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Deb Richardson-Moore: Want to Make Writing Fun? Surprise Yourself.

This month we had the pleasure of hearing from Deb Richardson-Moore. Her latest book Murder, Forgotten is out today, and Deb has shared an insight in to her writing process with an additional treat of a video, so keep reading until the end for that! 

Want to Make Writing Fun? Surprise Yourself.

Writing is hard work, punishingly hard. I’ve had one career in news reporting, one in sermon-writing, plus five books published. I know the pressure of deadline. I understand the grind of turning out copy whether you have something to say or not. I am aware of the toil a sentence, a paragraph, a story, a novel, can be.

My first book was a memoir about my first three years as pastor of a challenging church for homeless people. I wrote the first half on my days off from the church, sitting at a desk in my sunroom-office, often on the verge of tears as I recalled getting cursed out, yelled at, spit upon. My board of directors, likely seeing that I was near the breaking point, gave me a nine-week sabbatical to finish the book. Was it fun? No. It was necessary, and it was painful, and it was the only way The Weight of Mercy was going to come to fruition. But fun? Not for one minute.

Then I turned to mystery writing, but I still had a full-time job, including weekly sermon-writing. My board generously gave me two more sabbaticals which allowed me to finish three more books. During one of those breaks, I accompanied my husband on a 12-day golf trip to Scotland and wrote chapters of The Cantaloupe Thief while staring out over the North Sea and drinking gallons of French press coffee. But fun? I wouldn’t go that far.

Then a friend talked me into going to the Killer Nashville writing conference in August 2018. We needed 50 pages of a novel to submit for critique.

As I was casting about for an idea, I attended a symposium for non-profits at a beachfront resort in my home state of South Carolina. I gazed at the Atlantic Ocean from my hotel room, and a story crystallized: A celebrated mystery writer who lives on the coast of South Carolina is losing her memory. Her success has depended on her ability to fully enter her fictional worlds. When her husband is murdered in a way similar to a killing in the manuscript she’s writing, she’s stricken with fear that she might have done it.

I dragged the hotel desk over to the sliding glass door to my balcony. I jettisoned most of the sessions for the two-day seminar and dove deep into Julianna’s story. I felt like I was playing hooky, which, of course, I was.  I sneaked down to the conference room for bagels and coffee, a sandwich, a cookie. And I embraced writing as a guilty pleasure for the first time in my life. Was it fun? Oh, yeah.

Oddly, I set those early pages on the eastern seaboard of Scotland as Julianna’s assistant whisks her there following the murder. As I looked out over the waters of the Atlantic, I remembered the waters of the North Sea and began the story there.

At the end of my two days, I had 23 pages. More importantly, I had an idea for Murder, Forgotten that wouldn’t let me go. 

I felt that my board had been overly generous in extending sabbaticals so I didn’t request another. Instead, I wrote in the evenings. I wrote on weekends. When my husband and daughter and I traveled to Florida for a vacation in June, I pulled another table to another balcony and wrote every morning. Julianna and her story had me enthralled. By the time Killer Nashville rolled around, I had 150 pages. By December, the book was finished. (Murder, Forgotten – published by Lion Hudson -- is scheduled for a Sept. 18, 2020, release.) 

The reason I say it was fun is because it felt exactly like that novel that keeps you reading until 3 AM. You have to see what happens next. I wanted to get to my desk to see what happened to Julianna next. 

One of the questions I frequently get asked by book clubs is: Do you plot your books ahead of time or figure them out as you go? I figure them out as I go. The endings are as big a surprise to me as to any reader. That’s what makes the writing fun.

In fact, at one point, I talked over the plot with my husband during an evening walk. We decided on a delicious conclusion. When he read the final manuscript, he was surprised. “You completely changed the ending!” he said. Yep, surprised me, too.

But like my husband who figures out the secret to his golf game on Monday and loses it by Thursday, I didn’t carry my lessons into the next book. I battled and slogged through a subsequent manuscript. Finally, ten chapters in, I abandoned it -- the first time I’ve ever done that.

Now I’m writing again, and I wake in the middle of the night wondering what’s going to happen to Quinn, the mysterious young woman who is running from trauma back home in Mobile, Alabama. I’m not sure yet what that trauma is, nor why her cousin was so intent on bringing her to South Carolina. 

My cluelessness? That’s half the fun.

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