This weekend I received a particularly nice letter from a reader, which really boosted my morale as I’m slogging my way through the second draft of Helen #3 (A DRAW OF DEATH, tentative title). This is the draft where I have to fill in all the blanks I left in the rush to get the skeleton in place, and I have to make a final decision on the various things I hadn’t quite figured out before. I leave myself little bracketed notes like “character has some item of clothing that will be a clue later,” and now’s when I have to figure out what that item is. This is also where I need to make sure my timeline works, and any “aha!” moments actually make sense and were properly foreshadowed.
Anyway, it’s really fussy work, without the wild creativity of the first draft where I get to make something out of nothing but a thirty-line spreadsheet. So a little external encouragement is particularly appreciated at this point in the process.
And then, to add to the good day, I had this great idea (they’re all great until I sit down to work on the second draft!) for a novella featuring Helen Binney. I was listening to a radio quiz show, and they were talking about the letters that get sent to the Sherlock Holmes museum, asking for help with various mysteries, and I got to thinking: “What if the local grade school kids wrote Helen a letter, asking her to investigate the death of the classroom pet (a hamster or guinea pig or perhaps a rabbit)?” It got me to thinking, because of course Detective Hank Peterson wouldn’t believe them if they said the animal had been murdered, and Tate would probably get a bit technical about it (when I took the bar exam, the instructor for the prep class warned us to beware of a trick question about the possible charges against someone who intentionally killed an animal, and to remember that, as a matter of law, only human beings can be victims of “murder” a/k/a “homicide”).
It’s not a big enough premise for a whole novel, but it could be great fun for a novella. I had so much fun with the Christmas novella, “A (Gingerbread) Diorama of Death” in Cozy Christmas Capers, that I’m hoping to write another story that length, and I think this premise will fit the bill.
I’ve even got a tentative title. “A Dingo of Death” was the first thing that popped into my head, but I suppose that’s not a pet likely to be found in a school room. The more likely option, which has some nice metaphorical elements too, is “A Dove of Death.”