Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Please Welcome Author Josh Pahigian

Omnimystery News: Guest Author Post
by Josh Pahigian

We are delighted to welcome author Josh Pahigian as our guest.

Though Josh is no stranger to writing — he has published several baseball books — the mystery Strangers on the Beach (Islandport Press, October 2012 hardcover and ebook formats) is his first novel and a Publisher's Weekly Indie Sleeper Title to Watch.

Today, Josh tells us how to kill a good man … and why every writer should give it a try.

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As writers of mystery and suspense novels, our primary goal is to keep readers guessing. And the highest compliment a reader or reviewer can pay us is to say, "Gee, I didn't see that twist coming. It caught me completely off guard."

Josh Pahigian
Photo provided courtesy of
Josh Pahigian

As the reviews have started to come in on my new mystery, Strangers on the Beach, I have been particularly gratified to hear so many readers and professional reviewers say that they never anticipated a murder that takes place about a quarter of the way into the book.

To that point, four main characters have been trying to piece together the mystery of what happened to Ferdinand Sevigny's sailing yacht off the shores of Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Sevigny is an eccentric billionaire whose sole mission in life seems to be to etch his name into the Guinness Book of Records, one stunt after another. Something happens to his yacht, though, as he attempts to cross the Atlantic blindfolded. And he barely survives the wreck. But he was blindfolded, so he doesn't know what happened to him or why. Nor do the people of Old Orchard. Then, as the first layers are being peeled off the mystery, one of the characters trying to figure out the accident is struck down in cold blood.

Many readers have said they were shocked and even initially disappointed to see one of their favorite characters die. But in retrospect, they say, they could see how the murder was inevitable. Some of the earlier events in the book and behaviors of the characters suddenly made sense when the character — dare I say, the budding protagonist — fell dead.

So I got to thinking about how I pulled it off and why I did it.

I don't want to "spoil" my book for anyone, so I'll stop short of naming names.

First, let's tackle the question of why writers should consider killing one of the good guys every now and then.

Let's say your book is humming along with three of four main storylines as an inexplicable event occurs or in the immediate aftermath of one. Your characters, if you're rendering them well, are starting to feel like real people. They're imperfect, yes, but they're human and hopefully identifiable and likeable to your reader.

Sacrificing one at this point can be a savvy move because his or her death will raise the stakes for the rest of your book. With one fell swoop, you'll signal to your reader that anything can — and very well may — happen in this world you are creating. There will be no guarantee of a Hollywood ending. Heck, some of the other favorite characters might not even make it to the ending, much less survive it. You've grabbed your reader by the shirt collar and ratcheted up the tension.

It's far easier to kill the bad guys or the thinly drawn characters (see: practically every Slasher movie when the token blonde is struck down before viewers even work their way through the butter sheen on their popcorn), but if you kill a character for which you and your reader have developed some fondness, there is much more to gain.

That's the why. Now, let's address the how.

This is where it gets a little tricky. You don't want to alienate your reader. And if your murder seems implausible, that's exactly what you'll do. So you have to do some work as writer prior to the murder. You need to double-back into previous chapters and add those touches of foreshadowing that seem harmless in the moment but which burn with clarity the instant the murder occurs (see a Flannery O'Connor story like "A Good Man is Hard to Find" for a master lesson in foreshadowing). You also have work to do after the murder. The murderer had better have a darned good motive for snuffing one of your readers' faves, and by book's end it should be fully apparent to readers. In other words, it shouldn't be a random act of violence.

Finally, let's discuss the murder itself. The execution of it.

I really didn't want to kill the character I assassinated in Strangers on the Beach. After seventy pages or so, I knew I liked him and knew my readers would too. In my initial vision for the book, he'd been a bit player, but a quarter of the way into it, he'd emerged as one of the leading players.

I wanted to shake things up and turn my story on its ear. So I was resolved to do it. Only, I couldn't farm out the dirty work like the mafia bosses in the movies do. I had to sit down at the keyboard, suck it up, and pull the trigger on him one word after another, one sentence at a time, until he'd breathed his last breath.

So, I made my peace with him before I killed him. He was likeable, I determined, because he was flawed. All of my characters are, I think. That's what (I hope) makes them human. But I focused on his flaw in particular and on a worry that had been consuming him for those first seventy pages (I'm being vague because I don't want to spoil my book for anyone), and I allayed it. I gave him a moment of clarity. A moment of grace. Right before he was ambushed, his head swam with pleasant thoughts. His life finally made sense and he was at peace with it. If only for a moment, the turmoil that had been roiling within him abated.

And then the lights went out. He never saw the bullet coming.

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Josh is the author of nine books, including Strangers on the Beach and popular baseball titles like The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip, which he and coauthor Kevin O'Connell fully updated in 2012, and 101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.

Josh teaches writing in the Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Western Connecticut State University, and at the University of New England. He lives in Buxton, Maine.

— ♦ —

Strangers on the Beach by Josh Pahigian

Strangers on the Beach
by Josh Pahigian
Publisher: Islandport Press

Billionaire Ferdinand Sevigny is brave, bold, and brash. But his latest stunt to sail blindfolded, single-handed, across the Atlantic goes horribly awry, depositing him onto the summer tourist town of Old Orchard Beach, Maine. His sudden arrival triggers a series of sinister events that even he cannot forestall: a naked woman washes up on a beach; a confused teen-aged boy stumbles upon a crime; a naive policeman struggles with a deadly conflict of interest. Now, Sevigny, and all those whose lives he touches, must make decisions that will define them forever.

Amazon.com Print and/or Kindle Edition  Barnes&Noble Print Edition and/or Nook Book  Apple iTunes iBookstore  Kobo eBooks  Indie Bound: Independent Bookstores

You can read the first three chapters for free on the publisher's website and visit the book's Facebook page for the latest information about it.

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