Monday, July 8, 2013

Creating a Mystery Community with Guest Author Lee Mims

My guest today is North Carolina debut author Lee Mims, author of Hiding Gladys, the first of the Cleo Cooper Mystery Series from Midnight Ink. Lee tells us about why and how she built a "mystery community" for her series. ~ Sheila


by Lee Mims

Are you thinking of finally writing that long-deferred novel or starting another because you just can’t stir any interest in the last one you wrote? Well, here’s a couple of questions you might want to ask yourself before you start. Perhaps they will aid you in ending up with a novel more to your liking. First: who lives in your favorite mystery community and secondly, why do you want to go there? If you’re like me, the community changes from one favorite author to another.

When I’m reading one of Janet Evanovich’s books about the hot, bumbling bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, I’m sure her characters are my favorites. I mean, who couldn’t love Stephanie’s family: her long-suffering mom, Grandma Mazur and her fascination with death, or the two stud muffins, Ranger and Morelli? And then there’s her friend and co-worker, Lula, who squeezes her plus-size body into petite-size spandex creations.

Then I pick up the latest Harlan Coben novel, and know it’s Myron Bolitar and his buds that can’t read enough about. Coben comes up with such clever ways to get his wise-cracking sports agent protagonist pulled into solving murders. The more you read about him and his on-going struggle maintaining long-term relationships, not to mention his friends, Esperanza and Win—both with very colorful backgrounds as well—the more you want to read. The main characters each have strong, vibrant personalities and influence one another often in surprising ways. I’m always sad when I finish one of his books.

Then there’s the question of why we prefer one mystery community over another and will grudgingly wait a year or longer to read the next in the series. For me,  I think it’s simply a matter of preferring character driven mysteries over plot driven ones. I love it when there’s something essential about the protagonist and the surrounding characters that drives the story rather than having a set outcome. Plus, I like flawed characters. I find it intriguing when a good author can intertwine the characters in his community, using their personalities and move the plot one way or another as they transition toward personal growth and resolve troubled relationships. As each mystery in a series moves forward, so does the series and we wait with bated breath for the next book to see what happens next. 

Additionally, and perhaps this is just me, but I like to read about characters whose jobs are unique. I enjoy mentally putting myself in a position that in real life I could never occupy, like being a sports agent or a bounty hunter. And lastly, a pet character, richly described and present whenever possible, is always appreciated by me especially when the action needs to be slowed or a depressing situation needs a lift.

After writing several unsuccessful mysteries—ones I couldn’t get published—I decided to do what successful writers like Coben and Evanovich do: create a little mystery community and populate it with a protag with an unusual gig and friends and family that, hopefully, readers would become endeared to. Since I used to be a geologist, an occupation that at the time was only sparsely populated by women, I thought I’d give that a whirl. The result was the Cleo Cooper series.

There’s more to writing a good mystery than what I’ve just told you and you can read endless blogs about character driven versus plot driven or action driven mysteries. You can read about internal and external plots and on and on. And, I suppose it’s always good to be exposed to the mechanics of one’s trade. However, for me, I try not to get bogged down with trying to cram all the elements of the perfect mystery into my novel. I just gather my community of colorful characters, wrap them around one of the many mind-bending geologic topics currently in the news, throw in a murder to two for good measure and go for it. It’s more fun that way and after all, writing is supposed to be fun.

Lee Mims is and always has been a North Carolina farm girl. She played outdoors from dawn to dusk, built forts, drank water from garden hoses and ran with sticks. And for 25 years, she raised and trained Quarter Horses.

She was often sick as a child, and it was while staying home with her mother that Mims learned the beauty of words. Together they read endlessly: short stories, fairy tales and adventure novels.

Because of her love of the great outdoors, she later earned a master’s and bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and worked as a field geologist. And as a popular wildlife artist, Mims owns her self-named studio where she does both portrait and fine art oil paintings. She has two pieces on tour with Paint America and recently sold a painting to Ms. Andy Griffith for his museum.

Books never escaped her, and her geology background inspired Hiding Gladys, the first of the debut author’s Midnight Ink-published Cleo Cooper Mystery Series. Busy writing the next installment, Trusting Viktor, Mims is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

She lives on a family farm in Clayton, NC with her husband. 


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