CrimeReads: How I Stopped Worrying About The Rules And Learned To Write A Mystery Novel

Thanks to CrimeReads for featuring an essay on my journey to writing Skin Deep.

One of my greatest thrills as a college student was when I was let into the intermediate-level creative writing workshop. You couldn’t just sign up and walk in—you had to submit a short story good enough for the professor to deem you worthy. That first day, I sat around the rectangular table with my future colleagues and was handed a set of rules for the class. It’s been almost thirty years since I laid eyes on this single xeroxed sheet, but I can still remember one of them: You will not write stories about serial murderers, or even regular murderers.

CrimeReads

Shadows Deep, a Siobhan O’Brien Mystery

So back in 2009, my first novel was published. This was a momentous occasion for me, obviously. I’d of course hoped that one day my draft of a novel would see the light of day, but never did I assume even for a second that it was destined to happen. Writing books is hard enough, but then having a publisher buy it, publish it, market it? It’s a journey I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. We authors all write in a vacuum, alone with our screens and keyboards, thinking and typing and dreaming and struggling, all in an effort to share our words/worlds with the public.

In 2015, somehow I was able to repeat what still feels like an impossible feat: a second novel was published. And now, for my latest trick, I’m happy to announce that my third novel will come out next year by the Agora imprint of Polis Books.

What makes this book more special is that it is a straight “genre” novel, meaning it is not a “literary” work of fiction like my first two. I can honestly say I’m more proud of this novel because the mechanics of a mystery novel was not exactly taught to me at my MFA workshops! No, my guides for this one were the masters who came before me. Like Dick Francis.

I’ve been a fan of mystery novels for a long, long time. My first love was indeed Dick Francis, yes, the guy who wrote all those horseracing-infused mysteries. After Francis I got on the Robert B. Parker kick and read a whole mess of his fine and funny Spenser series. Then Dennis Lehane came into my life with his Kenzie and Gennaro novels and Mystic River and Shutter Island. I even love an occasional pulpy, trashy Stone Barrington novel by Stuart Woods!

To prepare for writing Shadows Deep, I carefully read and assiduously took apart A Is for Alibi, Sue Grafton’s first of her “alphabet” series. I did the same with Lehane’s Moonlight Mile (the sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone [useless trivia: the book title has commas, the movie title does not]); John D. MacDonald’s The Deep Blue Good-By; and Raymond Miller’s The Scent of Blood. In all these novels, the commonality was that spending time with their private investigators was a delight: Kinsey Millhone, Kenzie and Gennaro, Travis McGee, Nathaniel Singer. I hope readers will find my private eye, Siobhan O’Brien, a delight, too.

Anyway, here’s the announcement from the good folks at BookRiot:

In Shadows Deep, Woo tells the story of Korean adoptee Siobhan O’Brien, who has spent much of her life explaining her name and her family to strangers, but her more pressing problem is whether to carry on the PI agency that her dead boss unexpectedly left to her. As Siobhan delves deeper into locating a missing girl, she encounters vegan cooking that just might kill her, possibly deadly yoga poses, and politely dangerous billionaires. This first in a new series introduces an endearing PI heroine in the tradition of female detectives like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, but similar in voice with gentle wit as Carl Hiaasen readers aren’t going to want to put down.

Matt Coleman/BookRiot

Did you catch that this is a “first in a new series”? It is indeed. The kind folks at Agora have given me a two-book deal. The second book already has a title: Skin Deep.

Yes, I am so lucky and blessed that it’s not even funny.