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

Great New Review!

Happy surprise to see this review of my book on Mark S. Bacon’s blog. Thanks, Mark!

Fast-paced Mystery Scares, Intrigues

As an amateur detective, Britt Johansson, a Pulitzer-prize winning press photographer, is brash, aggressive, occasionally reckless and has the patience of a toddler with ADD. “Following the rules…didn’t always work for me,” she says.

When she stumbles on a gruesome murder in her small hometown of Spirit Lake, Minn., she’s off and running in an absorbing tale that has both unsettling and heart-breaking elements. The first murder scene—not the only one—is so vivid and shocking it puts you on edge. The story then segues into a mystery investigation that could lead to hate crimes or systematic terror. And possibly bad news for Johansson. “I…heard the unmistakable crack of a pump action shotgun behind me.” Author Townsdin provides murderous details sufficient to shock, without bloody, slasher-style prose. A good balance.

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Her characters include some typical Scandinavians (this is Minnesota, after all) a batch of scary zealots and a mixed batch of writers encamped in Spirit Lake for a seminar. Johansson’s brother’s restaurant becomes her investigation headquarters and later, her fortress. “Every customer who entered the restaurant looked like a psychopath killer to me,” Johansson says.

Following Johansson as she searches for the killer, moves you not just at a swift pace, but in unusual and unexpected directions with unexpected consequences. The local sheriff takes appropriate precautions, but Britt Johansson wants to kick the investigation into high gear, and then some. In addition to being impulsive, she’s suspicious, a good trait for an investigator. As a journalist, she explains, “I generally looked at people with distrust. Most of them were in the news for a reason—bad behavior.”

As the second in the Spirit Lake series, this book expands on Johansson’s relationship with her sometimes boyfriend Ben, her brother, the local sheriff and other media and law enforcement folk. Johansson is almost as unpredictable as the killer or killers she’s stalking and the ending deals satisfyingly with the crimes but leaves Johansson’s personal and professional life in disarray–ready for the next installment.

Check out Mark’s blog and his mystery, Death in Nostalgia City. I loved it!

Going Live and Going Home!

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In Close Up on Murder, L.A. Times photojournalist Britt Johansson is back in Spirit Lake recharging before her next overseas assignment when two murders and a string of threats against her brother set her in action. Are they hate crimes, a long-buried act of revenge or something else?

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Last February, I wrote a blog, Going Live, to announce my debut novel, Focused on Murder. And now I’m happy to announce the second in the series, Close Up on Murder is published and available on Amazon. For more about the book, please check out my updated website.

In last February’s post, in addition to thanking my supportive friends and family for all their help with my first efforts to publish a book, I said I’d share some of what I’d learned about the publishing process in my future blog posts. I’ve reposted the list below and commented on how it went.

Tricks I’ve used to tame the fear and keep everything in perspective

There was no perspective and no taming the fear. I spoke in front of 250-300 people at a couple of conferences and don’t remember what I said. In a whirlwind event at Bouchercon, I participated in something called Author Speed Dating to pitch my book. I was given 2 ½ minutes at each of 45 tables consisting of eight readers, reviewers and other authors. It turned out to be immersion therapy. I’m no longer an introvert! That’s not really true, but for the two hours I raced from table to table talking about my book, I was on fire. It felt great.

Tips on how to use CreateSpace

By the time I was ready to publish my second book, I’d forgotten everything I learned from the first time and had to stumble through the process. Yes, they make it easy, but it still felt like trying to put together a Rubik’s Cube.

Reminders to tackle everything at your own pace

I know now that’s a silly statement. Who else’s pace would you use? It turned out that I am not the multi-tasker I thought I was. Once I started working on Close Up, my blogging and promoting slowed almost to a standstill. I switched back to introvert mode.

How to know the difference between resistance and the importance of doing what feels comfortable to you

I have no clue. I read five newsletters a day filled with advice, but I don’t end up doing very much of it. One I read today scared me. It said, “Don’t Crash Your Book Launch” and offered 14 ways to keep that from happening, which takes me back to the top: How to tame the fear and keep everything in perspective.

What I am going to do is load up my car with books and a positive attitude and take a road trip to Minnesota, the setting for my mysteries. I hope to get some perspective during the long drive. I’ll visit family, friends and bookstores, and have some fun working on ideas for my next mystery.

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Now that Close Up on Murder is published, I hope you will read it and post your review on Amazon. My website has been updated with new information. Please visit me and say hello.