Thursday, January 27, 2011

Working at This Place is Murder! (Or the Problem with Writing a Mystery Series) By Karen McCullough, Guest Blogger

Today I'd like to welcome Karen McCullough, author of a number of novels in the romantic suspense, fantasy, and mystery genres, including A Question of Fire, Shadow of a Doubt, Wizard’s Bridge, and Witch’s Journey. Her novella “Heart of the Night” is part of the Shadowed Hearts series of Gothic romance novellas, and “Vampire’s Christmas Carol” was published in the Beneath a Christmas Moon anthology of paranormal Christmas stories. More information on Karen's books can be found at her website.


Working at This Place is Murder! (Or the Problem with Writing a Mystery Series) By Karen McCullough, Guest Blogger

I have a book releasing right about now from Five Star/Gale Group/Cengage that I hope will be the first of a series of mystery novels. The book is A Gift for Murder and the series is Market Center Mysteries. These are stories set a fictional market center building and exhibition hall in Washington, D.C. and feature as the main detective, the assistant to the director of the center.

I’m currently writing the second book and mentally working on the third, but starting the second one smacked me with the obvious problem in creating a mystery series set in the same place. How do you make it realistic? I mean any place that has more than one murder in the space of a year has got to be one heck of a dangerous place to work, right? And it’s certainly going to draw some extra attention from local law enforcement types, even though each murder eventually does get solved and the killers and motives are varied.

If you’re going to write mysteries, and especially mysteries that have the word “Murder” in the title, you’ve got to have a murder in the story, so there’s no way around that. The setting at a market center means there are different events going on all the time, so it’s easy to vary the circumstances and motives for the crimes, and the cast of characters is constantly changing.

In fact, that’s part of what makes this setting so appealing to me. Lots of different people come and go and lots of different things happen. A trade show in the gift industry is a somewhat different animal from a trade show in the agricultural products industry. And I’ve been told that a show in the hair products industry can be an amazing event. I plan to try to check that out for myself!

What they have in common—and what makes them a great setting for a mystery—is that the stakes are high, the time is compressed, and people are out of their normal environment. Emotion can run high and money flows, and that can lead to all sorts of bad outcomes.

But still… How many murders can you realistically have happen in one place? At what point do the cops and the FBI and who knows who else begin to give everyone in the place the fish-eye and ask “What’s going on here?” When do my characters say, “This place is much too dangerous to keep working here?”

I guess I’m going to find out. And maybe, I can find a way to work that very issue into the stories as a thread or plot element. An interesting challenge.

More about A Gift for Murder, available now for pre-order.

The heroine of A Gift for Murder, Heather McNeil, is assistant to the director of the fictional Washington, D.C. Commerce & Market Center. In that role she gets to mediate disputes between feuding exhibitors, field complaints about dirty carpet, deal with malfunctioning popcorn machines, and generally provide a sympathetic ear to unhappy clients. Finding the body of a murdered executive during the biggest show of the year isn’t part of the job description. Nor is trying to find the murderer, but from various things she’s heard, Heather is pretty sure the authorities are off-base in their suspicion that the executive’s wife killed him. If she doesn’t identify the real murderer herself, the odds are that person will get away with it and possibly kill again.

A Gift for Murder is projected as the first in a series of “Market Center Mysteries,” with additional books and stories to come.The Market Center Mysteries website for the series is now open at for more information about the books, settings, and characters.


Karen, thanks so much for being my guest here today. It's always a special treat to feature a Five Star/Gale author.

You can learn more about Karen by checking out her bio at her website.


Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Karen.

Karen - You really ask an important question! I'm dealing with the same issue, as my series takes place in a small college town. I've worked on it a bit in my third novel by having my protagonist involved in a case in a city a few hours from the town he lives in. But it's going to be an issue I will have to keep thinking about...

Patricia Stoltey said...

In my two Sylvia and Willie mysteries, I've kept the family on the move...first Willie was on vacation when he got into trouble, and then Sylvia escorted her mother's travel club on a weekend jaunt. Since my characters live in South Florida, however, they can find all kinds of mysteries (including murder) right at home. I'd thought about relocating them back to the farm in Illinois, but I can see where it might be much harder that way.

Linda Osmundson said...

Whether a mystery or not, the same setting for a series offers challenges. I've read several light reading series in the same setting. The reader becomes so familiar with the place, it almost feels like home.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Though challenging to write, it sounds like it will be a fun series.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Linda -- I feel that way about the characters in Fannie Flagg's Elmwood Springs, Mississippi. Love 'em.

Hi Jane -- Karen's books do sound like good reads.

Helen Ginger said...

This sounds like a fun series. All the various booths open things up for a variety of murders. I can see where you could have problems with too many murders, but I'm sure you'll figure that out. Maybe she'll have to go visit other exhibit halls or go in search of a missing exhibitor.

Mari G said...

Hi Karen
I'm not sure you should worry too much about using the same location for a second murder. Most television soaps & long running serials (in Great Britain & Ireland anyway!) have so many murders & miscellaneous crimes in the one town that credibility is stretched to breaking point & still millions keep watching!
Go for it!

Karen McCullough said...

Thanks for the discussion and advice. I think I might do some side excursions to other places my heroine hangs out, just to have something happen outside the exhibit hall occasionally. But the police are still going to wonder about someone who seems like a magnet for murder. I guess most mystery series that don't have professional PIs or cops have that issue.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Remember the Angela Lansbury "Murder, She Wrote" series on TV? The fans didn't care one bit that J.T. Fletcher and Cabot Cove were magnets for murder.

Lots of times the amateur sleuth is married to or close friends with someone in law enforcement. In Sophie Littlefield's series, her protagonist indulges in a bit of vigilante behavior, but her law officer love interest even looks the other way.

Kathy McIntosh said...

I think most folks are willing to suspend disbelief for a good mystery. This sounds like a fascinating setting. I love to learn about new locations and vocations.

Jemi Fraser said...

I have no problem suspending belief for a good book and series! :)

Karen McCullough said...

It's very reassuring to hear that it might not be the problem I've been worried about. Now, I hope I can write stories good enough that readers won't be concerned about it.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Karen -- I'm betting your series will be great fun. Another small town series you might want to take a look at (for more fun) is Jess Lourey's Murder by Month series.

Karen Fenech said...

Karen, sounds like a great series and so true what others have said about too many murders not being a concern to readers. It's such fun to be writing book 2 with ideas of book 3 also coming to you! : )

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Sounds like a great series. And like everyone else said, I am sure people are willing to suspend disbelief at least when it comes to the number of murders taking place around a detective.