that’s exactly what I did. Another time, I watched some British TV mysteries and decided to write my own British-style mystery. The result was Murder at the End of the World and it was one of the more enjoyable stories I’ve written. It’s best to keep a log of some kind for all these ideas that come to you. Sometimes it may just be a short little story summary/setup or maybe it’s a genre or could it even be the name for a story. I have an entire folder on my computer that’s just for random book titles that don’t even have stories or characters. Words came together in my mind and I liked the way they sounded, so I kept them for use later.
So don’t be afraid to borrow a theme, a character type, a writing style, a setting, a phrase, or an idea. That’s what inspiration is all about.
It’s not uncommon for writers to play things safe with their characters, giving them easy obstacles to overcome and setting them up as dream characters that all the readers want to be. It’s not uncommon, but it’s often very boring. Playing things safe means that the story’s usually not very tense or dramatic and the characters end up being flat caricatures or simply reader avatars. When you want to get serious about writing a story, you’ve got to make your characters suffer a little bit. Knock them around, give them something they really have to fight to overcome, give them flaws that cause them to make mistakes. Your characters are tough, don’t baby them.
This was the lesson I learned that took me from just tooling around in Word for fun and taking the first step towards becoming a serious author. Now, let’s be fair: a straightforward adventure story with fun characters is fine, but even those have obstacles along the way and the better authors find ways to make you question whether the characters are going to make it through or not. Even Indiana Jones came very close to being crushed to death by a trap and you really wondered just how he could possibly make it out alive. He does, of course, because they made more movies, but at the time you’re not thinking about that. So, you’re presented with two options: write well enough that your readers aren’t thinking about just how easy things are for your main characters or just laying into them so much that things are never easy. For the Martian Empire Trilogy, I went with the latter.
Instead of Kara [the main character] going on a fun adventure, things get dark. Her situation is actually pretty bad and she even considers just ending it all when things take a particularly nasty turn. Fate intervenes, of course, because otherwise the book would have been pretty short. But even when things get better, Kara is involved in an accident while searching through the ruins of city and winds up breaking her leg. I won’t go on, but bad things keep happening. That’s not necessarily how you’ll want to do things, and I’m not even sure that that was really the best way for my own story to go, but that was the lesson I learned and I ran with it. Kara really got beat up pretty bad, but she survived, because deep down she had inner strength and resolve that allowed her to roll with the punches and not give up even when things were at their worst.
But maybe she doesn’t, maybe she gives up somewhere along the way and that opens up a whole host of new opportunities for the story. There are no hard and fast rules for how your characters will react or how their arcs will end, because that’s all down to the kind of story you want to write. The one important thing to keep in mind is that there’s more to your characters than writing the people you always wanted to be.
With Amazon taken care of, I’ve now got Murder at the End of the World up at Smashwords, which offers the title in a variety of formats:
HTML for viewing on any PC, Kindle, Nook, Apple iPad, PDF, and Palm. It’s all in there. More venues [such as a physical release, Barnes & Noble’s online store, and Google’s ebook marketplace for Android tablets] is coming soon, just a matter of working some things out. Look forward to that!
I’ve been writing seriously for nearly three years now. I’ve written more than half a dozen full-length novel and at least twice as many short stories. I’ve written and edited until it feels I can’t possibly do it anymore. I’ve sent dozens of queries to literary agents in the vain hope of hearing back. Now it’s time to get serious. So, without further ado, Murder at the End of the World is now available for purchase at Amazon’s Kindle marketplace:
It’s just a dollar, so check it out and then leave a little feedback when you’re done. Don’t like it? Let me know what I can do to improve it, I’m always looking to get better at what I do and write and even better book next time. Like it? Leave a review on the Amazon page telling why you liked it and what stood out. Maybe even tell a friend. There should have been a link for the Barnes & Noble Nook version, but that won’t be available until next week, so if you’ve got a Nook and not a Kindle, don’t worry. You’ll be able to read it soon enough.
Anywya, this is a big step for me, but it’s not the last by any means. Murder at the End of the World is just the start, there will be more novels to come. So keep watching this blog to see what’s coming up next!
Here it is at last!
The cover was drawn by Meghann Pardee at http://whatakuriosgirl.blogspot.com/. Some of her artwork is a little…well…risqué…so do keep that in mind.
The next step is to get everything set up for release on Amazon!
Let’s be clear about one thing here: My Martian Empire Trilogy is not good. It isn’t. I weep whenever I think about it because so much of the writing is just so painfully horrid and I had so many high-minded [but dumb] ideals I wanted to inject into it but ultimately failed at this because I had no idea what I was doing. Yet I keep coming back to it, thinking that maybe it’s not really as a bad as I remember it being. It’s nostalgia, you know?
Rewind to the heady days of high school. I had it in my head to try my hand at writing. A few short stories came first, just little experimental stories that were more about expanding my ability as a writer than actually telling a story. They’re not that great either, but I made most of them over the course of a few days, maybe a week, so it’s not like I had some huge time investment. But I wanted to go beyond those little stories, I wanted to write something big, something that would take time to craft and at least a few hours to read.
From this sprouted The Ruins of the Earth, a quaint little post-apocalyptic adventure about a girl who digs through old ruins looking for things to sell. She meets a boy. They have an adventure. They find treasure. The story ends. That might have been the true end of it, but I started talking with a friend about my story and about writing stories in general. Things got in-depth, I started getting ideas. The current story was pure Pollyanna tripe. Safe and secure, good kids having fun in the future and going on all the cool adventures that you never got to as a kid. Nothing bad happened.
Then I realized it was fun to torture my characters a little bit.