The Deadly Water Hazard: A Cactus of the Valley Mystery
by Paige Terner
In Cactus of the Valley things are not as peaceful as they seem. When a body is found in a submerged golf cart, is it an accident or is it murder? With plenty of resident suspects, all with motives resulting from conflicts with the victim, the path to solving this mystery is full of twists and turns. And everyone has something to hide.
What do an angry grandma, a tormented golf partner, a chef with a past, and a secretive waitress have in common? And what about the browbeaten spouse? Will the snoopy spinster’s sleuthing skills help or hinder the investigation as Detective Peterson uncovers the clues? Will this once tranquil community play through this handicap and get out of the rough?
Paige Turner is the pen name of five Joy of Writing members. One day in the fall of 2017 at a Joy of Writing meeting, one of the members had a brilliant idea for a long- term project: a group- written mystery story. Easy, right? Outline a basic plot, insert characters, divide into sections, and assign one to each writer. Voila! In two or three months, put them together and out will pop a story. That’s what we envisioned. But finally, in May 2021, after many stops and starts, the short story, which became a longer story, had evolved into a novella. Although it didn’t exactly just pop out, it did emerge as the book we published on Amazon. You can order it at The Deadly Water Hazard on Amazon.
A sequel is planned and community members are invited to join us. The story writers’ meetings will be separate from our regular Joy of Writing meetings. For more information contact Judy Knox at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s what the writers and editors had to say about the experience.
Working with this group of talented, creative writers was a delight. The project was a learning experience for everyone involved. We had fun making up scenes and dialogues and watching our characters come to life. We improved our writing skills. We learned to give and receive constructive criticism as we problem solved together. Above all, the group stayed committed to “getting ‘er done” without forsaking quality or wrecking relationships in the process. ~Judy A. Knox
Emerson said, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Our writing group’s journey has been a wild ride and a wonderful gift. Without the guidance of our fearless leader and dedicated editing team, we would have been adrift. Writing is easy; editing is tough. Our Joy of Writing group members are the best editing team an aspiring writer could have. But I do have to add, arriving at our destination has been a joy. ~Doreen Lechner
Writing a mystery by committee posed challenges, rewards, and gratitude. Gratitude goes to Judy for an incredible amount of work just to keep this project going. At times it seemed a bit like herding cats. Challenges were embedded in the gratitude.
Combining a dozen or so writers with varying styles and ideas necessitated a degree of humility, not to mention patience. But in the end I think we all felt rewarded with the product, not to mention our ability to see this through. If we had known from the outset how difficult it would be, I’m not sure we would have started it in the first place. ~Larry Meath
Working as a team to write The Deadly Water Hazard was invaluable; in addition, it was fun. It was a challenge when some in our group who are snowbirds returned to home states in the summers, making it hard to stay in rhythm. The arrival of Zoom this past year helped greatly, as we juggled characters and time lines and made many changes.
The camaraderie of working toward one goal was a great pleasure, and strong leadership from Judy kept us in line. I learned so much about writing techniques and editing. The experience was a treasure! ~Carol Redmore
My first question when someone suggested writing a murder mystery as a class project was, “Where do you start?” One Joy of Writing participant suggested we set the murder in a 55+ adult park, similar to ours.
Never having considered a novel, my first thought was that it would be simply a continuation of any story written for an assignment. I learned quickly that there would be a myriad of pieces that would need to be carefully put into place. Part of the challenge was learning that those various pieces were called “back stories,” “vignettes,” and something called a “denouement.” I learned that writing a murder mystery was far more complicated than I ever imagined. More than just a plot, there are characters to create.
As time went on and various parts of the mystery moved forward, my interest in participating intensified. It was reassuring to see more pieces of the puzzle being put out there to consider. Interestingly enough, the deletion of those extraneous words, which only “take up space,” was of interest to me. I especially like the word “camaraderie” when it applies to the Joy of Writing writers! ~Martha Jo Tisdale
And a Word from the Editors
In addition to the five authors above, several people joined the group after most of the writing had been completed. Their input and participation in the editing sessions were invaluable, adding dimension and clarity to the overall final product.
As a new member of the club, I was initially intimidated to question or make suggestions to the writings of this talented group. However, it was not a problem because there was mutual respect as we worked toward a common goal. I learned the value of good literary resources and to keep the big picture in mind when looking at the details. ~Pam Crawford
When my Grandma Judy first asked me to come to the editing meetings I was nervous that I wouldn’t be heard, as I am just a college student with no prior writing experience. I was mistaken. I was heard and asked for my opinion, and together we helped create this engaging novella. I made memories with my Grandma and her friends that I will never forget. ~Lily Dahlberg
Group editing is a unique experience. Every person commented on the excerpts. Some positive, some negative, but all beneficial. I received insight to the bigger picture for publishing.
I have always wanted to write stories. I have a wild imagination, but lack basic grammar skills. Spending time writing weekly assignments or working on this project with so many talented Joy of Writing club members has been a wonderful learning experience and a great joy in my life. ~Henry Dumas
Being a part of the writing and editing team was a fun and educational experience. My creative and technical skills were challenged and improved, but the greatest benefit was the opportunity to make and grow friendships with my collaborators. ~Theresa Higby
It has been an unusual, but exciting, journey getting this book completed. With several authors, and even more editors and proofreaders, what a labor of collaboration. It took a village! ~Dorothy Tarpley
A word from author advocate, James Moushon.
James Moushon is a mystery writer and an author advocate who lives near FOS. He is currently wearing two hats: mystery writer and book publishing blogger. You can find his blogs at HBS Author’s Spotlight
The blog’s purpose is to help authors get exposure in the book publishing industry. He has interviewed and showcased over 600 authors to date.
James recently ran a series of articles about books with multiple writers and featured our book in one of his blog posts. You can view this article at The Deadly Water Hazard – Blog Post by James Moushon.
In May 2021 The Deadly Water Hazard, our group-written cozy mystery, was published on Amazon. Proceeds from sales go to the FOS Library for purchase of new mystery books. Due to popular request, we are currently planning on a sequel.