Mysteries

In my first mystery, The Body in the Attic, I meant to write an Agatha Christie type murder where a body is found in the first chapter and then countless witnesses and suspects are introduced until the murder is solved.  That was my intent.  And I didn’t quite stick to it.  But I just finished reading Mary Angela’s A VERY MERRY MURDER.  She purposely structured her book to be like a Christie novel, and she pulled it off.  She even used a Christie story for her protagonist, Professor Emmeline Prather, to teach in her Crime and Passion English class–an elective class that focused on mysteries and romances.  Even better, Angela used the same murder technique for the current mystery that Christie used in hers.  If you’re a Christie fan, it was awesome!

Such attention to detail, alas, I didn’t manage.  I discovered poor Aunt Lynda’s body in the first chapter, yes, but then I introduced a subplot that intrigued me a little too much, and before long, another body was required to move the plot along.  Which, I have to admit, I was pretty happy with.  Which shows that even if you outline, like I do, the best laid plans can go awry.

In my second mystery, The Body in the Wetlands, bodies seemed to pile up without my even trying.  One murder leads to the next and the one after that until Jazzi and Ansel, along with Detective Gaff, finally catch the killer.  The moral of the story?  Try never to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And of course, there’s another dog in this story.  I grew quite fond of Cocoa, the chocolate Lab.

I’ve been reading quite a few mysteries lately, and back when I read Christie, the actual murder and puzzle are what made me turn the pages.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoyed Miss Marple and Poirot.  And Christie could draw a character in only a few brush strokes, so I “knew” them–what motivated them–but didn’t get to know them, if that makes any sense.  Lately, though, I’m every bit as interested in the characters in the story, who they are and what they’re doing, and I’m disappointed if they’re not filled out more.

I liked Mary Angela’s professor and how seriously she took teaching college students who often weren’t as motivated as she was.  I enjoyed the budding romance between Enmeline and Lenny, and I loved the widow who lived across the street and didn’t miss anything.  She was a whiz at baking and let Emmeline know her Christmas cookies were inferior.  All fun stuff that added layers to the story.

I guess, these days, I enjoy lots of different kinds of stories hung on a mystery plot.  The only time I’m disappointed is when the end of the mystery–how it’s solved and whodunnit–aren’t handled well.  After all, it’s a mystery, even if the murder only serves as a foundation to wrap other subplots around.  But I expect a murder, clues, red herrings, and a satisfying conclusion.  The rest is all extras.  I don’t want a murderer pulled out of a hat or for the clues to not add up.  Other than that, I go along for what I hope is a fun ride.  Whatever you’re reading now, I hope it keeps you turning pages and you’re happy you read it when you close the book.

And happy writing!

 

 

 

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Writing: Things I Still Haven’t Gotten Around To

When I started writing the Babet/Prosper novellas, it was because my daughter, Holly, kept bugging me to write more mysteries. I didn’t want to write a novel, but I did get excited about writing short stories. I’ve sold mystery short stories, and I enjoy writing them. That’s how ONE LESS WARLOCK (free on Kindle, Nook, smashwords) came about. It was an experiment to see if I could combine paranormal and mystery elements into a locked room mystery–you know the type, where they find a body in a sealed room. So how did the killer enter or leave? With paranormal, I had more gimmicks to work with. Totally fun. ONE LESS WARLOCK is short, because I intended on making it a one-shot deal–my effort to write a locked-room that would rival Agatha Christie. (Like that’s possible). But then, I really enjoyed Babet and Prosper. I got hooked on River City, and I thought, Why not write other types of mysteries and see how they work with witches and shifters?

I listed some of the types of mysteries that I enjoy. Of course, “puzzles” were at the top of my list. (I am a huge Agatha Christie fan). Try as I might, though, I can never make mine as clever as hers. MAGRAT’S DAGGER started out as a puzzle mystery–with the carved box that the “bad” witch dug up from the witch’s grave and the mummified hand holding the dagger inside it–as a clue. I was happy with the mystery when I finished it, but I fell short of Agatha. So who knows? Someday, I might try a puzzle again. I was happier with my “face in a crowd” mystery–of a person who’s supposedly been dead for years–when I wrote A DIFFERENT UNDEAD. Again, when you can mix paranormal and necromancers in the mix, anything’s possible. BAD JUJU was my stab at a missing person mystery. Who took her? Why? But then the paranormal elements started swallowing the mystery elements, and my whole process got a little murky. Which means there are still lots of types of mysteries that call to me. CELT SECRETS was my stab at the villain who kidnaps the hero’s girlfriend to use as leverage. I liked that, but I still want to write a Ten Little Indians plot, (by Christie)–where people are stranded somewhere and one person dies at a time–like the game and movie CLUE. And there are still the switched identity gimmicks, a suspense/thriller type story with a ticking clock, and maybe even a spy/betrayal type.

I’ve tried to write a mystery that hinges on handwriting analysis, and the idea still fascinates me. The entire process intrigues me. Which way does your writing slant? What does that say about you? What are your loops like in your letters–open or closed? http://www.viewzone.com/handwriting.html My friend wrote a story that pivots on handwriting, and I’m jealous, but it’s still on my “to do” list.

I can add another. I want to write a story from the POV of an unreliable character–but those are tricky. I could go on and on, but I hope you have the same problem I do–more ideas for stories than time to write them. Still, it’s fun having a “list” of things to do. Life never gets boring. So I hope you’re brimming with ideas, too, and happy writing!

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

BTW: Michael finished the cover for my 2nd Empty Altars book: Spinners of Misfortune. I love it! Hopefully, the book will be online soon. I think the cover hints at the Norse myths in the story line.
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Writing: Who are your favorite writers & Do they influence you?

I’m at the end of reading a novel that I loved–The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence.  And it’s reminded me that I’ve read LOTS of dark fiction in my time.  Dark fiction, to me, is different than horror.  Horror aims to scare.  Dark fiction means to disturb.  I think “disturb” lasts longer.  But that’s not my point for this blog.  I was thinking about which authors have stood out, for me, above others.  And it made me wonder how much they’ve influenced my writing.

I’ve said before that I was a James Fenimore Cooper fan when I was in middle school.  His most famous novel was The Last of the Mohicans, but he wrote an entire series with Natty Bumppo (later known as Hawkeye) as his protagonist.  Natty’s parents were settlers, but he was raised by Delaware Indians and became involved in the conflicts of the Mohican and Huron Indians, and the white settlers and the Indians.  He developed a set of ethics that were his own and a moral ambiguity that combined his Indian upbringing and his white heritage.  And that’s what appealed to me about those books–that feeling of straddling two worlds, sympathizing with the good of both and irritated with the wrongs of both.  I like stories about protagonists that don’t fit in anywhere.   Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson was raised by werewolves, but she isn’t one.  Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels has magic and a bloodline that she tries to hide, and Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock has a heritage that she’s slowly starting to remember.  That type of protagonist–the loner who struggles to live by her own rules–spilled over into my Fallen Angels novels.  Enoch is fighting a losing battle.  He doesn’t want to stay on Earth, but Caleb doesn’t ever want to go Home.

During high school, Latin and Shakespeare filled my mind with myths and legends, tragedies and political intrigue.  I enjoyed the epic battles to wrest power from one another, both on Bosworth Field and at Troy, as the Greeks tried to defeat the Trojans.  Myths have crept into many of my stories, especially Empty Altars and some of my novellas.  And as I read Prince of Thorns, I couldn’t help comparing The Prince of Thorns with Shakespeare’s Richard III.  Both Jorg and Richard decide to become villains and to excel at it–at least in literature.

The next author who captivated me–and held me for years–was Agatha Christie.  With a few deft strokes, she created characters that I felt I knew, and she taunted me with red herrings and clues as I tried to solve her mystery’s puzzle before her protagonist did.  But it wasn’t just the murders that dazzled me.  She often wrote about exotic locations, and she firmly believed…and stated…that anyone was capable of murder, if put in the right circumstances.  Christie taught me the fine art of plotting.  I followed my Christie years with books by Nancy Pickard, Martha Grimes, and Elizabeth George.  They might not be the masters of puzzles and plots that Christie was, but they took mysteries and pushed them into literary gems.  Their use of language and characterization made me long to string words together to higher levels.

The last authors I’ll mention in this post are Jane Austen and Georgette Heyers.  They fascinated me for an entirely different reason.  They excelled at social mannerisms, which was just plain fun, but they also excelled at the independent, feisty female protagonist.  I tried out a few female P.I. novels, but they didn’t give me the same sense of enjoyment.  I don’t mind sarcasm or cynicism–it often appeals to me–but the P.I.s I read felt just plain jaded.  And that didn’t intrigue me.  I didn’t find heroines I liked nearly as much until I found urban fantasy.  And those females added more.  They didn’t just have wits and smarts and a thumb-your-nose at the world attitude, they also carried weapons and knew how to use them.  A literary bonanza.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, among all the authors I found and loved, I also found a supply of short stories that became a steady stream of entertainment for me.  Every Christmas, I asked for the anthology, The Year’s Best in Fantasy and Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.  And I slowly indulged myself in the best twisted, dark stories available for that year.  As I said, I like dark…

What authors are your favorites?  And how have they influenced you?  Or your writing?

Writing Puzzles & Mysteries

I used to write mystery short stories.  I’m a lifelong fan of Agatha Christie.  And my daughter, Holly, used to read most of my manuscripts before I sent them off.  She still reads a lot of them, and she enjoys my stabs at urban fantasy, but she started to bug me to write a good, old Agatha-style cozy again.  She said she missed reading the types of stories I used to create.

The thing is, since I’ve started writing urban fantasies, I yearn for a touch of magic in my plots, so I squirmed and protested.  But she wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I played with the idea of adding supernatural elements to a nice, cozy murder.  And not just any murder.  I decided to try my hand at a locked room mystery.  Nothing mundane like a latch that automatically falls when the killer shuts the door behind him, either.  I wanted a murder where the crime is committed and solved by a paranormal.

I have to admit, killing an evil warlock in his own living room was a lot of fun.  Trying to decide how someone got past all of his magic wards was even better.  And doing it all in a short format–I gave myself 40 pages–was the icing on the cake.  Holly was right.  I’d missed writing short, and I’d missed writing mysteries.  So this summer, I’ve given myself permission to write as many 40-page stories as I can get done.  It’s my treat to myself.  And to Holly.  And hopefully, other readers might like them too.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/one-less-warlock-judith-post/1111504307?ean=2940033249435  (It’s free).

 

Five Books That Matter To You

I read a blog post yesterday that stuck with me.  The author listed five books he thought people should read.  When I was younger, I read my share of classics (mostly British, not American).  Fell in love with Pride & Prejudice, fought my way through Dickens (his wordiness was a struggle for me), became enamored of James Fenimore Cooper.  Took a class on Shakespeare, read Vanity Fair, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Tess of the d’ Urbervilles, among others.  All worthy reads, and I’m sure they made me a better writer.  But when the time came, and I actually put pen to paper (all right, fingers to keys) years later, they were dim memories.  The books that influenced my writing the most were the ones that made me crave the next novel in the series, the ones whose characters lived in my mind, and whose plots made me keep turning the pages.  I have a sad feeling that I’m a genre junkie, and this list will prove it.  (These writers are listed in the sequence I discovered them, not in order of preference, and if I staggered between 2 authors in the same time period, I listed both–sort of a cheat, but there you have it).

1.  Agatha Christie.  For me, no one can compete with Agatha’s complicated, convoluted plots, red herrings, hidden clues, and complex puzzles.  It was fun to strive to match wits with her, hard to beat Poirot or Miss Marple to a conclusion.

2.  Nancy Pickard and Carolyn Hart.  These two women both wrote brilliant, traditional mysteries.  Nancy Pickard’s Jenny Cain had depth of character that I strove to achieve in my own writing.  Her short stories were extraordinary.  Carolyn Hart’s Max and Annie series mixed a playfulness with serious plotting ability that I admired.

3.  Elizabeth George.  When I read Great Deliverance, it blew me away.  Elizabeth George writes literary mysteries, and her writing bedazzles me.  I can burrow into her language for the long haul and return to the light a happy girl.

4.  Martha Grimes.  I have to warn people that it’s better to start at the beginning of Martha Grimes’ novels, because occasionally, her characters have become almost caricatures of themselves in her later books.  Each of her titles is the name of a pub in England.  Her writing can go from poignant to hilarious in the turn of a page.  Few authors do children as well as she does.  And quirks and eccentricities and all, I thoroughly enjoy her.

5.  Patricia Briggs.  I have to admit, I’ve only read her Mercy Thompson series and a few of her earlier novels.  I was charmed by When Demons Walk.  It felt like a fun and witty romp.  But I fell in love with Mercy Thompson.  She’s a heroine who feels REAL.  And the interplay between Briggs’ characters of all varieties seems genuine.  Briggs is the author who hooked me on urban fantasy.

My bookshelves are crammed with many more books, many more authors whom I can’t bring myself to part with.  So this is only a bare-bones list of the writers I love to read.  I chose these five because they influenced the direction of my writing.  If you had to pick a top five–of your own making–who’d be on your list?