The Big Idea: Nicole Dieker
Author Nicole Dieker couldn’t solve a mystery in her own life, so she tried to solve one in her newest novel, Ode to Murder. And as her big idea explains, there were plot twists in store for her as she made the attempt.
When I began drafting Ode to Murder, I had just two words in mind:
Stuckness vs. possibility.
Yes, I know that the abbreviation counts as a third word.
I also know that “stuckness” isn’t a very good word — but I couldn’t come up with a better one.
That’s what happens when a person gets stuck, days-weeks-months coagulating into continuous viscosity — and it’s important to note that stuck doesn’t necessarily suck, you can have a good life and still feel, every day, as if you were glued to it.
That was how I felt when I created Larkin Day.
I knew, from attending various writers’ workshops, that the worst thing a writer can do is center a story around a problem in their own life that they have not yet resolved. This is a variation of the whole write what you know thing, of course — and when you write about a problem you are currently working through in your own life, the piece you do not yet know is, of course, the resolution.
The process of solving the problem.
The process by which your characters may also solve their problems.
Like many writers, I decided to solve this problem (the problem of the unsolved problem, not the unsolved problem itself) by giving Larkin a life that was, on its surface, very different from my own — and, just under the surface, just as stuck.
By giving Larkin a different set of externalities — a more impulsive personality, a tendency towards procrastination, a murder to solve — and a similar internal dilemma, I could use what she learns to get unstuck myself! I could get myself a better life and complete the first draft of a cozy mystery set in Eastern Iowa’s Creative Corridor, starring a snarky amateur detective with six figures of student loan debt and a failed theater career! A Miss Fisher for the Millennial generation!
This had serious potential — not to mention series potential.
Like many writers, I was unable to get this particular plot to work. Not in my own life, and not in Larkin’s.
The draft stalled.
If you read a lot of mystery novels, you understand that the best books — and, perhaps, the best Big Idea posts — are set up as a puzzle for you to solve along with the sleuth.
Which means you’re already anticipating what’s coming next, the big reveal that proves you’ve been reading carefully —
Before I could write Larkin’s story, I had to rewrite my own.
This took years. During that time, having no other recourse for resolution, I became resolute. If I could not write this novel, nor any of the other novels I tried writing while stuck, I would continue freelancing. My life would be as compact as a studio apartment, and if I couldn’t figure out how to expand it, I could be content.
I was not content, of course, but I could be.
If you read a lot of mystery novels, you know that the sleuth generally follows an incorrect path first; instincts fail as often as they prevail, especially if one is not paying attention to the details.
It was not content — in occupation or perseveration — that would lead me towards possibility.
It was connection.
In the years between first and final draft, I fell in love. We bought a house and made it a home. I reconnected with friends and family — and with music, which had been my formerly failed career the way theater had been Larkin’s. As I write these words, the man who helped me do all of this is driving us both towards a day filled with expansion — we’re going to visit my parents, take a piano lesson from a composer whom I’ve known since I was five years old, and audition for a choir very similar to the one Larkin joins at the beginning of her story.
My story, including how I took Ode to Murder through its revision process and began collaborating with Alan Lastufka at Shortwave Publishing, continues in the Author’s Note at the back of the novel — so consider it the penulitmate reason to add Ode to Murder to your must-read list.
The ultimate reason is that it’s a laugh-out-loud cozy mystery that Kirkus described as “an entertaining whodunit with a captivating amateur sleuth” and earned a BookLife Editor’s Pick for being “a smart, snarky series kickoff” with a “surprisingly profound finale.”
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