I was a freshman in high school when I read my first Agatha Christie. I became a fan instantly, and over the years, I have read and reread most of her mysteries. I’m also a fan of Erle Stanley Gardner and his Perry Mason series. Together, these authors have given me a taste for fast-paced mysteries with tight plots and a satisfying denouement. In The Natural Victim, my first book, I bring these elements to a modern setting: the campus of my alma mater, The Ohio State University. It’s here that Dieter Fox, computer scientist by training but amateur detective at heart, sets out to prove the innocence of a friend accused of murder.
I started this blog, Write by Writing, in April of 2012 to keep track of my progress towards writing a novel in just 3 months. It hasn’t gone exactly according to plan, but I’m finally done. The Natural Victim, my first book, was released on May 26, 2013. However, the blog doesn’t stop here. I’ve started on my second novel, tentatively titled Mirror, Mirror and I’ll occasionally post updates about my progress. Meanwhile, I continue to blog about my writing, various reading challenges I undertake, and other odds and ends. I live in Pennsylvania with my wife and our lovable but ornery cat, whom we’ve affectionately nicknamed “the miscreant.”
I’d love to hear from you. You can leave a comment here, or stay in touch on Twitter @peterreynard.
Ten questions about me:
What’s your favorite mystery?
I have two actually and they are both by Christie. And Then There Were None is the first one. I remember being mesmerized by it as a teenager. The second one is The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which has all those great elements of a classic mystery story I mention earlier.
What’s your favorite way to write?
Sitting on my couch. Probably not the most comfortable or ergonomic setup, but since I write for only about an hour each day, so it’s been working out well.
What was your inspiration for The Natural Victim?
The story itself is completely fictional. Once I decided I wanted to write a mystery, I sat down and sketched the highlights out over the course of an evening. I knew I wanted a duo — the detective-novel-reading protagonist and the unnamed narrator. The setting itself was also an easy choice. I wanted a location I was familiar with, where I knew the streets and buildings, a place that had a variety of people who interacted naturally with each other over the course of a novel. Columbus, Ohio — and in particular, the campus and surroundings of Ohio State — fit the bill perfectly. Since it’s my alma mater, I’m very familiar with the place, and with over 56,000 students, not to mention faculty and staff, you can find every kind of person on campus.
What do you like about writing?
I like the instant gratification I get of seeing my thoughts on a page. Getting them into publishing shape, on the other hand, is harder, as I’m starting to find out.
What do you like about writing mysteries in particular?
My favorite part is designing the plot. Mixing the characters up so that I have the readers guessing, tweaking the timeline so that everything fits, throwing in an appropriate red herring and giving readers an “a-ha!” moment when they realize that the nagging question they had in Chapter 3 has just been answered in Chapter 14.
What’s your least favorite thing about writing?
I think I’m firmly in the majority when I say editing and proofreading. Editors and proofreaders deserve to make much more than they do, and they are worth every penny.
What was the most surprising thing about writing?
This is probably more about self-publishing rather than the traditional route, but, in no particular order:
1. Editing takes up a lot of time. I had allocated a month for editing. It took me 12. My case is atypical, to be fair, since I have a regular job that interfered with the book and I spent long days and weeks ignoring it completely. Still, if you had asked me before I started, I would never have guessed it would take me 5+ rounds of edits and a couple of proofreading sessions (and that’s in addition to a couple of editing passes by my wife).
2. There is a lot more to publishing a book than just writing and editing. You have to design a cover (or get it designed), find editors (unless you have one handy), figure out formatting issues and how to get the book into all the places you want to sell it, and finally, market it (which I’m still not very good at) which includes getting people to review it, making sure enough people see it, deciding whether it should be on Kindle Select, etc. etc. etc.
3. Fillers, transitions, segues — all those sentences that seamlessly take you from one scene to the next — are very hard to write the first time around. In fact, readers never notice them unless they suck, and then they stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. One of my goals before I start my second book is to spend some time working on this aspect of writing. If anyone is interested, an excellent way to go about it is to open up a great book and see how its author did it.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
In my day job, I’m an academic, so everything that goes along with being in academia: doing research, reading/writing academic papers, presenting, etc. In my spare time, I like hiking and camping and, especially, backpacking. There’s something freeing about getting up in the morning knowing that the only thing you have to do that day is heft a backpack on and walk. No meetings, schedules, email, phone calls.
Do you read anything other than mysteries?
I read a ton of non-fiction: mostly history, economics, and politics. I also read some light fantasy, like Tolkien, Sanderson, Robert Jordan, etc., and some science fiction, mostly Asimov, Peter Hamilton, Arthur C. Clarke etc.
Cats or Dogs?
Sometimes I think our cat is a hybrid between a cat and a dog. So both, I guess.