The Importance of Setting by Karen Shughart

aerial view, architecture, autumn

As I write this, it’s raining. Heavily and steadily. And there’s a bit of a chill in the air. After all, it’s fall, a transition month of warm days, cool nights, brilliant sunshine and cloudless skies; apples, pumpkins, red orange, rust and yellow leaves and a profusion of brightly colored mums. And, of course, there’s also the rain, wind and a sea so noisy we can hear it with our windows closed. I’ve worked all morning on Murder in the Cemetery, the second book in the Edmund DeCleryk series, which is set in the fictional village of Lighthouse Cove, NY. I imagine Ed, and his wife, Annie, sitting in front of a roaring fire at the end of the day, drinking red wine and discussing the case.

Yesterday was different. It was one of those days when you just want to be outside enjoying the crisp fall air and the smell of the decaying leaves. I imagine a reflective Ed, walking on a deserted beach, waves lapping onto shore, cup of steaming coffee in hand.

In the winter my characters take long walks in the snow and meet friends at cozy pubs with wood-beamed ceilings that have parking lots filled with snowmobiles.  They eat hearty food and settle in with a good book in front of the fire.

In the spring the roads they drive on meander through acres of fruit trees covered with fragrant, fuzzy pink and white blossoms, and in summer, you might see them sailing on the teal blue waters of Lake Ontario or watching a splendid fireworks’ display from their decks.

Each season of the year has its own beauty and inspires me to interject that beauty into the plot of the Cozy mysteries I write. I have an affinity to Cozies because of their charm, but also because the reader gets to know not only the cast of characters but also the towns and villages where they live.

Think about Louise Penny’s Three Pines series- would it be as engaging if it weren’t set in a small, quaint Canadian village? And what about the works of Martha Grimes, whose character, Richard Jury, gets help solving cases from friends living in the quirky village of Long Piddleton.  If you’ve ever watched Midsomer Murders (one of my favorite “cozy” TV series), you’ll remember the festivals, concerts and fairs as well as the enticing Midsomer County woods, fields and streams that help set the scene for those murders.

The setting of a book is crucial to drawing the reader into the plot. “It was a dark and stormy night, ….” although comically trite, really does warn the reader that something ominous is about to occur. But then there’s also an intriguing juxtaposition between a day when the birds are singing, the sunrise glorious and all’s right with the world, and a horrific murder that occurs that same morning in dark and swampy woods.

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Posted in Karen Shughart, Location, mystery | Tagged , | 4 Comments

What Makes A Writer? Nature or Nurture?

by Janis Patterson

What makes a writer? Is it genetic? Or the way we are raised? Or something we choose that we feel we must follow? Or all of the above?

To begin with let me say I am the third generation of a wordsmith family. One grandfather was a small-town newspaper publisher in a time and place where that was a position of power. Both grandmothers were at one time teachers. My father was editor and/or publisher of several Texas newspapers, taught journalism at Texas A&M (he also separated the journalism department from the English department and made it a separate discipline) and, with my mother started and owned one of the top 300 advertising agencies in the US. My mother was an English teacher, a play producer and a magazine columnist. I started working in the family agency when I was nine – as a stripper, no less. (And no, it’s not what you’re thinking, but it is a great line to use at a cocktail party!) I graduated to writing copy when I was twelve.

Obviously I didn’t have a snowball’s chance of becoming anything else but some variety of wordsmith!

But was it nature or nurture? Yes, our house was full of books. It still is. The Husband and I live in a house with two dedicated libraries and a hobby room with five enormous bookshelves. For that matter, little drifts of books stacked on the floor and almost every flat surface seem to breed in our house. But not all readers become writers, so I ask again, is it nature or nurture?

I don’t know, but the question did strike me a couple of days ago. I was going through some papers of my late father’s and there, between two of the radio scripts he had written long ago, was a copy of my birth announcement.

It’s a simple thing, a plain white piece of paper with black print with a left-hand fold so it opens like a book. On the cover is the image of a book with the title “Janis Susan – Announcing a New Edition – Best Book of the Year.” There is also a picture of a rather startlingly disgruntled looking stork in a top hat and glasses. I always wondered why he had such a peculiar look on his face.

Open the ‘book’ and it says “The Author and Publisher proudly announce the issuance of their 19XX (no, I’m not going to tell you the year!) edition entitled Janis Susan May.”

Below that, it says “Author – Donald W. May – Publisher – Aletha B. May.”

Below that it says “Publication Date – (the date of my birth) – DeLuxe Edition, with pink and white binding weighs X pounds X ounces (I’m not going to tell you that  either, then or now!). Cover jacket – white, removable. Reprints and Second Editions not available this year.”

See? I was doomed from the beginning. Nature or nurture makes no difference, for when one’s beginning of life is announced as a book, one really has no choice but to become a writer.

In the for what it’s worth department, my father did the announcement himself. He had a telling wit and I personally think the concept hilarious. My sentimentalist mother loathed it and, once recovered from her ordeal, sent out very proper handwritten announcements herself, probably confusing a lot of people as to whether the Mays had had one child or two.

Sometimes, knowing the many dichotomies of my nature, I wonder that myself. But then, I am a writer.

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Pulling in the Reader by Paty Jager

2017 headshot newFollowing the clues may not only stop the wedding… but separate Shandra and Ryan for life.

This is the tagline for my latest release. When I wrote it, I didn’t realize the impact it has on readers. Especially those who have followed my series and have begged me to get Ryan and Shandra married.  I’ve had emails and comments that they hope this doesn’t mean the two will come to an end.

I told my readers this book coming up would be the wedding. But oops! As a writer it is my privilege and job to make the characters and the readers suffer, just a little bit. Make them squirm in their chair as they read and worry that Ryan and Shandra may never be together. After all, Shandra does stick her nose in where she shouldn’t and brings  bad people to her door. And Ryan’s job is dangerous. But even more so when his fiancee is  get mixed up in a murder investigation.

So how mean am I? Do they or don’t they get married? I’m not telling. 😉

I finished the first book of the new Gabriel Hawke series. I love it, but wanted feedback from two beta readers- one who reads all kinds of mystery and suspense and one who is a male reader. The first reader, I wanted to know what genre she felt the book fit in and the male was to make sure, since this series is all in the male POV that I kept him macho.

The first reader liked it, felt it fit in with CJ Box, William Kent Krueger,  Craig Johnson.  But she said the beginning was flat. I took a hard look at the beginning and she was correct. I had tried to put information in the beginning that could be learned later in the book. It ups the reader’s intrigue to not tell them as much about the main character in the first paragraph. I was doing an informational dump at the worst time. When I want the reader to dive into the book, not be thinking,  “Okay, so he’s a game warden big whoop- What’s this story about and why should I be interest?”

20180317_103211Here is the sentence I had at first:

Oregon Fish and Wildlife State Trooper Gabriel Hawke glanced up through the pine and fir trees at the late August summer sky and didn’t like the sight of half a dozen shiny black ravens circling.

Here is the first line- much better than what I had before:

The threat of potential poachers wouldn’t spoil Hawke’s day.

This one has more punch and grabs the reader’s attention better. This book, Murder of Ravens will release Jan.  20, 2019

And here is my latest Shandra Higheagle Mystery release:

Dangerous Dance

Dangerous Dance 5x8.jpgBook eleven in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery Series

Jealousy… Drugs… Murder…

At the reservation to make final arrangements for her upcoming wedding, potter Shandra Higheagle gets caught up in the murder of a young woman about to turn her life around.

Having no jurisdiction on the reservation, Detective Ryan Greer pulls in favors from friends in the FBI to make sure there is no delay in their wedding.

However, the death occurs in a sacred place and could place the nuptials on hold. Following the clues may not only stop the wedding…

But separate Shandra and Ryan for life.

Universal Buy Link: https://www.books2read.com/u/mKKB7d

photo source: Paty Jager

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Goodbyes and fresh starts!

Hey, y’all!

So, I know I’m a newbie to the Ladies of Mystery blog and I’ve only been gracing your computer/phone/whatever screen for a short time with my awesomeness but sadly the time has come for me to say adieu.

But I wanted to leave you with something awesome. (No, you can’t have Mr Wolf!) It’s my birthday tomorrow. (Woopwoop!) And when it gets around to this time of year (once we get the celebrating/crying out of the way!), I start thinking about all the things I’ve achieved (or still have yet to achieve) this year. And my goals next year.

Because I love fresh starts, I always start the new year off with resolutions. Mostly it’s things like “eat better” or “make time to exercise” or “stick to your darn writing schedule”. And I always think that because it’s the first day of the new year, it will be easier to keep the resolutions. Like starting with a clean slate … but it never is! And yet each year I do the same thing. Over and over! Have you heard the Einstein quote …

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”

Yeah. So that’s me (and probably a lot of other people too!) at the start of every year. And, by the second week of February, most resolutions have failed. So this year I thought, “How awesome would it be if I ended the year with all my resolutions in place and started the new year exactly where I want to be?”. I’m sure you guessed my answer was, “Wow, you’re really smart. You should totally do that!”.

And it’s twelve weeks until the end of the year. So that’s plenty of time to get those resolutions up and happening. There’s no “new year” pressure to get things perfect straightaway and even if you make a few slips, you’ll still be in a much better place by the start of the new year.

This is my plan! Are you going to join me? I know I won’t be on this blog to keep you in check but you can sign up to my newsletter (if you aren’t already) and we can keep each other accountable that way. Or you can always follow me on Insta (where I keep promising I’ll post more!). Just don’t follow me on Twitter. Yes, I’m on it but I just blueeergh—I’m terrible at it. Someone tweeted me ages ago, and it took me four months (FOUR MONTHS!!!) to see the tweet and reply. Yep, so don’t tweet me with how you’re doing because I likely won’t see it until the middle of the year and that’ll be no help to anyone.

So! Are you in for getting your resolutions in place before the end of the year? AWESOME! I totally knew you would be.

If you’re not signed up to my newsletter, then it’s been a pleasure having your company these past few months and I hope you have the BEST possible end to the year!

*waves* Jordaina 🙂

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Encore Performance by Sally Carpenter

Carpenter photo_WEB gifOne of the nice things about publishing is the chance to do it all over again and better.

Five years ago my first book, The Baffled Beatlemanic Caper, went out of print. That publisher has since closed its doors, so the book was destined to go OOP eventually. At the time the second book in the series was finished. I was fortunately to find my current publisher, Cozy Cat Press, who was willing to pick up book two.

I had a new front cover made and self-pubbed Beatlemaniac as an ebook. Various NEW Beatlemaniac_final_webonline bookstores continued to sell used print copies, although I received no royalties on them. I was disappointed at having a book go OOP so quickly, but I moved ahead with other writing projects.

Since then, authors I knew, some who had been with large publishers, began reissuing their backlists with small presses. With new covers, their books were back on the shelves.

Earlier this year a reader said some of her friends were looking for print versions of Beatlemaniac. I had just about run out of print copies to hand sell. I was also getting tired of getting no payment for the used copies changing hands.

And I was not happy with the book. As a neophyte writer, I was in a rush to get published and the text had a number of errors. I hated the cover. The back cover was a dog’s breakfast of too many elements, and the front cover was printed so dark that the great artwork was obscured.

Encouraged by the backlist successes of others, I approached my publisher, Patricia Rockwell, about reissuing the book. Since 2013, I’d written four other books, a short story and a chapter for a group mystery novel for CCP—so I had a good track record.

I’m calling this reissue the “revised second edition.” We’re using cover my designer had made for the Beatlemaniac ebook, so we didn’t need new artwork. I like the “new” cover as it’s colorful—more suitable for a cozy, and it “pops” more on the screen/shelf.

I updated my author bio and revised the introduction and acknowledgements. I wanted to include more about how the book came about, but the book was already longer than most CCP books and I had to save space.

The Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys books have been extensively rewritten over the years for new generations. So why not take the opportunity to improve my book?

I carefully read it again. I corrected the misspellings and grammatical errors. I replaced “ands” with periods to alleviate run-on sentences. I toned down the strong language (when I wrote the book, I didn’t even know what a cozy was, let alone the “rules”) and cut a few words from the flashback seduction scene.

I had used the word “towards” a million times. I realized I had overused the phrase “I realized.” The characters also “gestured” frequently. Some gestures I left in, others I changed. After all, real people do “gesture”!

Some of the chapters run long, but making more sections would mean renumbering all the chapters and that can get dicey.

But I didn’t alter the story or the characters. I was surprised that the plot and red herrings worked so well. I have what some editors might consider “info dumps,” but they are interesting details about my character’s life in show biz that most people wouldn’t know and I left them in. It’s also good background on my protagonist that doesn’t show up in the other books.

After writing three other books with my protagonist, it was fun to go back and see where it all started. When book one begins, he isn’t terribly likeable. He’s just hopped on the wagon and is out of sorts. Sandy hates the character he played on his TV show. But by book four he’s comfortable with his sobriety and his alter ego.

BTW, in my book the correct spelling of the East Indian goddess in the Beatles movie Help! is Kaili, not Kali, the real Hindu goddess. Beatles fans would never forgive me if I got that wrong.

A nice offshoot is that I had planned to include a new Sandy Fairfax short story with the second edition, but my publisher said that would make the print book far too long. I have a good finished novelette on hand, so my next project is to write more stories to make a Sandy anthology. Stay tuned . . .

 

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Book Club Discussion Questions

 

I recently created a set of reading group discussion questions for the first book in my series, The Calling. An unconventional mystery with a coming of age element, set in rural Northeastern North Carolina, I’ve always thought it had “book club” qualities.

As I wrote the questions, I visualized the revision grid I used while I worked on the book, with the themes and plot elements mapped out, and it struck me that imagining a book club discussion could serve as a revision tool or even a plotting tool (for those who actually plot) for a work in progress.

I was in a book club for many years in Virginia. We read fiction of varied genres as well as a good selection of nonfiction, and we had some great discussions about style, structure, themes, and characters, often disagreeing and enjoying our varied points of view. These are the questions I came up with for The Calling and added to its page on my web site.

How did you respond to the book’s mixed genre? It’s been reviewed as mystery, women’s fiction, paranormal, coming of age, and literary fiction. Did you want it to fit a genre more neatly?

 Mystery can mean an enigma, a puzzle, a secret, or something impossible to explain, as well as a novel about solving a crime. Without a crime to solve, what were the mysteries?

 Were there any characters you had especially strong feelings about? What was it about them that affected you?

 Is there a villain in The Calling? If you think there is, who is it and why do you see this person in that role? If you think there isn’t, explain why not.

 Themes in the story include power, professional ethics, personal fulfillment, and privacy. The questions that follow explore those themes.

  • If you had the gift of the Sight, with the same limits and abilities that Mae has, how would you use it? Would you be tempted to use it in ways that might cause you some ethical misgivings?
  • The nature of Mae’s gift provokes concern about privacy in the course of the plot. Are there ever considerations that take priority over privacy?
  • How does each of these characters—Charlie, Randi, Malba, Deborah, and Mae—approach his or her professional ethics?
  • How did you see the issue of power play out in the story, in both personal and professional relationships?
  • The story takes place before the #MeToo movement. What might be different if it was set in 2018?
  • Mae’s desire for personal fulfillment is a driving force in the storyline. Did you identify with any of the obstacles and conflicts she faces?
  • Religion and spirituality—Christianity, Buddhism, indigenous shamanic religions, New Age beliefs, and more—are important to many of the characters and to the development of the plot. Where did you see religion misused, and where did you see it supporting a character spiritually?

 Now I need to write discussion questions for the other five books that follow. Even if book clubs don’t use them—though I hope they will—I can use them to analyze my protagonist’s character arc and the themes I’ve explored throughout the series. This will lay a foundation for a thoughtful revision of the work in progress, focused on the layers of depth and meaning behind the plot as well as the events that structure it.

*****

The Calling is free on all e-book retail sites through September 30th.

 

 

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Oh, My, This Way and That

Because I have two books that will be appearing shortly, plus other publishing work—I’ve been going this way and that. It’s been important to try and prioritize, not always easy.

My next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery is due out this month, I’ve seen the cover and approved it. I’ve a blog tour coming up starting in October—so I’ve spent lots of time gathering hosts and thinking up topics to write about.

The first of the blogs are:

October 26   http://jlgregerblog.blogspot.com/  Character Development

October 27  https://lornacollins-author.blogspot.com A Sane Person Would Have Given Up

October 28   https://www.susantuttlewriters.com  Why I Love Speaking Engagements

October 29   https:amymbennetbooks.blogspot.com Where Some of the Ideas Came From

October 30  https.www.jtzortman.wordpress.com/  Rocky Bluff the Setting for Tangled Webs

The short blurb for Tangled Webs is: Too many people are telling lies: The husband of the murder victim and his secretary, the victim’s boss and co-workers in the day care center, her stalker, and Detective Milligan’s daughter.

October is a month of public appearances too. October 1, I’ll be speaking with other authors in front of librarians. On the 13th, I’ll be at the Great Valley Bookfest in Manteca, and I’ll be on a panel at 3 about Getting Published. On the 14th, at 6 p.m. I’ll be over on the coast with other crime writers speaking to group of retirees.

That’s not all, there is a lot going on with my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series too. The next mystery will be coming out soon too—Spirit Wind. The publisher is redoing the first five books in the series, and they’ve been reedited too, so I’ve had to go over the galley proofs for them.

Here’s a sneak peak of the cover:

Spirit Wind cover

At the moment, I haven’t made any special plans for the debut of that book, though I certainly will when it comes closer to time.

And in the meantime, as if I didn’t have enough to do, I’ve been working on a plot for the next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery.

One thing about being so busy, I am never bored.

Marilyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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