Writers have the best jobs in the world: We hear voices in our heads without being thought crazy (well, not too crazy anyway) and we get to tell lies for a living. When we’re writing cozy mysteries, we also get to kill people—imaginary people who will be missed only by their imaginary loved ones. Still the voices we hear become real on the written page, the lies we tell carry the very essence of truth, and the imaginary people whose imagined lives we end bring hope to the very real futures of the flesh-and-blood readers whose lives we touch. What could possibly be better?
The beginning of every new year finds me having a chat with those voices in my head, all of whom are jockeying for position. Whose story will be next? Who is emerging as the new heroine, love interest, victim, murderer, detective, hero or confidante? This year’s conversation sounded something like this:
MALE VOICE: Yo! Pay attention! You put me off all of last year and I think it’s about time you heard my story.
ME: Sorry. I’m working with Roman and Lottie just now. They’ve both been lonely a long time and…
MALE VOICE: I know, I know, but life isn’t all about the hearts and flowers. I’m about to be murdered here.
ME: Take a number and get in line. I’ve at least half a dozen potential murder victims in front of you.
FEMALE VOICE: No kidding! When am I going to get to come out and play again?
ME: Maggie, is that you?
MAGGIE: What? I’m wounded! You don’t even recognize my voice anymore?
ME: Of course I do, but it has been a while…
MAGGIE: No kidding! You don’t have to tell me. You made me the star of one book, and then you told me to take a number.
ME: Sorry. There are only so many hours in a day, only so many books in a year.
MAGGIE: That’s what I tried to tell you when you were on deadline with MAGGIE RISING, but you just kept pushing me for a solution anyway.
ME: That was in your best interest. You didn’t want to spend any longer in the county jail than absolutely necessary.
MAGGIE: My best interest? You say that now, but you were the one who put it on the cover that MAGGIE RISING was “the first book in the Maggie Rising Case Files.” I’ve been waiting ever since.
ME: You’ll just have to wait a little longer.
2nd FEMALE VOICE: What about me? You told me if I came to work in the Hope Creek Medical Center, you’d find someone special for me.
ME: Hi, Caro. I’ve found him and I’m working on the plot line. If you can just be patient a little longer—
NEW FEMALE VOICE: Patient? You told me that too. I’ve been waiting about two years since that day you found me wandering on the beach near Sydney.
ME: And I do plan to tell your story, Lucy, but there hasn’t been that big a market for historicals lately—
LUCY: Tell that to Harry. Until I go to live with Aunt Marjorie in Stowe-on-the-Wold, I won’t be able to come back to him again, and that will leave him stuck with that floozy from Leicester—
ME: So tell her to take a number and—
LUCY: …and get in line. I know.
2nd MALE VOICE: Have you figured out what you’re doing with me yet?
ME: Oh hi, Sean. You’re going to be Caro’s love interest at the Med Center. Didn’t I tell you?
SEAN: Hmmm. Caro, huh? Um, yeah, I like that. So how long before you get around to our story?
ME: Probably not more than five or six months.
SEAN: Five or six…?! Really? Come on! I was just talking with Rand. He thinks his story would make a good follow-up when you get done with mine.
ME: (sighing) Tell him to take a number—
SEAN: Yeah, I know, take a number and get in line. Hear that, Rand?
RAND: Yeah, I heard. Do you think we can find a writer who isn’t quite so preoccupied with other characters?
SEAN: We can certainly look around. Can’t hurt, since we’re just hanging out here doing nothing anyway.
RAND: Hear that, folks? Sean and I are going to start looking around, see if we can find someone else to tell our stories. You wanna come?
ME: Wait! What is this? Mutiny?
MAGGIE AND CARO: It all depends. How soon do you think you’ll get to our stories?
ME: Now this sounds like blackmail. I don’t think I like this at all.
SEAN AND RAND: So how does it feel now the shoe’s on the other foot?
ME: But I’m the one who created you, the one who thought you up! What will you do if you go to another writer, someone who doesn’t know you like I do?
ALL: Sorry. We may have to tell you to take a number and—
ME: (sighing harder) Ugh, take a number and get in line.
I’ve decided this is what comes from writing uppity characters with minds of their own. This year I’m making a new resolution: I will tell as many of their stories as I can. I may have to commit my own set of crimes with the others, drugging them all into silent submission to avoid having them mutiny. I don’t like taking numbers, and I’m not good at standing in line.