Sunday, April 22, 2012

I Love Mysteries!

I grew up reading animal books: Black Beauty, Billy and Blaze, King of the Wind and Lassie. Nancy Drew mysteries were never on my bookshelf, yet I ended up writing over thirty mysteries.

It all started with my first published story, "Dusty's Disappearance" published in 1984 Highlights Magazine. One of my third grade students came into class one day and told me his pony, pastured with the cattle in a big field, was missing. The whole class was enthralled, and we guessed rustlers, lost, run away. For a week, we waited for updates. Finally, the student told us the pony had been found trapped in an old stone ice house. He'd wandered onto the roof of the ice house and fallen through. Because the ice was lifted out from the top, there were no doors, and firemen had to bust their way though the stone walls. The pony was hungry and dehydrated, but fine.Instinctively, I knew this was a great story. I added action, suspense, and a great cliffhanger and sent it to Highlights; it was my first sale after a long run of rejections, and I was elated!

In the late 1980s, I began to write for the 'new' Linda Craig series. (The old series had been published in the 1950s and badly needed updating as you can see by  the cover.)  I was given the galley of the first book written in the series, and after reading it, thought "Wow, that was boring." Even the horse-details were slightly off and I vowed to make my book, which would be the second in the series, better.

As I wrote the outline, the adventure grew into a mystery. Almost instinctively I knew how to pace the story, write logical clues, ratchet up the suspense, add twists and create cliffhangers. It was as if my brain was born to 'mystery.'  The editors loved The Silver Stallion and I wrote five more in the series, all with strong mystery elements.

When Linda Craig ended, the editor asked if I wanted to try writing a Nancy Drew mystery. I was a natural and ended up writing over twenty digests, racks, and supermysteries, five online serial Nancy Drews as well as editing/rewriting for the publisher. It was during my editing jobs that I realized I did, indeed, have a knack for mystery as I rewrote countless boring scenes, added clues that made sense and increased the tension/action. I even got to add horses in my own Nancys The Mystery of the Missing Horse and The Mystery of the Masked Rider (I didn't come up with the titles).

My Nancy Drew training got me ready to plot and write Shadow Horse, which was nominated for an Edgar, and its sequel Whirlwind as wells as all my historical novels, which are as suspenseful and action-filled as a good mystery.

But where did this knack for mystery come from? I have no idea. Currently, I am enthralled by the mysteries behind the antique and vintage items that I find at yard sales, auctions and thrift shops. Each vase, plate or tin has a story behind it. What is the value? Who made it? How old is it? What was it used for?

For example, my antique wicker potty had two brass rings on the end of each arm. Was this once a potty swing? Obviously that didn't make sense, but I could not figure out how the rings were used until I came upon this photo.  I deduced this was once a torture chamber for potty-training Victorian two-year-olds. Case closed.

In my last two blogs, I got to review two fun mysteries, one written by Laura, so I can add reading mysteries to my other loves. And what about you? Do you love solving a good mystery or puzzle? Writing them? Reading them?  If you do, please share!


Lori L said...

As a horse crazy kid in the 80s I bought every book that had a horse on it- from Linda Craig to #8 of Sweet Valley High to the Nancy Drew novels. It's only later I realized there were ghost writers involved- but now I'm just chuffed to know you wrote both my favorite Linda Craig novels *and* the #109 Nancy Drew. Bravo!

Now as an adult- I still re-read Dick Francis, I branched out into Lyndon Stracey, and now enjoying John Francone. I love a good well-paced mystery too!

Linda Benson said...

Alison - I had no idea you'd written that many books. Wow. Good for you! Obviously good practice, because Shadow Horse and Whirlwind are both very absorbing. I loved them both.

And the wicker potty. Gads - can you imagine being strapped into that thing? Oh well, maybe they gave them a book to read - hahaha.

Alison said...

Lori--I hope you saved some of your old Linda Craigs and Nancys. Someday they may be worth money.

I know Dick Francis' books well (did you know his wife wrote many of them with him?) but need to check out Stracey and Francone. Thanks for the suggestions.

Linda -- all those books I've written only mean one thing--I am OLD!

Lori L said...

Alison- of course. I have never truly been about to get rid of a book, including all the books I owned as a child. It's becoming quite a collection of books!

Sorry- had a couple of typos in my recs- Lyndon Stacey - who wrote "Dead Fall" "Cut Throat" "Blindfolded" and "Outside Chance"- all set in England with a steeplechasing/flat racing/ or event riding backgrounds. All on amazon.

And John Francone- who has written many novels, all horse racing related mysteries and like Dick Francis, was a former jockey. He has 25 horse-related mysteries in and out of print.

Just two names I went to after I finished reading all of the late Mr. Francis's novels (who was wonderful, and yes, I could see the 'woman's touch' of his wife on his writing- Felix as a collaborated isn't as good, IMHO).

Laura Crum said...

Alison, since you reviewed my latest horse-themed mystery, I guess you know I'm a fan of the genre. Dick Francis was one of my favorite authors and I had a long time correspondence with him. He sent me his novels and I sent him mine, so I have a good collection of signed Dick Francis books. His personal favorite of my mystery novels was Slickrock, my fifth book. He even asked if he could borrow a plot detail I used in that book. I was tickled.

Francesca Prescott said...

Alison, that blew me away! I had no idea we had such a superstar in our midst. I am so impressed!

Angelia Almos/Angie Derek said...

OMG Alison. I'm having a total fan moment. I loved the new Linda Craig books and the Nancy Drew books. :-) Totally cool to meet one of the authors who wrote the books which I devoured.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

I looked at that picture and thought "aha, a special potty for the constirpated writer who doesn't want to lose time."

Alison said...

Thank you Angelia for being a fan. Of course, I was much younger when I was cranking out so many books. And Francesca, not a super star--the pay was paltry!

White Horse--love your comment about the potty. I never thought of it that way probably because it is tiny and my big #$% would not fit.

Laura--what an honor for you to correspond with the famous Dick Francis.

Lori--thanks for the book suggestions. I think I will try both authors. Would you recommend any particular title?