In A Death in Vegas, the president of BenBugs, a company that specializes in beneficial bugs for organic gardening, discovers a young woman dead in his Las Vegas hotel suite. She had worked as a sexy lady bug at his convention booth—and he had nothing to do with her death. While that’s being investigated, the FBI raids his booth on a money-laundering scam that he knows nothing about, either. Soon, the coroner doesn’t have good news. The police and FBI are against him—and his wife cannot be found. He flees to find the answers.
PRAISE FOR A DEATH IN VEGAS:
“With his tongue planted firmly in cheek, Christopher Meeks spins a charming and surprisingly sexy tale of murder, betrayal, and the importance of beneficial insects.”
– Mark Haskell Smith, author of Baked and Raw: A Love Story
“I’ve never, ever wanted to go to Vegas. I don’t care if what happens there, stays there. But Christopher Meeks makes me want to go so I can find out who done it. A fun, exciting read, with Chris’s usual wonderful writing and great sense of humor.“
– Jessica Barksdale Inclan, author of Her Daughter’s Eyes and How to Bake a Man.
“Christopher Meeks had me at page three. I couldn’t wait to find out how Patton Burch was going to explain the naked body he woke up to in his Las Vegas hotel room – first to the cops and then to his wife.”
– Sam Sattler, Book Chase
Writing a Page-Turning Mystery:
I was able to talk to Mr. Meeks and asked him how he’s able to keep writing these page turners. Here’s what he said:
I’d been a short story writer forever when my new agent said, “Write a novel.” At this point, I had enough published short stories to make a whole collection, and I wanted him to send the collection out.
My agent said, “No. Write a novel.”
“Is postage the problem? I’ll pay postage.”
He said, “The problem is fifteen percent of nothing is nothing. Write a novel.”
Even though that collection of short fiction, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea,” later did well—and it still sells—such was my introduction to novel writing. I was petrified. How does one write a novel? I soon learned there are many challenges to writing any novel, and my first one was to write any novel. I didn’t know how to keep a story going for that long. Do I write an outline first? Many problems hit me. I did nothing until a good friend said, “You know how to write short stories. Make each chapter a short story.” That’s how I structured my first novel, The Brightest Moon of the Century.
While it worked well, and I received great reviews, one thing I later realized: short stories usually end with a final beat, as did my chapters. You wouldn’t have to turn to the next chapter right away because each one ended on its own last note.
When I later read and then taught Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling for my children’s literature class, I was struck by how page-turning it was. When I reached the end of one chapter, I had to start the next. Of course, many mysteries are built similarly, but it took reading a children’s book to remind me of this. Her series was addicting, underscored when perfectly good adults would stand in line for up to a day to be the first to get her next book. If you’re a writer, wouldn’t you want people to stand in line for your book?
Thus, when I started my first crime book, Blood Drama, I wanted it to be page-turning. I’d learned a few things by that point. Here are some:
Write an outline. I never wrote outlines for short stories, but a novel needs it. You don’t want to go off on tangents, which take away from page-turning. The details of Aunt Bessie’s doll collection for ten pages may lose your reader. One thing I came to realize about outlines: I can imagine faster than I can write. When I think about what might go in a chapter, it plays out in my mind, and I can decide, “No, that’s not good enough” or “Yes, that’s great.” The best things become the briefest of notes.
Envision a reader. As you may sense with the above that part of the secret is to envision a reader. What will make him or her want to know what happens next? My friend Ehrich, an author, is great at this. He laughs when he knows he’s going to make his reader turn the page.
Write clearly and simply. I’m from the Ernest Hemingway school of writing. Clear, not flowery sentences tend to make the reading go faster. I’m not saying don’t write lyrically. If you study poetry, you can learn a lot about how to condense and offer imagery and lyricism while increasing clarity.
Pacing. The speed of your reader is hard to judge, and pacing is extremely hard to monitor in a first draft. My mantra is Ann Lamott’s in her fantastic book on writing, Bird by Bird: “Write a sh**y first draft.” In other words, don’t worry about perfection in your first draft. Jot the rudiments of the story down. Some people write long, and I tend to write short. That means you’ll have to expand or delete later on.
If you write five or more drafts as I do, you’ll feel the pacing. When you get bored, cut. If something later confuses you because the plot jumps, then you have to add something.
Emotion. Good books make us feel things. Part of page-turning is to make your reader feel the emotion in your scenes, which means your protagonist has to feel and express things. If I keep worrying about anything, it’s “What’s the next turn?” Turns are about going from one emotion to another, such as happy to surprised, or confused to clear. What action or realization will make that turn happen? Is it motivated?
Chapter endings. When I can, I do not end a chapter at an end point, but I end in the middle of a turn. There might be the sound of a footstep in the dark. Perhaps down the cheese aisle of a grocery store, a female hand snatches away a round of Gouda. Maybe lightning strikes, and there’s a scream. End of chapter.
You can have too many ideas beating around your head as you write. Just feel, know where your next turn is, and imagine what will surprise and delight your reader. Yes, there are many other things to consider, but not in a first draft. Write that first draft. Write a novel. Make it a page-turner.
Read an excerpt:
Christopher Meeks has four novels and two collections of short fiction published. His most recent novel before this was the acclaimed thriller, “Blood Drama.” His novel “The Brightest Moon of the Century” made the list of three book critics’ Ten Best Book of 2009. “Love at Absolute Zero” also made three Best Books lists of 2011, as well as earning a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist award.
He has had stories published in several literary journals, and they have been included in the collections “Months and Seasons” and “The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea.” Mr. Meeks has had three full-length plays mounted in Los Angeles, and one, “Who Lives?” had been nominated for five Ovation Awards, Los Angeles’ top theatre prize.
Mr. Meeks teaches English and fiction writing at Santa Monica College, and Children’s Literature at the Art Center College of Design. To read more of his books visit his website at: www.chrismeeks.com.