Goals I Can Live With for 2020

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I’m not really one for New Year’s Resolutions, but I think I’ve come up with some goals I can live with for 2020 that won’t cause a global yawn.

• I’ll remove Decembruary 33 – 36 from my calendar. But I’ll keep the 32nd. I need that day for goal-setting and polishing off the fudge I hid from the family.

• I’ll try at least 85% of the time (because goals need to be quantified) to put the frizz control on my hair and the moisturizer on my face instead of the other way around this year.

• I’ll remember to check to see if I’m wearing clothes BEFORE I go get the mail.

• And those clothes will always be free-flowing garments so as not to ruin my self-esteem.

• I promise to stimulate the economy each day by unbridled avarice, possibly cultivating a heretofore unknown devotion to banjos and banjo accessories.

• I will indulge my creepy—potentially unhealthy—obsession with Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day by tattooing their playlist on the entire length of my left leg. Then, whenever I play one of their songs, I’ll post a close-up photo of it to the fan club.

• I promise to attend every book signing by my fellow writers but I reserve the right to jump around and yell random names as they’re trying to sign. Yeah. That I can do. As a bonus, it will double as my aerobic workout.

• And, finally, book signing aerobics notwithstanding, I will take charge of my health. I’ll ask my doctor if Levitra is right for me.

What will you vow to do in 2020?

Things I Never Get Right On The First Try

  • Epitaph vs Epithet
  • Bob Seger vs Pete Seeger
  • Parsnips vs Rutabagas
  • Odin vs Ovid
  • Aver vs Avow
  • Which button opens my trunk

And don’t get me started on how many tries it takes me to spell rhythm, liaison, accommodate, lieutenant, aneurysm, mnemonic, and camouflage.

words are hard

What about you? What are things you always have to do at least twice?

It’s Finally November 6th!

I’ve been wiggly with anticipation to celebrate National Split Pea Soup Week and now … it’s FINALLY here. It kicks off today and lasts until the 12th. That’s a lot of split pea soup. You could use some of it to recreate that scene in The Exorcist. You’ll have plenty. Really.

What? Pea soup isn’t your thing? Okay, then you can celebrate Saxophone Day to honor the 1814 birthday of Adolphe Sax who invented it. Perhaps throw some Gerry Rafferty on the ‘ol 8-track and get jiggy with it.

No? Then maybe you should observe the Feast Day of Saint Leonard of Noblac. He is, ironically, the patron saint of both childbirth and imprisonment. He asked the king for, and won, the right to release any prisoner he deemed worthy. (Apparently it worked for babies in the womb, too.) Legend has it that if you invoked his name while you were in prison, your chains just fell off. (I hope that’s not how the pregnant women did it.) Eventually Leonard was given a bunch of land where he lived like a hermit, but the prisoners he freed would not let him be and many came to live with him. Instead of bringing him wine or cupcakes or a box set of my books as a thank you, they brought him their broken chains as homage. Worst. Gift. Ever. I will honor Leonard by running my hand lovingly over my shelf of books and then partaking of cupcakes and wine.

How about commemorating the 1947 debut of “Meet the Press” with some binge-watching. It’s the longest running TV show in history. Its creator and host was Martha Rountree, who has been the only female moderator. And believe it or not, she doesn’t always get credit for creating the show! Knock me over with a feather. The first guest was James Farley who was Postmaster General, DNC Chairman, and FDR’s campaign manager back in the New Deal era. I bet they had a polite conversation and didn’t even shout at each other.

If none of that puts you in the par-tay mood, you have one last possible rumpus … National Nachos Day. Did you know nachos date back to 1943? They were created by a guy named, yes, Nacho, which is a nickname for Ignacio. Legend has it he was working in a restaurant on the Mexican border when just before closing a bunch of wives of military officers came in. The cook had already left, so Nacho ransacked the kitchen for whatever he could find and came up with cheese, chips, and jalapenos … [insert Spanish voilà here]

But pace yourself and get home at a reasonable time because you’ll want to be fresh for tomorrow’s National Notary Public Day hoopla.

We should come up with a Mysteristas holiday! What should we celebrate?

Am I Ready For My Close Up?

My Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America just sent out the call for auditions for an “in-person radio play” to be presented at their “Mystery and Mistletoe” party in December. It’ll be a mystery—duh—complete with sound effects. (I hope there are clip-cloppy coconut shell horsey sounds!)

I’m going to audition. Not for the horsey sounds, but for an actual part.

Gulp.

Mind you, this is not wildly out of character for me. I mean, I’m no shrinking violet. In fact, this Saturday I’m presenting a 4-hour workshop for a bunch of writers. But I’m giving them information they want, so that seems not very intimidating. I can probably be a complete bozo, but if my info is good, they’ll love me, right? Right??

But this seems different. I’ve never really been on stage in an acting capacity. I performed in a drama in 7th grade or so, in the opulent space of the cafegymtorium. I don’t remember much about it, except that it was a spooky mystery and I was never asked to audition again.

While I love watching others on stage, I never really felt drawn to get up there myself, I think because of all the memorization involved. Not my strong suit.

But they specifically said no memorizing was necessary, so the only thing I’m worried about now is this: “you will have to emote.”

I’m just not sure that’s part of my skill set. What do you think?

What have you done that’s a little (or a lot) out of your comfort zone? Any advice for me when I audition?

Theme Is The Theme Here

A couple of years ago, I had this weird harmonic convergence over the course of just a week or so, getting pummeled from all sides by unrelated news articles, personal accounts, and videos about kids in the foster care system.

Which I thought was, yanno, weird.

I had a passing knowledge of the foster system, but nothing first hand or detailed. So why the onslaught?

I decided it was because the Universe was trying to get me to pay attention to something other than myself for a hot minute.

So I did. I started doing some research to try and figure out why I needed to pay attention and to what in particular. One of the original articles in the onslaught, maybe the first one, was a piece with an image that haunts me to this day, that of foster kids having to gather up all their worldly possessions into a big, black garbage bag as they’re suddenly removed from their home. Sometimes they don’t even get that. Often they’re picked up from school and swooped up into the foster system with nothing.

Fairly quickly I stumbled upon Comfort Cases, Together We Rise, Backpacks of Love,   and one near me in Colorado, Packs of Hope which endeavor to provide backpacks or roller bags or duffels stuffed with emergency clothes and supplies for these kids.

I knew I couldn’t do much about the overwhelming and paralyzing bad news in the world, but quickly realized I could fill a backpack for a kid so they’d at least have jammies to sleep in that night. And I thought maybe some of my friends could too. So I set up a GoFundMe and organized a party for local donors I cleverly called a “Backpack Party.” (Free book to anyone who gives me a better name!)

I’ve hosted it for two years now. We have a lot of fun at the parties, catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, playing Giant Scrabble

and other backyard games, gorging ourselves at the taco bar and drinking sangria and margaritas. I’m still waiting for the final tally for this year, but we collected 25 backpacks for all ages and sizes of kids last year and at least that many this year. Donations are still coming in, though, so maybe I can fill more backpacks before my final delivery.

Backpacks 2019

That’s great, Becky, but what does that have to do with themes?

Here’s what.

It just occurred to me that authors put themes like this in their books all the time to draw attention to a particular issue that’s important to them.

I was talking recently to someone who was asking about my new crossword puzzle series and as I described my protagonist, who has OCD, they stopped me and said, “Oooh! A theme!”

I’m sure I made a face because “themes” seem to belong to weightier books than mine. “Themes” are for books I studied in Literature class. “Themes” are for authors smarter and more famous than I am.

But then I thought about reading THROW ME TO THE WOLVES where Patrick McGuinness used the theme of media saturation and “fake news” in his terrific mystery.

In Barbara Nickless’ fantastic Sydney Parnell thrillers she digs deep into the theme of PTSD in military veterans.

And I guess themes don’t even have to be dark. In Tim Dorsey’s comic crime novels, you will always find his theme of “ridiculous things that happen in Florida.”

I don’t really do any of that. Not consciously, at least.

But now I feel the pull to make a concerted effort to … I dunno … include themes. Is the Universe telling me to write about a foster kid? And if so, why? What am I supposed to say about the foster system? What kind of light needs to be shed upon it? Can I do this theme justice?

Problem is, even if I decide to, I’m not sure how to go about it. Any ideas for me? What do you think of when you hear the word “theme” in conjunction with a novel, especially a cozy mystery? Can you think of other examples of themes in mysteries? Am I making this too complicated?

 

 

 

No, Go Ahead, Tell Me Everything You Hate So I Can Obsess Over All Of It

I recently opened a can of worms in a Facebook group by asking some cozy mystery readers which tropes they hated.

It was a tad disingenuous on my part because I had just finished the first draft of a manuscript and was getting ready to do the first revision. Not that I was pandering or trying to write by committee, mind you, but if everyone hated a certain thing, and I had a chance to not do that certain thing, well, I’d be foolish not to listen, right? Right?

Well, listen I did. For a long, long time because these readers had loud and proud opinions!

I started writing them down but abandoned my list fairly quickly because I couldn’t keep up. Here’s a rundown of some of the things readers hate in their cozies …

  • love triangle (I lost count at all the people who agreed and expounded on this. It was far and away the biggest gripe)
  • business owners closing their store to chase clues (second biggest gripe)
  • more job-related gripes include the sleuth having a specialty job she doesn’t know how to do; having a job they never go to; the character gets dumped by boyfriend and moves home to start a business
  • too perfect an ending
  • “she got out of a bad relationship and inherited a fortune”
  • sleuth accidently stumbles on the solution
  • author doesn’t play fair
  • sleuth puts herself in danger because she doesn’t think it through
  • and there were opinions about law enforcement … some people don’t like the cops to be inept or jerks; “I don’t care what the police say, I’m doing it!”; sleuths who talk about how they solved previous crimes, like the police did nothing; characters who sleuth because the police aren’t doing enough; characters (or authors) who know nothing about the law

And there were more. So many more. I got disheartened and gave up when I saw that I’ve done, oh, most everything they hated.

Except the love triangle.

So I’ve got that going for me.

Writers, can you believe I was so stupid to ask this?? I might as well have asked people to critique me in my swimsuit. Readers, I’m curious, even if you hate some trope, will you let a beloved writer get away with it? And everyone, next time you see me wandering the streets in my swimsuit, please find me a cover-up.

The Life Blood of Fiction

I’ve had a wild spring full of peaks and valleys, nooks and crannies.

Many of you probably know that bracketed by the extreme merriment of the mystery conventions, Left Coast Crime and Malice Domestic, was my dad’s death in April.

Then less than a week after I returned home from Malice, my husband and I hopped a plane for Budapest where we began a two-and-a-half week vacation, most of it cruising the Danube River.

At Chicks on the Case, I wrote about some of the memorable characters I met, which I hope will find their way into future books.

These people, and the character studies they’ve provoked in me, have lodged themselves firmly in my psyche. I can’t stop thinking about characters.

Over the weekend I went to the bridal shower for my soon-to-be daughter-in-law. I was meeting most of these lovely friends of the bride for the first time. I noticed the way the hostess immediately made me feel so welcome and at ease. The timbre of another woman’s laugh. The ease with which a childless woman communicated with two small children. The women who wore a lot of make-up, the women who wore none, who was manicured, who, like me, was not. How they each approached the buffet. The diligence with which some attacked the silly games, and the way others didn’t even try, preferring simply to bask in the entertainment as it surrounded them. The deliberate — or haphazard — way each chose colored markers for the games.

Every minute of it was fascinating to me, for two reasons, I think. One, I was still mulling over the people I met on our trip, and two, these women were mostly strangers to me so I was seeing traits and interactions for the first time … no presumed ideas of how they were going to talk, laugh, act, connect.

Which leads me to today.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve got a huge family flung hither and yon. My local siblings and I have been endeavoring to clear out Dad’s house, but it’s slow going. The last time I was there, though, I thought about his grandchildren who lived far away and didn’t have parents sweeping through his house thinking about trinkets and remembrances they might want.

So I gathered up several boxes of stuff that spoke to Dad’s predilections: his horny toad collection, books, suspenders, fancy neckties, baseball pennants, Irish stuff.

Over the weekend I finally had a chance to photograph the items in each category and email them to all my nieces and nephews. I told them to tell me if they wanted any of the items.

I will admit to some preconceived ideas of who would want what, and who probably wouldn’t want anything. In almost every instance I was wrong.

These characters surprised me!

It was another excellent lesson for me about developing fictional characters. Know a lot about them, but let them surprise you.

Writers always get the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” It always seems flip when I answer, “Everywhere,” but that’s the truth.

Characters spring from fellow travelers, from a Dutch waitress, from an inscrutable concierge, from a young Latvian woman on a grand adventure working a job she loves, from friends of your future DIL, and from nieces and nephews you’ve known forever.

Donna Tartt said, “Character, to me, is the life’s blood of fiction.”

To that I’d add it’s also the life’s blood of an interesting life!

Do you have someone in your life who’d make a great character in a novel? Or someone with an interesting trait, some telling detail that gets to the heart of who they are?