Making a Mystery module 1


Why did I write this book? I have received so many questions about the writing of The Madonna Ghost and its plot, characters and setting, that I decided to share with my readers the journey of the telling of this story.

I never liked writing assignments when I was in school. They seemed silly to me. What did I know? And, who cared what I had to say? I would much rather learn about things and read about the adventures of people who were really having adventures. All I ever got to do was go to school, ride my bike, and roller skate the sidewalks of Queens, N.Y.

My family never went on vacation because my dad had a small business. That’s why I developed such a curiosity about the world. Every picture in National Geographic Magazine was a window to some exotic destination. It was probably then and there I made the decision that my life would extend beyond the sidewalks of Queens.

When I was able to afford it, I planned my first trip. It took research and an organized plan (no tour for me). That approach became my M.O. (modus operandi) throughout my life.

Fast forward to my years teaching in a small community on Long Island. Teachers write all the time. To appeal to the imaginations of my students, I began to write stories about whatever I was teaching, and soon realized that I had a knack for story-telling, both real and imagined ones.

It satisfied me in ways I never experienced before, to see the looks of rapt attention and the occasional giggle my stories evoked. I was hooked. Just as I did to make my dream to be a world traveler come true, I set out to be a writer, researching writing classes.

Clearly, the motivation to write the book was an extension of my love for story-telling. In fact, the terms author or writer are far less compelling to me than just plain story-teller.

Civilizations are defined by their stories. From the Stone Age caves of Lascaux in France to the library story hours of today humans have craved stories. 

The evolution of the human brain to master language skills and memory, coupled with the social nature of the species created the perfect environment for tales to be told and passed on. Not only oral history but pictorial history emerged in the form of petroglyphs. Pictures in stone, thus the saying, “Written in stone.”

I identify with the teacher, the grandparent and the folk singer who have given us our culture. I love to tell a story.

A good friend once told me that I was a good story teller and it went to my head. That comment sent me on the road to making up stories for my students about the world of science, scientists and the very students in my classroom. These silly stories received a warm enough welcome that just fueled the fire of my ego. It moved me to get more serious about investing my energies into producing a story big enough for a book.


As I was thinking about the book I would write, of course, a mystery, I knew that what I wanted to produce was something worthy of an adult counterpart. By that I mean I wanted the story to have the richness of history, mystery, and forensic science. Young readers today have exposure to more science than any other generation and are encouraged to use their critical thinking skills to analyze the world around them. So, I believe my plots would appeal to both my young readers and my adult readers, as would the background of story and setting.


The Madonna Ghost is a tale both of a young woman’s adventure-filled summer vacation, and the story of how Fire Island’s history leads Annie Tillery and Tyler Egan into the grasp of some dangerous dudes indeed.

Part of my journey with Annie Tillery Mysteries has been to do workshops about writing a mystery. The participants, young and old, have asked me many questions about the writing process. I never thought people would want to know so much about the writing of the books. I thought they would be only interested in the story. These are some of their questions about plot character and setting I’ve addressed at the ends of the chapters in The Madonna Ghost.

  • How do you create your characters?
  • Does Annie Tillery reflect your values?
  • Addressing the dilemma of adding science to the books, how much, how deep?
  • What personal experiences have motivated element of plot, character and setting?
  • Why choose a summer beach resort?
  • Who is the model for Tyler Egan?
  • Which characters are based on real people, which not?


The best way to proceed with this assignment is to watch the video. You can download the script to make your own notes. Do the assignments. They are downloadable as well. 

Depending on your motivation for taking this course, you can use the assignment sheets as an outline for a book yo9u plan to write. As a deader wishing to gain insights into the author’s mind, just read and