Funny Mysteries

Since we’re exploring the subject of humor and/or laughter this month, I thought I’d tell you something you probably already knew — I like reading funny mysteries. Heck, I like reading funny books, regardless of genre. Big surprise.

In mysteries, these usually show up as cozies, although a quick Google search shows Tim Dorsey as writing “crime capers” and Carl Hiaasen as “satirical fiction” so perhaps I need to expand my lexicon regarding genres. That’s a post for a different day, though.

I’ve been told people like the humor in my books, so I thought I’d do an experiment. I pasted the first chapter of my next book (which I think is fairly funny) into the website I Write Like.

And got Agatha Christie.

badge IWL Agatha Christie

 

 

Hmm.

Then I pasted the text from my blog post about getting ready for spinal surgery  and got Anne Rice.

Double hmm.

While that’s fun, if not a bit perplexing, this Literature Map can actually help you find authors similar to authors you already like, helping you discover someone new to read …

I typed in Agatha Christie …

Lit Map Christie

 

and Anne Rice …

Lit Map Rice

As you can see, I’m nowhere on their map. [Note to self: write more books.]

But look at all the cool authors who are!

And then I tried Janet Evanovich …

Lit Map Evanovich

and Tim Dorsey …

Lit Map Dorsey

Lots of my favorites are in those graphics. And some of my favorites aren’t even on the map yet, like Gretchen Archer (whose books are also listed as crime capers, I just noticed), Jess Lourey’s Murder by Month mysteries, and Jennifer Lancaster.

So, writers … who do you write like?

And readers … who are your favorite funny writers, mysteries or otherwise? And please don’t say me; you’ll just make me blush.

Unknowns

Life is all about unknowns.

If I knew about my spinal tumor 10 years ago when it began growing would I have done anything differently? Nope. I still would have waited until it gave me trouble before pursuing surgery.

If I knew that the small business/three kids my husband and I started 30 years ago were going to be successful would I still have worried? Absolutely. If I hadn’t, I might not have worked so hard in those early years to launch it/them.

But also because I hold the world together with the mighty, mighty power of my worry.

I’m not a professional worrywort or anything, in that I tend not to worry about stuff over which I have no control. Meteors crashing into earth? My plane plummeting from the sky? Hordes of locusts? How my hair looks on any given day? None of the above. But if a kid doesn’t check in on time, or Nala the Wonder Dog starts limping, or my credit card looks compromised, you can bet my spidey senses start tingling.

When whatever I’m worried about turns out to be a non-event, my husband likes to point out that I needn’t have worried. To which I reply, “How do you know that my worry didn’t solve the crisis, huh?” Wait a beat. “That’s what I thought.”

Some logic is irrefutable.

Do I know how long I’ll live? Nope. Do I know if I’ll have grandkids? Nope. Do I know when the refrigerator will go kaput? Nope. Do I know if my next book will crack any bestseller list? Nope.

But I’ll know soon enough.

There is one thing, however, that I might have done differently, if only I’d known. I might have started writing sooner.

But who’s to say that I would have been in the right place back then? Maybe I would have been too stressed to do it justice. Maybe I wouldn’t have found my tribe to give me the support absolutely essential to success. Maybe I needed to have the life experiences behind me to have anything interesting to say. (And I’m making an assumption here.)  Maybe I would have been swayed by some enigmatic Svengali to give up writing to pursue a career in tap dancing or welding or Olympic-caliber dressage instead.

Life is all about unknowns.

That’s what makes it fun.

Is there anything in your life you would have done differently? Are you sure it would have been a better path?

 

 

That Beginning Sentence

Anticipation.

You make a cup of peppermint tea, or a margarita, or pour yourself a pinot noir.

You unwrap a piece of dark chocolate to savor. You set the cut glass bowl of almonds next to you. You fill your sombrero-shaped chip-and-dip platter.

You settle into the reading nook near the bay window with your fluffiest afghan and your cat. Or you plump the cushions on your patio chair in the shade. Or you kick off your sandals and call your cabana boy over to adjust your beach umbrella.

You pull the dust jacket off your new hardcover and set it aside so it doesn’t wrinkle. You find the perfect bookmark. You crack the spine of your stiff paperback.

And you begin to read.

If you’re lucky, you’re immediately transported into another world, someone else’s life, a story you’ve never heard. You forget all about the guacamole and the margarita.

Some readers only give books a couple of sentences to grab them. I’m more generous because it seems like all the books on my TBR pile are there for a reason already. But if I’m browsing in the library or bookstore, I’ll only give a book a paragraph or two before I decide to re-shelve it or take it home for further investigation.

We’re all different, so what grabs me may not grab you, but here are some examples of openings from my shelf.

ordinary-grace

“All the dying that summer began with the death of a child, a boy with golden hair and thick glasses, killed on the railroad tracks outside New Bremen, Minnesota, sliced into pieces by a thousand tons of steel speeding across the prairie toward South Dakota.”

 

 

ice-cold

“She was the chosen one. For months, he had been studying the girl, ever since she and her family had moved into the compound.”

 

 

 

stormy-weather

“On August 23, the day before the hurricane struck, Max and Bonnie Lamb awoke early, made love twice and rode the shuttle bus to Disney World.”

 

 

 

sizzling-sixteen

“My Uncle Pip died and left me his lucky bottle.”

 

 

 

killing-rain

“Killing isn’t the hard part.”

 

 

 

What do you think? Would you keep reading these? What are some of your favorite openings?

Is The Air More Rarified In Cozies?

So I had a post all written whining about how hard it is to write mysteries and how it causes me so much stress that it makes my chest tight so I can’t get air in my lungs … see what I did there? I can whine AND hit our theme … but I trashed it. I decided to mix a few metaphors, pull up my big girl undies and go high, like Michelle Obama suggests.

I’m almost finished with the first draft of a new humorous cozy manuscript. It’s the second in a series of three, perhaps more if I’m lucky. The first is already in the hands of my editor to be published in Fall 2017.

I write first drafts fairly quickly because I outline. This one will have taken me about twenty days. It’ll be just under 200 pages, 60k words or so, but it’ll be bare bones.

It will tell the complete story, but it won’t have the right words, or evocative description, or ground you in setting, or offer those telling details that make a character memorable. And goodness knows, it ain’t funny.

In short, it won’t have any atmosphere.

Right now it just has words. Boring, utilitarian words.

Whenever I get to this point I succumb to a bit of jealousy of high fantasy writers, or dark thriller writers, or historical fiction wonks. It seems to me it’s so much easier to convey a memorable atmosphere that readers want to curl up in when you’re not writing funny, present day, suburban stories.

After all, that’s where most of us live every day. What’s so cool about that?

Um…nothing.

I’m convinced it’s harder to evoke a mysterious atmosphere in the hum-drum present day in middle America than it would be in 1809 London … or on Arrakis with Maud’dib … or even in St Mary Mead.

What do you think? Is it easier or harder to layer in evocative atmosphere in cozies than in other genres?

The Promise of the Premise

The world is full of all kinds of deceptions, big and small. Some are fun like bluffing in poker or planning a surprise party.

Some are evil like cheating on your taxes or not telling your partner you have an STD.

And some are literary like plot twists and unreliable narrators.

But the worst, in my humble little blogpinion, is a failure to deliver on the “promise of the premise.”

When I was in college, I wanted to get my dad and sister a Golden Retriever so I put the word out to all the shelters and finally got a phone call. One came in … AND it was a puppy! So I raced down there and grabbed that ball of fluff. It wasn’t too long before they realized Tosh was a Corgi. Cute little fluffballs are oh-so deceptively adorable and lookalike. When people asked my dad what kind of dog Tosh was, he thought it was hilarious to tell them she was a Golden Retriever. “At least according to my daughter!”

Tosh and Bear.jpg

(Eight-year-old Tosh the Corgi is the white one. Subsequently Dad got a Golden Retriever pup. Here’s Bear at about two months. She grew into her name soon after this photo was taken. You can clearly see they are twinsies.)

Anyway, ever see a movie trailer that showed only funny bits but was really a drama? It’s the same idea with books. I won’t mention the author or the title, but I got halfway through a book recently that shifted gears so dramatically, I had to be treated for literary whiplash. The second half could have belonged to an entirely different book. I kid you not. It went from happy cozy mystery to full-throttle police procedural. The amatuer sleuth became second fiddle to the FBI.

So weird.

I don’t personally know the author, but if I did, I’d sure ask some questions. Like …

“Were you experimenting with a new genre?”

“Was this edited by committee?”

“Is your meth addiction under control now?”

It was truly an odd mash-up. Miss Marple meets Die Hard.

But then I started thinking of all the fun mash-ups we could write.

Orange Is The New Nancy Drew

To Kill A Mockingjay

Marley & Me & the Hound of the Baskervilles

What do you think would be some spectacularly over-the-top mash-ups? And over-the-top doesn’t necessarily mean bad. I mean, c’mon, wouldn’t you want to read Curious George Plays The Hunger Games?

 

The Exquisite Whole

I went to see “Phantom of the Opera” recently. I hadn’t seen it in many years because it’s really not high on my list of favorites (not a fan of the operatic style), but it was part of our season ticket package so I was looking forward to revisiting it. Frankly, I look forward to every show because there’s always something spectacular happening on stage.

And Phantom was no exception. Gorgeous stagecraft. Goosebump inducing orchestration. Overwhelming special effects. And costumes. Oh, the costumes.

The setting for Phantom is the Paris Opera House in the late 1800s so you have the regular period costumes as well as the costumes for the operas-within-the-opera. What made my theatre experience more interesting was the display of costumes from the show they had set up in the lobby.

As I walked toward the display I saw one of the Phantom’s capes, and three beautiful dresses.

cape 1 beaded 1 multi 1 black dress 1

But then I looked closer.

cape 2    multi 2  black dress 2beaded 2

And then closer still.

beaded 3  multi 3  black dress 3  black dress 4

By focusing closer on each garment, I was able to see details hidden to me before, each one serving a purpose, each one servicing the whole of the garment as well as the entire production. Care was taken on those sequins, each one catching different lights and angles on stage. They certainly could have used fewer — less detail, less care — and perhaps nobody would have been the wiser. But by layering detail upon detail, texture upon texture, all the pieces added up to an exquisite whole.

It’s the same thing I try to do with my writing. I start with my barebones plot, my plain cotton garment, if you will.

Then I stitch on a few ruffles of setting, some beaded metaphors, a sprinkle of telling details so each character and paragraph sparkles. I trim off excess story fabric, nipping and tucking until nothing droops or drags. I snip loose threads or weave them in better.

I want readers to see my books like I saw those costumes in the theatre lobby. Something captivating that when examined, reveals layers and layers of texture adding up to an exquisite whole.

As a reader, do you notice the layers of texture? As a writer who reads, can you overlook the layers and lose yourself in the exquisite whole?

Imagine There’s No Fiction

With heartfelt apologies to John Lennon for this and many, many other musical transgressions. My karaoke version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ leaps to mind. So, so sorry.

 

Imagine there’s no fiction

Impossible to try

Only hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people illiterate and unversed

 

Imagine there’s no novels

Impossible to do

Nothing to stay up late for

No short stories too

Imagine all the people living life so small, you

 

You may say that’s a nightmare

But it’s not the only one

Every genre, scene, and sequel

Unimagined or penned by anyone

 

Imagine no crime thrillers

No cozy sleuths or romance

No need for arcs or setting

No inciting circumstance

Imagine all the people, bored, twiddling their thumbs, you

 

You may say I’m creative

But I’m not the only one

Give up on imagination

And the world will soon be done

 

Imagine there’s no fiction. What would that look like?