by Sheila Connolly

Explosion 2Recently a major publisher (one which I share with a lot of my writer friends) announced a major restructuring of those imprints we hold dear—that is, the ones that publish mysteries. There was “ a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”  (In case you don’t recognize the quote, Obi-Wan Kenobi says it in Star Wars—A New Hope in 1977.) Maybe a bit exaggerated for our purposes, but the fear was real among mid-list mystery writers. What will happen to us? And a number of our favorite editors are now twisting in the wind.

Blood spatter 2

For those of you who don’t write, or who haven’t yet sold a book, let me tell you that working with an editor is something like a marriage. Don’t for a moment believe that all editors are alike, or that there is a standard manual for “Editing a Manuscript” that all editors must follow. Nope. Editors can range from a hands-off person who might insert a comment every ten or twenty pages (half of which are “cute!” or “huh?”) to someone who wields an electronic red pencil with a vengeance (and the cross-outs and insertions and balloons come in many colors and after a while you have no idea what the page says any more).

Birds and flowers 1

There is no one right way to edit. As in a marriage, there are two personalities involved, and they don’t always see eye to eye. This does not mean that either one is right, or not all the time. Sometimes it’s a question of a particular quirk, like a word that an editor hates for no obvious reason. Sometimes it means that the editor has six other manuscripts on his or her desk and they’re all due at the same time or the entire production schedule six months out will collapse in chaos and s/he’s distracted. Sometimes it means that you the writer nailed it on the first try and the book doesn’t need any fixing (rare, but it does happen!).

Some of my writer friends will be working with a new editor now. It’s not like dating, because it’s a business relationship. But it does involve a certain amount of getting to know each other. In the big picture, you the writer need to find out whether your editor “gets” what you’re trying to say. If his/her comments suggest not, then you’ve got to figure out if the problem lies with the editor (s/he’s an idiot) or whether you’re just not stating clearly enough the words you hear in your head (maybe they’re still in your head and not on the page).

With each new editorial comment, you the writer have to decide whether to accept or reject the proposed change. Can you live with it if you say yes, thereby compromising your artistic integrity? But what if the same issue comes up every few pages? Where do you take a stand? Yes, I like adverbs. I may use a few too many and I will cut some to make you happy, but I want to keep some of them. See? Just like a marriage. There must be compromises.

A run-of-the-mill editor can drive you crazy with niggling details, which sometime serve no purpose other than showing you that s/he has more power than you do. A good editor can make your book better—clearer plot, stronger characters, richer language. The thing is, you never know who you’re going to get, and most of the time you can’t pick your own.

Whoever said this business was logical? It is a business, intended to sell books and make money doing it (most often for the publisher!). For the writer, it’s building worlds and creating characters on the page, and hoping that readers will recognize them and feel the way you do about them. Those two goals don’t always mesh, but we keep trying.

Readers, don’t give up! We’re still writing, and our editors are trying to make our books better (we hope) and to get them on bookshelves (real or virtual) so you can enjoy them. The dust of the Purge will settle, and the publishing business will go on, on paper or in pixels—as long as there are readers.

Privy to tCover 2he Dead, available in stores and online now!

By the way, this was the first book for which I collaborated with my new editor. We’re both happy.


Opening Lines

We continue to celebrate The Longest Yard Sale today. Write an opening line for the photograph below:

IMG_3496Jessie: I’ve got a real good deal for the discriminating taxidermist.

Barb: I’ll be right with you as soon as I tidy up.

Julie: What part of “No Early Birds Allowed” was unclear?

Sherry: That guy didn’t know a bargain when it hit him in the face.

Liz: He shouldn’t have tried to walk off with Grandma’s quilt.

Edith: I told him the shovel wasn’t for sale.

Readers: Add your opening line!

Second Time Around

My second book launch — I can’t believe it’s here! At our Wicked Cozy retreat the second week of June, Barbara Ross said something like “You do realize your second book is coming out soon. I think you’re in denial.”

longestyardsaleDenial is a wonderful place to live in (I probably live there more than I should) and I went through a thousand excuses in my head. I was in the throes of writing and editing book three of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series, I edited three other books (such fun and boy do you all have some good reads ahead of you), I was nominated for an Agatha Award (joyous news but very distracting — if any of you saw me wandering around with a glazed look you now know why), the actual launch party isn’t until July 18th (Barnes and Noble in Fairfax, Virginia from 1- 3 with Maya Corrigan — stop by if you can) and July 18th seemed like it was a long way away at the time. Okay, okay I’ll stop with the excuses and just admit Barbara was right.

IMG_4532As soon as I returned home from the retreat I made arrangements to meet with my publicist aka great friend Mary Titone. We agreed to meet the following morning for one of our high power sessions aka breakfast out somewhere. For our first meeting before the launch of Tagged for Death, Mary brought special pens, I brought new tablets. This time we just pulled out our phones. Mary plunged into planning mode, wrote and sent press releases, and contacted stores and organizations for appearances. Everyone should have a friend like Mary.

IMG_4534IMG_4531And here I am in the midst of launch week — denial or not the book is out but I’m a little more relaxed about the process. Last time I was terrified to get a bad review. Now I chant something my daughter paraphrased from someone: You can be the sweetest, juiciest peach in the whole world and there’s still going to be someone that hates peaches. (If you ever see me muttering “Not everyone likes peaches, not everyone likes peaches” you’ll know why!) I still don’t like to get bad reviews but if they are fair and accurate you have to live with them. This time I’m not obsessively checking my Goodreads reviews and Amazon ranking — yes I’m still checking them but not obsessively. (I swear it’s not obsessive — but I’ll be right back I need to go check…never mind.)

Before I wrap this up. There are a few people I need to thank. First my fabulous Wicked Cozy sisters and Wicked accomplices. Thank you for always, always being there for me! As I said the other day, without you I’d feel like a lone rower without oars on a stormy sea.

Thank you bloggers who invite me to do guest posts and reviewers who take the time to read our books and review them. I’d would list you all by name but I’m so afraid I’d leave someone out accidentally that I’ll leave it at this.

And then a big thanks to my girlfriends who range from sorority sisters, to local friends, to writing friends, and my far flung friends from our days in the military. I don’t know how I was blessed with so many wonderful women in my life. You all make my days better and make me a better person. I learn so much from each of you.

And last my family — without you this dream wouldn’t have come true.

Wicked Wednesday – Favorite Historical Places

On Wicked Wednesday, we all weigh in on a topic. This week, we’re continuing our longestyardsalecelebration of the release of The Longest Yard Sale by Sherry Harris. Since Sherry’s books are set in historic Bedford, Massachusetts, we’ve been reflecting on our favorite pieces of history. So Wickeds, what’s your favorite historical place?

Liz: I have a particular fondness for Salem, Massachusetts. I went to college there and have always been fascinated with the town’s rich history and the way they turned the tragedy of the Salem Witch Trials into a lifelong celebration of all things witchy. Plus the entire town just oozes history, from The House of Seven Gables to the Peabody Essex Museum. If you haven’t visited Salem, you should go!

Historic costume

Me in the hand-sewn 1718 outfit I made for Ipswich’s 375th celebration. On that day I went by Goody Pulcifer.

Edith: Since I write about a Quaker midwife in historical Amesbury, Massachusetts, I have to claim the Friends Meetinghouse as my favorite – but I’ve already written about that here. So I guess I’ll vote for Ipswich. The town has the highest number of First Period houses (built before 1720) in the country, and I lived in one of them. It’s fascinating to walk the streets of the town and see historic marker after marker with dates stretching back to 1625 and the name of the home’s original owner. Many have been carefully preserved, and I now know all about summer beams, chamfering, and gunstock posts!

Jessie: My favorite town with historical significance is Old Orchard Beach, Maine. From the Gilded Age to the Big Band Era there is so much rich history.  Because Old Orchard is such a popular vacation spot there are loads of early photographs of merrymakers. It is so easy to be inspired here. And the beach doesn’t hurt to get the creative juices flowing either.

IMG_3579_2Julie: Staying in New England? I have a great fondness for Concord. Tons of Revolutionary War history, and a huge layer of literary history. Plus it’s a great place to visit. Quaint town, great bookstore. I’ve been to many events at the Concord Inn, from wedding showers to post funeral receptions to Sisters in Crime meetings, and it has been perfect every time.

A replica of the original Old North Bridge

A replica of the original Old North Bridge

Sherry: Minute Man National Historical Park which runs through Lincoln and Concord, Massachusetts. Is one of my favorite places. Walking the Battle Trail Road takes you on the path of the first battle of the Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775. You can stop at the Paul Revere capture site, the Hartwell Tavern, Bloody Angle and the Old North Bridge. So much history in just a few miles. Be sure and stop at the visitors center and watch the brief presentation of the first day to set the scene.

Barb: Since I’m in Maine now, I have to go with Pemaquid Lighthouse on the Bristol peninsula. It’s a place we always take visitors. Lighthouse and keepers cottage, waves crashing on the rocks. There’s a great little museum. If you’re ambitious, nearby there’s Fort William Henry and the Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site and a terrific beach. What more could you ask for?

Readers: What’s your favorite historic place?

Happy Book Birthday to The Longest Yard Sale!

Sherry’s second Sarah Winston Garage Sale mystery is out today!  Hurrah and huzzah for The Longest Yard Sale! May you have many sales and even more five star reviews.longestyardsale

When Sarah Winston turns Ellington, Massachusetts, into New England’s largest garage sale for a day, it’s the small town’s biggest event since the start of the Revolutionary War—but without the bloodshed. That is, until a valuable painting goes missing…and the lifeless body of an Air Force officer is found in Carol Carson’s painting studio, his face perfectly framed with the murder weapon—a metal picture frame.

Edith: I was lucky enough to read an early copy of the book and loved it. You do a fabulous job of showing us small-town life adjacent to a base, Sherry. And telling a suspenseful story that is funny at the same time. Home run!

Liz: I was lucky enough to read it early too! I love your style, Sherry, and your characters just jump off the page and make me want to hang out with them. And the mystery kept me turning the pages. Loved!!

Jessie: I love the way this series plays with the insider vs. outsider dynamic. It isn’t easy to craft that in a fresh and unique way and Sarah’s status as former military spouse does it beautifully!

Julie: What a terrific series this is! Great series, wonderful characters, insider knowledge, and Sherry’s great writing. SO looking forward to the LONGEST YARD SALE! Happy launch day my friend!!

Barb: I was lucky enough to get an Advance Reader Copy of the first book in the series, Tagged for Death. Therefore, it’s been a whole year since I’ve read about what’s going on in Sarah Winston’s life. Too long! My copy is on its way.

Inside The Wacky Mind of a Mystery Writer

By Liz, loving every minute of summer so far and wishing I was at the beach!

I was going through some old to-do lists on my desk the other day when I came across a note on which I’d written the following:

  • Pay oil bill
  • Make appt. for car service
  • Pick up dry cleaning
  • Write about woman pushing the dead toddler in the swing

You may recall the recent news item about the dead toddler in the swing in Maryland. I apparently heard the soundbite and experienced that “ooooh” moment where I thought Hey, that would be an incredibly creepy cool opening to a book, wrote it down and went about my business. If anyone else had come across the note, they’d surely wonder what on earth was wrong with me.

The mind of a mystery writer

Fun photo courtesy of Kim Fleck/Brand Fearless!

And such is the life of a crime writer. I don’t think any of my fellow writers would take offense if I said we’re all kind of weird like this. We see or hear stories in the news that horrify normal people and, while we do register that same emotion, it’s often followed up by excitement at the thought of a new plot or scenario or character or…you get the idea.

Like last week when the story circulated about the house in New Jersey with “The Watcher” sending creepy, threatening letters to the owners. My first reaction was Wow, I’d hate to live there. My second thought was, Let’s get this book written, baby!

But it doesn’t always stop there. My fellow Wickeds can testify to all the ways my imagination runs amok. When we were on retreat a couple weeks ago, it was right after the inmates escaped from the prison in upstate New York. Julie and I were out in the bunkhouse for the weekend, and I kept her entertained with my worries about the escaped murderers showing up looking for a place to hide and finding us in our tiny corner of Old Orchard Beach.

Yeah, sometimes it’s hard being in my head.

I’m used to it, though. This has been going on ever since I was a kid and created a whole coven of witches who lived in the woods behind my house. The guy up the street with the motorcycle? Well, he was in a murderous biker gang that went out on the weekends and did dastardly deeds. I was always fascinated when my parents invited him over for dinner. (No, he wasn’t actually part of a murderous biker gang, if you were wondering.) That girl in church every Sunday with her rough-looking ‘family?’ They had to have kidnapped her and forced her to go to church to make things appear normal. (I was on to her because no one else was allowed to wear jeans to church. There had to have been something crazy going on there!)

And so it goes on, to this day. Now, at least, I have plenty of books into which I can channel my runaway thoughts. One of our mentors, Hallie Ephron, talks about devising a premise for a mystery novel using the “Suppose…what if” format in her book, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel. I think she trained me too well, since now I do this simply walking down the street.

But it’s a sure bet I’ll never run out of material.

Readers, ‘fess up: How many of you create mysteries wherever you go?

Wicked Dealing with Deadlines: Short-Term

Two weeks ago we discussed strategies for dealing with deadlines that are far in the

"Double-Bell Alarm Clock" by Anonymous illustrator - Eaton’s Spring and Summer Catalogue, 1917

“Double-Bell Alarm Clock” by Anonymous illustrator – Eaton’s Spring and Summer Catalogue, 1917

future. Today we’ll talk about the deadlines that suddenly are on top of us. Do you stay up all night to finish something? Go to bed at ten but set the alarm for three in the morning? Make lists? What about when short-term deadlines stack up like planes waiting to land?

Liz: Oh, boy. This happens to me all the time. I don’t usually stay up all night because I’m way too cranky the next day, but I have been known to have marathon sessions in the evenings or on weekends to get a bunch of things done. I try really hard to be a better planner, but alas, it doesn’t always work!

Jessie: I make lists. I make one at the beginning of the month for projects that require a bit of time and one each day for more immediate tasks. I like seeing what needs doing laid out in black and white. Getting things on paper gets them out of my head and makes room for me to be more creative about how to accomplish what’s on the list.

Julie: I am a big fan of the Franklin Covey system. (Would that it was an app, or a Google plug-in, but I digress.) I have big deadlines (book #2 due to my editor, book #1 proofs need to be read, a grant application for work, etc.), middle sized deadlines (birthdays and other occasions that require attention, social media updates) and small deadlines that require some attention (parking permit updates, bills that need to be paid, subscriptions that need to be updated). I have lists of them all, and am trying to get in the habit of choosing what I can do that day, and prioritizing.

Sherry: I put reminders in my phone for short term deadlines and set alarms to help remind me when something is due. My husband and I also share a calendar which helps keep track of events we are both involved in.

Barb: I have a to-do list that I update frequently, sometimes weekly, sometimes every few days, sometimes every few weeks. My to-do list has categories –MCM (Maine Clambake Mysteries), LBB (Level Best Books), WCA (Wicked Cozy Authors), MCW (Maine Crime Writers), CB (Crime Bake) and personal. All the to-dos get divided up among them. I would say it helps me keep balanced, but that’s not my nature. I usually dive deep into stuff. So mostly, it reminds me what hanging out there while I’m on one of my deep dives. The to-dos in my running chronological notes in my Levenger Junior Notebook, which also contains my calendar and is never far from my side.

Edith: I love all these different strategies! I keep a daily short-term to-do list next to my ToDoListlaptop. After Ramona DeFelice Long posted about the ten-item to-do list last week, I went back and counted up how many items I normally have on the list, and it turns out to be about ten. I have two priority items on the top every day, and I cross them off every day: Write (or Edits/Revise, depending), and Walk. The day after we got back from our Old Orchard retreat, I had twenty things on the list, but seven didn’t get done, and some were very tiny…like “shower.” Think I needed a boost of confidence that day or what?

Readers: How do you deal with things that have to get done right now, pretty soon, all at once?