I enjoy deep POV in stories. It sucks me into the main character’s head and makes what’s happening more immediate. I use some methods to achieve it–eliminating tags and words like “she thought” and “she felt.” But I have a friend who EXCELS at it, and it makes her stories riveting. She’s proof deep POV brings a story to life because when I put together the anthology MURDER THEY WROTE, Kathy Palm’s story was mentioned by reviewers over and over again.
The reason I’m thinking about it again is because I read Kathy’s newest story, REVEALED, in the free issue of Hellhound Magazine: ISSUES | My Site (hellhoundmagazine.com). Whenever I want to remember how effective deep POV can be, I read one of Kathy’s stories. This one is amazing!
This blog is a bit of a plug for Kathy’s writing, but it’s also a plug for deep POV. If you’re like me, you might only use it here and there in your usual third person limited story. But it’s something to think about. It works when you want to make part of your story more immediate.
Confession time. When I first found M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth mysteries, I was ecstatic. I immediately fell in love with a detective who had no ambition, who didn’t want to rise in the ranks and to be forced to leave his little community. Then I learned that M.C. Beaton wrote a second series with Agatha Raisin. So I bought one…and didn’t finish it. Agatha drove me NUTS. I bought a second one, thinking that the first book in a series isn’t always the best to judge an author on, and I didn’t finish the second one either. Agatha was rude, and rudeness bothers me. Huge numbers of fans disagreed with me, but I never picked up another book. But then, I found Agatha Raisin on BritBox, and for some reason, when I watched the TV show, I liked it. Yes, Agatha could still be pushy and abrasive, but somehow, her good qualities overrode her bad ones. And the characters in the show were quirky. I like quirky.
When I started writing A CUT ABOVE, I wanted Karnie and the new series to feel different than Jazzi and her series. Jazzi is pretty go-with-the-flow. She likes people and is accommodating. Karnie likes people, too, but she’s NOT accommodating. She’s fine living by herself and staying single for the rest of her life. And she pretty much says what she thinks. No filter.
I don’t think she’s as pushy as Agatha, but she is stubborn. I like characters who aren’t always likeable. One of my favorite characters I’ve read is Jorg, in the PRINCE OF THORNS. Jorg does terrible things. He’s not a nice person, but then, no one else in that time setting is nice either. It becomes a question of whose moral code I liked better–and Jorg’s seemed the best to me; whereas his father’s was despicable. Power hungry rulers stoop to horrible deeds to hang on to their power or gain more. Even the ordinary people Jorg meets are reprehensible, including the peasants.
Karnie is no Jorg. Not even as rude as Agatha. But she’s no Jazzi either. She’s just prickly and opinionated. But she’s loyal, and if she likes you, she’ll go the extra mile to help you. I don’t know if I’d consider her more flawed than most characters I write, because opinionated or not, I really like her.
Do you have any prickly, flawed characters you love? I’d love to hear about them. And happy reading!
M.L. Rigdon, from my writers’ group Scribes, is one of my best friends and ALSO one of my critique partners. Which means–and this is the lucky part–I’m her critique partner. We trade manuscripts to beta read. She scribbles with red ink on my pages, and I scribble on hers. She just gave me the first half of her newest book, DROVER’S LANE, to critique. I love all of her books, but I think I love her historical novels the most. Don’t get me wrong. I love all of them, but I have no patience for researching every little last detail for historicals, so I’m happy when someone else does it for me.
Mary Lou, as Julia Donner, writes Regency romances in a Friendship Series that I devour. I was a big fan of Georgette Heyer (who’s in trouble now for being racist, but I never got it at the time. I didn’t read the book that made it so apparent). Mary Lou has the same wry humor and Jane Austen mannerisms with strong females and men who know how to win them. When I want a fun read, her Regencies do the trick. But like me, Mary Lou needs to change it up once in a while, and then she writes fantasies, action/adventure, and historical Westerns.
DROVER’S LANE is a historical Western, and I’m not that far into it, but I’m already hooked. The only things I know about that period of history is what I watched on Gunsmoke, The Big Valley, and my dad’s favorite TV shows. And there are some missing pieces because of peoples’ preferences back then. So far, I’m already enthralled with Millie–a Chinese woman who’s working with the protagonist, a widow, in her bakery/breakfast/and lunch shop. Millie has a sharp mind and a sharper tongue. I love her. But as always, Lillian Flowers–the protagonist–is complex and intriguing and the romantic interest has depths we don’t expect. I’m in for a good read.
I have to say, I have a thing for historicals. That’s why I’m so drawn to Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series and C.S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr novels, along with a few others that I read sporadically. Most of the ones that are automatic buys focus on the Regency or Victorian periods, and those are what drew me to Mary Lou’s Julia Donner Regencies, too. But I’m enjoying the historical Westerns just as much, and I didn’t expect to. But I should have known better. I fell in love with Zane Grey’s THE LAST TRAIL and BETTY ZANE. I read every James Fenimore Cooper Natty Bumppo novel in middle school.
I mostly write mysteries, but when I read, it’s nice to go outside of my genre sometimes. I don’t know if you’re a fan of historicals or if you like Westerns, but I can recommend Julia Donner Western romances. And a warning. Her writing can get mighty spicy–another reason I enjoy them:)
They were getting ready to open when Sam Lessman’s mother called and asked for Dad. He listened to her a minute, then said, “Let me put you on Speaker. We’ll all want to hear this.”
Karnie, her mom, and Chuck gathered around him.
“The police keep questioning Sam over and over again,” she told them. “They think he killed Donna. His cleaver has gone missing. It was the same type they found in Donna’s skull. Tony, you bought it for him as a going away present, remember? It had his initials on it. He told them that, but they don’t believe him.”
“I had them engraved on the handle,” Dad confirmed.
“Would you tell the police that? Have they called you to ask about it?”
“They haven’t, but I’ll call them.”
“Thank you. I think the only reason they haven’t arrested him is because he wasn’t at the shop yet during the time they think she was murdered.”
“What time do they think that was?” Karnie leaned closer to Dad’s phone to ask.
“Between six and eight that morning.”
Karnie frowned. “Why would Donna be at her shop that early? Hers doesn’t open until nine, like ours.”
“Sam told me the workers have to be there at eight-thirty. He got to the shop a little late that day. He was waiting for a mechanic to finish work on his car. But he said there was no sign of blood anywhere in the parking lot when he arrived.”
“The police think she was killed at her shop?” Karnie asked.
“They know she was. In the parking lot. They used a special piece of equipment that can scan for traces of blood. It lit up when they waved it near the back door at the parking spot Donna always used. They think someone washed it away with a power hose the workers use to keep the lot clean.”
“Didn’t Donna have security cameras?” Dad glanced at the cameras near their front doors and the parking lot.
“Donna angled them so that her private parking spot wasn’t covered. She wanted to be able to drive in and walk in the shop without warning the workers. She thought she might catch them at something.”
“A little bit of a tyrant?” Chuck shook his head.
Mrs. Lessman made a rude noise. “Some tyrants are nicer than she was.”
Karnie asked, “Why are they just focusing on Sam? There must have been lots of people who didn’t like her.”
“Because she spent half an hour screaming at Sam before she left the shop the night before she died, and his meat cleaver is missing.”
Chuck sounded irritated. “She took turns screaming at people, didn’t she? He’d probably heard it all before.”
“She threatened to fire him this time.”
Dad raised his voice. “What for? The boy’s good at what he does.”
Mrs. Lessman hesitated. “She wanted Sam to cut and label steaks so that they looked like more expensive cuts than they were.”
“She wanted him to cheat customers.” Chuck exchanged a hard look with Dad. “Sam would never do that.”
“That’s why she threatened to fire him and find someone who would.”
“Customers would know. She’d go out of business.” Dad’s lips pressed together in a tight line.
“That’s what Sam tried to tell her. She said it would only be for a month or two until her money was in better shape.”
Mom glanced at her sister, listening intently, and shook her head. “A business has to work hard to get a good reputation when it starts up. Once you lose that, it’s almost impossible to get customers to trust you again.”
They could hear Mrs. Lessman’s sigh. “Donna didn’t listen to anyone. Sam told me, he thought he was probably going to be fired, just like Jose was. He was so happy to get that job, but he said he wouldn’t ruin his reputation as a good butcher just to please Donna.”
Dad puffed up like a proud papa. “Good for him. If he needs help, tell him to call me. We’ll help him find a good shop to work in.” Dad could do it, too. He knew a lot of other butchers.
“Please. Just call the cops and tell them Sam’s cleaver had his initials on the handle. The one that killed Donna wasn’t his.”
Every one of my mysteries features an amateur sleuth. In the Jazzi Zanders mysteries, Jazzi, Ansel, and her cousin Jerod are house flippers. Karnie, in my new series, works in her family’s butcher shop. Lux is a freelance journalist. And in the new straight mystery that I’m working on, Laurel is an ex-nurse and volunteer whose friend is killed by the Midlife Murderer.
The thing about amateur sleuths is that they need to have a REASON to get involved in solving a case. Curiosity isn’t enough for a protagonist to put him or herself in danger. If a protagonist is a cop, it’s his JOB to solve crimes. Cops have the authority to question people. When a writer has a P.I. as the MC, it’s his job to deliver answers to a client. A P.I. gets paid to dig for answers, too. The difference is, people can tell him to take a hike. He has no authority. Even cops can stonewall him. It’s even harder for amateurs. They have to convince people to talk to them, and they have to have strong motivation to .bother with a murder in the first place. So why do they do it?
In all of my books, the reason is that someone they care about was either the victim OR someone they care about is the main suspect. Both work. That’s how Jazzi and Ansel get involved in solving every murder in their series. In book one, Jazzi and Jerod find the bones of Jazzi’s aunt in a trunk stored in the house’s attic they’re working on. In book 7, Ansel’s uncle wants him to prove neither of his sons killed the man buried when a retaining wall collapses on their work site.
In A CUT ABOVE, out May 3rd, Karnie’s dad and brother trained Sam Lessman at their butcher shop and grew fond of him. When he becomes the number one suspect for murdering Donna Amick, Karnie decides to prove he didn’t do it. In trying to clear his name, she’s forced into stepping outside her comfort zone and to accept help (which she usually doesn’t do) .
In the Lux series, Lux was a reporter in Chicago before she moved to Summit City. It’s in her nature to dig for answers, but she only gets involved in solving a murder in HEIRLOOMS TO DIE FOR to keep people she cares about safe. When she finds a body in her storage unit, she discovers it’s someone who was close to Cook–her parents’ servant that she loves. How did he get past her secret code to steal things from her? And why is someone still interested in the belongings she brought here when she moved from Chicago?
If you’re a fan of amateur sleuths, HEIRLOOMS TO DIE FOR will be free April 28th to May 2nd. Hope you give it a try!
Leah Bailey invited me to a Q&A on her podcast, COZY INK, and it aired today. I was nervous, but she’s so easy to talk to and so pleasant, I ended up really enjoying myself. Leah’s an author herself, so it was like talking shop with a new writer I’d never met before. If you’d like to check out the podcast and read more about Leah, you can find the interview here:
Four of my friends are avid movie fans. Me? Not so much. But I love getting together with them, so every year, I host an Oscar Party. My contribution is my house and food. They’ve seen almost every movie nominated and know the actors and actresses, even the directors. I know what they love to eat. So we all have fun.
This year, because of Covid, instead of watching the Oscars in February, like we usually do, we’re getting together tonight. It’s warmer weather, so that’s changed what I’m putting on the menu. There are things I think of as winter weather food and lighter offerings I think of as warm weather food. Dawn’s bringing Oscar party bags and sent her husband to help my HH decorate the house with tall cardboard Oscar statues, a red carpet, and more. Mary Lou’s bringing her special deviled eggs and brownies. I’m making a Spanish frittata with lots of potatoes, crab cakes, a steak salad with sliced pears and blue cheese, and shredded salmon Bruschetta. Since my grandson’s joining us, I made two lemon meringue pies, too. (One of his favorites).
Just like our reading preferences, we all have movie preferences, too. I’m not very sophisticated. I love a good mystery. Mary Lou and Dawn go for quality storylines (even if it’s depressing–which I try to avoid), cinematography, and depth. They’re both serious about costumes being correct for the time period, too. Mary Lou writes movie reviews on her blog. You can find her here: https://historyfanforever.wordpress.com/
I go for entertainment. There was a time when I watched serious, meaningful movies, but those times are rare these days. Same goes for message movies. Hopefully, I’ll get back to them someday, but this has been a tough year in more ways than one, and I’m just not in the mood. I’m starting to read darker, grittier books again, though, so who knows? Maybe I’ll work my way to more serious movies again eventually. But I have to say, my grandson streamed Mortal Kombat, the movie, for us last night, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So entertainment might be my preference for a while:)
When I taught school and while I raised our kids, I heard parents try to dictate what their kids read, hoping they’d read “quality” books instead of comic books or Choose Your Own Adventure. But as long as kids or people read, I’m fine with whatever keeps them turning pages. Same with movies. We need different things at different times, so I get it.
Tonight, I’ll watch the Oscars and see what people think is the best of the best for this year. Just like some books win the Agatha or Edgar awards, it’s nice to know what’s considered top quality among their peers. I’ll enjoy myself. And just in case you’d ever like to make Shredded Salmon Bruschetta, here’s how I made this time. (I constantly tinker, so it usually doesn’t turn out the same every time).
The salmon: Coat the bottom of a nonstick pan with olive oil. I use a thick slab of salmon to make this and sprinkle it with salt, pepper, and fennel seeds. In the hot oil, sear the salmon flesh side down for 7 minutes with a partially cracked lid on the pan at medium high heat. Turn the salmon, so it’s skin side down, and lower heat a little and sear for another 7 minutes with partially cracked lid so the center of thick salmon cooks through. I like my salmon DONE, not medium well. Check to see that it flakes, and if it’s finished, remove from pan and let it cool. Once it’s cool, you can pull off the skin and shred it into big pieces.
For the bruschetta: thickly slice French bread. Coat both sides with olive oil and garlic salt. Bake at 425 for 6 to 8 minutes.
Coat the bruschetta with: mayo mixed with a little white wine vinegar, minced garlic, and dill. Salt and pepper to taste. (Sorry. I don’t measure this. I just throw it together). When ready to serve this, I spread the mayo mix on the bruschetta, then top with shredded salmon, and then I top that with halved grape tomatoes or a tomato relish.
A Cut Above is due on May 3rd, but I’ve put it up for a Goodreads giveaway, April 22nd to May 5th for 50 winners. I’m hoping I’ll get some good reviews from it then. I joined Goodreads when I first started writing, and I’m still glad I did. Amazing readers are there.
I’ve mentioned that I didn’t sell enough Jazzi and Ansel mysteries, so Kensington let me go, haven’t I? Yes, I have. But I already had the next Jazzi and Ansel written before they told me, so I decided to publish it myself. And I wanted to give it a big push, but how? I looked at BookBub and it was REALLY expensive, (at least, for us), and the truth is, I decided I wanted a neat vacation for HH and my fiftieth anniversary in late August more than I wanted to pay that much to advertise my book, IF BookBub accepted it. Maybe a mistake. So I ran the idea past our kids and grandkids, and we all decided to rent a house on Tybee Island in August and have a big family vacation together instead. We all pitched in, and we need airplane tickets and fun money, and we’re looking forward to a great time.
I want to stress that my editor, John Scognamiglio, at Kensington would have kept working with me. He’s a wonderful human being who loves writers. Everyone I worked with loves writers, but publishing is a business. It all comes down to money, and I just wasn’t making enough money for Kensington to keep investing in me. Okay, that hurts, because Kensington tried, but it is what it is. So now, I’m on my own. And I had a Jazzi and Ansel written and polished before I got the news, so what was I going to do with it? I put it on Amazon myself.
Now comes the not so wonderful part of being a writer without a big name. No one knows who you are. If you don’t promote your book, it doesn’t sell. I’d sold enough books (I thought) that I could surely pay for a New Book Deal on Written Word Media ($399), but the day after I submitted my book for the ad, they turned me down. And at first, I was REALLY frustrated. But after I thought about it, I realized they were trying to be totally honest with me. They didn’t think I’d earn out the money I put into the ad. I’m guessing they don’t have a lot of cozy mystery readers signed up on their site. Every site seems to have one following that’s stronger than the others. I don’t know. But they could have taken my money and left me watch dismal sales. Instead, they turned down my money. And I give them credit for that.
I considered going to the Fussy Librarian. I’m fond of that site, but finally decided to take my chances with an Amazon ad because I thought I’d reach more people. I have to admit, I don’t understand any of the ads an author has to bid on, not on BookBub, Amazon, or Facebook. I’ve tried them a couple of times before, and it was a sad failure, but at that time, I thought I was bidding too low to ever win a spot for readers to see my work. This time, I thought I’d go bigger, but I obviously don’t know what “big” is. I signed up to spend $300 at $3.00 a bid. And I’ve hardly won any spots. My bid goes to September 1st, and if I spend $50, it’s going to be a miracle. So, again, I haven’t conquered this type of marketing.
My next book, A CUT ABOVE, comes out May 3rd, and I’m going to try a couple other things to get readers to find it. But I’m feeling pretty unsure of myself. HOW do you find readers without spending a lot of money? Maybe it’s impossible. That’s what publishers do. They INVEST in you. They KNOW how to market. I’m, obviously, not as good at it. But I want to give self-publishing a try.
This blog will probably appeal more to writers than readers, but even readers might be interested in how hard it is to promote a new book. If I fail yet again, I have other options to consider. But until then, I’m crossing my fingers and wishing for the best for A CUT ABOVE. Wish me luck!
When I loaded my last mystery on Amazon, a question box asked me to decide what category it fell under and to come up with tags for it. I’d just posted a blog where an author or two discussed that readers aren’t happy when you describe your book one way, but you do it wrong, and readers come to the book with certain expectations that you fail to meet.
The first description of my book was easy. Fiction. The next was easy, too. Mystery. After that, things got trickier. I just saw a newsletter from Goodreads that described the different types of mysteries and thrillers. The article listed: domestic thrillers, media mysteries, legal thrillers, crime procedurals, contemporary cozies, cold cases, psychological thrillers, new noir, and historicals. But when I searched online, I found an article with even more sub-genres: capers, suspense, soft-boiled, hardboiled, P..I., and supernatural. Other articles listed women in jeopardy and domestic mysteries, along with serial killers and British mysteries. I’m sure there are more, and some of them cross over one another. But when readers pick up a book with one of these labels, they have certain expectations. The question is, how close to the label does your book have to be?
When I buy a domestic mystery, I expect to find cooking, pets, knitting, or book clubs, etc. and I don’t want to meet a brutal serial killer. I want low-key, not the edge of my seat. On the other hand, when I buy a thriller, I don’t want to meet a cheerful owner of a bakery who tries to solve a murder as an amateur. I like cross-genre novels, but I want to know what those genres are before I choose the book. There was a time when I first started writing that I resented how publishers had to have a label before they’d publish a book, and if you fell through the cracks, you were instantly rejected. I’m glad there’s more freedom to bend the rules today, but those labels served a purpose. They helped readers find what they’re looking for out of the millions of books available.
With Jazzi and Ansel, labels are easy. I purposely write them as cozies–including George–a pug, two cats, family get-togethers, and offscreen murders. I think there’s a subtle difference between some domestic mysteries, though, and a cozy. For me, it’s more a matter of tone. That made labeling A Cut Above trickier. It has less of a cozy feel. Karnie isn’t warm and friendly like Jazzi. So I think of her book as more of a traditional mystery. When I had to choose tags for it, I struggled a while.
It has romance in it, so I listed it as a romance mystery. Karnie works in her family’s butcher shop and records podcasts on how to cook cuts of meat her Dad advertises as specials, so I thought about listing it as a culinary mystery, but I’m not sure it has the right tone, so I went with amateur sleuth and female sleuth instead.
I might fuss too much about categories and labels on books, but I think they matter. How about you? Do you think there’s a difference between a cozy and a traditional mystery? One you’d notice? Do you look at tags when you buy books?