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Prolific Mystery Author Emily Brightwell Reveals Her Writing Process

October 2, 2021 by in category Writing tagged as , , , ,

Emily Brightwell was born in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. Her family moved to Southern California in 1959 and she grew up in Pasadena. After graduating from California State University at Fullerton, she decided to work her way around the world and took off for England. She didn’t get any further than that because she met the man who would become her husband in Leeds, Yorkshire, married in 1976 in California, and later had two children.

While working in international shipping in Long Beach, she decided to pursue her dream and become a writer—which, of course, is the best job ever. To date, Emily has written over fifty novels in three genres—romance, young Adult and of course, mystery.

Emily lives in Carson City, Nevada and is currently working on “Mrs. Jeffries Aims to Win” the 41st book in the series.

I’m excited to have multi-published author Emily Brightwell here with us today. The 40th novel in her fabulous Mrs. Jeffries Victorian London Mystery Series will make its debut on November 16th!! Mrs. Jeffries and the Midwinter Murders has Mrs. Jeffries and Inspector Gerald Witherspoon hot on the path to solve their latest murder case.

Jann: As a multi-published author, is it hard to keep the books fresh and engaging?

Emily: Keeping a long-running series fresh isn’t easy, but it’s loads of fun. I’ve written forty “Mrs. Jeffries” books and I’m currently working on number forty-one. Where does my inspiration come from? It comes from everywhere, from newspapers, books, social media, magazines, and most of all real life. I’m a news junkie and lest you think that the news of today couldn’t possibly provide any insight into how the Victorians lived, loved and murdered, you’d be dead wrong. People haven’t changed.

Whether we live in Victorian England or modern America, we’re driven by the same emotions today as we’ve always been; love, hate, envy, greed, fear, jealousy, obsession. Every emotion they had, we have. When I sit down to write, I pinpoint the underlying emotion that drives my killer and work from there. For example, take the idea of ‘greed’ as a motive for murder. There are hundreds of ways that ‘greed’ can be used in any time period—from a Victorian wife who murders her husband for his money to a tech company billionaire who wronged his original partners so he could have it all.

Jann: What is your writing process and has it changed with all the new writing programs?

Emily: My process hasn’t really changed and I don’t use any of the ‘new writing programs’.  Here’s how I do it. Once I have my motive, I then branch out to other aspects of the manuscript; characters, milieu, sub plots, red herrings, identifying internal as well as external conflicts for everyone, including the killer! As I said, it’s loads of fun and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.

I believe effective writing requires conflict in every scene…you’ll notice I said ‘conflict’ not confrontation. Constant arguing is just tiresome, but conflict, done properly, carries the reader through the scene and leaves them wanting more. Conflict can be argumentative, but the most effective use is to give your characters goals in opposition to one another. For example, Phyllis, Inspector Witherspoon’s housemaid, is saving her wages to open her own detective agency. When she learns that another character, Wiggins, is planning the same thing, there is immediate conflict between them. Phyllis feels someone she trusted has stolen her idea. A typical alpha male’s behavior! She now has a goal in opposition to him—mainly beating him at every turn in the search for information. Wiggins, on the other hand, feels that wanting the same thing would bring them close—as partners. When he realizes it hasn’t and that she’s working extra hard ‘best’ him, he develops his own way of dealing with the situation. It’s a double ‘goals in opposition’ as Wiggins is just a bit in love with Phyllis. Man versus woman—a cliche but it works!

Jann: Do you have any writing rituals? Schedule?

Emily: I often get asked what is the first thing I do before starting work on a new Mrs. Jeffries manuscript? I indulge in the one ritual I’ve had since the beginning. I call it “The Ritual Cleaning of the Office.” Yup, by the time one Mrs. Jeffries book is finished and I’m on to the next one, my desk is covered with notebooks, stacks of paper, piles of research books, sticky notes on every surface and usually cat hair on my chair. But once my office is cleansed, I get to work.

Jann: Do you find yourself returning to certain themes in your stories? Why?

Emily: Over the years, I’ve experimented with a number of different writing processes and I’ve finally hit upon one that works well for my personality. That’s a process I think every writer has to endure before finding what works for them. Maybe some have the gift of plotting an entire book in their head before page one but I don’t. Anyway, I digress so back to my process, which begins with me coming up with a theme. It isn’t one that you had to write in high school English. It’s something real and personal to you, the author. It can be something simple: the truth always comes to light or old sins have long memories. But it has to be something meaningful to you—a topic that illustrates what you want to tell the world. Before you say ‘but isn’t it just a story?’ Of course, it is. The main function of genre fiction is to entertain your readers, but stories also need to have a point of view about the world you’re creating. A POV that you genuinely believe in and that has some universal validity. But I’m digressing again, let’s get back to my process. After the theme, I do a character list with age, social class, physical description and a motive for wanting the victim dead. This list isn’t written in stone and frequently changes as I work through the manuscript. Then I do my favorite part; the crime-line. This is single spaced, often many pages long and follows the killer from the moment he/she decides to commit murder to the steps he/she takes to do the actual deed. It is an important part of my process and like the character list, can change as I write the book. Once those bits are completed, I dive onto page one, cross my fingers and hope readers will like it.

Jann: Have you ever suffered writer’s block?

Emily: Once I’m in the book, I try to write at least five pages a day—sometimes more, but occasionally, if I’m stuck, less. Yes, I do get stuck sometimes…I don’t know any writer that doesn’t. But I’ve never had a full-blown case of writer’s block (and hopefully never will), so I’m very grateful to be spared that misery. I know writers that have endured the dreaded block and sometimes it takes weeks, months or even years to get back to work. Writing is the best job in the world but there are some days when your characters simply won’t do what you they’re told! That’s when I go for a walk. I love being a writer and I can’t think of any other job that would give me so much joy…except maybe being a zookeeper for penguins. That looks like a great job too.

I love my characters and how they have grown and changed, how they have surprised and astounded me but one day, I want to expand a bit and do some other projects. Okay, I’ll admit to another guilty secret. I have a ‘fun book’. It’s a thriller, a romance, a science fiction saga and totally non-commercial as it doesn’t fit into any marketing or publishing niche. But I write in it every day and it helps me to keep the “Mrs. Jeffries Series” fresh. It lets me stretch as a writer and that’s a good thing (to paraphrase Martha Stewart). I’ve done romance, mystery and teen angst but there are always great ideas and stories out there waiting to be told. I’m hoping to be able to tell some of these tales for a long, long time.

Jann: Emily, thank you for spending time with us here on A Slice of Orange. Congratulations with your 40th book!! What an amazing achievement. Wishing you many more.

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