I have a confession: of the entire Fenway series, The Courtroom Coroner was the hardest book to write. I am not a planner. I am in real life—I manage to work, shuttle kids to activities and games, remember important events, and plan beautiful celebrations with my wife. But for books, I’m what some call a discovery writer. Or, I fly by the seat of my pants. A pantser. I typically know who the killer is and how they think they can get away with it, then I just start writing and let the story lead. Sometimes Fenway surprises even me. For example, in The Candidate Coroner, I got to the part where Fenway kept borrowing cars, and realized with absolute certainty that one of them needed to blow up. I then to rework scenes, characters, and scenarios to get to a place where a car explosion made sense and furthered the story.
However, when all the characters are locked in a courtroom, there is no wiggle room to rework scenes when the story takes you in a new direction. On Book 5, I started writing, scrapped it and started over five times before I got past Chapter 3! I finally remembered a website I'd seen on a "series grid," and found an example of a giant handwritten chart: the chapters were the rows, and the columns were the timeline, the plots and subplots, and the main character arcs. Each of the "cells" in the chart had a brief summary of what happened in the chapter. Mine wasn’t quite as elaborate as the example, but it helped me fix plot holes and missing elements (e.g.: OMG I need Piper to be in the room!) before I started writing. Sixth time was the charm!
I also wanted to amp up the emotions in this book. The first four focused heavily on exciting action sequences and surprising plot revelations, but a locked room presented its own tension as people become more scared, hungry, and hurt. The facades fall away and you encounter raw, real emotion. Confrontations and honest conversations are inevitable. This is especially true for Fenway’s father, Nathaniel Ferris. Everyone enjoys the likable characters, but I’ve often found that an unlikable character trying to be better can me more emotionally impactful. You root for them to have normal, healthy relationships. I hope I was able to do that with Ferris.
For all of you who noticed that a main story arc is wrapped up, don’t worry—I’ve finished writing Book 6 and am working on several novellas! So stay tuned for more Fenway updates in the coming months.
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