How I Came to Write “Suspects”

I wanted to write a book that both friends and complete strangers would enjoy. A murder mystery, the most popular kind of fiction, was the obvious choice. I wanted to set the book in Central Oregon, mostly around Sunriver and Bend, because I know and love the area. Central Oregon is rapidly growing while it still maintains something of its pioneer heritage. I wanted to urge the area’s local literature forward in my own small way. (There already are some serious writers here. See the Central Oregon Writers Guild and Hometown Reads for Bend. For poetry, Ellen Waterston and Jarold Ramsey.)

The characters had to be interesting in their own right and I wanted the book to measure up to the standards of a novel, not a basic whodunit. Readers could get happily involved, I decided, with an amateur detective who is using his brains and his persistence while coping with people who aren’t telling him the whole truth — a hero who is himself suspected of the crime and in danger of becoming the next victim. Love, lust, fear, and moral ambiguity have important roles. A little sex and violence, too, but not too much.

Almost no one minds that the victim is dead. In fact, he did more harm to people in his life than his killer did in murdering him.  Uncovering his story is part, I think, of what makes the book interesting.

So I started the book with the setting, some of the characters, and some idea of the plot. But as one of my favorite writers, Lynn Stegner, told me (and she probably wasn’t the first to say it) “Writing is a process of discovery.” The story evolved and changed as I wrote it and rewrote it. Settings changed as I went out and looked at lakes, brewpubs, running and biking trails, and as I learned more about criminal law, triathlons, and a host of other subjects. Characters took over parts of the story. Interesting asides grew into plotlines. When I took paragraphs or pages out of each draft I saved the discards in a file I called “Scrap”. At the end, the scrap file came to 30,000 words – more than a third as long as the finished book. The final book is a distillation of a lot of research and thought.

For now everyone who has read the book has liked it and, using a more objective measure, they finished it. So I have hopes that many more readers will like it as well.


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