Just For Fun

Yesterday, I started working on my second Lux Mystery.  The first one is still on my agent’s desk, working its way to the top before I get any feedback from her.  It’s a straight mystery, and I don’t know if she’ll be interested in it or not.  But I’ve already delivered the 6th book to fulfill my Jazzi Zanders contract for Kensington, so I have some time to play, and I want to write another Lux.  So I am:)  I already plotted the entire book out.  Now I get to try to bring those plot points to life.

That means my head will be shifting gears, leaving Muddy River and witches and warlocks behind.  Before I leave them entirely, though, I thought I’d explain why I like urban fantasies so much…but not in a very serious discussion.  Why does UF appeal to me?

  1.  UF heroines are kick-ass.  They make great friends, wonderful allies, and deadly enemies.
  2.  There’s magic.  Who doesn’t like magic?
  3.   The plots are good vs. bad.  I always know who to root for:)
  4.   There are battles, then more battles, that lead to a final, BIG battle.  (I like battles).
  5.   The guy love interests are powerful and sexy.  They come with different magicks.  And they all sound scrumptious.  So…which would you prefer?

A.  Vampires can glamour you and make your pulse race…before they bite you.

B.  A fire demon (like Raven) can bring the heat.

C.  A shifter (any variety) has animal magnetism…before he becomes one.

D.  A phoenix keeps things fresh, especially after he bursts into flames & starts over.

E.  An incubus can take your breath away…all of it.

F.  A warlock is magical.

G.  Voodoo can lift your spirit…and call it back.

Muddy River has them all, and they mix and mingle.  And they all play well together.  For a few months (or more), they’ll get to enjoy some down time while I focus on mysteries, but after I finish Lux, I’ll pop back in on their happy settlement to stir up some trouble and toss them into another supernatural mess.  I bet they won’t miss me while I’m gone:)

In the meantime, I hope all of you have a wonderful three day weekend, and Happy Memorial Day.

I’m impressed

I just finished another Lynn Cahoon Tourist Trap mystery:  TEACUPS AND CARNAGE.  I really enjoyed it.  And it proved that all of the truths that I’d stashed in my tiny little brain about writing could be laughed at.

This book, according to every article I’ve ever read about writing, did everything wrong.  And I loved it.  Jill, who runs the coffee shop in the Tourist Trap series, is the protagonist, and she’s DETERMINED not to get involved in another murder investigation in South Cove.  Her boyfriend, Greg, who’s the law enforcer for the area, is tired of having to rescue her when she figures out who the real killer is and ends up in their crosshairs.

But people come to her coffee shop and keep telling her things that pertain to the murder.  The woman who owns the new shop across the street from hers brings her problems to Jill.  This means that Jill REACTS to everything she’s trying to stay out of.  She’s NOT actively trying to investigate.  But she can’t help but be involved.  A whole lot of the plot; therefore, doesn’t revolve around Jill trying to solve the murder.  It deals with how busy Jill is with everything during summer in South Cove.  So busy that murder is pushed to the fringes of her life.

But readers STILL know that Jill’s going to be involved in solving the case.  It’s a pretty clever device, to be honest.  The reader finds herself busier trying to solve the case than Jill (supposedly) is.  I was impressed.

Of course, at the end, Greg still has to rescue Jill. but it’s totally not her fault this time.  And the ending is pretty upbeat.  I really enjoyed this book.  I try to learn something from every book I read, but this time, I don’t think I could pull her gimmick off.  But it worked.  Kudos to Lynn Cahoon.

Mystery Musings

I read a twitter post that made me happy.  Lynn Cahoon is coming out with a new series, The Kitchen Witch.  I’m a fan of her Tourist Trap mysteries.  Add a witch to her whodunnits, and I’m in.  I have a soft spot for nice witches and magic.

Way, way back when I wrote urban fantasies as Judith Post, I wrote a lot of Babet & Prosper short reads.  Babet was a witch, and Prosper was a bear shifter and a detective for supernatural crimes.  They lived in a city with a feel a bit like New Orleans.  I wrote them mostly for fun, like I write Muddy River now as Judi Lynn.  When I signed with Kensington to write romances, though, I left all of my urban fantasy behind.

After I wrote six Mill Pond romances, my editor let me try writing a cozy mystery, and that’s how the Jazzi Zanders mysteries came to be.  But I missed the world of magic, and I noticed there were a lot of witch and wizard mysteries making their way onto Amazon.  I bought and enjoyed quite a few of them–witches who worked in chocolate shops, in bakeries, in small towns.  A lot of them had art for covers instead of models.  Paintings of witches with black, pointy hats and black dresses.  A lot of them were fun, light-hearted mysteries, and I enjoy them.

That’s not what I wrote when I started Muddy River, though.  And that’s probably a marketing mistake, but I don’t have a lot of confidence in my ability to write humor.  I used it in my first romance–COOKING UP TROUBLE, because I didn’t have much confidence that I could write romance either:)  I’m still not sure either is my strong point.  Mae Clair, who wrote the Hode’s Hill suspense series that I love, turned to humor for her short read, IN SEARCH OF McDOOGLE, and she nailed it.  McDoogle was the perfect read for the end of a long, tiring day.

I like humor.  Sometimes, I’m even funny.  I’m just not a natural at it.  But I’ve noticed that it works really well with good witches.  And when Lynn Cahoon’s book comes out late August, I’m looking forward to see what her witch is up to.

 

Jazzi & Ansel

In THE BODY FROM THE PAST, available on NetGalley and due out in September, https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/191452   Jazzi finds a girl’s treasure chest when she, Ansel, and Jerod are clearing a house to fix up.  The girl died shortly before high school graduation.  Jerod calls her family but they don’t want it.  Jazzi doesn’t feel right, throwing away all of Jessica’s memories, so she wants to take the chest home to look through it.  Ansel’s not so thrilled about that, and here’s why:

Ansel closeup

*********************************************************************************

Ansel pinched off a small bite of his sandwich to share with George, who’d come to beg. “I don’t want to get involved in whatever happened. It couldn’t have been good if the family had to run from it.”

“I can’t throw away her treasure chest.” Jazzi raised her chin, digging in. “I’m taking it home with us and looking through it.”

Ansel closed his eyes and counted to ten. “And what if someone murdered her? What then?”

“They’re probably in prison, and I won’t visit them.”

He sighed. “And you’ll leave it alone? Even if the case wasn’t solved?”

“I don’t know Jessica. I’ll feel sorry for her, but we’re not involved with her past. It’s not as if it’s one of our friends or family.”

His shoulders relaxed and he fed George another pinch of food. “I’m going to hold you to that.”

“Fine. But it will drive me nuts if I don’t dig around inside that chest.”

He nodded, and Jerod shook his head. “I was a witness to this whole conversation. Ansel can use me as backup, cuz.”

“First of all, you’re my cousin, and I’m the one who cooks for you. But if you want to be like that, you two can be bosom buddies and do your thing.”

Jerod rolled his eyes. “I’m not choosing Ansel over you. But the man has a point. You don’t need to get involved in every murder that falls into your lap.”

Pressing her lips tight, she raised an eyebrow at him. “Fine.”

“When women say fine, it’s always a red flag.” Jerod stood to throw away his paper plate. “If it comes to sticking up for you, Ansel, or choosing Jazzi’s minestrone soup, she wins.”

Ansel let out a puff of aggravation.

Yippee!

I finished the rewrites of my Muddy River short read.  It ended up being a little over 15,000 words, so an Amazon 90-minute read.  On top of that, I designed a cover I like for it.  This story did exactly what I wanted it to do.  It put my mind in a whole different mode than writing mysteries.  I think I’ve found something that works for me.  There’s no guarantee that Muddy River will ever be a success, but it lets me write with a lot more freedom than mysteries do.  So I’m going to keep doing it between each mystery novel I finish.  I should be ready to put it up soon, so here goes:

BOUNTY HUNTED--Muddy River cover--4.5

Muddy River’s charming bartender, Derek–a powerful vampire–left New York centuries ago to escape his succubus lover, Allure.  He moved to Muddy River and eventually mated with Prim Tallow, a Fae.  But Allure’s finally found him, knows where he lives.  And she wants him back.

 

How Much Tension Do You Want?

I’ve been yakking about Ilona Andrews’s SAPPHIRE FLAMES since I finished reading it.  The book and the writing have stayed me with a while.  It made me think about a lot of different things.  And tension is one of them.

Since I’ve been writing cozies for a while now, I’ve been working on making page turns rely on different dynamics than fighting terrible odds, supernatural monsters, serial killers, or ticking clocks.  Cozies have a quieter tension–discovering clues and adding them up, ignoring red herrings, and discovering the killer before the protagonist does.  Every story has to have conflict, but in cozies, it could be trying to worm a secret out of someone you’re questioning, trying to add up evidence to get closer to finding the killer.

One of the reasons I like writing Muddy River is because the tension is about trying to survive or help someone else survive.  It’s about life and death.  Ilona Andrews uses that kind of conflict in her novels, only she ratchets it up to almost every scene.  And that’s the fun of reading her.  I can’t turn the pages fast enough to see how her protagonists are going to survive another battle against an even stronger opponent.  Muddy River doesn’t do that.  There are battles, yes, but there “down” scenes, too, because I like the people and their lives and their dynamics together.

I like low-key tension as much as I like nail-biters.  Literary tension might be the one I struggle with most.  Inner conflict doesn’t grip me as much as it does my daughters.  My younger daughter says it’s her favorite.  Anyway, I’ve spent some time thinking about how to develop conflict and tension lately.  And these are just a few of my random thoughts, nothing deep or momentous, just ponderings:

  1.  Personal Stakes:  In literary reads, the entire plot might revolve around a person getting to know who they are and what they want of themselves and life and struggling to get that.  That internal struggle is what builds tension.  For example, a book could be about an alcoholic who’s trying to stop drinking.  No easy thing to do.  It could be about an abused child who’s trying to live an ordinary life as an adult and overcome the fears and defense mechanisms she developed to cope.  The emotional toll is high, and the stakes for finding happiness or even normalcy are high.  But they aren’t life or death.  The country won’t go into chaos if the hero doesn’t succeed.  There’s no ticking clock.  That’s why it’s personal, but we can all relate to them.
  2.   Low Stakes:  In romances, again, the stakes are personal.  The tension is driven by emotions, people hoping to find love.  Girl meets boy.  Attraction flares, but obstacles get in the way.  Can the two people overcome those obstacles and get together?  Stakes are low in cozies, too.  There’s a murder.  There’s a good reason the amateur sleuth gets involved in solving that murder.  He or she interviews people, looks for clues, and won’t be satisfied until he finds the truth.  In both of these types of books, the tension ebbs and flows.  It peaks when failure looms on the horizon, then dips when something new happens to advance the plot.  These books have rhythms and often revolve around four turning points in the story.  The protagonist might be in danger of failing to achieve his goal, but his life is rarely at risk.  There are “soft spots” for the reader to land before the next push forward.
  3. Medium Stakes:  I’d put straight mysteries in this category, adventure stories, some thrillers, and maybe most paranormals.  There’s more action.  There’s more possibility for physical harm.  The cost of failure isn’t just emotional, but maybe getting beat up, stabbed, or shot, too.  The person a cop or hero is trying to protect might die if the hero can’t stay a step ahead of the antagonist.  The hero might die trying to protect him.
  4.  High Stakes:  Every chapter brings a new danger.  There’s not one murder at the beginning of the book and maybe a second or third one later to keep up the pace.  High stakes is when the protagonist and the antagonist fight it out from the beginning of the book to the end, and the protagonist’s life is almost always in danger.  Often, there’s a ticking clock.  Sometimes, the battle starts small–like in women in jeopardy novels–and escalates to the end.  Always, the tension builds from the first chapter to the last.  Everything intensifies.  Often, the protagonist loses someone he’s close to or cares about.  The stakes have to be high.
  5.   Ilona Andrews’s Urban Fantasies:  The stakes are off the chart.  The opponents take off their gloves at the beginning of the book and duke it out over and over again until the stakes are so high, you’re wrung out by the time you finish the last page.  And everything in the stories create tension:  a.  almost every conversation is fraught with tension.  People disagree, argue, threaten each other, try to outmaneuver each other, and try to worm information from one another.   b.  romantic tension:  the attraction between the protagonist and her love interest almost feels like sparring; the physical attraction is off the charts, but one or both of them resist it  c. the clashes build bigger and more dangerous from the first to the final, BIG do-or-die battle.

No matter what kind of book you write, the stakes have to keep getting higher.  The protagonist has to have more to lose.  Unless you write humor.  And in all honesty, I’ve never done it, don’t read much of it, and I just don’t know:)  (Except I did read Mae Clair’s IN SEARCH OF McDOODLE and loved it).  But whatever you’re working on now, good luck and happy writing!

The Building Blocks of Story: Scenes

Great writing advice from Staci Troilo at Story Empire

Story Empire

Ciao, SEers. Last time, we discussed Dwight Swain’s concepts of scenes and sequels. (If you missed that post, you can find it here.) Remember, a chapter’s scenes can be one of two things, a scene or a sequel. Today, we’re going to go deeper into the concept of scenes.

What are scenes?

Scenes are the “proactive” units of a story. They introduce and advance goals, conflicts, and disasters. Scenes should have all three items before advancing to the following sequel. Why must they include all three? Because all three are necessary for tension. And without tension, there’s no reason for a reader to turn the page.

Goals:

A goal is simply what your POV character desires. It could be:

  • an object (the Holy Grail)
  • a position (POTUS)
  • a state of being (overcome an injury)
  • a change in status (going from captive to freedom)

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