Guest Blogger: Clarissa Draper

I'm thrilled to have Clarissa Draper guest blogging here today. Clarissa is one of my earliest blogging buddies and a good friend. She also writes the kind of book I love to read :)

Clarissa is doing a big giveaway on today's post. One lucky commenter will receive a $10 Amazon gift card. If you haven't yet purchased your copy of THE SHOLES KEY, please say so in your comment - she is giving away two copies of her book in your choice of print or ebook.

Contest runs today and tomorrow (Wednesday and Thursday) and ends midnight central time Thursday, May 24, 2012.

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Writers: Keep the Readers Guessing

Whether you are a mystery writer--like me--or you write another genre, you must provide your readers with a mystery. Each book should have questions, a mystery for the reader to decipher.
Who is the killer?
Will Romeo & Juliet be together in the end?
Will Luke learn the Force? Will he defeat Darth Vadar?
What is Rosebud?
As soon as one question is answered, another should be there to take it's place until the end, when the last question--the main question--is answered. However, the challenge that all writers face is finding a balance with the mystery they present.

(1) Too many questions

It's wonderful to ask your readers to solve a difficult mystery. However, give them enough clues to solve it. If you don't and then add more questions (mysteries) or give them an out-of-the-blue solution, your reader will find it impossible to keep up with the story, lose interest, become frustrated and give up.

(2) Too many answers

You can't make it too easy either--predictable means boring. They will feel cheated because they haven't been challenged.

(3) The right amount

Keep the reader guessing. Give them a good mystery but just when they think they've solved it, something comes up to make them question their answer.

What story have you read lately that kept you guessing? Kept you reading to find out what would happen in the end?

 My Biography:
Clarissa Draper, a Canadian currently living in Mexico, spends most of her time composing, planning, and writing code-based mysteries. Although she has written from an early age, she started writing full time in 2006, and is currently writing her third mystery in the Evans/Blackwell series.

 The Sholes Key Summary:
   All across London, single mothers are vanishing. Margaret Hill, mother of two, walked out of her house two months before, never seen again. A month later, Carrie-Anne Morgans takes her two-year-old son for a walk in the park and disappears, leaving him alone in his stroller. Lorna McCauley leaves her London flat in the early hours of the morning to buy medicine for her sick child and does not return.
   Newly promoted Detective Inspector Theophilus Blackwell is assigned the case of Lorna McCauley, which on the outside seems to be a simple case of mid-life crisis and child abandonment. Elsewhere in London, MI5 analyst, Sophia Evans, is working undercover to catch an animal rights group responsible for targeted bombings. As Sophia's case (and her personal life) fall to pieces, she receives a strange envelope in the mail. It contains a picture of Lorna McCauley's lifeless face along with a daunting code.
   Now the police and MI5 are forced to work together to stop the murders, and Sophia must find her way into the terrifying mind of a serial killer.


Clarissa Draper said…
Thank you so much for having me Carol. I'll stop by and read all the comments. You're awesome.
LD Masterson said…
Clarissa - You've hit on the hardest part of writing mysteries. Finding that perfect balance between questions, clues, and answers.

I din't have a copy of THE SHOLES KEY yet, so I've love to be in the drawing.
Rula Sinara said…
I love the third tip...having them question the answer. I think that's key to having the story stick with the reader long after they're done.

I don't have your book yet, but I just started reading the prologue on amazon and wow! You really drew me in right from the start!
Carol Kilgore said…
Clarissa - You're pretty awesome yourself. Have fun here - and watch out for those cabana boys :)
LR said…
I don't need a gift certificate but nice post here.

It's a real challenge to balance the questions and answers.
Clarissa Draper said…
@LD Masterson - I'll enter you. Thanks for stopping by!

@Rula Sinara - I'm glad you like the third point. I'll put you in my drawing as well.

@Carol Kilgore - AWWW, but I like those cabana boys!

@LR - Thanks!
SA Larsenッ said…
Finding that 'questioning' balance can be tough sometimes. Edits are so important. But I also find that distance from my work helps me spot the lack of or overage of mystery.

Great post!
Laura Marcella said…
Hello, Carol and Clarissa! These are terrific tips, especially the third one. Questioning the answers keeps readers–and writers!–on their toes.
Hi, Clarissa and Carol!!! Two of my favorite bloggers.

These are great tips.

To answer the question, it wasn't a book that kept me quessing but a movie. I don't think I'm easily fooled and yet, I never saw the ending coming.

Kyra Lennon said…
Great post! I haven't bought The Sholes Key yet, but it's on my to-read list!
Cherie Reich said…
THE SHOLES KEY is sitting on my Kindle waiting for me to read it.

Although I haven't read the book recently, the one that kept me guessing the most was Beth Revis' A MILLION SUNS.
Old Kitty said…
Hi lovely Carole, hi gorgeous Clarissa!! Wow - love being in the Tiki Hut with such fab women! Yay!! These are why I can never write a proper whodunit!! I make these mistakes and then some!!

The last story I read that kept me guessing was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (once the proper mystery started - not the rubbish about the Millenium magazine - boring!!!)! Take care
J.L. Campbell said…
Hi, Carol & Clarissa,

Good tips, Clarissa. I can't stand reading a book and not being able to keep things straight. Too many unanswered questions usually does that. Wishing you success with the book!
I just got to the part where Sophia walked into her old bedroom and it was all covered in gore from one of the murders. I can't believe people were asking for coffee with all that around (including the smell).
KarenG said…
Nice post, Clarissa! It takes so much skill to write a good mystery, and you have it. I know because yes, I have read The Sholes Key and it is awesome!
Johanna Garth said…
This sounds so good and like the perfect download for my upcoming summer trip! Thanks Carol and Clarissa!
DL Hammons said…
Clarissa always has the best advice! Thank you for hosting her today! :)
Not too hot, not too cold, just right!
Already have her book on my iPad as well.
Clarissa Draper said…
@SA Larsen - distancing is a great idea.

@Laura - thanks!

@Journaling Woman - question for you, did you try and figure out the code?

@Kyra Lennon - that's great. I'll put you down for the draw for a free e-book too.

@Cherie - Awesome, hope you like it. I'm also going to check out 1000 suns.

@Old Kitty - I've heard a lot about the Dragon Tattoo. I'll have to check it out.

@J.L. Campbell - thanks.

@Michael Offutt - yeah, a bit much, huh?

@KarenG - thanks! I'm so glad there are people who like it.

@Johanna - maybe you'll win the draw and can get it for free!

@DL - thanks! You're the best.

@Alex - Goldilocks! Exactly.
Mystery or no, I think those tips apply to all kinds of writing. Great tips, Mizz Clarissa. And I was just saying, Carol, that your new book cover is fantastic!!! Love all those funky colours!
Clarissa, I'm ashamed to say I haven't bought your book yet but if I don't win, I will be sure to abscond it in the old-fashioned way of shelling out some coin.
Clarissa Draper said…
@ Cathy, well, I'll put you down. I hope you win.
L. Diane Wolfe said…
I think that is true for all genres, because there needs to be enough mystery to make the reader want to continue until the end.
Wonderful advice on mysteries!
Nicki Elson said…
These are all great points -- finding that balance between giving enough clues without spoiling the big surprise is so tricky. One of the best times I had reading a mystery was back in the 90s w/ Presumed Innocent - my stupid boss gave away the killer's identity before I'd even started reading it, but it was so much fun to see the little clues that I know I would've totally missed had I not known.

Thanks for including the Goodreads link -- going to add Sholes Key to my TBR list right now. Thanks for the fun guest post, Carol & Clarissa!
Clarissa Draper said…
@ L. Diane Wolfe - exactly, not just advice for mystery writers.

@Cynthia - Thank you!

@ Nicki Elson - that's one reason I love reading Agatha Christie again. Now that I know who did it, I can watch how she sprinkles in the clues.
Anonymous said…
I had the privilege of a pre-reading of Clarissa's book. And I just finished posting a review for her on Amazon. I LOVED it!

Hey, maybe that was the day I felt compelled to wave back - the day you say you drove past our town on your vacation!!

My daughter is still struggling, and I really can't spend the time I used to spend on blogging. But I don't intend to ignore my closest blogging friends. I'm going to read and review their books as I read them; I just might not be too speedy. I turned 72 on May 13th, and really don't feel like a spring chicken anymore! Add to that my daughter's mental and menopausal (really bad hot flashes) problems, and my losing an aide, again, and my being stressed by my oldest daughter and granddaughter. I really do have to de-stress/relax!

But today I did also manage to review Glynis Smy's book, and I'll review yours when I get the awesome chance to read it. I stopped by Clarissa's today and saw you have a cover. And now I see it here, too! PLEASE let me know when it's out so I can buy it. Next to memoir, I love murder mystery/crime fiction. So I'm really excited about yours!

As Ever, Ann
I didn't realize Clarissa is Canadian, and I didn't realize she was living in Mexico. I might join her next winter. :D
Carol Kilgore said…
Ann - I wish you and Jen all the best. You and she are the most important right now. The rest will all return when and if you're ready. I'll be sure and let you know when In Name Only is available.
Michael Di Gesu said…
Hi, Carol, Hi Clarissa,

Congrats to both you ladies for having new novels gracing the world.

Always love a good mystery Clarissa and I am looking forward to reading yours.... Your advise/tips on writing an intriguing mystery is really helpful. Thanks Clarissa.

Carol, I love the intense color and graphics of your cover, it is DEFINITELY an attention getter!
Anonymous said…
Sounds like a very interesting book. I've never written a mystery before, thanks for all the advice. I haven't read the book yet, I'd love to be put in the drawing. Thanks!
Carol Kilgore said…
Michael - Thank you, and welcome to the Tiki Hut. I hope readers will find some of the same intensity inside as well.
Lynda R Young said…
It's a real juggling act to keep the readers intrigued and guessing.
Great post!
Hi Clarissa. The Sholes Key has kept me guessing from the very beginning. Well done you!

Thanks for hosting Clarissa, Carol. Your book cover is gorgeous.

Both of you have so much to celebrate! The Sholes Key sounds like a wonderful mystery Clarissa!

Carol, your book cover looks amazing, and I can't wait to find out more about it! Best of luck with both of your mysteries! Julie
Hi Carole .. great to read a little more about Clarissa .. but her book sounds fascinating and I'm looking forward to reading it -

Tiki Hut - is a good place to hang out .. and glad you had a good vacation .. while your book cover looks amazing .. cheers Hilary
Tracy Jo said…
Great advice and sounds like an excellent book! I haven't purchased The Sholes Key. Have a great day to both of you!
Mason Canyon said…
Two great writers/bloggers together today, who could ask for more. Clarissa, you made some great points here. There needs to be mystery. It's what draws us in. To answer your question about what I've read that kept me guessing - this intriguing just released book, THE SHOLES KEY. It's great.

Carol, your book cover is fantastic and I'm sure the story will be too.

Thoughts in Progress
Hart Johnson said…
Mysteries can definitely be a balancing act! You lay it out nicely, Clarissa, and your book sounds great! With my mysteries, I try to generate my list of suspects and give them ALL a legitimate motive and connection and make sure to drop clues for each. It's worked pretty well so far!
M Pax said…
Yay on your new book, Clarissa. I must procure it.

I like what you had to say. I think it holds true for a lot of fiction. Thanks for giving me a different way of thinking about it.

Waving at Carol! Congrats on your book too. Another one I must get.
Ciara said…
I love your number three. This is something I strive for in my writing. Great post!
Carol Kilgore said…
I want to thank Clarissa for blogging here at the Tiki Hut and wish her the best with The Sholes Key. It's next up on my Kindle :)

And thanks to everyone for stopping by to make Clarissa's visit a success. I met some new faces, and I hope you'll decide to visit the Tiki Hut again soon.
Donna Hole said…
The case of the disappearing moms; sounds intriguing actually :)

I read more fantasy than mystery, but yes, there are always questions to be answered by the story.

Shirley Wells said…
Waving to you lovely ladies!

Love your book cover, Carol. Very attention-grabbing!

I've just finished Clarissa's The Scholes Key and loved it. A wonderful book that kept me guessing right to the last page. A very clever story. Will be posting my review soon.
Carol Kilgore said…
Thank you, Shirley. As soon as I finish the book I'm reading, I'm starting The Sholes Key.