Monday, September 10, 2012

Mystery on Monday: Constructing Mysteries: Water Torture with Linda Lovely

How do the mundane mysteries of everyday life feed the mysteries we write? That's what author Linda Lovely ponders today. (And yes! she IS the Linda Lovely recently mentioned on NPR's All Things Considered - you'll have to ask her why!) ~ Sheila 

In mid-August, family arrived on a Thursday for a four-day visit. As usual, my husband and I hustled to vacuum, dust, and blow up an inflatable bed downstairs for two teens to sleep. Everything looked peachy-keen.

At supper, our refrigerator ice/water dispenser quit working. Nary a light on the front-panel display. But the refrigerator kept making ice, so no big deal. We just scooped ice from the freezer box and called a repairman who arrived at suppertime on Friday.

He installed a new “computer” control, but the dispenser panel still wouldn’t light. Then he found a short. No electricity. He fixed the wire, and voila we had water and ice.

On Saturday, the boys mentioned seeing a dark spot on the ceiling by the fireplace—no where near the upstairs kitchen and not a water pipe of any description within 20 feet. Finding waterlogged ceiling tiles by the fireplace and wet spots in the center of the room, my husband searched for roof leaks near the chimney. We’d had a heavy rain a few days before and figured it could have taken a while for water to meander to the basement.

Long story short. We found the leak a week later. The refrigerator. No evidence of water under the refrigerator, but it had seeped through the oak flooring and run along the subfloor and wires until it found outlets to exit into vulnerable ceiling tiles below. Ruined tiles were scattered across the room like a chess board. The last tile to show any sign of water damage was under the &*$%&^% refrigerator.

So what does this have to do with writing a mystery?

I hope to remember how water operates when I begin plotting my next mystery. Water offers an excellent guide to plotting secrets. Here are few of the lessons I learned during our most recent water torture:

  • The genesis/cause/motive can be totally unconnected in space and time to the crime (murder or leak) and its ultimate discovery (dead body or fouled ceiling tile).
  • Like water, strong human emotions can flow undetected beneath the surface until some anomaly presents an outlet. And the trigger can be something that seems inconsequential. (A nail hole in a subfloor, a curse, or a weapon that’s handy at just the wrong moment of rage.)
  • Early clues (the refrigerator short or a suspect’s change in routine) may seem unconnected and thus be ignored.
  • Clues may be time delayed. This can make it difficult to pinpoint when the crime began or how long it’s been going on. (The slow warping of floorboards, a person’s change in routine, when a serial killer began.)
  • Logical avenues of inquiry may lead an investigator along unproductive paths. (A bone dry attic or a seemingly air-tight alibi for when you think the crime occurred.)
  • Dead ends can frustrate investigators and make them cranky.
  • Witness testimony can be missing or unreliable. (If we hadn’t had company, we might not have ventured into our basement for weeks. Would teen boys notice a wet spot in the ceiling if it didn’t drip on them?)
Mysteries—big and little—pop up constantly in our daily lives. These mysteries may not offer sufficient meat for even a short story. But they can help us think about investigation techniques, hidden and false clues, our state of mind when mysteries defy us, and the fact that life is often haphazard. We can unravel threads that go nowhere—so long as the blanket holds together.

Have you incorporated any mundane mysteries into your writing? What lessons have you learned trying to solve everyday mysteries?

Linda Lovely has published two books in the Marley Clark mystery series—Dear Killer and No Wake Zone—with a stand-alone romantic suspense novel, Final Accounting, set for release in October. Her romantic suspense novels serve up a main course of suspense, action, and adventure along with generous helpings of romance and humor. Her manuscripts have won or earned final spots in 15 contests, including RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart and Daphne du Maurier contests. Dear Killer, the first in Lovely’s Marley Clark mystery series, was a finalist in the 2011 RWA Golden Quill competition for published novels.
A journalism major, Lovely pursued a career in PR. One of her clients, the international investigative firm that served as a prototype for the heroine’s employer in Final Accounting, introduced the author to forensic accounting and other techniques for catching savvy criminals who operate on a global scale.
During five terms as president of the Upstate SC Chapter of Sisters in Crime, she also established ties with a number of law enforcement experts—professionals graciously willing to share their expertise with authors.
She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and the South Carolina Writers Workshop. A popular speaker, Lovely often visits book clubs. She also teaches genre fiction and writing classes through Clemson University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.




  1. Linda, what a great way to remind us, as mystery writers, what elements work together to make a mystery "mysterious" and yet obvious when all the elements become known.

  2. Sorry I'm just replying. Workmen unplugged me from the internet today. Another joy of water damage and repair. Thanks for commenting Terry.

    1. Linda, this is why I always say, "it's all research"!

    2. Really enjoyed this blog, Linda. Very well-written. Oh, and BTW, Labor Day last year, we had a water leak that flooded our entire downstairs while we were away, so I know what you're going through. Good luck!

  3. Thanks, Christy. It's amazing how many people I've met have had water damage from leaks--refrigerator, burst pipes in the wall, and, of course, roof damage. There are a few pluses--a chance to clean behind the stove. Oh, my. Did I really spill that much?

  4. So sorry you had to experience this lesson! I'm sure it will be memorable. I expect to see a major water event in your next book. Ah! I just realized water is significant in both your already published books. It's a theme, one I hope is limited to fiction from now on. :-)

    Nice post, Linda.

  5. I hope so, too, Ellis. I did go swimming today. Fortunately, it was outside.

  6. Linda, your post was excellent...your water disaster is an excellent metaphor for the mystery writer's process. Thanks. Enjoyed it immensely. Am considering replacing my frig with an old-fashioned ice box. It seems safer. Really, am very impressed with this post. Donna Campbell

  7. Donna, thanks for dropping by. Those old-fashioned ice boxes had definite value. When I was growing up, we had a vintage model on an enclosed back porch that just kept chugging. Used for watermelons and iced tea every summer.

  8. Leave it to you, with your creative mind, to come up with a comparison between a leak in a pipe and a murder. Your books show the same creativity. What a disaster, but you've managed to turn it into something productive. Hope your house is back to normal soon, most likely before more relatives come to visit.

  9. Love this post, and love Ms. Lovely! Fabulous how the post links the flow of water to everything in mystery writing from scattering clues to portraying ''still water runs deep'' hidden emotions. Kudos, Linda! And congrats on your books. A long way from where we met at SIBA in S. Carolina, no? PS: BTW, what's with NPR?

    1. I wondered when someone would ask - Linda? :-)

    2. All Things Considered did a piece on couples with unusual last names and the hyphenation trend. One of my critique partners, Maryanne Romano, sent in our names--Linda Lovely and Tom Hooker (my husband). They ended the segment with someone (me) who'd chosen not to hypenate her names. But, hey, Linda Lovely-Hooker might have sold more books.

    3. :-). Linda, if you did it unhyphenated , as I do, it would be even better! Maybe you should change genres!