What Are You Looking For in Female Protagonists in Mystery Series?

This post is worth sharing from one of my favorite blogs, Writer Unboxed. I hope you’ll read it. It prompted me to repost it and add my own thoughts, specifically about female protagonists in mystery series.

The majority of readers have let me know they thoroughly enjoy seeing the world through the eyes of my series protagonist, Britt Johansson, but she does take occasional heat from other characters in my stories because her actions can often seem reckless for a woman. That gives me, the writer, an opportunity to set the record straight.

The way I look at it, Britt’s actions could be seen as reckless if taken by an average person, man or woman, but not for Britt’s profession as a photojournalist covering international conflicts and environmental disasters. Taking risks is a pre-requisite in her line of work.

Another issue I’ve heard discussed about female protagonists, particularly in the thriller and mystery genres, is that they aren’t likeable enough, or too focused on their jobs—criticisms rarely extended to male protagonists. In Britt’s case, her mission is to help make the world aware of the plight of women and children who are victims of war. That sometimes takes a toll on her personal relationships, and she’s not the type to compromise much. Men behave that way all the time, and it’s acceptable, but when women put their careers or dreams first they’re often held to a different standard.

Books written by women with female protagonists have come a long way, but as Jo Eberhardt’s post points out, there continue to be lots of misconceptions and stereotypes. What’s satisfying to me as an author is that I get to work these things out any way I choose and so far, readers seem to like it.

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Coming Soon

For those who’ve been asking, the third mystery in my Spirit Lake series is in the final stretch! As always, expect lots of threads to connect and more than a few surprises. As one reader says,

Complex murder mysteries, bone-chilling thrills and a little bit of romance

I’d like to hear your thoughts on female protagonists in the mystery genre. What are your expectations as readers?

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Get Out of the Way

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Photo shared from The Writer’s Circle

Yesterday I read, “How to Abandon Your Outline to Improve Your Story” by Steven James in one of my favorite blogs, Writer Unboxed. I knew it was a good piece and timely for me when my brain popped with several ideas for the draft I’m working on in my new Spirit Lake mystery.

James offered great advice:

  • Focus on story, not plot
  • Let context guide you
  • Always opt for believability
  • Include more twists
  • Fulfill your promises
  • Get out of the way

Even though I’m not an outliner, writing a good mystery requires keeping readers (and me) guessing and entertained. That doesn’t happen without knowing where I’m going with the story. However, there comes a point where I forget to get out of the way and attempt to shoehorn the story into my plan. That’s when the creative process takes a backseat to being safe.

And isn’t that what often happens to us in our everyday lives as well? Our preconceived ideas keep us from getting out of the way and allowing more surprises and twists. Are you open to a few surprises today?

Happy reading and writing!

The Life of a Writer Bear

You might or might not have wondered why you haven’t seen my blog lately, but I’ve been working on the next book in my Spirit Lake Mystery series. I’m not much of a multitasker, especially during this first draft phase.

Authors use the terms plotter or pantser. It means the writer follows an outline or writes by the seat of their pants without planning. Most of us are both of course. But what all novels and all projects involve is delving into the unknown. Creating with no net. Most likely, it’s not much different than what anyone experiences at the beginning of a big project, writer or not. Lots of uncertainty. And it takes concentration.

Writers like to use metaphors to describe what it’s like to write a novel. This morning, sitting at my computer in my brown ankle-length bathrobe and furry boot slippers, I feel like a sluggish bear coming out of a deep sleep. My brain-fog has cleared, I’ve stretched my hunched-over body and the knot between my brows has eased.

It’s not spring, it’s winter, but unlike bears, writers don’t use seasons as a timeline. For me, it’s about believing I have a good story to tell now that the first wild excitement of exploring an idea settles into completing that first draft.

Yesterday I was so close to reaching that goal nothing could penetrate my focus. Someone asked me a question and then wondered why it took me so long to respond. It’s not an easy transition from my story world to my real life. That same evening my son, who was over for dinner, looked in the pan on the stove and then at me, eyebrows raised. “What is that?” I wasn’t sure.

But this morning I am alert, alive and excited, because the next part is where the real fun begins. Making the scenes and characters come alive, honing the plot and action to keep you, the reader, surprised and engaged and enjoying the story.

But first, I’m about to go for a stroll through the woods, sniff the air, nibble blueberries or swat at a fish upstream.

Wishing you all happy holidays and happy reading!

Photo credit: ucumari photography via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Let Your Brain(s) Co-mingle

This writing journey is the best thing I’ve done for myself in years. I’m not saying I’ve figured it all out, but the one thing I do every day is sit at my laptop and work on my manuscript. It brings me joy and it’s important to me to do the best I can. Everything else slips away.

Rarely does any part of the writing or editing frustrate me; it intrigues me when I come up against a situation that isn’t working or could be communicated more effectively. Writing mysteries employs my analytical brain and my creative brain. I used to think one or the other had to be in charge. One brain had the ideas, the other organized and honed the story. But I no longer believe that to be true for me. My two brains co-mingle like crazy, and when I get up from my chair, I’m satisfied I’ve given it my all.
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It’s been a few weeks since I last posted a blog, due to my busy schedule and scattershot method of letting people know about my writing journey. Unlike writing a mystery, participating in social media involves a different motivation, and for me that’s tied up with being a bit of an introvert, suffering from an occasional lack of confidence and overcoming the learning curve in some of the technical areas. But my overriding desire is to keep in touch with you, and hope you’ll do the same with me.

Today Steven Pressfield’s blog Why #4 was the motivation I needed, and I’m betting it will inspire you as well, no matter what your calling or where you are on your journey.

Measure the Magic

Lately I’ve been trying to fit my life into a list, and the measure of my success is directly related to how many items I’ve checked off at the end of the day. The list, by the way, never grows smaller because for every item I cross off, several more are waiting to be added. Don’t get me wrong, being productive is satisfying in a “job-well-done-good-going” sort of way. But something’s been missing.

You need a little magic

Last July I posted a blog, Motivation and Magic, about my morning ritual of reading through my inspiration notebook. Unfortunately, it’s been months since I opened that notebook. Publishing my first book caused me to morph from laid back to list lady. Now I juggle multiple to do lists—writing, promotion, social media, marketing, force-feeding myself new information, and keeping up with my email and FB friends.

Today I’m measuring the magic instead of the productivity, and so far it’s been, well, magical.

In my gym workout this morning, we’d completed fifty sweaty minutes of exercises when the coach sent us to the parking lot to do front lunges and mummy kicks. We were dragging, but two of the women faced each other and clapped hands after each lunge, making it a partner workout. We all laughed and picked up the pace. I looked at the blue sky, and back at the women of all ages and sizes enjoying the moment. As we headed out to jobs, kids, or other plans for the day, no one grumbled about getting another workout under our belts; we commented on the fresh air, the great day. We were all feeling the magic.

Wait, there’s more magic to come

My routine after the gym is to sit at my laptop and work on my book until noon, but today I set up my ironing board near the back sliding door, lit a pineapple and sage candle and ironed as a cool breeze moved across my arms. By the time I finished, I’d mentally written a chapter that had eluded me for days.

For the rest of the week I’m going to lose the lists, “measure the magic” and see how that plays out. Do you measure your days? What’s your process?

I recommend reading Brain Pickings The Art of Looking: How to Live with Presence, Break the Tyranny of Productivity, and Learn to See Our Everyday Wonderland by Maria Popova

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