My hands are old. As I stick my hand in the hot water to wash the fragile wool fleece, my hands blur under the water, and for just a moment, I am young again. The illusion quickly fades when I pull my soap-covered hands from the water and dry them. Craft is aging them, but I’m glad. In a world that caters to the young, fresh, and instant, old hands earned through craft have value.

A friend commented that she doesn’t understand my love of washing, combing, and spinning fleece into beautiful yarns. “You can just go to the craft store and buy it,” she said.

She’s right, but she’s also wrong. As the fiber slips through my fingers and winds onto the bobbin, it forms a connection to the past. I create the same motions and feel the rhythm of the pedals like generations of women before me. Women who had to craft in order to clothe their families. Women who felt the mean pinch of winter on their skin when they walked out to the barn to feed their flock of sheep but knew the importance of keeping their animals alive – for food, for clothing, and for love.

So I’ll take these hands and know that while I don’t face hardships like those who crafted before me, I can honor them. I can maintain the link to the past and those artisans whose hands are old like mine.

Writing a series

Writers may use several methods for tracking their characters and plot lines for a series. Some prefer Scrivener or spreadsheets to track their story. Others, myself included, are Luddites and stick to notebooks chock full of notes and research.

When I write a novel, I create what I affectionately call my “murder book.” I have the printed pages of the novel that need editing in the front followed by a tab for each character. With each character, I list their role, relationships with others in the novel, motive for murder (if a suspect) and other supporting details. I have a tab for the victim and how each person relates to him/her. I have a tab for the crime itself and all clues that need to be revealed throughout the novel in order for the detective (and the reader!) to solve the crime.

Chapter One of Murder at the Bijou Theater

I create a sketch of the town, or if it is a real location, I include a map of the area. For example, I’m currently working on a 1920s mystery set in Richmond. I printed out a map of the city from that time period. I also found a home in Zillow that is similar to where my main character, Evie, would have lived in as a middle class woman in 1922. I printed pictures of the interior and use that as a guide for writing scenes.

Next, I have a tab for slang, clothing, cars of the 1920s, and other relevant research so that I can easily reference the information.

Newspaper article for research

Article from 1922 Richmond Times-Dispatch

My murder takes place in a theater that is now the home of the Library of Virginia. I had a difficult time locating interior shots of the theater before it was torn down. I contacted the state archives, and an archivist found blueprints from a theater that was nearby and sent me photographs of the prints so I could understand what the interior layout might have been. Those photos are now printed and in the murder book.

My final tab is for plain college-ruled notebook paper. This is where I can scribble ideas and keep track of them for later inclusion in the novel.

I’m always fascinated by authors’ various methods of writing and compiling information and notes. I hope this gives you a small glimpse into the world of a mystery writer.