Living in Yucatan makes it easy for me to put myself into unusual situations and spin stories about them. It is an area rich with possibilities. A few years ago, I wrote a mystery called Madrugada, which has been with an agent for a long time. She says it’s difficult for new writers to break in to the traditional publishing world. So I’ve taken the dreaded and reviled path of “self-publishing,” which has turned out to be fun and rewarding. For my print books, I use CreateSpace, an adjunct of Amazon.com. They’ve been terrific and I’m happy with the result.*
The ingredients for writing a mystery include a good setting and a vivid imagination. Look around you, observe the regular flow of events, and then distort them to your dark purposes. In every situation in life – be it romantic, profit-motivated or power-motivated, there are scenarios waiting to be born where, if you carry a real situation to its possible ultimate conclusion, some kind of violent crime can occur. It’s not always clear who is responsible for the crime, and the mystery novel explores the motivations and possibilities. Ideally, the reader doesn’t know who the bad guy is until the end, if then.
The writing process is long, but it is great fun. There you are – just you and your computer, dreaming up bizarre scenarios, taking people’s ideas and motives to their ultimate expression. Then, the level-headed protagonists get to peel back each layer of motivation until they see who done it. What you are doing is presenting a complex, violent situation, and then deconstructing it, so that the reader can see that the crime makes perfect sense given the circumstances, that indeed, the crime was inevitable.
Mysteries require detail and endless pondering of the possibilities. You have to be on guard NOT to get boring. In a class I took once, the instructor suggested that if we hit a slow spot in the narrative, that we invent a sudden intrusion into the flow. If two characters are chatting calmly, create a sudden event, like a gunshot, an invasion, a TV bulletin, or a naked woman running down the street carrying a large bouquet of flowers. This of course, becomes part of the mystery and has a direct connection to the plot. Every page must be interesting.
You can get lost in your story and in your process. Sometimes I look up and four hours have flown by. It gets addictive.
The book I’m reworking now, Madrugada is set in Merida and in a fictional village called Yaxum. Superficially, it’s about the theft of artifacts from an archaeological site, and associated greed and murder. The sub-theme is the impact of the modern world on small Maya pueblos in the Yucatan. In Spanish, the word “madrugada” refers to the time of day between about midnight and five a.m. It’s my favorite word in Spanish and it’s interesting that there is no direct translation into English.
In the story, there is an archaeological site at Yaxum that is being worked by an American team. It’s a tale of corruption, pride, overcoming personal obstacles, and friendship. As in anything I write, the book takes a strong look at the dark side of human nature. The main characters are an American woman investigator from New York, the Merida Police chief, and the head man of the village of Yaxum. In my experience, there is actually a village and archaeological site that resemble Yaxum. The real situation possesses many of the conflict situations in the book, but in the book I can carry these situations a lot further than they went in real life. Using a real environment as my base allows me a richness of detail I don’t know whether I could have conjured up if it had been totally imaginary. For instance, I doubt I’d be good at science fiction.
I have one mystery, set in Yucatan, currently on the market both as an eBook and a paperback. Deadly Awakening features the same investigator and police chief as in Madrugada. They are wonderfully flawed people who are in Merida close to the “end of days,” which many predict will occur on 12/21/2012, the end of the Maya long-count calendar (a period of over 5,000 years). In Deadly Awakening, there is a truly awful murder scene, which makes international news. There are thousands of spiritual tourists in Merida for the end-of-days, and a number of groups have bizarre, charismatic leaders who don’t see eye to eye.
Right now, 2012: Deadly Awakening is available on Barnes & Noble and Amazon as an eBook and on Amazon as a print paperback. The process of putting it into print was long and arduous, but I as I read it over and over and over again, even I was amused. I actually chuckled. There are photos in both the eBook and the print edition. It’s funny and harrowing at the same time. I love this book.
Now that I’ve finished nudging Deadly Awakening through the print process, I am preparing Madrugada for eBook publication and then I’ll take that to print too. A third book with the same characters, Rotten Fruit, is in the works. A lot of the action in Rotten Fruit takes place, where else, in Oxcutzcab (the citrus center of Yucatan). The dregs of the Las Vegas mafia is involved.