Love and Marriage

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HH and I have survived the ups and downs of life and still like each other…a lot. Our 50th anniversary is August 21st, so our family has gone together to rent a vacation house on Tybee Island to celebrate. Both of our daughters will be there. One’s bringing her significant other and the other her husband. We really like both of them. Our grandson and his wife are coming. Yay. So is our second grandson with his girlfriend. It will be the first time we meet her. HH’s brother and his partner will be there, too. We’re so looking forward to seeing everyone and having a good time.

HH and I have been lucky, and we know it. Some of our friends haven’t fared as well. Divorces are few, but some of our friends have lost spouses to diabetes, cancer, and other health problems. It takes a long time–longer than a year of grieving–for the spouse who survived to enjoy life again. In the book [‘m working on now, POSED IN DEATH, Laurel–my protagonist–and Nick–her romantic interest–are both widows. Laurel’s husband died of a heart attack three years ago and Nick’s wife was killed in a random shooting a year before that. They both had two children who are now grown, and they’re both lonely. Neither of them was looking for someone…until they met each other.

Marriages–good and bad–play an important part in the book. A serial killer is stalking married women in their forties. When Laurel and Nick question people who might know why one of Laurel’s best friends was targeted, they discover that there are all kinds of marriages and different reasons they work or don’t work. But, was Maxine really targeted by the Midlife Murderer, or did a copycat killer try to make it look that way?

When I started to write POSED IN DEATH, I didn’t realize marriage was going to be such a strong theme in the book, but it’s been interesting to see what I can do with the good, the bad, and the ugly bits Not every marriage is happy or even healthy. And that adds to a mystery:).

Amateur Sleuths

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!

Heirlooms To Die For: Lux Mystery 2 – Kindle edition by Lynn, Judi. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Genre Structure

Spoiler Alert: If you read this, I’m giving away some things about this book that you might rather have as a surprise.

I stayed up late last night to finish reading P.J. Parrish’s A Thousand Bones. Louis Kincaid is one of my favorite mystery series. I’d read two cozies and was in the mood for something grittier, heavier, and Kincaid is always a sure bet for me. For the first time, though, I had issues with the storyline. The writing, as always, was topnotch. The characters are so complex, they’re amazing. Even secondary characters pull me in. But Parrish played with the basic structure of a mystery, and it made me realize how much I LIKE that structure.

For one thing, for the first time in the series, Kincaid isn’t the POV character. His love interest, the female Miami detective, Joe (short for Joette), is. Parrish framed Joe’s story to blend it into the series, and it mostly worked, although the frame was really rushed. She had Joe come to see Kincaid and ask him to walk the beach with her while she tells him something important. The “something” makes up the entire book–the story of the horrific case Joe worked on her first job as a deputy in Michigan. Parrish is never nice to her characters. She comes up with unusual, grim crimes for them to deal with, but in this book, she outdoes herself. She uses the Indian Windigo legend as a motive for a man who hunts women, and the only remains the Echo Bay police force can find of them are scattered bones.

I settled in to add up clues to who the killer was, and Parrish tossed a red herring or two at us, and then at a little halfway through the book, she revealed who he is. It stunned me. I even reread the scene, thinking I’d misunderstood. I mean, one of the things I love about mysteries is trying to figure out who the villain is and why he’s committing the crimes. But at midway through the book, I knew the villain. That left me wondering where the story would go next until I realized she told us so that she could pit the killer against Joe and see who survived. I shifted genres from reading a mystery to reading a thriller. Okay, I could go with that, even though I like mysteries better. But then, three-fourths of the way through the book, the killer catches Joe, does what he does to women, and leaves her there to die. And he takes off. Wait!! I’m not used to that happening in books either. And I was left wondering again–what now? It took me a while to switch gears and get back into the story while Joe tries to heal. I slogged for a while until the plot picked up steam again and felt like a mystery that careened to an ending that…surprised me. I’m not sure how I feel about that either. Again, Parrish went against type. And part of me got it and understood, and part of me wanted my old true tropes back. I know. I sound pitiful. Parrish’s story is sophisticated, and maybe all I wanted this time around was a tried and true mystery.

At the end of the entire flashback, Parrish frames the book again by having Kincaid ask Joe why she told him all this, bringing the mystery back to the regular series format. And Joe’s answer…again….threw the series in a new direction I’m not overly happy about. I won’t ruin the surprise by mentioning it, and it’s just a personal frustration of mine, but I was disappointed.

Am I happy I read the book? ABSOLUTELY. But it’s the 8th (?) book in the series, and it didn’t do what I’ve come to expect from a Kincaid mystery. Or any mystery, actually. It was brilliantly written. And I’ve always thought it wouldn’t matter to me if a book “followed the rules” of genre tropes, but this made me realize I like those tropes more than I realized. It was still a great book and a powerful read, but I hope the next Kincaid is closer to what I’ve come to expect.

Covers

Since Kensington decided to drop my Jazzi novels, and since I’d already written a 7th book while they were trying to decide if they wanted another one, I have a new Jazzi mystery with no home. I’ve decided to publish it myself on Amazon. BUT, that means that the wonderful Tammy Seidel won’t be doing a cover for it. Which means I need to come up with something myself. And I’ve been playing with ideas. Mine won’t be nearly as wonderful as hers, but I still have George, the pug, and that helps. Here’s what I have so far. It’s been sort of a challenge to try to make a trench look interesting:

I’ve been working on a new series about a girl whose family owns a butcher shop, A CUT ABOVE. And I’ve been playing with ideas for a cover for that, too. It’s been a little more fun. I mean, what says murder like a meat cleaver? What do you think?

Anyway, I’m hoping to finish Karnie’s mystery in the next few weeks, and then I can polish Jazzi #7 with the notes from my CPs. That should keep me out of trouble for a while.

Hope you’re all safe and warm. And happy writing!

Best Sellers

I read In The Market for Murder by T. E. Kinsey and really enjoyed visiting Lady Hardcastle and her kung-fu maid, Florence, a second time.  Humor permeates these books.  This one takes place in 1909, but Lady Hardcastle is way ahead of her times, always pushing the boundaries and solving crimes.  The mysteries–three in this book that seem separate but are all connected–are solid.  I like it when I read a mystery and the mystery is a decent part of the plot and well thought out.  These are.

I bought the first book in this series because I looked at the top 100 mysteries for some category and noticed not one or two, but FIVE of T. E. Kinsey’s mysteries listed.  And they were historical.  Always a plus for me.  So I decided to try one.  And I found it extremely entertaining.  Which surprised me.  In my mind, I had decided that best-selling books had to be weighty and serious.  Lady Hardcastle is NOT serious.  Neither is her maid, Florence.  They take potshots at each other and enjoy it tremendously.  Lady Hardcastle enjoys brandy…often.  And when stressed or bored, Florence fills the kitchen with so many cakes, they have to give most away.

In this particular Lady Hardcastle mystery, sleights of hand play a big part.  There’s a séance that might or might not be legit.  Trophies disappear from a case but the thief didn’t leave the premises.  All clever.  All fun.  And the books are hugely popular.  As they should be.

My theory that bestsellers have to involve angst, character growth, and a certain amount of suffering hasn’t proven true in this case.  The stakes didn’t make me lose sleep.  I fell asleep smiling.  And I love it!

I hope whatever you’re working on is going well, and enjoy this LAST week of May.  I can’t believe it.  It’s almost June–which I love.  But where did the time go?  Again?

 

 

Business…and…Mysteries with Romance

I finally got my official contract from Kensington.  It takes what feels like a long time between receiving a 3-book deal to getting the official 20+ page tome of subject heading after subject heading that I mostly have no clue about.  That’s when I’m grateful I have my agent, Lauren Abramo, from Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret.  I think most of what Kensington offers is set in stone–like the Ten Commandments–but what I concentrate on are my writing deadlines. And when do my books come out?  I know my deadlines–and I’ve given myself more time between books now that I’m writing mysteries, but I still don’t know when my books will come out.  Kensington won’t decide that until 2018.

My 6th and last romance, SPECIAL DELIVERY, is due out Nov. 7th, and I wanted to give it a fair shot, so I paid for a blog tour.  In truth, I thought Kensington would promote my romances, but not so much.  MOST writers have to promote themselves these days.  That was a learning experience for me, so I’m promoting this one a little myself.  Of course, BookBub is the BEST, but I can’t afford it, and it’s harder to get accepted by BookBub than to pass through the eye of the needle these days.  The price for my tour isn’t terrible–$60.  But it takes a day or two to decide which tour you want and to get everything ready for it if you want each blog stop to be unique with a different excerpt or blog at each spot.   And, yes, this is time well-spent.  You want to start a good two months before your book comes out.  I’m using Goddess Fish Promotions again, and they’re great to work with.

Now, with the business stuff behind me, I can concentrate on my favorite thing–writing. The first mystery is done and sent.  And this time, probably because I just finished writing them–I’ve added a romance subplot to the clues and red herrings.  This is where it got a little bit tricky.  I’ve been reading (okay, I’m a little obsessed with) Jenna Bennett’s Savannah Martin series.  She mixes mystery and romance into almost a fusion.  There’s lots of TALK about sex (nothing graphic, though), lots of steam, and gritty murders.  It makes for an intoxicating cocktail.

This is the thing, though.  I’m finishing book #10, and Rafe and Savannah still aren’t married.  It almost feels like the TV show Castle.  The chemistry is intoxicating, and they keep growing closer, but how long can you flirt with HEA and not deliver?  I’m thinking they get married in the next book.  Thank God.  But this prolonged tease let me know that even though in romances, the HEA comes at the end of the book, that’s not the way it works in other genres.

I make no secret that I’m an Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs fan–from the days I wrote urban fantasy.  And werewolves and werelions don’t just walk in and sweep the heroines off their feet either.  It took a few books before the hot guys won the hotter women.  So, I didn’t let my characters–Jazzi and Ansel–walk down the aisle in book one and have their HEA.  I don’t think I can come up with one diversion after another for 10 books, but I know that stalling is a good thing.  And dead bodies are great distractions to keep heroines and heroes too busy to plan ahead.  But what happens after the “death do us part” clicks in?  Do things get (yawn) boring?  I’m thinking of Castle and other TV shows.   Can you keep them interesting after marriage?  What do you think?  I was a sucker for Tommy and Tuppence, Nick and Nora, and marriage didn’t hurt them.  Any opinions?

Happy Writing!

 

My webpage (posted every Thursday):  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Twitter:  @judypost

 

 

 

 

Do Some Genres Crossover?

The first books I published were urban fantasies.  I was proud of myself.  I’d gotten an agent.  Dystel and Goderich formatted my e-books to put online.  But I’d always written mysteries before I tried my hand at UF, and when I read a chapter of Fallen Angels to my writers’ group, they looked stunned.  Every person started his/her critique with, “I don’t really know this genre…” and then they asked why the only protagonists were fallen angels, vampires, werewolves, and witches.  Weren’t there any humans?  Etc.  Etc.  After this happened enough times, I pretty much knew that urban fantasy wasn’t and never would be their thing.  So I sort of stopped volunteering to read.  Which didn’t bother me.  We have such good writers in our group, I’m happier to listen.

When my agent pushed me to try writing a romance, so that I could get a publisher, I signed up to read again for my group.  And it didn’t really surprise me when my romance chapters didn’t impress them either.  I got more of the same feedback.  “I don’t ever read these…”  Which I knew they didn’t.  My group is made up of serious writers and serious readers.  That’s why I like them.  And my romances are lightweight, not serious.  If you ask many romance writers, a lot of them struggle to get respect.  Hell, I don’t read that many romances, but when I do, I can appreciate the skill that goes into writing them. The same goes for sci/fi and fantasy, memoirs and noir.  They might not be my thing, but I know that it’s hard to write anything well.

I write a webpage, as well as this blog, and when I first started posting a few romance blurbs between other posts, I got such a kick out of a reader’s comment.  She said that she really enjoyed my urban fantasies and was even going to reread some of them, but she just couldn’t make herself read a romance.  When I mentioned that I was going to try to write a mystery, she commented that she’d follow me to mysteries.  She liked those. And the truth is, that made me happy.

I completely undersand how she feels.  Some things appeal to you.  Some things don’t.  It doesn’t matter how good the writing is.  It’s just not your thing.  But I’m hoping that the readers who liked my urban fantasies might crossover to mysteries.  I never expected them to be romance fans.  It’s still iffy, though.  I’m not writing hardcore mysteries. Amateur sleuths might not excite them either.  But that’s what my editor likes:)  And I like them, too.  So I’ll cross my fingers and toes and see what happens!

 

P.S.

I put up chapter 7 for a Babet & Prosper story on my webpage:  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

My author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

On Twitter: @judypost

 

 

 

Plodding at Plotting

An idea kept tugging at me for a second mystery.  Actually, it was an idea a friend gave me, and I’ve been wanting to use it since Ralph shared it with me.  When I first decided that I’d like to write a “house flipper” mystery, I had no idea there were already some out there.  I always buy my favorite authors and I’ve looked at a few others–found Jenna Bennett’s Southern Belle mysteries and love them, but didn’t know she wrote a Do-It-Yourself series as Jennie Bentley until I stumbled on one.  I’d never watched Hallmark mysteries either until other friends recommended them.  And guess what?  There’s a fixer-upper house amateur detective on those, too.  It’s fun to see how other writers mix niches with murder.  Guess it just goes to show that every idea’s probably already been taken, so you just have to write what you want and put your own spin on it.

For my first mystery, I came up with a set-up, a few plot points for each fourth of my book, and an end.  Then I sort of winged it.  I like how it turned out, but I did a lot of rewrites.  This time, I want to take my time and have 40 steps to keep my story afloat. Our friend, Ralph, used to buy old houses and fix them up to rent.  He can answer any questions I have about house repairs.  I invited him for supper one night–yes, a bribe, and he knew it, so I had to spring for ribeyes–and he had lots of ideas that I would never have thought of.

He said that once, he worked on a house for a few months to divide it into an upstairs and downstairs apartment, and he watched an old man across the street leave his house at the same time every day, walk down the street, and return about an hour later with a grocery bag from the local butcher shop.  And then one day, the man didn’t didn’t leave, and Ralph worried about him.  He didn’t see the old man for the rest of the week, and he couldn’t believe how relieved he felt when someone dropped him off, along with a suitcase, and the old man returned to his usual routine.  That idea stuck with me.  So I played with it and came up with an idea for a mystery.  I’ve fiddled with that until I have a set-up for the first fourth of my new book.

I like to have a subplot for my books, too, so I’ve mapped out one for Ansel, the contractor who just moved in with my female protagonist, lucky girl.  And for the moment, that’s as far as I’ve gotten.  But it’s time that I zero in on the criminal.  What does he want?  And what makes it worth killing for?  How is he going to interact with my characters? Can you hear me rubbing my  hands together, plotting away?

Ideas aren’t tumbling out of my head, but that’s okay.  They’re stewing, and eventually, they’ll end up making a tasty whodunnit.

 

Happy Writing!

 

 

How Many Bodies does it take?

I’m working on a mystery.  I finally reached the third turning point (three-fourths through the book–and yes, I do construct my plots that way), and I’m heading into the last 80 pages.  This is when I look at my remaining plot points and pray that I have enough twists and turns to make it to the The End.  If not, a little creativity is in order.

Almost (there must be one out there that breaks the mold, but I can’t think of it) every mystery starts with a dead body.  A crime would work, too, but it’s not as common.  The body doesn’t have to be on page one.  It doesn’t even have to show up by page five.  But someone usually stumbles upon it by the end of chapter one.  Not always.  Mystery readers, especially for cozies or traditionals,  know that while they’re hanging out with the protagonist and getting to know her and the book’s setting, a dead body will show up eventually.  It’s worth the wait.

Martha Grimes, in her early books, grabbed her readers with a hook–a prologue. They’re frowned upon now, but I liked them.  Some nice, oblivious person would be walking along a street or locking her front door, and we KNEW she’d be dead by the end of the chapter.  A great way to build tension.  A lot of thriller writers use that technique–showing the victim in a way that we know they’re already doomed.  It works.  If you’re not writing a thriller, though, you have to space out victims more sparingly:)  You don’t off somebody whenever the pace slows down, so you have to come up with different devices to keep the tension high enough to turn pages.

The thing I loved about witing urban fantasy is that you could write a battle every time you wanted to up the tension.  Pitting your protagonist against someone who could kill her works really well.  I just finished reading Ilona Andrews’s MAGIC SHIFTS, and it was a FAST read because there was a battle in almost every chapter.  Lots of action.  I loved it, but that doesn’t fly in an amateur sleuth mystery.  Protags don’t wield swords or shoot magic.

What does work?  Having the sleuth at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Having her get nosy and digging through a desk that’s not hers when someone walks into the office.  I’m halfway through a mystery by an author who’s new to me:  A Cutthroat Business by Jenna Bennett.   I’m loving it so far!  First, her protagonist is a Southern Belle.  I haven’t read one of those since the last Sarah Booth Delaney cozy I read by Carolyn Haines. Bennett’s protagonist is a real estate agent…so, of course, she takes a client to a showing and finds a body in the last room they stop to view.  See?  The nice, bloody corpse comes at the end of the chapter. More fun that way!

Also, of course, the police show up and the client who wanted to see the house doesn’t seem to have any money, but he has done some prison time–and the protag knew him when they were growing up–a smartass, sexy ex-con. Bennett finds one clever way after another to keep her protag involved in the investigation.  Eventually, though, (and I hate to say this), another body is needed to boost the pace near the middle of the book.  Sacrifices must be made for every novel, and for mysteries, well…. someone must die.

I’m sorry to say (and my daughter wasn’t happy with me, because she fell in love with a certain character when she read the pages I’ve done so far), I had to kill off someone, too, for the second plot twist in my book.  And that made me wonder:  how many bodies does it take to keep a good book going?  In urban fantasy, you’re lucky.  Very rarely does one of the good guys have to die, and you can kill bad guys at random, on every other page if you want to.  In mysteries, though? Bodies are up for grabs.  Good guys die as often as not-so-good guys.  I’m thinking–and I haven’t researched this–that it takes at least two bodies to move a mystery plot.  The first body happens at the beginning of the book and somewhere later, the pacing and clues start to fizzle, and an author has to stick in another victim.

What do you think?  Can you think of a mystery that only has one victim and the entire plot goes from there?  Okay, maybe in a P.I., because usually the private eye gets beat up close to the time a second body would pop up in a traditional mystery.  LOL.  This is probably why it was so hard for me to write romances.  I couldn’t kill anybody:)

Jenna Bennett:  https://www.amazon.com/Savannah-Martin-Mysteries-Box-Set-ebook/dp/B00A6UMNRM/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1496516485&sr=8-8&keywords=jenna+bennett+savannah+martin+series+kindle+kindle

Ilona Andrews’s Magic Shifts:  https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Shifts-Kate-Daniels-Novel-ebook/dp/B00OQSF7GY/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1496517298&sr=8-3&keywords=ilona+andrews+kate+daniels+series

My webpage (with a new creepy short story):  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Twitter: @judypost

My author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

 

 

Mysteries

Writers can end up talking about and researching strange things.  When I write mysteries, though, I always hope no one tracks the history of the sites I visit.  For instance, my character dug a hole near a septic tank–so no one would get suspicious why he was digging a hole in the first place, and then dumped a body in it.  Six months later, the house has sold and the toilets aren’t draining right, so another person digs near the septic tank and finds the body.  Question is:  what will it look?  Answer:  not at all like the body my protagonists found stashed in the attic–which was above ground and protected. Hence the working title:  The Body in the Attic.  But when I read the first chapter to my writers’ group, they all had different ideas of what dear Lynda’s remains would exactly be. Would the clothes still be intact?  The hair?  Would her skin and flesh have dissolved or mummified?  Would the pillow under her head be stained from when her flesh liquefied?

How I love my writer friends!  They didn’t blink an eye while they discussed how bodies decompose or dessicate–as Lisa Black explains in her book THAT DARKNESS.  A fellow writer in my group is working on a much more grisly mystery than mine and needed to know how long a body can hang in woods before the neckbone gives out and the head and body drop and roll in different directions.  Oh, the possibilities!

I bought Lisa Black’s book THAT DARKNESS, because she’s a forensic scientist and I thought she’d HAVE to make me start thinking about stuff I usually try to avoid.  And I was right.  It reminded me of when I went to a big mystery conference in Chicago and a coroner gave an hour and a half workshop on finding clues when studying dead bodies.  He brought slides of entry wounds and exit wounds.  A bullet goes in small, but exits big.  Unless it’s a .22, and then it might just bounce around inside the skull.  (Black used that in her book, but the coroner had already warned us about it).

Black’s book concentrates on crimes and forensics, so it was fun to read–unless you’re squeamish.  I want my book to concentrate more on characters but with realistic clues to the murders.  Black’s book has lifetime criminals and cops and forensic scientists.  Her characters work with crime day after day.  Professional criminals do WAY worse things than the killer in my book.  He’s an amateur with amateur detectives finding clues they don’t want to.  My book will have a totally different feel than hers.  On purpose.  But I’m so glad I read hers.  Details make a difference.  And she’s a professional, so her details drive the story.  When she has to cut off a dessicated finger to soak it long enough that she can get prints, you believe her.  And that’s awesome!