What is a supernatural mystery anyway?

When I tell friends that I finished Muddy River Mystery One and put it on Amazon, they ask, “What is it?”

Well, a mystery.  That’s in the title.  Muddy River is the town on the Ohio River that the supernaturals settled.  They found a nice, hilly, secluded area in southwest Indiana, far from mortals, to call home.

“The supernatural?” they ask.

Yup, witches, vampires, shapeshifters, and demons, among others.  Most friends know that I used to write urban fantasy.  And now I’m writing mysteries.  So I decided to combine the two.  Sort of like the Babet and Prosper novellas that I used to write.    Prosper was a bearshifter and his partner on the force, Hatchet, was a Druid.

I like writing about Druids.  Of course, I jazz them up a bit.  My Druids can call on lightning to strike and their tattoos are alive and writhe when they’re angry.  It’s Prosper and Hatchet’s job to solve crimes committed by supernaturals who break the rules.

Prosper teams with Babet, a witch, to solve a murder.  In Muddy River, Raven Black–a fire demon–teams with Hester Wand– a witch–to solve the deaths of thirteen young witches who were just starting their own coven.  Of course–no suprise here–while they work together, they fall for each other.

“Oh, a paranormal romance!” someone says.

“No, wrong emphasis.  A paranormal romance has the romance as the story’s main focus.  Raven and Hester’s relationship is more of a subplot.  The mystery forms the main plotline in my story.”

“Why is it different than an urban fantasy?  You started with those.”

“Urban fantasies are about the bad guys, usually evil, bumping heads with the good guys–the protagonist and his friends.  The battles escalate until it’s life or death at the end of the book.  This book, even though it has a few battles, is about solving the mystery.”

This is when my friends usually scratch their heads.  But fellow writers–they’ll understand.  The main plot line is what distinguishes one kind of story from another.  And this story is …a mystery with a romance subplot in a world peopled by Fae, Druids, witches, vampires, shifters, and one banshee.  And it was really fun to write!  As fun as Babet and Prosper.

A close friend and fellow writer still looks at me, bewildered.  “But why?  Your cozy mysteries are doing so well.”

All writers know that it’s dangerous to switch genres.  People who read cozy mysteries might not want anything to do with a fire demon for an enforcer.

Well, I didn’t know how well The Body in the Attic would sell when I started my second series, did I?  It came as a wonderful, happy surprise.  But I’m not sure it would have made a lot of difference.  I tend to lose interest if I read one author, one genre, over and over again, back to back.  Sorry to say, but that holds true of my writing, too.  I really do love the cozy mysteries I write, but I need to change it up once in a while, or else my writing goes flat.

I have no idea if I can find success with Muddy River, but I’d written three cozies, and I needed a witch or two to break things up.  And it worked.  I’m ready to dig into serious rewrites for Jazzi and Ansel’s fourth book now.

Whatever you’re writing, whatever your writing habits, have a great week of it!

 

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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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Write What You Read

You know the saying, “You are what you eat.”  *shivers* (Makes me think of Patricia Briggs’ vampire in Silver Borne, who took that very literally).  Sorry..I digress…my brain does that, but I think it would be appropriate to describe most writers as “you write what you read.”  I started out reading mysteries…lots of them.  So, when I wanted to write my first book, that’s what I wrote.  That’s the form that I intuitively felt comfortable with.  My friends who devoured one romance after another write romances.  One of them reads romances and watches tons of horror movies…and she writes both.  Odd combo, right?  Write a romance with a happy ending.  Write a horror novel and go dark.  Might balance things out.  Sci/fi readers tend to write sci/fi.  It makes sense.  We write what we love/what draws our minds and imaginations to it.

Another reason I advocate to write what you read is that each genre (and I include literary novels in this category–they have their own rules and structure too) has its own rhythms and intricacies.  We “learn” them while we read one book after another.  They become an internal compass that guides us from page to page.    We can feel when a red herring should appear or a twist in plot should occur.

Years ago, when I was trying to find a “home” for a mystery I wrote, I sent the manuscript to Tor, and the wonderful editor who worked there at the time, wrote me back and told me that she loved my writing, loved my characters, but she’d just been moved to head up the paranormal romance line for the company.  Did I have one?  Now, I had lots of spare mystery manuscripts stuffed in file drawers, but I had no idea what a paranormal romance even was, so I wrote and told her so.  And bless her, she said, “Here’s a list of the things that make a paranormal romance.”  There were no books on shelves for me to look at, nothing to go by but her list, but hey–I have lots of creativity, right?

I’m a writer.  I read the list and said to myself, “This doesn’t look too hard.  I can do this.”  And I tried.  Needless to say, my first attempt was maybe a good book, but it sure wasn’t a paranormal romance.  So she sent me another list and a few titles to look at.  I stuck the ideas on a solid mystery plot (something I knew), and she liked that one–wanted to buy it, actually–but she got shot down because the sales department had just pedaled a book with Tarot cards in it and didn’t want another one.  Such is the world of publishing.  And then she left Tor, and her type of paranormal romances morphed into the type I read today.  And I was behind the transition again.

The thing is, once more paranormal romances reached the market, I discovered I’d never be good at them.  I’m not romantic.  Have a heck of a time writing it.  But urban fantasy–now that I not only loved, but got hooked on.  And it took lots and lots of reading until I felt comfortable there.  Now, I never want to go back to writing mysteries.

My point is, even with a list of “this is what’s in an urban fantasy,” you won’t get it right.   There are lots and lots of small, key elements, rhythms, nuances that you only learn by reading…and reading more.  How you label your book or story matters, because readers come to your work with set expectations.  I learned that on Goodreads.  If you say your book is a paranormal romance,  the romance has to be the key ingredient that turns your story.  If you label it as urban fantasy, romance is a subplot and a battle between a good paranormal and a bad paranormal drives the plot.  So my advice?  Once you decide what you want to write, read as many books in that genre as you can.  And then read some more.

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/