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

 

 

 

 

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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!

 

A nice compliment

I had Scribes last Wednesday.  One of our members brought in a newspaper article about Louisa May Alcott with a few lines highlighted to share.  I never realized how hard Alcott had to work to make ends meet.  “She taught school, went out in service, sewed, and most of all, wrote.  She read all the magazines, figured out their style, and gave them what they wanted.  She wrote thrillers and mysteries, sentimental romances, modern fairy tales, and Gothic horror.”  (from Sarah Young’s column).  And then Rachel smiled and asked the group, “Does this remind you of anyone?”

I’ve never sewn, but yes, I’ve written a lot of different kinds of fiction over time.  And I appreciated Rachel’s compliment.  I’ve written a short Christmas science fiction story for a newspaper tabloid, and they bought it, but accidentally published it under another author’s name.  I’ve had short horror fiction in two anthologies.  I’ve sold dark fantasy, urban fantasy, and short mysteries.  And romances.  I like playing with genres, but I’m glad to be working on a mystery again.

Since it’s been a while since I’ve written one, my hubby and I went to the bookstore to see what kinds of mysteries are out there.  I read my old favorites, but they aren’t very helpful for research.  They already have built-in audiences.  They can break the rules and still sell books.  I haven’t kept up with new writers in the field.  I wanted to see who’s selling today and what they do.  I asked my editor what mysteries he likes, and he sent me a stack of Kensington authors, most of whom he works with.   They were all “niche” mysteries. Every book had a protagonist with a specialty of some kind–one runs a bakery and includes recipes in her books, one writes “clambake” mysteries and includes New England type recipes, another entered poodles in dog shows and gave details about that, and yet another runs an organic farm and spa.

At the bookstore, to my surprise, I found the rows of mysteries all clumped under the “mystery” title, but the first half of the shelves were filled with “niche” mysteries in alphabetical order, and the second half was filled with “serious” mysteries.  The books were kept separate from one another.  I’m assuming that means that readers who buy the niche, cozy-style mysteries rarely buy the heavier ones, and vice versa.

I’m writing the niche style.  That’s what my editor likes.  And yes, like Louisa May Alcott, I’m going to try to give him what he wants.  That also means that my agent won’t have much luck if she ever tries to sell me to a bigger publisher.  They want books with higher stakes, bigger themes, more drama–page turners.  I’m okay with that.  I like the idea I thought of for mysteries, and I’m having fun writing it.

In the meantime, Kensington sent me an AWESOME book cover for my sixth romance, due out in November.  Thought I’d share, and whatever you’re working on, happy writing!

SpecialDelivery

 

Switching genres

Remember that WAY back when I started this blog, I warned you to do what I say, NOT what I do?  Well, I should remind you of that, because I’m thinking of doing the UNsmart thing again.

It’s like this.  Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I wrote short mysteries.  I even sold some to Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen’s mystery magazines–not so easy to accomplish.  But cozy mysteries were dead in the water, so I decided to try writing urban fantasy.  It was a hot market at the time, but of course, by the time I finished mine, the market was glutted.  Which is why it’s tricky to follow trends.  But from someone who knows–because she’s learned the hard way–trying to sell a genre that editors have decided is passe’ is a hopeless task.  EVERYTHING’S stacked against you.

Which leads me to my unsmart move.  I seem to be drawn to write whatever isn’t popular at the time.  I didn’t give up on urban fantasy even when my agent said it was dead.  She let me try it as a self-published author on Amazon.  She hoped if I hit the right niche, I might get lucky, so I tried three different series.  I even tried novellas and novella bundles. And then she suggested I try to write a contemporary romance.  So I did.  But I went for smalltown romances with a cozy feel.  And guess what?  Kensington took them for their e-book line, but the market for them is limited.  Who knew?  I sure didn’t.  My editor liked them enough, though, that he asked if I’d ever be interested in writing a mystery for him.  Now, I really like writing mysteries.  BUT…the other thing I’ve learned on this journey, is that it almost always takes time for an author to build an audience, and you don’t build an audience when you keep changing genres.  BUT…I really like writing mysteries.  When I asked my agent about it, she recommended that I write what calls to me the most.  And she warned that cozy mysteries are still dead, but that my particular editor still likes them. So if I like working with him, which I do,  then I could give it a shot.

So…I’ve started work on a mystery.  And we’ll see what happens.  It’s still early on. Nothing’s nailed down yet.  BUT if you’ve paid attention, I’ve given you THREE genres you might want to avoid if you’re a new writer and want to sell to a big publisher:  urban fantasy, sweet romances, and cozy mysteries.

Since I apparently am no good at picking the right markets with appeal, I did a quick search and got this:  https://medium.com/applaudience/fiction-trends-to-watch-for-in-2017-and-beyond-408fef67c07f#.mizi0o1vl

And from Kirkus Reviews:  https://www.kirkusreviews.com/proconnect/word-on-the-street/

Whatever you’re writing, good luck with it.  And enjoy the process!

webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

Twitter:  @judypost

 

Genre Fine Tuning

Someone recently asked me, “What are the variations of genres?”  We were talking fiction.  Still, I had to stop to think.  I could list the basics:  romance, mystery, fantasy, horror, and sci/fi.  Book stores separate those out for you.  I had to think harder to come up with children’s, erotica, historical fiction, literary fiction, young adult, women’s fiction, and westerns.  But these terms are so broad, there are lots of smaller, specialty niches within each.  I don’t pretend to know what all of these niches are.  I usually wander up and down shelves to find them, but book covers give you a clue.    Cozy novels have cozy covers.  Noir tends to go dark.  But there are finer intricacies to look for.  You’d have to study particular markets to get those right.  But it’s worth making the effort to know what the subgenres are in your favorite.

Certain expectations go along with each genre.  Readers expect particular ingredients to be in each mix.  If you write a romance, you have to deliver a boy meets girl, things get bumpy, boy almost loses girl, and then boy wins girl type of plot.  Harlequin does a great job at this, and it’s no easy thing.    I went to a workshop with Shirley Jump, and she creates character wheels for her heroes and heroines so that their needs and wants bump against each other in the storyline, increasing tension, before attraction finally pulls them together.  But Harlequins are only one type of romance.  There are plenty more.

If you promise a paranormal romance, you’d be wise to have something paranormal in your story, along with one heck of a romance plot.  I read Katie MacAlister’s Zen and the Art of Vampires, and she mixed a regular, mortal heroine (a little on the overweight side) with a hot, sexy vampire, and tossed in a dash of humor.   Readers get exactly what they’re looking for–a taste of the unordinary in our ordinary world, mixed with a steamy love/hate relationship that veers toward disaster before romance conquers all.

A friend of mine is working on a historical, Christian romance, so I read A Hope Undaunted, by Julie Lessman–one of her favorite authors–to see what the ingredients are for that type of novel.  Set at the end of the 1920’s, the book captures the flavor and feel of the era.  The heroine wants to be liberated and to have an important career, but then the Depression wipes out her hopes for an expensive education, and she meets a lawyer who cares little for money, but is determined to rescue as many street orphans as he can.  Faith plays a big part in each of the character’s lives.   The time period influences culture and attitudes.  Both elements are necessary for this type of novel.

I could  go on, but suffice it to say that there are many different types of romance–contemporary, Western, Gothic, Regency, historical, the old “bodice rippers,” etc.   The thing is, there are plenty of subgenres for every genre, and for readers to find what they like in a book, that’s a good thing.

I love Georgette Heyer.   I love Touch Not the Cat, by Mary Stewart.   But their moods and tones aren’t the same.  When I want to read a Regency, I want dukes and ladies, not Gothic atmosphere.  That’s where knowing what type of novel you like and where to find it helps.  That’s the purpose of genres and subgenres.  I might grump about them sometimes and long for more crossover books, but the truth is, genres serve a purpose.  And when I pick up a book and think it’s one thing…but it’s not…I’m not happy.  Along with good writing, I want books to deliver the elements I’m in the mood for.