When I was given the idea to write a book, I was a few months into my eventual 15 month tour around the world. The idea didn’t go away, and when I started to think what kind of a book I would write, three things became immediately clear.
Obviously my sleuth will be as enthusiastic a traveller as I am. Each book will take place during her travels, which, funnily enough, coincide with where I have travelled, or will travel in future. Write what you know. And so I will. My earlier plan of becoming a travel writer for online and print publications never materialized, so using my travel experiences for a series of murder mysteries will let me (and my readers) re-visit the places I love.
The travel theme will place limitations on the stories as well. Back in Agatha Christie’s day travellers were usually groups of white Brits, forced by their travel plans to rub shoulders with each other, thus creating a small handy pool of suspects. These days travellers are more independent and tend to keep themselves to themselves, or their noses buried in an e-reader or smart phone to create some sense of privacy. I am myself quite guilty of this, introvert that I am. So how to create a setting where a group of people are forced to interact and where the sleuth can be dropped into like a cat among pigeons?
The second immediately apparent decision was that the books will be murder mysteries. I’m not sure if I’ve explained why I decided on this genre, but it was mainly an instinctual reaction. Partly I think it was the realization that the travel motif would lend itself well to murder mysteries. I remember watching British murder series on telly when I was younger and it was always stretching my disbelief that a small village could have that many murders every year. And modern cozies often happen in small towns, either in the US or UK, with a small group of core people and it is a part of the suspension of disbelief that we just accept that there’s a murder every few weeks. Even if the town population is only a few thousand people.
Partly my decision stemmed also from the recognition that a murder mystery has an inner structure that will make it easier for me to think about a story. The choice of location and its limitations will immediately suggest what kind of people there will be, and what kind of a murder it can be. Then I just have to work backwards from the solution, planting clues, motives, opportunities, suspects, romance and travel descriptions until I have a story.
The more I read modern cozy mysteries during my research phase, the more I was puzzled by how the characters were all almost uniformly white and straight. It seems to be a peculiarity of the genre and perhaps comes with the predominantly American small town setting. While my sleuth is Finnish and thus as white as freshly driven snow, I wanted her world to be as diverse as mine is. I have lived around, travelled widely and had friends from all corners of the globe. Edinburgh, where my sleuth and myself live, might not strike you as a very diverse city. True, it may not have the cosmopolitan flavor of Brussels or London, but as far as Scotland goes, Edinburgh is the most diverse city. And of course as each book will take place in a different country, the characters my sleuth meets will inevitably be a mixed group.
Writing about characters who are from different countries with a vastly different background than myself will of course be a challenge. How to write about someone very different than myself with insight and avoid falling into the trap of stereotypes? On the other hand, murder mystery usually doesn’t have the room for in depth characterization or backstories for all the suspects and other characters. You only need to reveal what is relevant to the story you are trying to tell. Means and motive, alibis and opportunities.
So if you would like to read a cozy mystery in exciting settings with an international group of characters, please hold. I am on it.