I wrote the first draft of “Death and White Diamonds” in eight weeks during the summer of 2013. But that is not entirely accurate because I wrote the first paragraph in 2006. Perhaps I should explain. It’s all about finding the dead body.
Whenever I’m travelling or otherwise outside of my normal routine, I have a certain writing exercise that I do. I look for the dead body. It’s an exercise in finding story ideas. I think of it like a musician practicing his scales. I imagine dead bodies in the airport, on the train, at black-tie galas and minor-league baseball games. I imagine the dead body and then I write a few sentences to capture the moment.
I’ve found dead bodies in middle-eastern bars on M Street and on the elevator at the Kennedy Center. I’ve found dead bodies floating in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and decomposing quietly in the club car on the train somewhere between Trenton NJ and Washington DC.
In 2006, I found a dead body on the beach in Cape May, NJ. At the time, I wrote
“Walking through the dunes late at night, the surf is angry. The weather has changed, clouds blocking out the stars, wind whipping the surf into a frenzy. At high tide the beach is mostly gone, the rhythm of the waves pounding on the shore, washing away the evidence. In the distance, the lights of a lonely freighter spending another night on the water. There is a chill in the air. I barely notice. The knife is still warm in my hand.”
I tucked the paragraph away along with my growing collection of dead bodies.
In 2009, when the third book in my Cassie O’Malley series (It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Murder) was published, it was my intention to follow-up with at least one more book in the series, but I was struggling to find the right mystery for Cassie to solve. Notwithstanding my collection of dead bodies, none of them felt right for Cassie.
Meanwhile, the dead woman on the beach kept tugging at my sleeve, demanding that I tell her story. Finally I realized that it was time for me to write a stand-alone. I was surprised to discover how much fun it was to write a story with no pre-existing characters or expectations.
“Death and White Diamonds” is the story of a man who may or may not have murdered his girlfriend. He’s not sure. The only thing he knows with any certainty is that when her body is found, he’s going to be the prime suspect in a murder investigation. He decides that the smart thing to do is to dispose of the body. It’s a story about how one bad decision can cause your life to spin horribly out-of-control.
The first paragraph in the book follows nearly exactly from the scene I wrote in 2006.
So I have lived with this dead body now for close to a decade. For the last eighteen months, her boyfriend Richie has been lodged firmly in my head. I have shared some deeply disturbing experiences with Richie involving a table saw, a sausage grinder and, god help me, a chum cannon.
But what I’ve learned from my experience as an author is that the writer by himself (or herself) does not create the book. The book happens as a result of a partnership that develops between an author and his/her readers. You see, for a very long time, I carry that fictional world around inside my head. It is so real to me that I nearly forget, at that stage, that I am the only person who has visited that particular world. And then, through some inexplicable process, I download the mess from my head to my computer. Amazingly, my publisher sends me a check and she arranges for the world to be captured between the book’s covers.
And then, the truly magical thing happens, the most amazing thing of all. Other people read the book and suddenly, they’re carrying that world around inside their head too. It’s only then that the book can truly be said to exist. When you find it not in the author’s head, but in the reader’s head. That is the partnership between a writer and a reader. That is the magic of books.