When Ellie’s kids surprise her by coming aboard the S.V. Adventurous Spirit she couldn’t be more thrilled. She’s missed them so much, especially her sweet granddaughter Clara. And it’s time to introduce the family to the new man in her life. That is, if she can stop chickening out long enough to spill the beans.
Meanwhile, Ellie’s friend Violet is having an unexpected reunion of her own. Violet’s long-lost love has come aboard the ship on the arm of a new beau, and the resulting drama is raising eyebrows all over the ship. But emotional baggage takes second place to murder when a dead body is found on her ex’s doorstep! Does Violet’s old flame harbor the heart of a killer?
Between the dead woman’s unusual past, an unorthodox murder weapon gone missing, and the involvement of a visiting magician and his parrot, this mystery is starting to feel like a three-ring circus! Make yourself some popcorn and settle in for the show, because Ellie Tappet, along with her family and friends, are about to perform some crime-solving magic of their own.
Five Things I Learned While Writing The Case of the Lady in the Luggage
Don’t worry, there are no spoilers below.
“Pantsing” Can Be a Blast
When I decided to make writing my profession, I studied other writers. Most of them write fast, and many of them use outlines to do so. And my own experiences have borne this out. When I began outlining, my productivity sped way up. And that’s good!
But when I started writing The Case of the Lady in the Luggage, I was feeling cocky. I knew my characters, and I knew all about the murder, and the killer, and why it happened. So I skipped the outline (so lazy! I know!), and I wrote by the seat of my pants. (also called “pantsing”) This had some interesting results.
Pro: The story went in wacky, unexpected directions and it was SO FUN!
Con: In my early draft, the middle of my story was mushy and ill-defined. I spent about 3 weeks writing text I didn’t need, then cutting it back, then reworking the middle of the story. I felt lost while this was happening. Middle-of-the-book woes!
Outlines are awesome because they allow me to spend my day on the task (writing) instead of grasping for plot points I haven’t yet defined. But writing The Case of the Lady in the Luggage reminded me how fun it can be to let a story go right off the rails. Yes, it needs to be coherent in the end. But I had a lot of fun letting my characters drag me around here and there. So I’ll continue to play around with hybrid models of story planning. Not too tight. Not too loose.
Cozies are about Connection
When I was younger, I didn’t particularly enjoy cozy mysteries. They’re so… cozy! Mostly I felt that the focus on character relationships detracted from the fun part: the murder mystery! But there were exceptions, writers like Sheila Connelly and M.C. Beaton who managed to keep the writing fun and well-paced despite the dollops of heartfelt emotion. In The Case of the Lady in the Luggage I gave myself more space to explore relationships and emotions, and it all felt worthwhile. Cozies are as much about connection as much as they’re about the crime. That’s one of the perks of the genre!
Longer Series Have Perks
When you start a new series it makes sense for the first few books to focus on the central POV character. As my series started, much of the focus was on Ellie herself. The books were about her coming aboard the ship, finding a place there, making friends and settling in. And while she’s still the main character, now that the series is moving further along, I have room to spend more airtime (page time?) with the other characters. I knew that Violet (Ellie’s best friend on board the ship) would feature prominently The Case of the Lady in the Luggage, and I was excited about that. And as I was writing, I also had the chance to give another favorite “side” character some time to shine.
I’ve been hesitant to write long series. So often they seem to devolve into repetitive rehashing. But I like the way longer series allow little mysteries to flow from book to book. In the first Ellie mystery, I learned that Violet’s former partner had disappeared. At the time, I didn’t know why, I just knew that it was true! As a series gets longer I get to explore the continuing questions that pop up as the series advances. And that’s fun to do.
I Feel an Extra Responsibility when Writing Diverse Characters
The Ellie Tappet mysteries contain many characters who are different than me, Cheri, the author. Ellie is older than I am; she’s more conservative than me, and she has better manners than I do. She’s also a grandmother. Paul is from Jamaica and his mother was a refugee. Violet is a lesbian and a singer. Ben spent time in the Navy. All of these characters have life experiences that I can’t lay claim to! Yet I write about a multinational crew because cruise ships have multinational crews. And I write diverse characters because we live in a diverse world and to do otherwise would be weird and unrealistic, not to mention boring. And you can bet that while writing this book I hesitated a few times. Was I falling back on stereotypes? Conversely, was I walking on eggshells, making characters into “perfect people” out of a fear of offending?
There’s a lot of talk among writers about the perils of “writing the other” and that phrase always makes me cringe because I don’t walk through my life thinking of people as “other.” Our identifiers (woman/man, Christian/agnostic, gay/straight, abled/disabled) are not our personalities, and those characteristics don’t define us or our worldview. Yet each time I write about a character who is unlike me in some way (read: almost all of them), there’s a voice in the back of my head challenging me, making sure that I’m not writing lazily or with disrespect. Given that respect is in the eye of the beholder, not just in the heart of the writer, I won’t ever be able to guarantee that people agree with my choices. That’s to be expected! But as I learn more about writing, and as I try to raise my game, I feel a healthy pressure to do these things well. And it’s all good. 🙂
I am Ridiculously Impatient with Myself
I was chatting with my friend M and doing some mild whining about how long the book was taking me to write. And she was like: Didn’t you just release a book a month and a half ago? Ha! She was right. I’ve been publishing fairly fast this year, but instead of giving myself proper credit I was bitching myself out for no good reason. As Sterling Archer would say, this is “classic me.” I tend to use the psychological buggy-whip on myself as a way of working harder, and it’s not the healthiest thing to do. So that’s something I’ll continue to work on.
Cozy fans, I hope you enjoy The Case of the Lady in the Luggage. At the moment, I’m deep into the first draft of my next Kat Voyzey mystery, and it’s been a fun adjustment to shift myself from Ellie’s headspace back into Kat’s. I’ve been marinating in the Ellie Tappet world for a while now, and I swear that Ellie’s has been slowly seeping into my personality. I’ve been cussing less often. I accidentally called someone “hon” the other day! Most tellingly, I’ve been unironically watching post office “mysteries” on the Hallmark channel. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME, ELLIE TAPPET? 😂
There are at least two more Ellie Tappet Mysteries on the way. And if you’d like to start with the first book, it’s called The Case of the Missing Finger.