The Story Behind the Story: The Wodehouse Murder Case

As I mentioned Friday, the romance anthology Starlit Bridges is now out, with my Wodehouse Murder Case included. You can buy it in ebook or paperback. So as usual, here’s the story behind writing the story, reprinted from when it first came out almost a decade ago.I no longer remember what gave me the idea for a story built around the concept of “Bertie Wooster, Wizard.” Bertie, as many of you probably know, is the upper-class twit who bumbled through countless P.G. Wodehouse comedies, always getting out of scrapes and engagements thanks to his unflappable manservant Jeeves. Whatever gave me the thought, the idea of a slightly silly magician seemed to hold no end of promise, so earlier this year, I began work.

Several core details firmed up almost immediately, and, unusually for me, stayed consistent through the final draft. The central characters were Monty Throopville and his trusted manservant, Tench (I started with Greaves, decided that was too heavyhanded, and rejected the idea of him as a familiar). The climax would come at a country-house party with demonic forces in play, and Monty’s true love would start out attached to his less-than-ethical best friend. And the whole thing would be done in a Wodehouse style, of course.

Somewhere in the first couple of drafts, establishing both Monty and the female lead, Suzanne, as murder-mystery fans, took root—as did the idea that the party wouldn’t be merely a social gathering out of Upstairs, Downstairs but something out of the Golden Age of mystery fiction: An isolated country manor, a gathering of guests, fog cutting everyone off so they can’t leave—and then murder!!!!!!!

And from this, somewhere in the next draft or two, sprang the idea that Monty doesn’t merely read murder mysteries—he writes them (I don’t this is too big a spoiler). That immediately clicked for me, as it enabled me to add a lot of added in-jokes about the murder mysteries of the era. It also required me to rewrite Monty—all jokes about writers aside, if he’s smart enough to be a successful novelist, he couldn’t be quite as twitty as I initially portrayed him.

Subsequent drafts figured out how the murder and magical plotlines intertwined; introduced Monty’s flamboyant Aunt Lettie; and gave Suzanne a little more personality than just The Pretty Girl. And since I’d established that Monty’s series detective character is “Professor Wodehouse,” the title of the story naturally suggested itself. It’s also a play on Golden Age author SS Van Dyne, whose titles ran along the lines of The Kennel Murder Case, The Bishop Murder Case, etc.. I also had great fun coming up with titles for Monty’s own books: The Owl Died at Sunset, The Poisoned Viscount, Two Graves for the Duchess, The Hangman’s Secret and The Robin Redbreast Riddle, among others. Monty’s way more prolific than I am.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover image remain with current holder.

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Filed under Story behind the story, Writing

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