Thursday, June 16, 2016

Please Welcome Mystery Author Jody Wenner

Omnimystery News: Guest Post by Jody Wenner

We are delighted to welcome author Jody Wenner to Omnimystery News today.

Jody's new mystery, Painting the Lake (February 2016 trade paperback and ebook formats), is intriguingly subtitled "A Murder on the North Shore" and we asked her how the characters and storyline came together.

— ♦ —

Jody Wenner
Photo provided courtesy of
Jody Wenner

Inspiration. The spark that fuels the flame. The puff of magic that turns air into art. Where does it come from? While I wish I had a fascinating story to share about what inspired me to write my new mystery, Painting the Lake, I don't. I'd like to tell you it spawned from a series of bizarre events that happened one morning when I was brushing my teeth and a spider ran across my arm and when I swatted at it, I slipped on the wet towel on the floor and hit my head on the toilet and when I came to, I had a perfectly plotted mystery in my head. But that didn't happen. So now I'm forced to tell you the boring truth of the matter. It really doesn't work that way, at least not for me. It's usually not as random or as crazy as that, unfortunately. It's actually pretty intentional. I sit down and work on it until eventually I have something close to a story.

My technique usually involves a lot of pulling, twisting, deleting, starting again, taking walks, scribbling down random notes, pondering those notes, realizing those notes are terrible once on the screen, deleting, and start again. If I'm lucky, after many weeks or months, the thread I've been weaving begins to resemble a tapestry. Until then, it's hard to say what I've got and I often don't even speak about it out loud because it still feels too abstract.

Still, there does need to be that first little seed of an idea that gets the ball rolling, the catalyst to the jumping off point. And no matter how intentional or forced it is, I guess that's still technically considered inspiration. So when I really boiled it down, I realized Painting the Lake came out of me sitting down and thinking about, of all things, inspiration. So, what inspired me to write this story? Inspiration! Knowing each story needs specific elements, I asked myself: what people, places, and events are inspiring to me? If those things are interesting enough to me, perhaps they will move readers as well?

Often, the people who inspire me are very personal and close to me. They are my family. So, a few of the main characters in Painting the Lake are built from family members, though not just one specific person. I took interesting traits from several people in my family and made one character out of them. George Altman, one of the characters, has many of my dad's characteristics. He's a man who worked a blue-collar job to support his family his whole life and suddenly finds himself a bit lost in the throes of retirement. George, like my own father, is a quiet, analytical man. Because of this, I often thought while I was writing, what inner turmoil might be happening in his brain at such a turning point in his life? It just so happened my own mother had breast cancer during this pivotal transition, adding to the tension. I used this plot point in the story, as well.

As I mentioned, I didn't stick with just my father when shaping George. I actually gave George my husband's talents as a painter. I envisioned what my husband might be doing when he retires, which I assumed would be finding a scenic, secluded place to do what he hasn't had much time to do while working and raising a family, just simply sitting down and painting.

Next, I thought about setting. What location inspires me? That's a pretty easy one. Being from the Twin Cities, I chose a place many people from the cities are drawn to, the north woods region of Minnesota. So, after retirement, George heads to Duluth to paint. Duluth is just a few hour drive from the cities, due north. It's a small port town on the shores of Lake Superior. Though the lake is breathtakingly beautiful, the town itself is incredibly complex and holds an element of mystery to me, so it felt right to have the majority of the story take place there. The big lake, on its own accord, is steeped in folklore: a powerful and vast beauty, complete with eerie fog and storms with the strength to take down massive ships, and that's before you add the element of winter. The city and the people living within Duluth's boundaries also create another sort of dichotomy. There exists a feel of equal parts working class, mixed with a touristy north woods, almost upscale vacation element, which makes for a romantic yet tragic vibe — an odd clash, and a perfect setting for a crime. Though we do have beautiful seasons in Minnesota, it only felt part and parcel to have a murder take place during a particularly brutal winter.

So, finally, this leads to the event. Murder was not the inspiration for my story, but given what I mentioned already about the setting, and the fact that I knew I wanted to write a mystery, this piece of the puzzle just fell into place. Yes, sometimes inspiration can also be logic and maybe even a bit of dumb luck.

So, really the basis of Painting the Lake was formed by these elements and then a question that I batted around for a bit. It was: what if someone had just retired from their job expecting to finally have solace but instead found just the opposite? What if something horrible and tragic happened to him instead? And from there the idea snowballed, because what is one of the worst things someone can experience? They can be accused of murder.

That was it. The inspiration for my book was a combination of all of these things. The difficult part was knowing if the formula was going to translate into something more. That's when the work began. For me, that's really the fun part. I generally don't outline, instead I just start writing after I've worked out the details I've just mentioned. It can be a real mystery in and of itself to see if it's all going to come together, but once an idea rises out of the murky depths of my brain and sticks around like an unwanted bill, I know the only thing I can do is pay it, so if nothing else, I can at least stamp it done and file it away for my records, even if it makes me poor in doing so. Some of it was hard work and some of it was nothing more than luck, and let's not forget the rewriting, deleting, scribbling, walking, and rewriting some more. Either way, I hope readers get out of it a sense of the setting and the characters, as they are truly what inspired me to write the story.

I hope you'll check out Painting the Lake.

— ♦ —

Jody Wenner is a native to the Twin Cities. She began writing for her school art magazine and completed a degree from the University of Minnesota in Communications. Journalistic writing was set aside when she realized how much fun it was to do her own world building. She is also a wife and mother. When she's not reading or writing, you will find her crafting up a storm.

For more information about the author, please visit her website and her author page on Goodreads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

— ♦ —

Painting the Lake by Jody Wenner

Painting the Lake by Jody Wenner

A Murder on the North Shore

Publisher: Jody Wenner Print/Kindle Format(s)

Winter in Minnesota can be deadly. George has always plunged into the season with a sense of contentment, but as the snow begins to fly he hits a patch of icy luck. Newly retired, he heads up north to escape his troubles and do some painting. There he meets a young woman who begins pursuing him for more than his art. When she takes him on a wild ride, George isn't surprised to find Detective Nancy Simmons at his cabin door. For Nancy, winter comes with a much harsher reality. She feels the bite as she investigates who dumped a young woman's body in Lake Superior's frigid waters.

Maybe George isn't as innocent as he seems …

Painting the Lake by Jody Wenner. Click here to take a Look Inside the book.


  1. And now I want to both read your book and visit Duluth. :-) Thanks for sharing the origin story of PAINTING THE LAKE, Jody! I love to hear how authors go from idea to finished book. Congrats!

  2. I love that area of Minnesota, well, not as much in the dead of winter. I love your story of inspiration! And taking traits from various family members to pull together one main protagonist. I hav this book on my TBR.


Omnimystery Blog Archive

Total Pageviews (last 30 days)

Omnimystery News
Original Content Copyright © 2022 — Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites — All Rights Reserved
Guest Post Content (if present) Copyright © 2022 — Contributing Author — All Rights Reserved