Behind the Pen: 14 Writers of "Chasing the Codex" Reflect on their Experience

I had the privilege of email-interviewing several of the authors of Cozy Cat Press’s 100th release, Chasing the Codex. Somewhat in the tradition of Off the Page, they dished on what it was like to collaborate on such a challenging project, offering insights from their own lives.

Here are some of their answers.

1. What was it like to work within the defined limits? Did you feel it strengthened your own creative process?  

Christian Belz—I suppose I drew a bit of luck in being asked to write the first chapter, because I really didn’t have any limits other than the genre and word count. It’s such fun to create a whole new world, protagonist, setting, and begin setting up the breadcrumbs that lead to the evolution of a mystery. Early on, I decided to make the lead character a woman, simply because most of the Cozy Cat authors are female. By the time I had set up the foundation, backstory, character relationships, and so on, I was so engrossed, I wanted to write the entire book! Luckily for me, there were 23 other authors who would lend their creativity and voice to the story.

Sally Carpenter—What I liked about the limits is that I didn’t have to think up the story, characters or setting from scratch. That saved time and allowed me to focus more on carrying the mystery ahead. I had to stretch a bit to work outside my own style but I think I still managed to put my own stamp on my chapter.

Drema Reed—It was hard, for me, to think about working within the limits of this kind of book. However, when it came time to write my chapter, it all came together because the writer before me left me with a perfect way to integrate my style with the characters available.

Joe and Pam Reese—I'm a comp lit person and was fascinated to learn, years ago, about how Greek tragedies always seemed to follow certain rules, or, I guess, defined limits.  Working within the rules only seemed to intensify the emotional power they were able to create.

Jennifer Vido—I approached writing the group mystery as an exercise in creative writing, much like being in a college class. There were defined limits that I was obligated to follow which took me out of my comfort zone. Overall, it was a very positive learning experience. It certainly strengthened my own creative writing process. Plus, I learned how to write a book from the beginning to the end with my fellow CCP authors. That was a treat!

2. Were you surprised at the direction other authors took the book (no spoilers, please :) )?

B.J. Gilbertson—There were a few surprises for sure.  To me, though, that was part of the fun of this experience.  I personally would have taken the novel in a different direction.  I'm not saying my direction would have been better...just different.  I loved the novel's final direction and eventual ending.

Helen Grochmal—Surprised by the direction of my characters? I haven't felt the same since Ingrid Bergman played a loose lady in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. However, I felt all was fair according to the rules of the book—and fun.

Julie Seedorf—I was curious but had no expectations because when you have twenty-four writers you know there will be many twists and turns and surprises as we all have different writing styles and wild imaginations. I also knew the book was in good hands with the authors that were lined up to work on the book. They are all very talented people.

Steve Shrott— I was surprised about where the authors took the book, both before, and after my work. And I think that’s what enabled Chasing the Codex to have so many great twists and turns. None of us knowing where we were going created some really special surprises (even for us.) I think it’s very impressive that twenty-four authors were able to work together to create this wonderful entertaining and cohesive story.  
Lane Stone—VERY!  But I better not say any more….. Wait, I can say that in my chapter I felt it was time to increase the tension so I…. Oh, well, I can’t tell you that either.  Sorry.

3. When did you start writing? Why do you write? What is it about mysteries in particular that fascinates you?

Barbara Jean Coast (Andrea Taylor and Heather Shkuratoff)—Andrea has been writing since she could hold a pencil. Heather came at it through writing journals and free writing as a teen. We write because we have stories to tell.

Joyce Oroz— I painted murals like mad my whole life until I turned a corner at sixty and took writing classes and began writing stories. I loved writing children’s stories, but eventually graduated to writing mystery novels which were over the moon fun to write. I am driven to write just like I was driven to paint. Mysteries are especially fun because I figure them out as I go. I usually don’t know who dun it until very late in the book.

Sharon Rose—I started writing quite a few years ago—actually when I hurt my back and couldn't get out of bed for three weeks! That was over thirty years ago. I have always been a reader. I was one of those kids who set their alarm for six so I could wake up and finish a book. Then one day, as I was reading a book, I thought I could have written it better. Very presumptuous of me! After my last child left home, I took a writing course and I was on my way. Mysteries have always fascinated me. I love creating the main character, the crime, the perpetrator, but then weaving my way through the red herrings to solve the mystery.

Lane Stone—When I was a kid I daydreamed.  Probably too much. I would fall asleep at night making up stories.  I didn’t know it at the time but I was developing a creativity muscle. Of course, writing professionally involves so much more.  Getting all the way to The End is something anyone who has ever written a book – whether it’s been published or not – can feel proud of. Like most authors, I write because I can’t help it.  You thought I was going to say money, didn’t you? I love the “order restored” aspect of a good mystery.  At the beginning of the book, all is right with the world; then evil comes to town.  This is usually in the form of a murder. By the end chaos is banished, and order is restored.  I also like that readers are involved.  They are trying to solve the murder right along with our protagonist.  No other genre gives you that fun challenge.

Diane Weiner—I started writing three years ago. Writing is an escape, gives me a sense of accomplishment, and satisfies my need to be creative.

 Special thanks to Christian Belz, Sally Carpenter, Barbara Jean Coast, B.J. Gilbertson, Helen Grochmal, Joyce Oroz, Drema Reed, Jim and Pam Reese, Sharon Rose, Julie Seedorf, Steve Shrott, Lane Stone, Jennifer Vido, and Diane Weiner for their contributions to this post! And don’t forget, you only have four more days to grab your copy of Chasing the Codex while Cozy Cat Press donates 50% of their pre-Christmas profits to help Pets for the Elderlya national charitable organization devoted to helping senior citizens acquire and pay for animal companions.