Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Amazing Race

by Kathleen Ernst

I recently turned in the manuscript for the fourth Chloe Ellefson mystery, Heritage of Darkness.  There’s still work to do—final corrections, proofing, writing acknowledgments—but the book is basically done.

Phew.  Reaching this stage always makes me feel as if I’ve just completed the last sprint of a long and challenging race.

Which reminds me of the one reality TV show I watch faithfully—The Amazing Race.  Eleven teams race around the world, performing tasks and trying to avoid elimination.  The jubilation the winning team displays upon crossing the final line and meeting Phil, the host, reflects my feelings when I zipped that manuscript off to Terri, Midnight Ink’s host…er, acquiring editor.

Last fall was crazy-busy, so I needed a little extra time to finish Heritage of Darkness.  That means that I’m already behind schedule for Chloe #5.  As I write this,  I’m digging into the new book.  This morning I began assigning names to the new characters hovering patiently at the edge of my brain.

The process reminds me of the first episode of each installment of the Amazing Race.  A new season started recently, and all of the participants are strangers to me.  I don’t know who the nice people are and who are jerks.  I don’t know why, or even if, I should care about any of them.

After completing Heritage of Darkness, I’d finished the stories of characters I’d come to know intimately.  Now, my new secondary characters for Chloe #5 feel flat.

Fortunately, the writing process will reveal all.  I’ll discover which characters are unnecessary to the story (“I’m sorry to tell you that you have been eliminated from the novel.”)  I’ll come to know the rest in all their juicy complexity, each with a role to play.

That’s one of the pleasures of delving into each new installment of the Chloe Ellefson series.  I love watching the two main characters—who I know very well--grow and change and learn to work together.  I love getting to know the new cast.

I love traveling to new places, seeing the sights, discovering what I can about local history and culture.  I love poking around, sometimes backtracking down blind alleys, striving to meet unexpected challenges, occasionally stumbling over the unexpected but perfect souvenir.

If that all sounds like a leisurely way to approach a novel…well, I guess it is.  I don’t outline.  The journey itself reveals what I need to know.  The pace will pick up as I travel deeper into the story.

Until I reach the final leg, with not a million dollars (uproarious laughter) but instead a deadline looming on the horizon, and a frantic sprint needed to get there.


Beth Groundwater said...

I love THE AMAZING RACE, too, Kathleen!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Beth, unlike me, you'd probably be a great success on the race!