The Alibi (A John Chance Mystery) – Chapter 1 (backstory)

Long Ago and Far Away…okay, starting in August 2022, I shared chapters from The Alibi. That lasted to mid-September when life and starting a new business got in the way.

Life and a new business consumed more time than I expected. I still wrote – actually updated, edited, and got ready for publication my first non-fiction in six years, That Th!nk You Do (due out 15 Jan 2023. You should all buy a copy and leave glorious reviews) – but The Alibi took a backseat (and it annoyed me I did so, by the way).

But I’m also sensitive to my own cycles, transits, methodologies, dispositions, … . I knew the story wasn’t going where it was suppose to go, but I didn’t know where it was suppose to go.

So shelve it. Give it time. Ruminate.

Some time late-September 2022, Susan and I talked about it. I mentioned my biggest challenge with the story was not seeing a character who would change through the course of the novel, didn’t know who or what would act as the throughline, both of which are (to me) critically important.

Basically I can’t write a story without them. Sometimes (often, really) I’ll rewrite a story’s opening several times until I feel it works. I also tend to place whatever character “owns” the story (the main protagonist or narrator. The principal POV character) right there in the opening so the reader (I hope) quickly and easily identifies with them and relates to them throughout the story.

Give the reader a strong emotional response – either love or hate – to a character and they’ll read on to make sure that character either succeeds or suffers.

The original versions of The Alibi mentioned characters up front, one of whom was the principal from the story’s earliest versions.

But that character provided me with neither a growth/change path or throughline which interested me. And I’ve written elsewhere if you’re not interested in what you’ve written don’t expect the reader to be. Fiction or non-fiction, find something which excites you and write about that. Enthusiasm is contagious. The reader will sense it, continue reading because of it, and share it and your story with others.

…if you’re not interested in what you’ve written don’t expect the reader to be.

What would get me interested in a character and/or the story?

Some character going through self-discovery, change, and growth because of that self-discovery.

Make the self-discovery repeated and ongoing and I’m there.

Yes, there were interesting characters, but nobody who screamed out “I need to grow! To change! To discovery who I truly am for good or for ill!”

During this period Susan edited Search and I completed a quick pass of Tag. I’ve mentioned many times I’d love to write a mystery. Both Search and Tag were mysteries (basically). But I wanted something more.

And one of my challenges with a series is the need for someone to go through change, growth, and self-discovery. Other authors (Craig Johnson manages this with his Longmire series and Robert Parker manages it well with his Jesse Stone series) do a good job but only because Johnson’s Longmire and Parker’s Stone enter the series flawed. Their flaw defines them as characters. They do change and grow (a little, not much) but that’s also because these characters also provide the throughline (remember any of the Bob Newhart series and you have the idea; Bob Newhart’s character was the one sane person amidst all the other characters’ chaos. He provided the throughline in each series he starred in).

So I wanted to write a series, preferably mysteries, but didn’t want to have the same character provide the throughline in each because throughlines don’t provide for lots of character growth, self-realization and -discovery, something both I and my readers appreciate (my regular readers tell me my characters’ growth both thrills and motivates them to change their own lives. Pretty good, that).

I shared this with Susan and offhandedly said, “It would be great if this was another Gio (Fortuna, aka “John Chance” from Search) story. I’ve already got a character with some of that heritage (The Alibi – Chapter 3).”

“Why don’t you?”

“Time period’s all wrong. The Alibi takes place in modern Boston. Search took place in the early 1970s. Gio was about twenty then. And that thread ended with him leaving society.”

And this is where WiseWoman of the North Susan said, “But Gio’s the main character in The Shaman. Search is an offshoot of that. Why can’t you make this an offshoot of The Shaman, too.”

So I stared at her.

Because I love her and hate her when she comes up with something brilliant like that.

Except that’s not what The Alibi is about (snarky snarky snarky me here).

The Shaman chronicles Gio Fortuna/John Chance’s experiences with a variety of teachers, each of whom teach him some specialized skill he’ll use later in the novel.

Search is mainly Gio/John learning how to use those skills effectively.

So how about The Alibi being about Gio/John’s students?

Which meant each “John Chance Mystery” could be about a different student going through change, growth, and self-discovery.

The idea so excited me I made passionate love to Susan. Just to stop her from looking at me gleefully. She does that when she knows she helped me solve a story issue.

There are now three other “John Chance Mysteries” waiting to be written. They may share some characters between them.

But each will have a different main character undergoing growth, change, self-discovery and -realization.

(more to follow…)

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