The one thing I most definitely learned in the writing of ‘Smoke’ is that one needn’t know the solution to a mystery when one starts a story. I should say that ‘Smoke’ is my first true mystery (and could probably be called a ‘cozy mystery’), whereas the two previous Cully Beach novels were about crime but there was never much of a ‘who done it’ element. Our protagonist simply blundered along as things unraveled.
Not so with Smoke. Oh, I knew why and how our victim was murdered, just not quite who did it. I had four primary suspects and each in his or her turn I thought would end up the murderer. That’s not counting Ted himself, whom some police think a pretty credible suspect! But we knew he didn’t do it, right? So I kept building around those four, suggesting things about each that might be incriminating. Actually, the one I originally thought I would make the murderer — the most obvious suspect — I eliminated from consideration in my own mind fairly early. It wouldn’t have been much of a mystery otherwise.
One of the others I eliminated by the time we visited the Florida Folk Festival. That one, too, I had briefly decided should be responsible, but no. Just didn’t feel right and the logistics of it were a little tricky. That left two and one seemed obvious to me. So, of course, it ended up being the other. I was pretty close to the end of the writing by the time I finally decided on — or discovered — the culprit. The fact that I had kept all of them viable as suspects right up to the end meant rather little rewriting was necessary. I’d kept my timelines and motivations straight.
Had I stuck with the original plan, had I known who did it right from the start, I doubt I could have maintained the proper tension. Better for me to figure it out the same as the readers. It’s their turn now.