Lori Roberts Herbst, author of Negative Reaction, a Callie Cassidy mystery, is visiting Ascroft, eh? today to tell us about her writing process.
Welcome, Lori. I’ll turn the floor over to you –
As an author, the most common questions friends and readers ask me revolve around my writing process. It seems almost magical to most people, as it did to me before I started on this journey. To be honest, even with five books under my belt, it still feels a little magical. And frustrating. And rewarding. And stress-producing.
One thing I’ve learned from my interactions with other authors: everyone’s system is different. And for me, anyway, the process changes, at least slightly, with each book. But here’s a broad overview of how I approach a new book.
I am at heart an organizer, so I never begin a book without knowing the crime, the victim, and the villain. Usually, those three things have been percolating in my mind for a while before I start to build a plot around them. For example, at a hockey game once, I grew a bit bored and found myself distracted by the catwalk above me. “What if someone fell from there?” I thought. Then, “What if they were pushed?” That’s how the idea for Book 3, FROZEN IN MOTION, was born.
For NEGATIVE REACTION, Book 5 in the Callie Cassidy Mystery series, I knew I wanted someone to be the victim of a poisoning. Plot-wise, the use of poisons offers so many potential twists and complications. The culprit doesn’t actually have to be present at the scene of the crime, for example, making it difficult to establish alibis. There’s some fun stuff to explore there, in a creepy mystery-writer kind of way. Once I’d decided on an overarching theme (in this case, what defines family?), I decided who the victim would be, then determined the villain.
Once I have the big three—crime, victim, villain—solidly in mind, I work on the book’s opening and the closing. I like to have the plot circle back in some way. Since NEGATIVE REACTION starts with a wedding, I wanted to create an ending that…well, no spoilers here. You’ll just have to read the book to find out.
Next, it’s time to list suspects. It’s a whodunit, after all, and we need a lot of “whocouldadunits.” Each suspect needs a backstory, a credible motive, and a connection to the victim. Then come the clues and the red herrings. As a reader, I’m frustrated if I don’t feel a story has played fair with me. If the murderer turns up for the first time in the last few pages, I scowl. If an important detail isn’t revealed until way too late in the game, I fume. Readers should be given a chance to figure it out for themselves. But if they don’t (which is, of course, ideal), I want them to be able to go back, look at the clues, and say, “Oh, yeah—I should have noticed that. Well done, author. Well done.
The last part of the process involves the subplots. Plot-wise, each of my books stands alone—no cliffhangers. But in terms of character arcs, the stories continue throughout the series. Callie’s best friend got engaged in FROZEN IN MOTION, for example. They throw her a bridal shower in PHOTO FINISHED, and NEGATIVE REACTION takes us to her wedding.
Once all the pieces are in place, I create an outline. I start with a broad list of plot points. These will often be juggled around, scrapped, or reconfigured, so I keep it loose. I craft a more detailed outline encompassing about a quarter of a book, write that quarter, reevaluate my direction, and then outline the next quarter. And so on…
For me, the pre-writing phase takes at least a month, maybe more, but the back of my mind works on that while I’m busy with other things. The outlining itself takes about a month. When it comes to the actual writing, if I’m in the groove, I can usually get a draft done in six to eight weeks. But it’s a rough draft. Very rough. A “what was I thinking?” type of roughness.
After another month of tearing at my hair and wondering why I ever thought I could be a writer, I work on revising. I add suspects if necessary, perhaps change or reorganize scenes, and possibly create new clues and red herrings.
If all goes well, a couple of weeks into the revision process I’m at the “this isn’t as bad as I thought” phase, and by the end of the month I’m thinking, “well, look at this. It might just work.”
I then put the book into the hands of my stellar beta readers, who provide much-needed fresh eyes and feedback. Then it’s off to my editor, who works her magic. That leads to one final revision, followed by proofreading. Since I’m indie published, I spend a day formatting the book. I already have an ebook cover, created by my amazing cover designer, and once I have a paperback length, she generates that cover, too. Then the book is uploaded and ready for readers.
That’s when I settle back for some well-deserved time off. At least a day. Then it’s off to start the next book: in this case, GRAVEN IMAGES, Book 6, coming soon!
If you have any questions about my process, feel free to ask in the comments. I’m happy to answer!
Thank you for sharing this with us, Lori, and good luck with Negative Reaction, a Callie Cassidy mystery.
Readers can learn more about Lori Roberts Herbst by visiting the author’s website and her Facebook, Goodreads, Bookbub and Instagram pages.
The book is available online at Amazon
About Lori Roberts Herbst: Lori, who writes the Callie Cassidy Mystery series, spent much of her life writing, editing, and psychoanalyzing. Through thirty years of teaching journalism, advising newspaper and yearbook staff, instructing budding photographers, and counseling teenagers, she still managed to hang on to a modicum of sanity. Her books have earned first-place CIBA awards in the Murder and Mayhem division. She currently serves as secretary of the Sisters in Crime North Dallas chapter and is a member of the Sisters in Crime Guppies and the Mystery Writers of America.
Thank you for hosting me! Happy to answer any questions readers might have!
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