I write crime fiction. I think human beings are innately curious. We want to know what, why and how about everything. Mystery novels and crime fiction capture that part of human nature, and draw people in. At least, that’s always been one of the biggest appeals of the genre for me. Solving puzzles, figuring it all out, those things are part of what makes me tick; and I suspect that’s true of a lot of other people, too. Crime fiction invites readers to exercise what Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot called ‘the little grey cells.’ As a reader and as a writer, I enjoy doing that. But it’s more than just the intellectual appeal of crime fiction. It’s also about the way people interact, what motivates them and how they deal with life. Readers are drawn to stories that feature characters they can identify with, and well-written crime fiction includes those sorts of characters. And after all, writing and thinking about human psychology is its own kind of mystery that can also draw the reader in. Crime fiction is all about that, too.
I write for several reasons. One is that I have stories to tell that just won’t give me any peace until I tell them. I have ideas for characters and what happens to them, and they stay with me until I write them. Another reason I write is that it’s a way for me to process all of what goes on in my brain. We all have ways of making sense of what happens in life and of dealing with it. Writing is one of the ways that I do that. I also have to admit: it’s fun. It really is. Sometimes it’s frustrating, tiring and so on. But the process of creating a story where there was none? That’s exhilarating. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but I really got started with novels because of a suggestion from my family. We were talking at dinner one night, and I was sharing something that had happened in graduate school. My family said I ought to write a story about it and, well, I did. Now I don’t think I could stop.
I don’t think any two authors have the exact same way of going about writing. So what works for me may not work for anyone else. It’s a little complicated for me, too, because I have a ‘day job.’ That means I have to make every writing minute count. I often find it’s easiest to write in the early morning, because it’s nice and quiet then. But even when I write at other times, I like to have some peace and quiet (and a cup of coffee – black, no sugar). What I usually do goes something like this. First comes the victim. I write crime fiction, which often involves murder. So I ask myself about the victim. Who is that person? Why would anyone want to kill her or him? Then I move to the people in the victim’s life. How do they know that person? How do they interact with the victim? This gives me the major characters, so that I’m ready to start sketching out scenes. Once I’ve got the story sketched out, I start filling it in. As I go along, I do whatever research I need to do, and add in events, other characters and so on. There’s more to it than that, of course, and it doesn’t always go smoothly (does it for any writer?). But that’s what I’ve found works for me.
Margot Kinberg is a mystery novelist who writes the Joel Williams series. She has published several non-fiction books and articles as well, and is the editor of In a Word: Murder, an anthology of short crime stories. Margot is also an Associate Professor, who’s been working in higher education since 1988. You can connect with Margot at her blog: Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, where you can read her daily posts on crime fiction and find out more about the Joel Williams series.