Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Too Much of a Good Thing by Jennie Bentley

I’ve been struggling with ideas for books lately.

Oh, not the way you might think. The problem isn’t that I can’t come up with any; it’s that I have more than I need.

The first book in the Do-It-Yourself Home Renovation mysteries, FATAL FIXER-UPPER, will be released in early November. In it, Avery Baker—my protagonist, a New York City textile designer—inherits her Aunt Inga’s house in tiny Waterfield, Maine, and lands knee-deep not only in paint and drywall, but in scheming relatives, murder, and historical intrigue dating all the way back to the French Revolution.

I’ve finished DIY#2, as yet untitled; although in a moment of levity I suggested HAUNTED HOUSE HOMICIDE, and now I’m horribly afraid my editor is going to agree to it. Avery and her trusty sidekick, hunky handyman Derek Ellis (my in-house publicist came up with that alliteration, not me) tackle the renovation of a local haunted house and find a skeleton in the crawlspace. The manuscript is with my editor awaiting revisions at the moment.

Now it’s time to start DIY#3. I have a pretty good idea what it’s going to be about—Avery and Derek renovate a Colonial house on an island off the coast, and find the body of a young woman on the beach—so that’s not the problem. No, what I’m dealing with here, are all the other voices in my head, that won’t shut up long enough to let Avery have her say.

The most persistent is a sixteen-year-old girl named Jocelyn. She lives in Virginia, and her brother Jared is accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend. I like Jo. She’s younger than most of the characters who have taken up residence in my head—younger than me by quite a lot—but I think I could work with her. It isn’t that long ago that I was 16; I can still remember it.

Then there’s Cassie. Cassie goes to England to celebrate the birthday of her Brit boyfriend’s dear old mum, only to be accused of murdering the dowager Lady Sherbourne with her own birthday cake. In fact, it might look almost like Cassie was invited to the shindig just so the murderer would have a handy scapegoat. She needs help, and I’d like to provide it, but I don’t know when I’ll have the time.

Corey is fourteen, and looking for his missing father. It’s been seven years, and Corey has to find his dad before his grandparents can convince his mother to have his father declared dead so she can marry the guy they’ve picked out for her. Poor Corey is desperate, and gets into a ton of trouble I need to help him get out of, but you know how it goes. Because...

...then there’s my ‘other’ mystery series. The one I put on hold when Berkley asked me to write the DIY-mysteries. The first book is on submission to a half dozen different publishers, the second book is finished and waiting in the wings, and I started the third, but had to put it aside when Avery started talking to me. Still, Savannah is clamoring for me to get back to her. This is the book where she finally gets to go to bed with the hot guy who’s all wrong for her, and she’s understandably eager. It’s been two years, so you can understand her feelings. She’s just gonna have to hold on, though, poor girl. I don’t have enough hours in the day to get to everyone.

And to make it worse, these are just a few of the more vocal ones. I have another handful of characters I’d like to talk to, but they’re further down the line, their stories less developed. Until they get impatient and their voices start getting louder.

So what about you? How many people live in your head? How do you focus on just one of them, when they’ve all got so much to say, and it all sounds so interesting? Any tricks for prioritizing you can share with me? Or are we all in the same boat here, with too many ideas and too little time?

Jennie Bentley is the author of the D-I-Y mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. You can visit her at http://www.jenniebentley.com. She’s also planning to write all the other books she talked about above, so don’t get any ideas.

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