My name is C. Hope Clark and I have a Jekyll and Hyde persona in the writing world. By day I’m founder of FundsforWriters, a resource for writers which includes a website that’s been designated on the 101 Best Websites for Writers list by Writer’s Digest for 12 years, and newsletters that reach 40,000 readers. By night, I’m author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series, published by Bell Bridge Books. The debut of the series, Lowcountry Bribe, came out in February 2012. Book Two, Tidewater Murder, comes out in early 2013. I speak across the US at writing conferences, writers’ clubs and book clubs about both FundsforWriters and mystery fiction.
I’ve written mysteries for 15 years, but it took 14 years to write the first one, find an agent, contract a publisher, and receive the book in my hands. I started writing mystery to exorcise a demon, so to speak. In my prior life, I worked for the federal government, with US Dept of Agriculture. A client offered me a bribe. The case went awry and left a very unpleasant taste in my mouth about the meaning of whistle-blowing, so I wrote a story about it. Unable to sell it as a quasi-memoir, I rewrote it as pure fiction, with many more twists and turns, recalling my case and adding a lot of “what if’s” until I found I LOVED writing mystery.
I inserted a love interest in the story, as most stories today must have, because in reality, I married the federal agent who arrived on the scene to investigate my bribery case. I get a lot of awwwwww’s when I tell audiences that story. Funny. It wasn’t all fun and games at the time!
I wanted to traditionally publish my fiction, as an item on my bucket list. It took 72 individually written queries to land the agent, and 18 months of pitching through her to find the contract. And I wouldn’t have done it any other way, because my writing grew phenomenally in that interim period. The delay in publishing made my writing stronger…much stronger. As a result, Lowcountry Bribe has garnered several awards.
Hope’s Writing Technique
My novels, and I’ve written three in the series, come partially from experiences of myself and my husband. I handled minor investigations with USDA and my husband was a federal agent, the real gun-totin’, badge sportin’ type. Between us, we had ample experience with those types of people that cross the line. I have a ball taking what I know and embellishing, mixing up, and making up layers of mystery for Carolina Slade.
Her name, by the way, was strategically selected. Carolina reminds the readers the story is in the Carolinas. Slade is a family name traced back to the late 1600s on my mother’s side. I combined my home and my family in this character, and I imagine my friends and family see glimpses of themselves in the stories. But for all the other character names, since they must be Southern in origin, I research two main places: 1) cemetery listings, and 2) websites of Southern cities where very Southern names appear on town councils and in various government positions. Old South usually has a hand in politics.
As for creating the stories, since I write a series, my characters come first, then a location, then a crime. In Lowcountry Bribe, the crime came first, obviously, with the characters close behind. But in the others, to maintain the theme of placing crimes in rural communities, I select venues with intriguing histories or agricultural backgrounds that could add flair to the story.
Lowcountry Bribe takes place in Charleston County, but specifically Edisto Island, an area not commonly seen in novels. Tidewater Murder takes place on St Helena Island, in Gullah country, full of intensely rich history.
In the actual writing of the story, I’m a pantser with a hint of outlining in my system. I outline three chapters, write them, edit them once, then outline three more. My characters have been known to take off on crazy tangents, so I don’t dare outline 33 chapters only to have the story take on a new flavor in chapter 5. And to edit, I park my behind usually on the back porch, if the weather is right, and pour my husband and I a bourbon as he grabs a cigar, and I read aloud to him. He’s a great technical advisor, and he hears mistakes pretty darn well for a guy who hates to read. He keeps my guns and legal matters correct, too.
Keeping Characters Straight
I don’t keep a file on characters. I feel I have to know them intimately to even start writing about them, so the info needs to be inherent in my head. When I first started writing I did some of what gurus suggest: writing biographies for characters. But today, I have a very large dry erase board on my wall divided in three categories. 1) one-line descriptions of each chapter as they evolve. 2) character names and 3-4 words about them. 3) Loose ends, which changes constantly as I identify red herrings and tie them up, as I drop clues and find ways to make them fit. That way I don’t forget what happened in Chapter 3 needs to be explained by the end of Chapter 33.
Other than that, I have no real formula. I hate it when formulas and organization get in the way of creativity. I organize heavily with FundsforWriters, but I free-wheel it with my fiction. If I wind up like Sue Grafton or Janet Evanovich, with a series that reaches 15 and 20 books, I’m sure I’ll have to create a monitoring system of some sort, but for now, it’s fun and games as I go.
Contact Hope Clark at http://www.chopeclark.com