Law or Justice? What Do They Mean to Mystery Writers?

by Janis Patterson

One of the reason mysteries are so popular, according to some, is that they give the reader satisfaction by putting the world in order, rectifying chaos and ensuring law and justice prevail. That may be partially true. Why partially?

Because law and justice do not mean the same thing. In theory they should, but because laws are controlled by humans and justice is a cosmic concept, their applications and results often vary widely. For example, take the case of a sadistic mass murderer who tortured several people to a prolonged and agonizing death. He is caught, tried, found guilty and sentenced, either to death or to life in prison. The law has been satisfied, but it hardly seems justice that a man who gleefully and deliberately caused such unspeakable fear, pain and death to many should either die on a clean operating table with an injection that puts him peacefully to sleep or lives an admittedly restricted life in prison, but one with food, shelter, TV, books, schooling, visits from friends and loved ones… Justice? Would it not be truer to the principle of justice for him to undergo what he made others suffer?

Now I am not debating the pros/cons/desirability/arguments for or against capital punishment. That is just an extreme example of the difference between what some people see as the rule of law and what others perceive as justice. The same principles could be applied to the theft of an apple pie.

So how what can mystery writers take from this? In the classic A. Conan Doyle series about Sherlock Holmes I seem to remember several instances where Sherlock bent or even ignored the letter of the law in the interests of justice. So, if memory serves, did Ellery Queen. Such an attitude can also be found in writers of every era, though I will admit they are rare.

There are those who say that justice is an unattainable goal, and that what the law metes out is right and proper and makes us human instead of beasts. There are some who say making the punishment fit the crime is justice. Personally, I lean a little bit both ways – and that’s not easy! – but my personal feelings aren’t the subject of this blog.

There was a time when a hungry person stole a loaf of bread they were hung or transported to the Antipodes. Now a vicious mass murderer can be incarcerated and well taken care of for life. Two extremes, admittedly, but on often our civilization and our perception of right and wrong are defined by extremes.

It is said that it is neither politicians nor historians who create history – it is the balladeers, the poets, the tellers of stories. As writers we are in control of every story we write. Each story is a world we create and good, bad or indifferent we decide what happens. That is an awesome responsibility, and one that should not be taken lightly.

I can’t tell you what is right or dictate what you write, but when your sleuth/policeman/protagonist decides to follow the letter of the law with no regard for heinousness of the crime, or said sleuth decides to ignore the law and proceed with his understanding of justice, be careful. What you write may someday influence our guideline for society.

My Favorite Part of Being a Writer by Paty Jager

I don’t know about all writers, but for me, the best part of writing a book is the “stewing and brewing” process. It’s the time between, “Bing!” I have an idea and when I start writing the actual story.

source: Depositphotos

What I call the “Stewing and Brewing” process is where I come up with the story idea or setting and then start researching and filling out my suspect chart.

I get to scan websites and look through baby name books to come up with character names and then give the attributes and reasons they are part of the story. Suspects, officials, friends, the whole bit.

And even better! Figuring out how the victim dies. I love putting a twist on the cause of murder. My newest Shandra Higheagle release, Toxic Trigger-point the death is caused by an acute allergic reaction to bees. The book I’m “stewing and brewing” right now I’m thinking the death appears accidental at first. Then… as things get investigated further it was murder.

There are times my devious mind astounds me! LOL However, coming up with the out-of-the-box scenarios is so much fun. Taking the reader on the trip of; this person did it, no, that person did it, is almost as much fun as coming up with the characters, motive, and cause of death.

I pinch myself all the time wondering how I can have so much fun writing when other writers are always complaining how hard it is. I do agree, the editing, revisions, and making the story shine are hard, but it’s like child birth. I forget about those things when I’m in the throes of “stewing and brewing”. 😉

Here is my latest Shandra Higheagle release:

Toxic Trigger-Point

Adultery… Jealousy… Murder

Shandra Higheagle Greer is minding her own business when she walks into a room for a massage and it is already occupied—by a dead body.

Always the champion for someone she knows, when her favorite masseuse looks like the murderer, Shandra listens to her gut and dreams choreographed by her deceased grandmother.

Detective Ryan Greer can’t believe his wife has walked into another homicide. He’s learned no matter how he tries to keep her out of the investigation he can’t. But this time the consequences could be deadly for Shandra—she heard the murder happen.

https://books2read.com/u/4Ex9De

A Potential $1,500 Edit, Justified

Now, don’t go bug-eyed about the price tag in this post’s title. Before I share my story, here’s the lowdown–that’s the 411, the skinny, or the scoop for those of you in Rio Linda–of what edits and editors are and what they do–and what they aren’t and what they won’t do.

A developmental edit is a deep content edit. This is the most thorough of the edits throughout your story, and where your editor will find plot holes, inconsistency, what’s working and not, and so on. This is also the most pricey–you’re paying for time, insight, and expertise. Choose this editor wisely, since you’ll have a working, professional relationship with this individual who specializes in this style of editing. What this means for your budget: a DNA sample, your firstborn’s genome, a fraction of your home equity loan, a portion of royalties . . . I’m (slightly) kidding, but the price tag for this is $$$$ to $$$$$.

copy edit is a step above proofreading, but just under developmental editing. It’s another way to say line editing, more or less. These people work to make sure you’re consistent in weather scenes, word choice and what it means either in character or author intention; character names–your MC Steve in Chapter 2 isn’t Jude in Chapter 6–or if you’re in Monday midnight DST in a chapter, that same chapter’s not a snowy Wednesday afternoon EST by its end (unless explained); accents are consistent, etc. It’s also more a consistency in verb tense/1st POV or 3rd POV and other overlooked nits not caught by you or the dev editor than anything else. A dev editor can do light copy editing if he picks it up from time to time, but it’s not a must–especially at the rate you’re paying for the job! Budget for this: $$ to $$$.

Proofreading, or also known as a proofer, ONLY checks for irregularities in punctuation, facts, spelling, times, dates, places, and otherwise flags too many mistakes left in or left out. Some would debate grammar should be checked also, but depending on what some in your cast are doing in dialects, location and the like, that really comes more to a developmental editor choice, a copy editor knowing this about your MS–and, of course, you, Ms. Author :). This edit takes the least time, and thus, the least strain on your writer budget ($ to $$).

What Editing & Edits Are NOT
• Copy edits aren’t developmental edits. Proofing isn’t a copy edit. They blend, yes, BUT,  since both take a chunk of time vs. a little time, that’s why they’re divided as such. Think of it like this: More time = more money.
• Inexpensive, so budget accordingly.
• Your personal cheerleading section–that’s more for writing coaches, crit groups, and writing buddies, if you have them and find them. Get them, if you ned this, too, which I cannot recommend enough. And find the right crowd for this, too . . . but another topic for another post :).
• Aren’t yessing you to death or a doomdayer, “you suck, quit writing this minute!” inputter, either (to be fair, they may think it, which is their prerogative, but you won’t know it).
• Aren’t a taskmaster.
• Will insist you stick with his or her changes to your work.
• Will do beyond what’s paid for or past deadline without an additional charge.
• Aren’t your psychiatrist (yes, Virginia, there’s an app for that–so use it).
• Won’t change your writing voice (conversational, bossy, dark, light-hearted, preachy, etc.), style (staccato or run-on sentences, cold, flat, boring, clinical, etc.), but rather, they may, and should, offer constructive criticism and alternatives.
• Aren’t mind-readers, so communicate your specific needs, results expected, timeframe turnaround, feedback explained, etc.
• And for the love of everything holy, get one suited for YOUR personality type, please! You’ll save so much aggravation and heartache for it in the long run.
• Ultimately, you and the editor are in a working professional relationship, so keep it that way.

“Okay, Missye, You’re Just Bats! Convince Me Why That Price Tag’s Justified!”
Thank you. Be happy to.

After she blew a virtual gasket why I thought a $1,500 dev edit for my specific MS is reasonable, my writer friend pouted and still disagrees, but sees the logic. The argument I gave her, I’ll share with you.

• My 2nd mystery is a plot-within-a-plot, includes an ASTORIA FOXE ONE Casebook #3 sneak peek, a ToC, dedication, acknowledgements, and another large cast, so I’m looking for another set of eyes for overall content, continuity, clarity, cohesiveness, consistency, logical time flow, pacing, what’s too much or too little, etc. That, unfortunately, ain’t gonna come without some financial sacrifice.

• The last time I’d paid a hefty edit tag was on JERSEY DOGS (42 dead and alive member cast, ToC, dedication, acknowledgements, story, and a four chapter Casebook #2 sneak), and I worked with an editor formerly with Scholastic and Penguin Putnam. This price of admission alone I’d shell more for, and some of his previously edited books hit the NYT’s, Amazon’s, and WSJ’s bestsellers lists. This aside, he went above and beyond my expectations: he was sweet, answered all my silly and serious Qs, was thorough, fast turnaround, encouraging, insightful, and did things for my book–cast in order of appearance, questioned sentence murkiness, asked what I meant here/there, and included a solid summary–a nice touch I didn’t ask for or expect. Annnnnd,, dude had been schooled under Sol Stein a few years before the iconic editor’s passing, so that’s definitely saying something. He resided in L.A. at the time of JERSEY’s edit–still may, as of this post, and not cheap in CoL–so his asking rate reflected such.

• Time isn’t replaceable when money is; I’m paying for said time and expertise.

• I’d rather have keen eyes and keener expertise in an edit, and pay that rate for said experience, than brag how cheap this edit was, only for my work and his reflects said edits. It’s disgusting, I’m sad to say, how often writers in free and paid writing listservs, gloat and preen how little they paid for an editing service. Sadder still: there’s absolutely talking NO sense to them how lowbrow, high-minded, and just triflin’ this comes across. Yet if you point this out to the sweetly delusional dreamer in the name of vocational-shaming–yes, kids, that’s a thing, now—you’re the baddie. Okay, then. #SorryNotSorry #NotMyCircusNotMyPonies #CarryingOn :).

• The editor should only edit for a living. This is far different than knowing how to edit when you’re also writing and not writing. While both talents really are two different hats at the same time, they’re also symbiotically intrinsic. I’m proud to say I’m taking a nit comb to Casebook #2 and deleting some of the hefty, but I’m also doing it to deflate some of that dev edit price tag.

• Going in with JERSEY, I knew I’d author a meaty mystery series. That reading time takes dough. As many charge either by the page, word, or a flat rate, there’s no getting around paying more for a bigger output. I’m really working to cut content, but it ain’t easy :).

• Some editing services I won’t pay a dime to due to their inflexibility on receiving payments–most of us don’t have deep pockets, most of us like having lights on, and a key to turn into a lock that’s not a vehicle to call home. Although one came highly recommended for my needs, she wasn’t willing to work with a tight budget, so I politely declined. There’s too much competition around to happily move on more than okay to work with my needs, budget, and timeframe, and I’ll stand by my convictions steadfast. Many writers really don’t think this financial angle through, especially if they’re being supported by ones other than themselves, and sadly go with the first one squealing over their MS, sure, let me help you polish this for that Midas price tag. The peripherals making money from the authors who aren’t yet making enough to cover this, likely know this, but won’t tell them that. Lowdown dirty shame, that is.

• I’ve edit-skimped before: from the proverbial free/need to earn stripes tale of woe to the “it came with the house” deal, regardless of house. Don’t edit-skimp. Ever. Akin to wearing pre-owned day-of-the-week undies even laundered in the hottest water and strongest lye soap available, I felt emotionally and creatively tarnished and second-rate, as that time left me disheartened, frustrated, angry, and outright head-scratching if this person and I read the same damn book. A free or low-cost edit simply isn’t worth the emotional roller-coaster–you may genuinely never know if they truly enjoyed the work, or were they blowing smoke saying they did (You can always run a polygraph if you’re unsure, but if you have the money for such services, use that dough for a professional edit, okay? You’re welcome :). ). Listen, if you believe in your writing efforts, you and it took the bumps and lumps needed to grow as an author and storyteller, then be serious enough to make sure a service is professional enough for their eyes–and your dough!–to have your final draft put its best foot forward. If you don’t sell yourself short on other big important things in life, your MS shouldn’t be treated any less when edit time arrives.

So it boils down to where and how your dough goes, not so much that you’re spending it, regardless. Research like hell, go with your gut voice, DON’T second-guess that voice or yourself, ask scads of questions, and in general, be bold to be informed. It takes time to earn that coin, so no way will I spend it on stupid-awful edits I’ll horribly regret later; it’s enough I’m still scolding myself on a pre-owned Jeep Laredo purchase lasting a whole eight months before its mid-June end. And as my man’s funding my writing life for the better part of the entire time he’s known and been with me, durn tootin’ I’ll make sure our money and time is spent discriminantly. Ultimately, with God expecting me to be a good and prudent stewardess in all I do with the time, talent, and funds He’s granted me, it’s the least I should do. And I’ve been blessed–as of this post, I’ve an editor on retainer willing to work with my budget for my Casebooks! Squeee! But should this post mean you as it does me, you’re justified. Your book is destined to be even better than you’d imagined through another set of careful, caring eyes as yours are.

Back to NaNo, already in progress. Wishing you all a lovely, safe, blessed, and joyful Thanksgiving!

Revamping My Covers by Heather Haven

I never realized that a book cover was a lot like a hairdo. They need to be updated every now and then. Frankly, I love my covers, especially for the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries. They’re familiar. They’re comfortable. Whoops! Maybe when you start saying stuff like that it’s time for a redo. Sigh.

Let’s face it. A good, eye-catching cover is what helps sell a book, big time. Times change. What worked in the early 2000s may not work now. So here I am, deciding what I should do. Should I continue to do the covers myself or should I job them out? Has competition gotten so keen, I need to have a real professional do them for me? Although, I thought I was a professional. But am I a real, dyed-in-the-wool professional CA who can compete in today’s market? Okay. So there I got me. I’m not.

What I am is a professional writer who has enough on her plate and needs to job certain things out. Like my covers. Truth be told, I really would like more time for writing. For playing with my cat. For having lunch with my friends. For canoodling with my husband.

So, for the moment, The Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries covers are having a do-over. And not by me.

Digital Technology in Mysteries

Person with long, blonde hair sitting at a laptop with hands on keyboard. Photo taken from over their shoulder.

The more I read, the more I notice when digital technology isn’t a part of the story. It’s become a way for me to quickly decipher how old a book is. If I’m reading a novel and there’s no mention of texting or social media, or even Googling something, it sometimes pulls me out of the story.

The thing is, I’ve been a frequent texter for more than a decade. I’ve used social media regularly that long as well. But it feels like publishing has been slower to accept digital technology in stories and it’s only becoming more common in the past couple of years.

Digital technology is such an important part of our lives. Sure, the extent of that importance may vary from person-to-person, but you’re here reading a blog so it’s important to both of us on some level. 🙂

When I read a romance, I like seeing one character Google another. If I’m going on a date with someone or crushing on another person, you bet your britches I’m going to be checking them out online. Not only for curiosity’s sake, but for my own safety. My true crime obsession doesn’t help.

It’s even more glaring to me as a reader of mysteries. Particularly when a sleuth is a millennial or younger (late 30s or below). I’m at the upper end of the millennial group, which means I’m part of a small subset of millennials who remember life before cell phones and computers, but they’re important to how I operate daily because they were introduced during childhood. That’s the big difference I see between myself and my parents. When I’m curious about something, one of my first instincts is to Google it. That’s not instinctual to my parents because these digital technologies were available later in their lives.

So, when I read about a sleuth in their 20s or 30s (at least, but not limited to those ages), I expect to see them using the internet in their investigations or slyly using their cell phone to record someone, or sending out a help beacon from their Apple Watch if they’re in trouble. Granted, age does not equate to technological comfort and skill. I have friends who don’t have a social media presence and only switched from a flip phone to a smartphone in the last year or two. But, to me, that’s the exception not the rule.

I feel like I see the use of digital technologies more in television. Hallmark has been doing a great job of incorporating texts, video chatting, internet searches, and more into their movies (I’ve been watching Hallmark movies pretty non-stop since June). I’m not sure if it’s because authors are hesitant to write it, publishing professionals advice against adding a technological shelf life, or some other reason I haven’t thought of.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot during revisions of my cozy mystery. I’ve been intentionally trying to find ways to incorporate digital technologies.

Do you incorporate digital technologies in your stories? Do you think there’s a trend toward seeing more of it? Curious about your thoughts!

 

Guest Blogger – Vicki Vass

Why I write

Hi, Ladies of Mystery, thanks for letting me drop by and share some of my story with your readers. I thought I’d start by introducing myself. My name is Vicki Vass, and I write two different cozy mystery series, The Antique Hunter’s Mystery, and Witch Cat Mysteries.

My writing journey started very early actually almost as soon as I could read. I was a precocious child. So when I was four years old and saw my older brother reading a book, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I read everything from cereal boxes to billboards to newspapers to books. It wasn’t long after that I decided I wanted to write. I wrote short stories through grade school, often killing off all the characters because I didn’t know how to end the story. I adapted the books Caddie Woodlawn and Alice in Wonderland into plays that my friends and I performed in our suburban Chicago neighborhood.

When it came time to go to college, I wanted to major in English and become a fiction writer. My uncle, a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, encouraged me to major in journalism, stating that there was more career opportunities. I ended up in journalism and knew it was the right path for me. At my college, I covered government for my daily newspaper and also was able to write some feature articles.

Following college, I wrote for community newspapers until moving to the Chicago Tribune, first as a freelancer and later as a staff writer for special sections. I covered everything from city councils, library boards, artists and community festivals. It was a wonderful experience and taught me how to write fast under deadline pressure. As newspapers began to decline, I moved on to social media and into my current full-time path as an editor of a medical journal.

Working for a peer-reviewed medical journal means that I don’t write nor do I edit. I found myself missing writing so one day I took pen to paper and drafted a story which eventually became Murder for Sale, the first book in my Antique Hunter Mystery series. I loosely based the two lead characters, Anne and CC, on my close friends and our weekend adventures antique hunting together. That book was a finalist in the Mystery and Mayhem contest, and the sixth book in the series, A White Rabbit’s Tale, will be released in winter 2019.

While the characters were originally based on my two close friends, the characters have developed their own unique storylines and personality traits. Now the characters live outside of the real individuals.

The stories also focus on a historical element usually centered around a significant antique. That’s where reality ends and fiction takes over. The historical elements are a tribute to my father who taught American history and government for 30 years in the Chicago Public School District. He taught me to study and respect history.

As the series has evolved, I have found my passion for writing fiction to be restored, and I cannot wait to start the next story. My only shortage is time.

Thanks again for letting me stop by!

Vicki Vass

Vicki Vass gave up her reporter’s notebook to chronicle the near real-life adventures of her two best friends and fellow antique hunters. Like the fictional Anne, Vicki enjoys shopping and is always in the hunt for the next great deal. When not writing, Vicki can be found walking her two Australian shepherd puppies, Atticus and Tracker. She writes about her reading and adventures on her blog vickiscozycorner.com.  

Social media Facebook.com/vickivassauthorTwitter:@vickivass

A Free Kindle Book and Some Halloween Trivia

callingthedead-sm

 

For Halloween I’m offering a free kindle book, Calling the Dead, one of the early Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries. It is free now through Halloween.

https://www.amazon.com/Calling-Dead-Tempe-Crabtree-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B07S3RFZ29/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=Calling+the+dead+by+Marilyn+Meredith&qid=1570114084&s=digital-text&sr=1-3

In Calling the Dead, Deputy Tempe Crabtree is challenged by a death that looks like suicide and a suicide that looks like murder and putting her job on the line when she investigates both on her on time, and jeopardizes her marriage to her pastor husband when she uses Native American ways to call back the dead.

orange and white squash
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Now for some fun trivia about Halloween:

  1. Halloween originated in Ireland
  2. A pumpkin is a fruit.
  3. The round orange pumpkin is a native to North America
  4. The first individually wrapped candies were Tootsie Rolls.
  5. Alabama doesn’t allow Halloween celebrants to dress up like priests or nuns.
  6. In 2020, there will be a full moon on Halloween night.
  7. In 2017 the most popular Halloween candy was Kit Kats.
  8. Jack O Lanterns were first made out of turnips.
  9. To protect yourself on Halloween you should carry salt in your pocket.
  10. Male witches are called Warlocks.
  11. The word witch comes from the Old English meaning Wise Woman.
  12. Trick or treating evolved from the Celtic culture.
  13. If a person wears his or her clothes inside out and walks backward on Halloween, he or she will see a witch at midnight.

A bit more about my free Kindle book offer of Calling the Dead.

I did not use BookBub to promote—two reasons, it wouldn’t have been accepted because of not enough reviews, though what I do have are great, and I can’t afford a BookBub promotion.

What I did do is pay for some much less expensive advertising through places that promote free-e-books. And of course I’ll do my own promoting on Facebook, Twitter, and the various Facebook groups I belong to.

And you may ask, what is the motive for giving away copies of the Kindle version of the book? Hopefully, readers will like it and buy others in the series. Calling the Dead seemed like the perfect tale to offer for Halloween.

Marilyn