By Kelly Lane
Like most freshman mystery writers, when I sold my three-book OLIVE GROVE MYSTERY series to Berkley Prime Crime I was thrilled and full of hope that my cozies would continue well beyond the first trio of books in the series.
Optimistic of my enduring success as a cozy mystery author, with starry-eyed dreams of a “never-ending” series, I peppered my first book, ONE FOOT IN THE GROVE, with all sorts of threads and storyline starters. I put a gazillion elements in place—characters, businesses, settings, backstories … hints of what might come later—so I could build and draw upon these elements over the life of the series.
The biggest ongoing thread in the series is the romantic storyline involving my amateur sleuth protagonist—chronic insomniac, runaway bride, PR gal, Eva Knox. Thirtysomething Eva has scurried back home to her family’s olive plantation in small-town Georgia after her life blew apart following her most recent wedding-day fiasco in New England. When she returns home after 18 years living up North, despite declaring a “man moratorium” for herself, quickly Eva is torn between the series’ two hunky leading men: Eva’s former fiancé and local sheriff, Buck Tanner; and Eva’s moneyed neighbor, mysterious Scotsman, Ian Collier.
Initially, I’d intended to stretch out Eva’s romantic dilemma from one mystery story to another—playing the two sexy suitors off one another—for many, many books to come. However, reality reared it’s sometimes-ugly head and I soon realized that continuing the series beyond three books was going to be a slipperier proposition than I’d initially presumed!
It’s the Pits for a First-time Cozy Author
ONE FOOT IN THE GROVE was in production during some of the publishing industry’s most tumultuous times, ever. Ramifications of new industry models—including Amazon, e-books, and self-publishing, to name a few—were unknowns. Traditional publishing houses merged, downsized, and cut back. Penguin Group, Berkley Prime Crime’s parent company, merged with Random House resulting in significant and numerous staff changes.
Closer to home, I faced one dreadful family crisis after another. I dealt with unexpected health issues. My website designers and I were at odds. My writing was on again, off again. And I wasn’t able to support the release of my new series on social media in the way I’d planned.
Then, there were reports that Penguin Random House announced they’d taken on way too many cozy mystery authors. They’d soon be cutting loose a bunch of cozy authors.
In other words, it was the pits for a first-time cozy author without much of a following. Prospects for my new, “never-ending” mystery series were dribbling away …
Tying Up Threads
So when I began writing book two, COLD PRESSED MURDER, I decided that instead of drawing out all the many complicated threads that I’d planted in book one, it was only fair to readers if I worked to resolve what I’d started; all open threads would be tied-up by the end of book three. Among other things, that meant resolving the love triangle, of sorts, between Eva and her two dashing men. Who would become Eva’s ultimate squeeze? Buck or Ian?
I needed to choose.
Already, well into book two, one of my leading men was quickly fading from the limelight. That is, until I went to lunch.
Camp Buck vs. Camp Ian
Back to reality, joining six women at a luncheon one afternoon, I was surprised and delighted to learn that each woman had read ONE FOOT IN THE GROVE. Moreover, not only were they enthusiastic about the series, they were equally and keenly divided between two distinct camps: Camp Buck and Camp Ian.
The women who adore Buck said Eva’s former bad-boy fiancé turned Sheriff, with his big brawny frame, warm chocolaty eyes, and teasing, smart-ass Southern humor is the perfect match for Eva. No one understands her better. And where’s he been all those years when he was out of town after Eva left him at the altar? What could he possibly see in his current squeeze, Eva’s nemesis, Debi Dicer?
The luncheon ladies are eager to see Eva take nasty Debi down.
By contrast, the women smitten with older, green-eyed, tall and wickedly handsome Scotsman, Ian, want to know more about this wealthy, intensely private, often broody man of mystery. He always seems to pop up when Eva needs him most. Of course, he always disappears before Eva gets a chance to pin him down about anything! The luncheon ladies suspect that part of Ian’s mystery is most likely a woman in his past. Hmmm … could be.
The Women expect Eva to draw him out.
Readers Help Define Plot My Choices
Needless to say, I was astonished to realize how devoted these women are to my characters. Of course, that was my intent. After all, I created two men, each with whom I could easily fall in love myself! However, I was still caught off guard at how strongly vested each woman was in her man-of-choice.
And after lunch that day, I realized that killing off Buck or Ian from the series—figuratively, not literally, of course— would be a crushing disappointment to readers, regardless whether my professional reality dictates the series ends up being three books or thirty books long. And, I admit, I’d hate to see either man go myself!
So, contrary to my initial reaction, even after realizing my somewhat grim publishing reality, thanks to the real-life luncheon ladies, Buck and Ian will both remain key players in the OLIVE GROVE MYSTERY series—right up until the final squeeze!