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HOW TO: Throw A Murder Mystery Party

Book readings are not my favorite. As a novel writer, I'm most comfortable when the fiction flows from my fingers rather than my mouth. Sitting in front of an audience reading sentences that everyone present could read on their own--and may have already read--makes me feel as though I'm selling Oxiclean.

The other problem is that, in real life, my speaking voice is a mid-range alto--not the sexy, I-yelled-too-much-last-night, come hither noir heroine that I imagine in my head. I sound better silent. There's a reason why actors, not writers, read audiobooks.

For the Widower's Wife launch, I decided to dispense with book readings and throw a Murder Mystery Party instead. I didn't realize quite how much work I'd be taking on.

The first thing I did was download a murder mystery kit from

I chose the cruise mystery because my story takes place, in part, on a cruise ship.

After I'd read through the lengthy instructions and character profiles, I sent out the invitations. Sixty people responded. (Already, much better than my attendance at an average book reading). I then assigned the twenty main characters to the attendees who seemed most likely to get into their parts.

Each main character has a background sheet explaining who he or she is and his or her motivations. They also have a list of character-specific "A" objectives for the start of the party: things they need to say or do. After the murder, they get a list of character-specific "B" objectives.

Main players assigned, I invented intersecting subplots and characters for everyone else using a basic graphic/paint program that enabled me to put my character profiles and objectives on the same visual template as the main characters. Completing all this took about a week and involved a giant plot board to make sure that I didn't mix up the characteristics or motivations of all the people involved. (There's a reason why most crime novels only have about ten characters to keep track of).

A smaller party could get away with using the revolving characters. In my opinion, anything over thirty people probably needs some creative writing. Multiple "Passenger As" could get boring.

Not surprisingly, I loved creating the additional characters. It allowed me to invent subplots that enabled attending couples to play off of one another and include inside jokes.

After creating all the players, I had to print out a cruise ship newsletter for everyone, an "A" envelope with each character's specific background information and initial objectives, and a "B" envelope with their subsequent objectives. I also printed out the multiple sheets of evidence and put this in a separate envelope. The solution envelope went to the characters playing the two police officers. I put all these envelopes in a bag along with money and character-specific props (cruise hats, policeman badges, and crowns, depending).

Finally, I went about decorating the room. I turned my basement into a lounge by temporarily putting the kids toys in a back room and moving my deck furniture indoors. I also painted a mural and set up a photo booth area.

The party is on Friday. I'm pretty excited about it. More photos to come.

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