Mystery Musings

My critique partner and I exchanged manuscripts last week.  We read and marked up each other’s pages and exchanged them again at writers’ club on Wednesday.  I value her comments, and hopefully, she values mine.  We write in different genres, but she reads mysteries now and again, and I read Regencies and enjoy historical mysteries from 1790 to the late 1890’s (I can be had by a Jack the Ripper time period story).

Unlike my friend, I’m not an expert on either the actual events of the prince regent or Queen Victoria’s England.  But Regencies, like Jane Austen, concentrate a great deal on social mannerisms and the aristocracy, and I enjoy both.  When I think of Queen Victoria, unfortunately, I think of squalor and social injustice.   One of the reasons I enjoyed Carnival Row on Prime TV was because it reminded me of Victorian England, which might make you think that I’d love everything Charles Dickens.  But you’d be wrong.  I struggled through his books, mostly because of his writing style.  Now mind you, there’s plenty of squalor and social injustice around today, but it’s too real, so I only read about it infrequently, and only if it’s the background for a great mystery.

Once you hit World War I or the roaring twenties or, even worse, Hitler and World War II, it’s slower going for me unless the story tempts me so much, I bite the bullet and plow through the rest.  I make an exception for Agatha Christie, who did include events surrounding World War II in her mysteries, but then, she didn’t dwell on them and they’re only there to add weight to her crimes.

I was a huge fan of Georgette Heyer, and my friend, Julia Donner, writes Regencies that remind me of hers.  They mix romance and dire circumstances into a stew that keeps me turning pages.  And there’s often humor.  One of the reasons I enjoy Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series so much is the time period–1830.  Men ruled the world and practically owned their wives.  They could beat them as long as they didn’t kill them, but there were always women who proved to be the  exceptions.  Lady Darby’s first husband mistreated her cruelly, and his death brought scandal on her.  But she’s smart and resilient, and her second marriage to Sebastian Gage allows her to become his partner in solving crimes.  Her books offer intriguing chunks of history with clever mysteries.

Another writer who mines historical mysteries during the Regency years is Darcie Wilde with her Rosalind Thorne series.  Again, a noble woman is reduced to restricted circumstances but overcomes her near poverty by solving crimes for wealthy ladies who’d rather keep their secrets…secret.  I read and enjoyed the second book in the series, A Purely Private Matter.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t add Gothic literature to my list of time periods that tempt me.  Anna Lee Huber’s novels often have that same dark, brooding feeling, often in an isolated area like the ones old Gothic romances employed.  They make me think of Jane Eyre, an educated woman alone, sent to an imposing house with dark secrets, who falls for the brooding, often rude, man who employs her.  What fun!

Do you enjoy historical novels?  If so, does a particular period tempt you more than others?  Is there a period that you’d rather avoid?  I go back and forth between historical and contemporary novels.  That gives me variety, which I like.  Do you prefer contemporary?  (I love comments.)

Materialistic or Spiritual?

A wonderful man belongs to my writers’ group.  He’s a retired cop from Milwaukee, AND he teaches philosophy.  He’s writing a memoir about the experiences he had on the force from the time he was young and inexperienced to the time he retired, and his stories go from laugh out loud to deadly serious.  I love listening to him read when it’s his turn to share.

Since he has a philosophical bent, he told me that he believes most modern literature is materialistic, not spiritual.  I replied that I wasn’t sure I agreed with that.  But when he asked me why, I had a harder time coming up with an answer.  I’m not a fast thinker.  I have to ponder ideas and sort them.  But after pondering away, I haven’t changed my mind.  Maybe that’s because of the reading material I choose.

I read predominately mysteries, but I intersperse them with other genres.  And here’s what I think and the authors who’ve made me think it:

First, I don’t necessarily equate the spiritual with religion, just as I don’t necessarily equate justice with the law.  To me, being a spiritual person equates with trying to find the greatest good in ourselves, the divine.  And I’ll be honest.  I struggle with that, because I’m never sure exactly what I believe that means.  Anyway, here are my thoughts about the spiritual in literature:

I’ve only read two William Kent Krueger mystery/thrillers featuring Cork O’Connor–Iron Lake and Boundary Waters–but Cork wrestles with doing the right thing and balancing his Native American culture and beliefs with his Irish-Catholic upbringing.  Indian mysticism flavors everything in the stories.  Nature plays a powerful force.  The books are as much about Cork’s character as they are about surviving and catching the bad guys.

I’m a fan of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby historical mysteries.  Kiera Darby survived a horrible first marriage.  In the 1830s, husbands OWNED their wives.  They could abuse them nearly any way they chose.  Sebastian Gage’s mother married beneath her, a commoner, and her family taunted and ridiculed young Sebastian.  When Kiera and Sebastian meet and fall in love, they both struggle to overcome their pasts and to treat those they meet, even their servants, even people who have wronged them, with respect.  They work to rise above the harsh lessons they’ve endured in life.  The quality of a person matters more to them than titles or wealth.  Is that a spiritual journey?  It feels like one to me.

But I’ve read lots of books where a plot revolves around people trying to find answers and overcoming their faults and shortcomings even while the main plot might rotate around a murder or romance.  M.L. Rigdon’s The Gracarin is a fantasy where the warrior Torak rules a country whose religion is based on nature and music, harmony, and where women are treated as equals.  He forms an alliance with another country that has a more structured religion, but the leaders of both worlds abhor debauchery, cruelty, and excess. They join forces to conquer the corrupt rulers of the wharf.  In many urban fantasies, the theme is good vs. evil.  Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series has an over arcing story question of Kate battling her father, who wants power for power’s sake.   Kate often doubts herself and her choices, which makes her journey all the more real.  Many mysteries star protagonists who try not to be stained by the bad people they battle.  They try not to stoop to their enemies’ levels.

In an extreme example, in Mark Lawrence’s fantasy, PRINCE OF THORNS, Jorg watched enemies kill his mother and young brother before they leave him for dead.  Worse, when he’s rescued and his father, the king, learns what has happened, he chooses not to go to war over the incident.  It would be too costly.  Angry and disillusioned, Jorg runs away and joins a band of ruffian misfits.  While he’s away, the king remarries, and when his new bride has a son, the king–his own father–wants Jorg dead.  Jorg does despicable things in the book, but it’s hard to hate him, because everyone else is worse, even the peasants.  Their hate is selfish and random.  Jorg’s enemies kill for land or profit, but Jorg kills to build an army strong enough to ultimately make him a ruler.  And he swears he’ll be a good one.  He has a conscience and a code of ethics, but they’re brutal by any standards.  But then, so are the times.  Jorg’s far from the spiritual journey most think of, but his struggles are real and beg the question: Does the end ever justify the means?  Everything in Jorg’s world is relative.  Does that preclude his journey from being spiritual?

I still don’t know if I have an answer to my friend’s question.  It’s possible I’m too practical to be philosophical.  Can a person be idealistic and practical at the same time?  I’m not sure.  But it was fun to consider the books I’ve read in a different light.  Any opinions you’d like to share?

 

 

Changing Things Up

Years ago, there was a romance writer that I found, and I got a kick out of the blurb for her book, bought it, read it, and loved it.  I went right out and bought the second book in the series.  When I read it, it was still fun, but it was SO much like the first book, it felt like I’d just changed the names and a couple of plot points and everything else was the same.  But I didn’t let that discourage me.  I bought book three.  And…same old, same old.  That was the last book of hers I bought.

But, on the other hand, I had a mystery writer who was an automatic buy for me until–and I’m guessing on the reason here–she decided she didn’t want to write straight mysteries.  She wanted to write something more serious with more angst that tackled bigger subjects, and her characters had to suffer more.  I endured that book and bought the next one, hoping the change was just a fluke, but nope.  The next book tackled subjects that were grimmer than the previous book’s, and I was over it.

I buy certain books to suit my moods.  I like Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap mysteries as much to visit South Cove as to guess who dunnit.  I want to hear the banter between Jill and her sheriff/boyfriend Greg.  I want to know what Jill’s aunt is up to this time.  When I want a warm read to lift my mood, Tourist Trap does the trick.  Another automatic read for me is Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby books.  Her mysteries steep me in Gothic atmosphere.  I enjoy sinking into the world of 1830’s England, Scotland, and Ireland.  I enjoy the growing relationship between Kiera and Gage.  I expect long descriptions, mixed with history, and a moody vibe.

Are there some things that feel repetitious?  Sometimes.  Do I care?  Not that much.  They settle me back into those worlds, the feel of the books.  Can too much repetition drive me nuts?  Only if it feels like every book is a rehash of the one before it.  And what changes that up?  New plots, new characters.  Different questions for the new book to answer.  I want a new story that’s not like the old story every time I visit that author’s world.

I’m new to the J.D. Robb In Death series.  Do I have certain expectations when I start one of her books?  Oh, yeah.  Eve Dallas is tough and gritty.  The murders are visceral and grim.  Roarke is richer than Midas with a lot more connections and a questionable background, and he’d move heaven and earth for Eve.  I’m only now finishing book three, but even though the tone stays consistent for each book so far, the stories keep surprising me.

Can a series book change too much?  It can for me.  When I pick up a book and it doesn’t come close to my expectations, the reason I chose to read it, I’m not a happy fan girl.  So, the trick is to keep each book fresh in a series but to keep the tone and feel of the book similar to the last one I read.  That doesn’t mean one book can’t be more serious or more humorous than the last one, but it can’t feel like some other author usurped my favorite author’s name and tricked me.  Simple, huh?  Hah!  Nothing about writing is easy.  At least not for me.  But think about why you keep buying books in a series.  What keeps you coming back for more?

Whatever you’re working on, happy writing!  And have a great Labor Day weekend.

P.S. I put up a new snippet on Monday for Muddy River and another new snippet on Thursday from The Body in the Gravel, if you’re following either.  And I forgot to pin the Jazzi snippet to my twitter page.  (Shame on me).

Getting excited

I signed up for two conferences this year, both near the end of conference season.  I went to Magna cum Murder in Indy at the end of October last year and decided to go back for their 25th anniversary.  25 years!  And last year, when the hostess asked people to raise their hands who’d come from Day One, a LOT of people raised their hands.  Now that’s a dedicated crowd.  I’m not the type of person who makes instant friends, so I’m looking forward to seeing who’s there again this year and what they’ve done since I saw them last.

Magna cum Murder isn’t aimed for writers.  There were no panels on the state of the industry, poisons, or how to market.  The panels were geared for readers, but oh, were those readers prolific.  They knew their stuff.  I love talking shop with fellow writers, but I love talking to serious readers, too.  And this conference is packed with them.

The second event I’ve signed up for is “CozyClub Mini-Con Midwest.”  My publisher, Kensington, organized it.  It’s on Saturday, September 7–the weekend after Labor Day– from 11 a.m. to 1:00 at Pierogi Mountain (German Village) 739 S 3rd St. in Columbus, Ohio.  Okay, pierogis instantly caught my attention.  But then I read the list of authors who’ve signed up for author signings, and I’m going all fan girl.

I’m sure every author is wonderful, and one might be your favorite, so I’ll list them, but a few of my favorites are going to be there.  Here are the names:  Alex Erickson, Amanda Flower, Anna Lee Huber, C.M. Gleason, Cheryl Hollon, Christin Brecher, Debra H. Goldstein, Ginger Bolton, J.C. Kenney, J.R. Ripley, Julie Ann Lindsay, Lynn Cahoon, Olivia Matthews, Annelise Ryan, Rose Pressey, Sherry Harris, Carlene O’Connor, Kate Dyer-Seeley, Lena Gregory, Winnie Archer, and ME.  At least, that’s the line-up for now.  The book seller is The Book Loft in Columbus, Ohio.

If you read my recommendations on BookBub, you’ll know that I’m hooked on Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series and Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap series.  And J.C. Kenney has written two mysteries, and I liked them both.  https://www.bookbub.com/authors/judi-lynn?list=reviews&review_step=search

I’m dragging my poor husband with me to both conferences (lucky him:), and I have an old friend who lives in Columbus that I hope to meet up with and maybe go out for supper with once the mini-con is over.  And my daughter and grandson both live in Indy, so both conferences are a win/win for me.  Sometimes, I do well at conferences and sound halfway intelligent.  Sometimes, I get nervous and it’s dodgy.  But it’s nice to leave my writing cave once in a while and see what’s out there, to meet fellow writers in the flesh instead of just reading their blogs or twitter posts.

I have writers’ club this Wednesday, and it feels like sitting down with old friends, talking plots, dialogue, pacing, and word choice.  They keep me on my toes.  But it will be nice to meet some new people and see what they have to say.    Whether you’re locked in a little room by yourself, sitting in your gazebo or by your pool with your laptop, or meeting up with fellow writers, all the best.  And happy writing!

Historical Fiction

My husband reads lots of nonfiction, especially history and biographies.  I, on the other hand, love a book with a historical background, but I prefer fiction.  I want a plot, a story, with a sense of a time period.

Right now, I’m reading the second book in Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series, MORTAL ARTS.  Set in Scotland in 1830, it’s a mystery–a little on the dark side–with the feeling of English lords and ladies with a bit of Gothic thrown in.  I’m a fan.

I recently read Mae Clair’s END OF DAY, with a present day mystery linked to a heinous event that happened during the founding of Hode’s Hill in 1799.  The chapters from the past added depth and gravity to a curse that’s released when Gabriel Vane’s remains are stolen from the town’s old church yard.  Those scenes from the past were vivid and emotional.

Another author I return to with every new book she writes is my friend Julia Donner/ M.L. Rigdon.  I love her Regency romances.  They take me back to my love of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen.  But she’s started a new historical Western romance series, and I love those books every bit as much.

That’s why I’m happy to share that the first book in her Westward Bound series, AVENUE TO HEAVEN, is available now on a Goodreads giveaway.  100 lucky winners will receive an e-book copy of her book.  Here’s the link:  https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway?sort=recently_listed&tab=recently_listed.  And here’s a tiny tease about her book:

Mary Lou's Avenur to Heaven twitter post

Hope you have a great week and Happy Writing!