It may have only taken Dea Poirier six weeks to write, but when Next Girl to Die came out last month, it was the culmination of years of hard work. Perfecting her craft and following her passion for connecting with people led to this debut novel, in which Detective Claire Calderwood must battle emotions from her past while trying to hunt down a ritualistic serial killer.
Throughout her early twenties, Poirier tried numerous times to write a novel but never completed one. Like many writers, she was struggling not only with the process of writing, but also with self-doubt. “I came to a moment where I either needed to finish a novel or stop trying, so I sat down and forced myself to work through it,” Poirier recalled. “That first book was awful, but proved I could do it.”
Poirier went on to write ten more "practice" novels before she sold Next Girl to Die. Her advice for aspiring writers? “Learn from everything you do, just don’t quit . . . Well actually, I quit multiple times, but I kept coming back, so just don’t quit forever.”
As a working single mom, Poirier doesn’t mess around when it comes to managing her writing time. Through years of practice, she has developed a system that helps her. She begins with 1-2 days of outlining all the major plot points, the characters displayed in each chapter, when evidence or red herrings will appear, and what police procedures need to be developed. Next, she writes character bios for 1-2 days.
Then the real work begins. “The most important thing is just to get the first draft done,” she said, “because you can’t fix an empty page.” Poirier works to get the first draft done in 2-6 weeks, writing 10-20 pages per day by hand. “I’ve tried writing the first draft on a computer and it doesn’t flow properly,” she said. Once the draft is done she self-edits for about 3-6 weeks. When she feels she can’t make it any better, she starts sending it out to her critique partners. “Having the right people to read your drafts and give you feedback is critical.”
Until she started Next Girl to Die, Poirier had mainly written historical fantasy. When her agent suggested she try writing a mystery, years of practice and an effective strategy meant she was able to rise to the challenge.
From the beginning, Poirier knew she wanted to write a story that explored how echoes of events from the past can haunt you forever. Right away the character of Claire — an emotionally damaged detective who had lost someone in her family — started growing in her imagination. Poirier wanted Claire to have fled her hometown to hide from her past, so it made sense for the murder to be the device that pulled Claire back. This set the wheels of the plot in motion. Since the hometown was going to be an important element, Poirier started searching for just the right setting. That’s how she found Vinalhaven, an isolated island in Maine with a history interesting enough for her to build the world of the novel around.
The novel changed a lot during editing. “The trick with mystery is to make sure that you are revealing the right pieces of information at the right time,” she said. Her early red herrings were too distracting. Through revision, she was able to develop false clues that tied into the secrets and lies of life on Vinalhaven, making the story more cohesive at the same time it made the background richer. Poirier also had to do a lot of research to get the police procedural details correct. Luckily, the author was able to utilize both police friends and medical examiners near her home in Florida to make sure those elements worked successfully to bring the novel to life.
Poirier has always been driven to create and through her creativity connect with others, whether that means painting, photoshopping Godzilla into unusual locations, or simply chatting with her more than 12,000 Twitter followers. How does it feel to have her debut novel finally in the hands of readers after her long writing journey? “It has been awesome to see how people connect with the book.” A follow-up novel, Beneath the Ashes, will be out in November.
Dea (D. H.) Poirier was raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, where she got her start writing in creative writing courses. She attended The University of Central Oklahoma for Computer Science and Political Science. Later, she spent time living on both coasts, and traveling the United States, before finally putting down roots in Central Florida. She now resides somewhere between Disney and the swamp. She spends her days at her day job as a Director of Email and Lifecycle Marketing, and her nights writing manuscripts.
Elizabeth is a writer, designer, professor and dedicated bookworm.