Category Archives: genres

Some Things Don’t Work

A while ago, when I had extra time to write between contracts, I decided to self-publish some supernatural mysteries because I enjoy writing them so much.  I knew it was a bit of a risk since urban fantasy is still pretty glutted, but I’d seen some paranormal witch mysteries that were doing well on Amazon and thought it was worth a try.  I had a lot of fun writing them, but I’ve given them a decent shot, and they’re still dead in the water.  I can’t get them off the ground.  So I came to a crossroads.  Do I keep writing them and hope the fifth or sixth one clicks, or do I admit defeat and try something new?

My agent loved the urban fantasies I wrote forever ago but got one rejection after another because no one was buying UF anymore.  I spent a lot of years trying to sell stories that no matter how well done, no one wanted to buy.  And I don’t want to do that again.  So this time, I’m throwing the towel in early.  Right or wrong, I’ve learned the hard way that some things are easier to sell than others.  So I felt sorry for myself, licked my wounded pride for a day, and then sat down and started to work on something different.  I don’t want to write a second cozy series.  I know a lot of writers juggle two or more of them, but I’d have too much trouble trying to keep track of which is which if they were that much alike.  I mean, cozies have some similarities.  If I’m going to do a second series, it has to be different enough from Jazzi to help me find balance between the two.

I’m sharing this, not to garner sympathy, but because when I like writing something, that’s what I want to write.  I don’t want to change or go in a different direction.  But I’ve found that I need to.  When my agent asked me to try to write a romance, I didn’t want to.  I’d never considered it.  Ever.  The plot points felt weird to me–hurt feelings and misunderstandings instead of attacks and battles.  The thing is, I learned a lot by writing the Mill Pond series.  I had to concentrate on character more than plot, and my tacklebox of writing tools grew richer for it.  I took some of those tools with me when my editor asked if I’d like to try my hand at a mystery.

This might sound crazy to you, but if you’re writing really well but your work won’t sell, maybe you should try something outside your comfort zone.  There’s so much to writing that we can’t control.  If editors decide a market is tight or dead, soon it will be, because they won’t buy anything in that genre.  If the market really is glutted, it’s even hard to find readers if you self-publish.  There are just too many things for them to choose from.  Markets come and go.  Literary fiction, I’m told, is a hard sell right now.  Sometimes, selling comes down to a current preference.  It’s harder to sell writing in present tense  now because there’s a bias against it.  Some editors prefer third person, single POV, over first person.  Some of that depends on what genre you write in, but I’ve read reviews where readers prefer third over first.  That doesn’t mean what you write won’t sell, but it means it will be harder.

For now, I’m going to try something new.  A straight mystery instead of a supernatural.  And I’m writing it in first person.  Then I’ll see what happens.  But it doesn’t hurt to flex your writing muscles and experiment a little.  You can start with something short and go from there.  Maybe try a one-hour read.  Play with a new genre, a different style.  But it’s hard to put your best into something, over and over again, know that it’s good (and I’m not just talking ego or confidence here, but comments from critique partners and editors or agents), and keep getting rejections.  When that happens, it might not have anything to do with how well you write, but a lot to do with what you write.  But let’s face it.  In writing, there’s no one right answer, and what works for one person doesn’t work for someone else.  But I’m ready to try to tilt the odds in my favor instead of against me.  So wish me luck.  And good luck to you and whatever you’re working on and Happy Writing!

 

The British are coming~

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not much of a fan of thirty-minute comedies or evening game shows on TV.  I’m hooked on Dancing With the Stars, but it hasn’t been on for a while, and I’ve never bothered with whatever they chose to replace it.  I watch foodtv on Saturday mornings, but that’s it.  Most everything else is repeats and competitions.  That’s why I signed up for Netflix.  We watch shows on it once in a while.  But then I signed up for BritBox.  And my poor HH’s life has changed.

I love British mysteries, and boy, are there a lot of them–old Hercule Poirots and Miss Marples, plus new ones I’ve never heard of.  Diana Riggs is Mrs. Bradley with clever murders and droll humor, Rosemary and Thyme has its two female sleuths stumble over dead bodies while working on landscaping and sickly lawns, and Shakespeare and Hathaway are a cute blond/frumpy P.I. pair.  HH watches a mystery with me occasionally, but he’s more partial to The Great British Baking Show, not that I’ll ever spend three hours making a perfect Victoria Sponge, but he can dream:)

We used to turn off the TV after the evening news.  Now, we flip to BritBox and watch an hour of something entertaining before he settles behind a library book and I pick up my Kindle.  In the days WC (With Children), our TV habits revolved around family entertainment or one of their favorites, but now, AC (After Children), we can watch what we want.  And it’s wonderful.

I’ve always been partial to British mysteries.  I started out with Agatha Christie and then got hooked on Martha Grimes with Scotland Yard Inspector Richard Jury.  And then I discovered Elizabeth George and her Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley.  Maybe they were an extension of my love of Pride and Prejudice.  I’m not sure.  But they have a certain feel about them, nothing gritty like American P.I.s.

Lately, I’ve become equally enamored with cozies.  Instead of an English village with a shop that serves tea, I’ve grown fond of small towns with diners and breweries.  I’ve traded an inspector for an amateur sleuth, but the murders are all quite civilized.  It’s rude to splash gore on the walls or furniture.  For variety, I’ve added an occasional paranormal mystery to the mix with witches who solve murders or own bakeries, and I still toss in a thriller or urban fantasy now and then.  But this summer, I return often to low-key pleasant reads and TV. It suits my mood.  Who knows what winter will bring?  For now, though, hope your reading and writing are going well.  May the words flow!

 

Not one, but two…making a mishmash of things

I’ve decided to write two series.  The Jazzi Zanders books are cozy mysteries.  The Muddy River books are supernatural/urban fantasy type mysteries.  I think I’d burn out writing just one type of genre over and over again.  I even have to switch up the types of books I read.  If I read cozies back to back to back, pretty soon I can practically chart the rhythm of the stories, etc.  So I like to jump around from one type of book to another.

Accordingly, if I can make it work–and it always sounds better in theory than in actuality–I want to take turns with my books.  I’ll write a Muddy River, then a Jazzi, then a Muddy River, etc. AND if all goes well–which it never does because life happens–I’ll still be able to meet Kensington’s deadlines.  The good news?  I’m self-publishing Muddy River, so if I screw up, I’M the one who determines when my next book has to come out.  And I can give myself wiggle room.  Hopefully.

I just turned in Jazzi 4, and I don’t have to turn in the outline for book 5 until July 15th. Even better, I don’t have to turn in the manuscript until Nov. 4.  So, I have time to squeeze in Muddy River 3 IF I don’t dawdle and I plant my fanny in chair and make myself write the words.  Even though it’s summer.  And even though I like to play in my flower beds and take the dog for walks and…well, I love to goof off more in the summer.  But the Jazzi books always take me longer to write.  They’re more involved with more different types of scenes.  The Muddy River stories go faster.  They’re shorter and they’re more direct.

That said, I’m MAKING myself write a plot point for every single chapter I mean to write for Muddy River 3.  And it’s a good thing.  The idea that bloomed in my head for this story felt brilliant and wonderful, but trying to make it stretch into 32 plot points has caused some serious cussing and stalking from my office to the kitchen, remembering that I haven’t organized my sock drawer and picked lint out of my bellybutton.  Uggh!!  I’ve made it to point 19, and I’ve kept things moving in the plot and more clues coming to light, but I still have 13 chapters to plot.  Making myself write them all can make me crazy, but I’d rather fight with them now than hit that spot in my story where I know I don’t have enough of anything to finish the book.

I’m lighting incense (not really) for inspiration and struggling with patience I don’t normally have, but I’m going to FINISH these things!  And then, I can write!  That’s where the real fun starts.  I even like rewrites because that’s when I pick up a drab leaden story and polish it to a brilliant shine.  (Or as close as I can get to that).

I might fuss about plot points, etc., but the only part of writing that I really dread is the final proof copies I have to read through for Kensington for the Jazzi books.  I don’t mind the initial edit copies, but that final proof–the one I just read and can’t change unless it’s to correct mistakes–is painful.  If I could duck out of that, I’d do it.  Because by that last proof of a galley, I’ve looked at the book so many times, the entire thing sounds like garbage to me.  And I see all the things I could have done better, but can’t fiddle with anymore.  Luckily, it’s a long time between returning that galley and the book actually being published.  If enough time has passed, I actually like the book again.  And I’m excited for readers to find it.

Alas, I have a LONG time before I’ll rewrite and rework Muddy River 3.  Right now, I just need to finish plotting it.  And then I need to WRITE 32 or more chapters… And then I need to polish it and send it to my critique partners….  And then I need to rewrite it again.  And then… thank the heavens, I’ll be ready to post it on Amazon and hope for the best:)

Wherever you are on your book or project, good luck.  And happy writing!

Starting Over

A friend of mine is getting back into writing.  Which means she’s not new at it, but she’s been away from it for so long, she feels like she’s starting over.  I don’t think that’s true.  I think it’s like riding a bicycle.  Once her fingers touch her keyboard, it will all come back.  Maybe in starts and stops, but eventually the words will flow like they once did.

She asked me for advice on how to get her mojo going again, and we talked about all the things that have changed over the years. You can self-publish now.  And even if you sell, you need to learn to market your work.  There’s twitter, Facebook, blogs.  We talked about all of them.  But I finally figured out the most important advice of all.  JUST WRITE.  None of the rest matters if you don’t have a story or novel that’s finished.  And it makes life better if your story or novel fits a genre somewhere.

I’m all about studying your craft, reading books like Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham or the many other experts on the subject.  There are links on twitter to hone your word choice, use stronger verbs, start with a hook, develop characters fully, make settings come to life, etc.  I retweet the best links I see everyday.  There are lots of them.  But there are no words to make powerful if you don’t write them.  And every time you do, you learn more.

So, after explaining to my friend about finding followers on twitter and signing up for BookBub, my best advice was, “What are you going to write first? Get started on it.”

You can debate whether it’s better to be a pantser or a plotter, if you should storyboard or throw 3 x 5 cards with  scene ideas in the air to see where they land, but most sins can be fixed by a good edit and rewrite.  And no matter what you do–as far as I can tell–when you reach the middle of your novel, you’ve reached the black swamp of misery that you have to fight through to the other side.  C.S. Boyack wrote about that on his blog today, and I don’t know a writer who can’t sympathize.  https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2019/03/28/a-writing-day-the-middle-slog/

While I’m at it, Staci Troilo wrote a particularly good blog about developing a series, too.  https://storyempire.com/2019/03/25/the-story-bible/  I find a lot of useful writing information on Story Empire.  BUT, as I said before, talking about writing and thinking about writing aren’t writing.  To be a writer, you have to plant fanny in chair and type words on empty pages until those words add up to a story.  And if your first effort doesn’t make you dance around the house and celebrate?  Give yourself credit for making it to the finish line.  And write another story.  You’ll keep getting better at it.  Especially if you study and work at improving WHILE you write.

I hope this has inspired you to hit those keys!  Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

What is a supernatural mystery anyway?

When I tell friends that I finished Muddy River Mystery One and put it on Amazon, they ask, “What is it?”

Well, a mystery.  That’s in the title.  Muddy River is the town on the Ohio River that the supernaturals settled.  They found a nice, hilly, secluded area in southwest Indiana, far from mortals, to call home.

“The supernatural?” they ask.

Yup, witches, vampires, shapeshifters, and demons, among others.  Most friends know that I used to write urban fantasy.  And now I’m writing mysteries.  So I decided to combine the two.  Sort of like the Babet and Prosper novellas that I used to write.    Prosper was a bearshifter and his partner on the force, Hatchet, was a Druid.

I like writing about Druids.  Of course, I jazz them up a bit.  My Druids can call on lightning to strike and their tattoos are alive and writhe when they’re angry.  It’s Prosper and Hatchet’s job to solve crimes committed by supernaturals who break the rules.

Prosper teams with Babet, a witch, to solve a murder.  In Muddy River, Raven Black–a fire demon–teams with Hester Wand– a witch–to solve the deaths of thirteen young witches who were just starting their own coven.  Of course–no suprise here–while they work together, they fall for each other.

“Oh, a paranormal romance!” someone says.

“No, wrong emphasis.  A paranormal romance has the romance as the story’s main focus.  Raven and Hester’s relationship is more of a subplot.  The mystery forms the main plotline in my story.”

“Why is it different than an urban fantasy?  You started with those.”

“Urban fantasies are about the bad guys, usually evil, bumping heads with the good guys–the protagonist and his friends.  The battles escalate until it’s life or death at the end of the book.  This book, even though it has a few battles, is about solving the mystery.”

This is when my friends usually scratch their heads.  But fellow writers–they’ll understand.  The main plot line is what distinguishes one kind of story from another.  And this story is …a mystery with a romance subplot in a world peopled by Fae, Druids, witches, vampires, shifters, and one banshee.  And it was really fun to write!  As fun as Babet and Prosper.

A close friend and fellow writer still looks at me, bewildered.  “But why?  Your cozy mysteries are doing so well.”

All writers know that it’s dangerous to switch genres.  People who read cozy mysteries might not want anything to do with a fire demon for an enforcer.

Well, I didn’t know how well The Body in the Attic would sell when I started my second series, did I?  It came as a wonderful, happy surprise.  But I’m not sure it would have made a lot of difference.  I tend to lose interest if I read one author, one genre, over and over again, back to back.  Sorry to say, but that holds true of my writing, too.  I really do love the cozy mysteries I write, but I need to change it up once in a while, or else my writing goes flat.

I have no idea if I can find success with Muddy River, but I’d written three cozies, and I needed a witch or two to break things up.  And it worked.  I’m ready to dig into serious rewrites for Jazzi and Ansel’s fourth book now.

Whatever you’re writing, whatever your writing habits, have a great week of it!

 

A mongrel

Our Chihuahua has enough Pomeranian in him, he loves to snap at my Dear John’s feet–and I’ve been told that’s a Pomeranian trait.  Our cat’s a stray.  And the new story that I started for my webpage isn’t a purebred either.   Just like our pets, it’s a mongrel.

My husband loves it that I’m a writer.  Not enough to read any of the books I write, but he loves the IDEA of my being a writer.  The only exception is that occasionally, he’ll read stories that I put on my webpage, and he ALWAYS read every Babet and Prosper novella I wrote.  He had a thing about Babet and Prosper.  So did some of my friends.  Come to think of it, so did I.  And I miss them once in a while.

I also missed writing mysteries when I wrote urban fantasies.  I’m an Agatha Christie/puzzle solver at heart.  And that’s why I decided to combine the two–supernatural and mystery.  I don’t have any delusions that would sell.  Writing cross-genre books isn’t for anyone who studies markets.  It’s possible to find success if your stars are aligned and a light from heaven beams on your computer, but that hasn’t happened to me yet.  But…that’s what my webpage is for.  It’s for ME.  To write whatever tickles my fancy at the moment.

So, I didn’t want to write a different mystery series right now.  I did that with Chintz and Callum.  And even though I had a ball writing about a caterer and a cop, I yearned to write about witches and demons with a few vampires, Fae, and shape shifters thrown in.  So I decided to write Muddy River Mystery.  It’s sort of a post-as-you-go moment.  I don’t have many chapters written ahead.  But damn, I’m having fun!  And every once in a while, as much as I love meeting deadlines and developing series’ characters, I like to kick up my heels and do something different.

So, my webpage is the big blank page where I get to play.  And that’s exactly what I’m doing.  Enjoying myself.  My wish for you:  that whatever you’re working on now, I hope you enjoy it.  And I hope the words flow for you in 2019.

Stan Lee

I don’t buy comic books and I don’t know much about any of the heroes, but when my grandsons lived with us, they dragged me to see a lot of Iron Man, Avengers, and X Men movies.  And I enjoyed almost all of them.  Just like the urban fantasies that I love, comic book heroes always face overwhelming odds.  Good always versus evil.  The fate of the world is at stake.  And there’s so much action.  How fun is that?  So it surprised me when I listened to a quote by Stan Lee, after his death, where he said, “I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: Entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end.”  (I got that quote from Screen Rant’s list of 10 most important quotes from Stan Lee:  https://screenrant.com/10-inspirational-stan-lee-quotes/ )

I love his words.  When I was a kid, I always wanted to do something important with my life.    It wasn’t about making oodles of money.  It was about changing the world, and in my eight-year-old mind that equated to becoming a teacher.  To me, teachers shaped kids’ minds and kids were our future.  And I didn’t change my opinion all through school and college.  That’s why I taught elementary for six years.  But it dawned on me that yes, teaching was important, but there were so many other factors that shaped a child, my influence was like a pebble dropping into an ocean.  And when laws changed, and Indiana wouldn’t hire anyone with a Master’s Degree anymore when I wanted to return to my old job, I told myself that raising two awesome daughters could change the world, too.  Still believe that.  And then when I discovered writing, I thought I’d found the perfect vehicle for more.

Somewhere in time, though, I realized that serious fiction might not be for me.  I was more drawn to genre novels.  At the first writers’ conference that I ever attended, the speaker asked us to raise our hands if we wrote genre.  My friend and I lifted our arms, and he sneered at us and informed us that we were hack writers, that we only worked for money.  (I wish).  Now, I knew that I’d never be compared to Margaret Atwood or Shakespeare, but that still ticked me off.  I took pride in what I wrote whether he thought it was worthy of literature or not.

A few writer conferences later (and I chose ones that focused on genre fiction), and the speaker asked one of the really talented romance writers why she chose to write “beneath” her.  Again, I silently fumed while the poor writer struggled for an answer.  (She came up with a good one, too.  Not that it satisfied Mr. Smirky Pants).  Since then, I’ve decided that it’s hard to write ANYTHING well.  And if you do a good job, you’ve earned my respect.  I’ve also learned that some people STILL have to have an hierarchy of what’s important literature and what’s not.  That’s their problem, not mine.  But I still fussed about the things that, in my mind, I couldn’t write well.

That’s part of the reason I had so much fun writing outside of my comfort zone for the three short stories I posted on my webpage for the beginning of October.  I’d told myself that I couldn’t write dark and dismal very well.  And when I posted those three stories, I was pretty satisfied with them.  I’d achieved my goal.  And do you know what?  It wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be.  Because they’re not the real me.  Yes, I could write them.  Did I want to write any more?  Not really.  And that was a revelation for me.  I’m happy writing what I write.  That’s why Stan Lee’s quote struck such a chord for me.

I’m grateful to all of the authors who write the books that I love to read, the ones that bring me so much enjoyment.  Stan Lee’s right.  Offering entertainment is an end in itself.  Yes, serious, weighty volumes inspire me, but so do cozy mysteries and smalltown romances.  The world needs people who care about what they do, whether they collect garbage, perform surgeries, sing and dance, or write comic books.  Do what you feel passionate about (within reason:)

P.S.  I won’t be posting another blog until after Thanksgiving, so enjoy the holiday.  And happy writing!