Lately I’ve been reading Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti books: police procedurals set in Venice, Italy. She is a master of place: the specifics of transportation, and weather, and neighborhood cultures that change every few streets. And she’s a master at the bureaucracies and corruption and duplicities her characters have to deal with, and the ways they try to manage to do good despite all of it.
I keep hoping that the next mystery I read, or the next episode of Murder, She Wrote I watch, will unlock the secret of how to write a mystery, without having to pound my head against the wall a thousand (more) times, but each time I think, no, I couldn’t do that: I can’t be as confident as Jessica Fletcher; and I don’t know enough police procedure to write about a detective; and I’m just not clever enough to come up with a good puzzle, and then solve it.
But even though reading these books and watching these shows hasn’t made me feel more capable of writing a mystery novel myself, I do feel like it helps me fill up on the possibility of justice and the hope that there really are good people in the world who are trying to make things better.
I actually started writing my first mystery novel this summer, instead of just endlessly plotting it on tiny pieces of paper the way I’ve been doing for the past few years, but the pages have come in fits and starts, especially because I’m also working on the continuing Yeshiva Girl saga, and blog posts, and trying to fit it all in between various crises. But even though it’s been difficult, it IS progress. And my only choice is to keep writing, and reading, whenever I can, and learning from other writers about how they’ve untangled their plots to see if they can give me new ideas for how to untangle the plot points in my own mystery that still have me wrapped up in knots.
Even if I never get to Venice and experience the flooding of the Acqua Alta in person, or ride a boat from one crime scene to another, or sit in the overheated office of the Commissario, I feel like I’ve been there and learned from him, and from Donna Leon, and Jacqueline Winspear, and Agatha Christie, and P.D. James. I’m hoping that, however slowly, my own pages will continue to add up into something I can be proud of.
p.s. I want to thank Leslie Bowman, from The Adventures of Bitey Dog (at https://theadventuresofbiteydog.com) for her beautiful portraits of Cricket and Ellie.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?