Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies, part 3

Trying to keep my cool, I turned from Persephone toward the crime scene. A tickly trickle of sweat slid straight down my spine. Odd how her ugly sweatshirt reacted with my trousers. Keep walking, man. Left foot, right foot. You remember. Don’t think about that naked shoulder.

“Hey, Detective.”

I pivoted, disappointed to see it was Merry who beckoned. She leaned languidly against my car, as if getting ready to pole dance with it. The blue rotating light only enhanced the image. Her lips parted and she flicked her tongue, wetting them slowly. She arched her back, spreading her arms wide across the hood. She stroked the red paint in small, intimate circles. She performed a slo-mo twerk, perching ever so lightly when she finished. I wrinkled my nose, but didn’t scold her. It was a red Masarati, after all. And she was only human.

“Take me for a ride later?” If salacious vibes were people, she’d be China.

I willed them not to, but my eyes cut to Persephone. Dammit, eyes. Focus! She tugged at her sweatshirt, concentrating on pulling it up over her lovely shoulder then plucking off some lint. She ignored Merry, but I suspected she awaited my answer. I turned toward the crime scene, but waved back at Merry. “Not this time, darlin’. I’ll be busy here for a while.”

Kicking myself for leaving Persephone with the idea that there had been a previous jaunt with Merry in the Masarati, I shook loose of all lusty thoughts, past and present. And I hoped she wouldn’t get fingerprints — or any other kind — on my car.

The officers on scene stared at Merry and/or the Masarati as I made my way toward the investigation. I twinged at the memory of how I came into possession of my sweet, red ride. Was it my fault those keys were just laying around after that mess I cleaned up for the Senator? The fact nobody questioned me about it later said more about them than it did me. Clearly, everyone assumed it was payment for a job well done. And if not, it should have been. That job was so well done it could have been a forgotten porterhouse.

But here was another job. No clean up necessary. Just investigation. A patrol officer stood guard over a right shoe on the walkway. I squatted down on the walkway to inspect it.

“We think it’s the victim’s,” he said.

“You think it is? Shouldn’t you know?” He began to answer me, but I cut him off with an impatient wave. A cheap K-Mart hunter green canvas slip-on. No blood. No unusual scuffs. In fact, it looked brand new, like it had never been walked in. The officer pointed toward another shoe on the porch. We moved toward it. He stood while I again squatted. I frowned and twitched my chin up at the officer but he simply shrugged. The shoe didn’t respond either, despite my questions.

Why was this left shoe a Brooks Brothers patent leather lace-up? And why was it covered in applesauce and silver glitter?

I stared at it until my legs cramped. Then I stood. “Where’s the victim?” The officer pointed toward the back yard and I started for it.

“Detective? You’ll want to see this first.”

I followed him across the porch. He waved an arm at the door then took a giant step to the right, clearly not wanting to go inside again. I caught his eye, but he immediately glanced away. I paused, took a deep breath, and readied myself for what I might find in Mr Fries’ charming Victorian bungalow.

The door was ajar and a whiff of smoke curled around my nose.

A Sprinkling of Writerly Seeds

I’m not really a gardener. My husband is, though. He takes delight in nurturing seeds and seedlings until they turn into salad ingredients. He weeds and frets, tries to protect them from hail, bugs, deer, rabbits, skunks, and raccoons. He fails and curses, or succeeds and congratulates himself on his urban farmer skillz.

I just eat the salad.

But I do plant writing seeds.

In the Stone Age — back in 1991 or so — when my kids were little, I quit my corporate job. I stayed home with them but needed an income so I provided daycare for other kids in my home. During two hours of naptime every day, to save my sanity, I went upstairs and wrote personal essays. In my mind, I was the next Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry. Reality? Maybe not so much.

But I planted many, many of those essay seeds and finally felt confident enough to send one off to a regional magazine. In return, they sent me a $50 check. It was so much more than money. It was tangible proof that my seeds were sprouting. I bless that editor every day for her vote of confidence.

So I planted some more.

In 1999 or so, my son and I were on the hunt for some historical fiction for boys. It was a meager selection, all of which he’d read. As we were leaving the library, he said, “Why don’t you write one, Mom?”

Hm. An entire book? How might one go about that? Soon after, I stumbled on a one-day conference organized by the Colorado Independent Publishers Association. I met people, I learned, I schmoozed. More seeds.

In 2001 my first book, historical fiction for middle readers, was self-published, back when that was a dirty word and so, so difficult. I made some rookie mistakes like point-of-view shifts and tense shifts (even though I paid for editing … pfft). Plus the world conspired against me and changed the distribution rules I had counted on. Nevertheless, I persisted and hand-sold 5,000 copies of that glorious mess. I also received a letter from a young fan telling me he didn’t like to read until he read my book.

5,001 new sprouts.

Soon after, I discovered writer’s conferences. We are lucky in Colorado that we have three remarkable organizations that put on marvelous, transformative multi-day conferences. We have the Northern CO Writers in Ft Collins, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers in Denver, and Pikes Peak Writers in Colorado Springs.

I started attending, soaking up knowledge and friendship from the local writing community. Seeds. I began volunteering at the conferences. More seeds.

And then, like a Miracle [Gro], I was asked to be on the faculty. They might as well have asked if I’d like to be a Broadway star, an ice cream taster, and Pippi Longstocking rolled into one. It was one of the proudest, most exciting moments in my life. I could now reach backward and help pull someone along the publishing path, just like those ahead of me had been pulling and encouraging me for all these years.

During this time I wrote and published seven books — low-calorie cookbooks, a guide based on a workshop I used to do to teach parents how to help their reluctant readers, a book diary, and two cozy mysteries. And I was asked not only to be again on the faculty for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, but also to emcee the lunches and dinners over the weekend.

My little garden was in full-bloom.

So I expanded it a bit and started attending national fan conventions, like Left Coast Crime. Instead of catering to writers, now readers were the focus. I was involved in a “speed dating” type of activity where a ballroom filled with readers anxiously wanted to hear from the authors moving table-to-table every couple of minutes. I was invited to talk about my first mystery at the New Author Breakfast. More seeds. Heady stuff, even for a sturdy sunflower such as myself.

After years of tossing around seeds — meeting people, learning, teaching — at one of the Left Coast Crime banquets, I sat to the left of the fabulous Jessica Lourey, for no other reason than she seemed fun and I wanted to meet her. We became friends. On her right sat Terri Bischoff, her editor at Midnight Ink. I’d met Terri previously and we had about a gazillion friends in common, so we became friends in real life — IRL — like the kids say.

Soon after this, I had a book rejected that I thought was going to be a slam-dunk. As I was reeling from this defeat, my generous and persistent pal Shannon Baker told me to submit it to Terri. But when I checked the Midnight Ink website, I did not fit the criteria for submissions because I didn’t have an agent, nor was the manuscript requested from a pitch. Shannon waved off my concern, told Terri she should read it, and the next thing I know I had a 3-book contract from Midnight Ink.

Remember all those people ahead of me on the publishing path? They told me now was the time to get an agent and suggested some names. When I started investigating them, guess who was a client of the agent I liked the best? Yep, Jess Lourey. Again, before I really wrapped my head around what was happening, Jess gave me guidance and encouragement. The next day, I had a literary agent.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t sprinkled my writerly seeds over the last — gulp — 25 years.

Some of those seeds were meticulously cultivated and planted exactly where I wanted them. Some I tossed by the hopeful handful. Some fell out of my pocket while I wasn’t paying attention.

But they all landed, sprouted, thrived. A delicious salad of opportunity.

May your seeds provide the same nourishment, both personally and professionally.

 

 

 

 

 

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?