Will They Or Won’t They?

valentineI know romance is supposed to take the backseat plot-wise in mysteries, but in honor of Valentine’s Day I thought it’d be fun to highlight a few relationships that steal the show!

Here are a few of my favorite will-they-or-won’t-they couples from mystery series:

Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott – This unconventional pair is from J.K. Rowling’s/Robert Galbraith’s series and their relationship is part of the intrigue, especially after that cliffhanger ending in book 3. They so clearly need each other and I absolutely love the way Strike empowers Robin to pursue her detecting dream!

Jane Steward and Edwin Alcott – I recently got hooked on this Ellery Adams cozy series and can’t wait for the next installment, especially to see what happens next between Jane and Edwin! Edwin plays the perfect suspect-turned-love-interest and I love that he harbors a treasure trove of secrets…

Lady Emily Ashton and Colin Hargreaves – One of the things I most admire about Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily is how modern she strives to be in Victorian England, and the best thing about Colin Hargreaves is that he completely supports her seemingly eccentric ways. Plus, I mean, he’s super hot *swoon*

Phryne Fisher and Detective Jack Robinson – Granted, this is based on the tv show (anyone know if there will be another season?!), but the chemistry between these characters is palpable. I love how they flirtatiously challenge each other so that the tension builds through every. single. episode. Not to mention that kiss!

Nichelle Clark and Joey – One great way to increase romantic tension is to add obstacles to a relationship, and LynDee Walker is masterful with reporter Nichelle and her sexy mafia boss boyfriend Joey. That they have to keep their relationship secret makes it even steamier!

Who are your favorite couples in mystery series??

A Newborn Beginning

I had a post for this month all planned out. I was going to talk about plot structure, specifically at the beginning of novels, based on James Scott Bell’s book Plot & Structure. But before I got a chance to write said post, my daughter decided to make her debut a few weeks early.

sophieraine
Already a Bronco fan!

It was like any other Tuesday (isn’t that how the unexpected always starts?) when I started feeling…something at work and 20 hours later Sophie Raine arrived.

I’m already in love. She has my husband’s chin and my eyes, and she may be tiny, but golly she is fierce! She’s so strong and her sweet personality is just starting to shine through.

This is a new beginning for my husband and me, so really it’s very fitting for this month’s theme. Our lives will never be the same.

To tie it back to my original idea for this post, we’ve crossed the first threshold—through Doorway #1 as Bell calls it. We can never go back to how things were before, but why would we want to? Unlike our characters who are constantly tortured through our tales, Sophie’s arrival is a happy event and I can’t wait to see where this adventure takes us next!

The “Perfect” Writing Atmosphere

Picture this: it’s a crisp fall day and you’re cozy on your couch with a fire crackling in the background. Your cat is cheering you on with her quiet purring as you hurriedly clack away at the keys of your laptop keyboard, your glasses perched studiously on the end of your nose. You have at least another uninterrupted hour before real life will bother you. Oh, and you’re not completely consumed with worry over the actions of the President-elect.

Show of hands—how often does this scenario actually happen?

It sounds glorious, but in actuality, most of my writing tends to take place at the kitchen table in short spurts before or after work. If it’s the morning, I’m usually groggy and the cat is meowing for breakfast. My glasses are smudged and my hair is in complete disarray. I’m constantly aware of time—how much has passed, how much do I have left before I need to make the mad scramble to start the day?

fiction

Sure, there have been those special moments where I get close to the daydream, although they’re few and far between. What I’ve found encouraging is that the words I type during the frantic sessions are no less than the words I type in the more blissful scenario.

It’s easy to buy in to the concept of the ideal writing atmosphere. To affiliate the quality of our writing with the atmosphere in which the words are produced. Why else are we so fascinated to learn that Dame Agatha Christie often wrote while taking baths or that the masterful Stephen King writes at least 2,000 words at his desk every morning?

This is why I love things like NaNoWriMo. For those that aren’t familiar, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is going on right now. It’s a challenge to pen 50,000 words in 30 days.

NaNoWriMo strives to help folks with a dream of writing get into the habit of putting pen to paper every day. It doesn’t matter if they’re the most brilliant words ever written or utter drivel (in my experience, they’re most often the latter). It’s that at the end of 30 days, you have a complete first draft.

And there’s a reason why NaNoWriMo takes place in the month of November, notoriously one of the busiest months of the year. Because these are the times when it’s hardest to find time to write. It strips away our notion of “perfect” writing times and forces us to come to grips with the reality that maybe there is no ideal writing atmosphere.

While I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this year, know that I’m with all you NaNoers in spirit, writing at my kitchen table each morning, smudged glasses and all.

Writers, what’s your ideal writing atmosphere? Are you able to make it happen more often than I am? Readers, do you find it interesting to learn behind-the-scenes info on an author’s process?

On Deceptive Characters

Let’s talk about deceptive characters.

Maybe it’s just my impatience showing, but when I first start writing new characters, I’m tempted to have them act overly suspicious or overly good, depending on what their role is, right out of the gate. But where’s the fun in that?

deceptionThe best characters are ones we grow to care about throughout a story, those who show us their world in such a clear way we start thinking we know exactly who they are and how they’re going to behave. Then *bam* they surprise us!

Think **Spoiler alert** Snape from Harry Potter, or Dr. Sheppard from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, or Sienna Brooks from The Inferno.

The tricky part is that characters aren’t born into books this way. They must build up to this point—they must have an arc.

This is especially true for deceptive characters.

In writing deceptive characters, I always feel like I’m forcing myself to hold something back. Like the telling of a really great joke where you’re so excited you can hardly help but blurt out the punch line.

Now, in general, there are a couple types of deceptive characters in mysteries:

  1. Suspicious or unlikable characters who turn out to be good, or at least not murderers, as the case may be.
  2. Seemingly innocent or likable characters who truly shock us when they’re unveiled to be the baddie.

So what makes characters likable/unlikable? The best answer I’ve heard is to observe what makes you like or dislike someone in your own life. Or you could take notes during the next presidential debate.

Here are a few tricks I’ve found to be helpful in developing likable/unlikable characters:

  1. For unlikable characters, have them say or do something obnoxious like man-splain or cut someone off in rush hour, be mean to an animal or character who can’t defend themselves, have them be someone the MC or another reliable character has a problem with for a very valid reason (maybe a work-nemesis or ex-boyfriend), and/or give them an annoying habit.
  2. For likable characters, have them be caring (duh), have them stick up for an underdog or have a pet that thinks they’re swell (this is seriously a great—albeit cheap—way to make a character likable), give them witty dialogue, show that they have a good relationship with the MC or another likable character, and/or give them a tragic backstory that makes us empathize with them.

Readers, who are your favorite deceptive characters? Why did their true nature take you by surprise? Writers, do you have any tools you use to make characters likable/unlikable before the big reveal?

The Many Textures and Mysteries of Fall

Fall is by far my favorite season of the year. So no surprise, when I started thinking about texture, the first things that came to mind were the crinkling of colorful leaves, the felt-like grass of a football stadium, the slimy innards of a pumpkin, and the soft pages of a good book.

mysteriesReading is at its best in the fall. My favorite way to page through a book—or my Kindle, as it were—is while sipping on something warm with a knitted scarf wrapped around my neck and the rain pattering outside. This is especially true for mysteries.

Mysteries have always felt very autumnal…Maybe it’s that so many of the classics take place in the UK where drizzly weather abounds, or maybe it’s the dark nature of murder and the sleuth’s task of exacting justice.

Regardless, while mysteries are great year round, there’s something special about reading a good mystery in the fall. Here are some of the mysteries I’m looking forward to reading over the next couple months:

  • A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro This YA novel piqued my interest when I first read the premise, the descendants of Sherlock and Watson must team up to solve a murder at their school. Nuff said!
  • The Secret Place by Tana French I’ve been working my way through the Dublin Murder Squad Series, and this is the next one on-queue. They’re dark, beautifully written, and impossible to predict.
  • Lethal Lifestyles by LynDee Walker Headlines in High Heels is one of my fave cozy series right now, and the newest book comes out September 27! The mysteries always solid, and I can’t wait to read what happens next to all the characters.
  • Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter This book has been on my To Read list for ages and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. I think it’s finally time to pick up this dark mystery and see what all the hubbub is about!
  • Size 12 Is Not Fat by Meg Cabot The title is funny enough, but this cozy sounds right up my alley, especially since I really enjoyed one of Cabot’s other adult novels, The Boy Nextdoor.

What books are you excited to read this fall? Are there any mysteries I need to add to my list?

Leveraging Daydreams

There are many things I wish were real from Potterverse, and one of those is the sugar quill from Honeydukes, a type of candy you suck on that makes it look like you’re studiously thinking about something important when in reality your mind can wander to the merry land of daydreams. Just think how much faster workdays would go by!

I’ve always been a big daydreamer. Early in the morning and late at night when I’m lying in bed, or when I put my earbuds in to go for a long run—these precious moments are some of my favorite times to daydream.

daydream

A couple of years ago, I attended a workshop with David Morrell, author of Rambo and a phenomenal speaker, and what he shared about daydreams really stuck with me.

Now, true daydreams are when you let your mind drift where it will, when you completely give over control.

And Morrell said this: Daydreams are mini narratives, which most people dismiss, that can tell us about our personalities.

He talked about how daydreams say something about our core selves, and have the potential to be powerful themes in our writing.

Ever since, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my own daydreams and was surprised by the theme that surfaced: proving myself in some capacity. Whether it’s accomplishing a really hard goal I’ve set for myself (publishing a novel, for example), overcoming some personal struggle, or even winning a petty argument, my daydreams are always about proving I’m stronger than I think am.

Now, I won’t delve into what this might say about my psyche, but I think it’s a theme I can tap into more in my writing. Maybe my MC will struggle with this in my next book. Heck, maybe there will be a scene pulled straight from one of my daydreams. Either way, daydreams are a useful tool of the imagination.

Do you daydream? Have you ever thought about leveraging your daydreams in your writing, or what your daydreams might say about you?

Writing Guilty Pleasures

I love food—cooking, tasting, taking pictures (yep, I’m one of those people), and watching it prepared on the Food Network. So when my MC goes to eat a sandwich, it’s not just any sandwich. It’s a prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and arugula panini with a garlic fennel aioli.

Likewise, when I’m picking out an outfit for my MC or how her apartment is furnished, I have fun with it. She gets to wear fashionable skinny jeans with a v-neck blouse and midnight blue pumps. Her loft-style apartment is decorated with chic vases and candleholders a la Crate & Barrel.

And I just can’t wait until I get to take my MC on a vacation…Imagine what sort of research will go into that!

The details we sprinkle into our manuscripts not only add richness to our characters, they can also be incredibly fun. These are what I call guilty pleasures, but for writers, a chance for us to truly indulge.

Now, the catch is to not get so carried away writing about, say, that fabulous glass of wine and antipasto platter that it detracts from the main plot or feels unrealistic. However, a few key details sprinkled in can really make a manuscript sparkle.

These are opportunities to let our imaginations run wild, to give our characters their dream wardrobe, apartment, and/or vacation. After all, we put them through enough torture (hopefully); don’t they deserve something nice?

Writers, do you have any writing guilty pleasures? If so, what are they? Readers, are there details you especially enjoy reading about?