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Toured To Death
Author Post on writing an outline


One of the most frequently asked questions for a mystery writer is, “Do you have everything plotted out in advance?” The answer – my answer at least – is no. There have been times when I’ve been halfway through a book and not known who the killer would be. Okay, that happened once. But it happened.

This isn’t because I’m a daredevil or have no respect for a good plot. I’m devoted to plots. It’s mainly because figuring out where everything is going would take me nearly as long as writing the book or screenplay itself. And then it probably wouldn’t be as good, because, no matter how well you plan, you can’t foresee everything.

You have to live with a story for a while and make it real before you can figure out where the flaws are, when it’s time to give a character more motivation or where to insert a twist that propels it to a new level.

Since I’m not a complete idiot, I do start from an outline. These are the bones, the skeleton on which I’ll layer my plot. But that’s the tricky part, to give your mystery the “good bones” that can hold up to all of your pushing and tugging and still look like a supermodel at the end.

For instance, a friend once told me a true story. A flamboyant relative had died and left instructions in his will to pay for a dozen of his closest friends to fly to Paris and scatter his ashes into the Seine. This instantly struck me as a great idea.

Within a week, I had a rough outline. A retired maid dies of cancer, but has enough money to send all her old bosses on an around-the-world trip, scattering her ashes on the sites she’d always wanted to visit. Over the years, the trusted maid had been the recipient of everyone’s secrets, including an envelope with these words: “Open only in case of my death.”

To me, these were good bones. I didn’t have to know what was in the envelope, who was in danger or who the killer would turn out to be. Those details would all come. But the core of the story had enough richness to assure me that everything would work out. And the characters were there as well, a flock of spoiled New Yorkers, all dependent upon an eccentric maid who had once dominated their lives.

In case you’re wondering, this is the plot to “Dearly Departed”, the next book in the Amy’s Travel Mystery Series. I’m still working on it.

I guess what I’m saying – my golden words on plot structure – is to spend time on your bones. Is it a plot you’ve never heard before? Is it an idea that can keep you excited and creative for the next six months at least? Does it hold enough possibilities to take you wherever you might need to go?

If not, keep looking. The world doesn’t need another mystery where a person knocks on the door and says, “You have to help me, (insert name of detective). The police think I killed my boss. Sure, I hated him, but… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” Sorry, that was the sound of me falling asleep.

If you do have good bones, ones that you trust, then go for it. Start immediately and don’t look back. Or as the British used to say, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”


While Fanny takes care of the business end of Amy’s Travel in New York City, Amy is traipsing around Monte Carlo, managing their first mystery-themed excursion, a road rally in which guests compete to solve a fictional murder along the way. Amy still has reservations about partnering up with her mother. But both women, having lost the men in their lives, need a fresh beginning.

The trip starts off without a hitch. Clues quickly mount, the competition is lively, and just when the suspense is peaking the writer they hired to script their made-up mystery is found murdered in his New York apartment. Suddenly, on top of running a new venture together, mother and daughter must solve a real-life case of foul play, while trying not to drive each other bonkers. But Amy and Fanny are ready, willing, and Abel to track down a clever killer with some serious emotional baggage, one who will go to any lengths to keep dark secrets from seeing the light of day…

Toured To Death is the first book in Amy’s Travel Mystery series, and it follows the mother/daughter duo Fanny and Amy.

“Characters with plenty of flaws offer enough red herrings to keep the ending a surprise, even for seasoned mystery fans. A delightful new series.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW


1. Do a home exchange. I’ve never personally done this, but my sister-in-law Emily loves it. The concept is that you trade your home for someone else’s home for a week or two. No money changes hands, but you get to live like a native rent-free while someone else lives like you in your home. There are several websites that show you photos, and give you all the information and help you need to arrange a swap:;; and to name a few. It’s the only way Emily travels anymore. And it’s not just because she’s cheap.

2. Always pack a hat. Even if you’re not a hat person, it will come in handy. You’ll wind up using it for sun protection and light drizzles, and in- Amy’s case, not mine- the occasional bad-hair day.

3. Use a shower cap on your shoes. When you pack your shoes, cover the soles with a shower cap to keep the rest of your things clean. A lot of hotels still give away shower caps. Take them.

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