I returned from my first Malice Domestic with a mission from my agent: fifty pages and a synopsis for a new cozy mystery series. I was excited about the fifty pages. The synopsis, eh, not so much. I’d already been working on a budding idea in the weeks leading up to Malice. The existing manuscript just needed a few tweaks to fit the brief. I had eleven pages to work with and a somewhat cohesive outline. I was confident I could do this.
Then I reached the end of those eleven pages and realized I had absolutely no emotional investment in the characters. My own characters. I didn’t understand them or their decisions. I couldn’t picture them in my head. Writing them didn’t feel “right.” So, I did what I’ve done a hundred times. I set another “Chapter One” aside.
I wasn’t giving up, though. I had promised my agent fifty pages and a synopsis, and I am a woman of my word. I was just going to have to start a whole new series from scratch. Not daunting at all.
Fun fact about me: when I’m stressed, I clean and organize. So, I was a little anxious about this new task hovering over my head. The apartment was already spotless, so I sat down at my computer and decided to tidy up my writing folders to soothe my boiling angst. Not a grueling task, mind you. Ultimately, I ended up creating even more folders where I could dump all the random files I’ve accrued since my last panic clean. One of those random files was a two-year-old Word document. It wasn’t a surprise find or anything. It had just been sitting in my generic writing folder since its creation. I knew exactly what the document contained. It held two chapters of a cozy mystery WIP that eventually inspired a supporting character in You Can’t Candle the Truth. An origin story of sorts.
I clicked the file on a whim amidst my sea of simmering anxiety. I enjoy revisiting old work. It was only two chapters, right? It would take me ten minutes to read, tops.
Imagine my surprise when my gaze flickered to the word counter at the bottom of the page to see thirty thousand words glaring at me. Thirty thousand words is not two chapters. That’s nearly half a book. I had half of a cozy mystery staring me in the face. A work-in-progress I had all but forgotten. So, I dove in and read. And giggled. And laughed. And turned to my partner multiple times to exclaim, “Omigosh, this is actually really good.” Like, so good, I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t continued writing the story.
As this nagging question became more urgent, I put my reading on pause and opened OneNote. I use this application to create all my writing bibles. Every series I’ve written or idea I’ve had in the past five years lives in this program. All my notes, outlines, maps, and character summaries are in one accessible place. So, I went on a hunt for any information I’d written about this newly rediscovered work-in-progress. Astounded, I found extensive character write-ups, an illustrated map of the setting, the solution to the crime—everything I needed to write a cozy mystery—hidden away under one too many section tabs. I reviewed the outline, suddenly feeling the familiar jitter in my fingers. I had to start typing. I’d found characters I could connect with; I understood their actions and words. As I sat there typing away, I couldn’t believe this fun, engaging manuscript had been sitting in plain sight for so long. For two years, I had continued to go about my writing, assuming it was two chapters. What an incredible discovery to find an entire world patiently waiting for me. Those fifty pages and synopsis suddenly became a blip in my rearview mirror.
Well, the fifty pages did. The synopsis? You guessed it. Not so much.