Ideas flow for prolific mystery authors

mystery writing panel

When it comes to finding ideas for their mystery novels, neither Margaret Coel nor Stephen White is at a loss.

Speaking at the "Death in Demand: Masters of the Mystery" workshop, both confessed to having plenty of ideas.

Coel is the bestselling author of the acclaimed Wind River mystery series set among the Arapahos on Wyoming's Wind River Reservation and featuring Jesuit priest Father John O'Malley and Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden. White is the author of the New York Times bestselling Alan Gregory psychological thrillers.

Both authors have succeeded in a field in which longevity is a rarity. Coel began her career as a journalist, which she noted was terrific training. "As a journalist you have to write whether the muse has struck or not," she said.

White, a clinical psychologist, began writing to learn how to use his computer in his psychological practice. "I had no idea I had written [a novel] until it was done," he said with a chuckle. "I didn't set out to write a mystery."

By the mid-1990s he was making a living as a working novelist.

Coel already has three more novels in mind, two of which are part of the series, the other is a stand-alone novel. "I can't imagine running out of ideas," she said.

White said the problem isn't generating ideas. "It's needing to find the one that has enough meat on it to interest others," he said.

Asked about how they write, White said. "It's much harder now. I didn't know how difficult a profession this is."

He writes without a net, without an outline. "I know literally nothing on day one," he confessed. "It's highly inefficient but it's the way my creative process works."

Coel prefers to gather information and arrange it. "I do what I call a roadmap," she said. "What happens along the way, I don't know."

Margaret Coel Stephen White

Imparting lots of wisdom throughout the seminar, White closed with probably the most prosaic advice: "I try not to give readers a reason to close the book."

— Cynthia Price, Virginia Press Women