An Inside Look at Revision: On Not Writing Mysteries (Because, Let's Face It, Agatha Christie is Too Good to be True)

Lucile Blanch by Peter A. Juley & Son*
Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation is available on Amazon and Smashwords. With every chapter, I posted notes about the process of revision.

Chapter 17

The original plot of Aubrey (see below) circled around a mystery: who are these thieves who can creep into locked houses?! Obviously, transformed thieves. This particular plot stayed in place for a long time, but I eventually axed it for two reasons: (1) the magic changed; Aubrey became an anomaly, not an example; (2) mysteries are really, really hard to write.

There's a reason Agatha Christie is the Queen, Empress, Princess, Lady, etc. of Crime. It is incredibly difficult to create a mystery that is not only a surprise but actually interesting to read. Pages and pages of "then the detective went and interviewed some more people" is not all that fun to read OR write. Sayers got around it by inserting somebody's (usually Wimsey's) social commentary. Ngaio Marsh managed on the most part although a few Marsh mysteries get bogged down in the middle (one thing I like about Marsh mysteries is that Alleyn does tell his colleagues what the solution is, even if he doesn't inform the reader; playing a loan hand, like Poirot and Sherlock, works for private investigators but policemen really need to work with each other!).

Christie managed because in Christie, every interview actually matters. Even Sayers, who is possibly the best writer of the Golden Age--in terms of sentence structure, created interviews containing discardable information. But Christie's best books waste nothing. Every interview matters because in every interview, Poirot or Miss Marple get closer to uncovering the truth surrounding the entire event (not just who committed the crime).

Against such a standard, I decided emulation was not the better part of valor. It is far more sensible for a writer to work to her strengths (which for me currently include social exchanges in 19th century settings). Richard's Story is sort of a mystery, but only by accident. I don't try to plan them anymore!

(In the very first version, Aubrey escaped from Dmitri and Kev, then forced her bespeller, Malcolm Fairways, to help her. She become his "mistress," not in fact but in the eyes of the world. After transforming into a cat at a society ball, the Academy became interested and collected her. Charles was present at the Academy meeting to get Aubrey's help in solving a series of burglaries. Although the Academy objected, Aubrey left with Charles and David, who was at that time a member of the police force, not a reporter (he is far more useful as a reporter and will likely get his own story--as will Olivia, hopefully). The meeting took place outside of Kingston; Charles, Aubrey, and David returned to Kingston in a carriage; the morning of their return is now Chapter 17.)

*Lucile Blanch was an American painter of the 1930s (although she died in 1981). I chose her photograph because she reflects Aubrey's new can-do attitude--as does the painting by Lucile Blanch. In fact, the painting, Gittel, is almost more appropriate: Aubrey as doer and thinker.

And Lucile Blanch painted a cat (naturally!). Since the painting is called Orlando, I assume the cat was as well.

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