Everything Has Something Good in It

by Barb on yet another lovely New England fall day

I just bought this collage created by my fellow Level Best co-editor, Kat Fast.

Artist: Kat fast Watercolor with glaze

Artist: Kat Fast
Watercolor with glaze

I blogged about Kat (or Kathy as I call her, or Katherine as she appears on the covers of the Level Best anthologies) just the other day, when we wrote about the people in our lifeboats.

I first saw the collage at a one woman show Kat had at the Weston Council on Aging, a group she’s been very involved with as a teacher and a volunteer. I was immediately taken with the picture aesthetically and emotionally. I loved its density, composition and vibrant colors. I loved how it contained the promise of spring and summer. And, it doesn’t hurt that I also believe in my core that anything with hydrangeas in it can’t be all bad.

But when Kat explained how the piece was made, I resonated with it intellectually as well. It came out of a class with one of her teacher/mentors who believed, “Everything has something good in it.” A painting that is a failure will always contain at least one successful element. One flower, or one tiny corner, or even just a streak of the perfect color green.

So she had them cut up some of those failed pieces and arrange the successful elements in a new composition.

The result, I think, is spectacular.

What an important lesson that is for all of us who create.

Just two days ago on the blog, Kathy Lynn Emerson explained how surrendered after 100 pages of a failed Elizabethan thriller, but then was able to carve two short stories out of it.

The ideas and images that speak to us are the ideas and images that speak to us, and sooner or later, if we keep at it, we will find a way to express them.

dead calm coverThe reason I call Kat “Kathy” is because we actually met, I hate to even think, it must be close to thirty years ago when we both worked at a company called Information Mapping. I left in the mid-90s and we lost touch, as people did in those pre-Facebook days. Then, one day, I was walking down the street in Harvard Square and there she was. “What are you up to these days?” she asked. “Oh,” I said, “I’m in this writers group. I’m writing a mystery.” “Really?” Kathy said. Because it turned out she was, too. She joined our group, and the rest is history. One of those serendipitous moments that changes several people’s lives.

At the opening of her show, Kathy spoke wonderfully, tying up into a tidy package a life she’s quick to agree has many disparate elements. She recognized each of her art teachers and told the central truth she had learned from each one, which I found very moving.

She also managed to tie in her editorship at Level Best via her story, “The Black Dog,” in Best New England Crime Stories 2012: Dead Calm, about an amateur artist, “not paying full fare at the movies” herself, who is initially rejected, then embraced by three elderly professionals in an advanced watercolor class. “The Old Cats” as they dub themselves, worry about housing and healthcare and the hundreds of paintings their children will eventually need to dispose of–until they come up with a plan that solves all those problems in one go and only depends on a little bit of fraud.

So here’s to the crafty old cats, and the mentors, and the little bit of good in all of our failures.

Stick with the Wickeds Contest Winner!

IMG_1392The official drawing hat.

IMG_1393Names in the hat!

Drum roll please…….

And the winner of the Stick with the Wickeds Contest is: Dru Ann Love!

IMG_1395Dru Ann has won an all expenses paid trip for her image to accompany the Wickeds on a stick to the New England Crime Bake.  We are delighted to have her joining us at the conference that started it all for the Wickeds!

Thanks to everyone who participated in the contest!

Welcome Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson

by Barb, who confesses to being wildly inspired by Kathy Lynn

kathylynnemersonGentle readers, our guest today is Kathy Lynn Emerson, who, as Kaitlyn Dunnett, writes the Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries set in Moosetookalook, Maine. As it happens, today is the publication day for Ho-Ho-Homicide, the eighth book in the series, and Kathy Lynn’s 50th traditionally published book!

In honor of this amazing achievement, Kathy Lynn has offered to give a free copy of Ho-Ho-Homicide to one lucky commenter below.

Kathy Lynn and I blog together on the Maine Crime Writers blog. She really is from Maine, and she and her husband run a Christmas tree farm and Ho-Ho-Homicide is set on a Christmas tree farm. We thought this launch was a great excuse to have a nice chat.

hohohomicideAbout the book: In Ho-Ho-Homicide, when an old friend asks Liss MacCrimmon Ruskin and her husband Dan to spend a week on a Maine Christmas tree farm, evaluating its potential as a profitable seasonal business, Liss thinks they’re in for an idyllic vacation. Boy is she wrong! Between a missing person, an unidentified body, a mysterious maze, and a series of “accidents” there’s no time to relax. To add to the pressure, the deadline to open a cut-your-own operation at the Christmas tree farm for the current season is fast approaching. And then there’s that other matter, the very personal one that Liss hoped she and Dan would have time to talk about once they were away from their usual busy routine. The novel is set five years after the end of the last entry in the series (Vampires, Bones and Treacle Scones). Liss hasn’t been involved in solving a single murder in the interim and is hoping her luck will hold. Not a chance!

Barb: Oh, I didn’t realize. I love it when series take a leap forward in time. (Or when they go back and fill in a blank space.) Now I really can’t wait to read this. Ho-Ho-Homicide is your fiftieth book and the eighth book in your Liss MacCrimmon Mystery series. We have several Wicked Cozies who are working on their fourth books and one on her third. What advice would you give us for keeping a series fresh?

Kathy Lynn: What works best for me is to take a break and write something totally different in between each of Liss’s adventures. By the time I reach a good stopping point in that project, I usually have a stack of notes about new ideas to incorporate into the next Liss MacCrimmon mystery. This plan falls apart, of course, if deadlines are too close together. I try to give myself deadlines way in advance of the real ones so that I have a sort of built-in buffer zone.

Barb: Your fifty-first book will come out in November in the UK and in March in the US. Tell us about Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, and why the UK first?

MurderintheQueensWardrobeKathy Lynn: Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe is the first of the Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries set in Elizabethan England. It is also the eleventh novel to use characters from the Face Down series (Face Down in the Marrow-Bone Pie, the first, came out in 1997) That series featured Elizabethan gentlewoman, herbalist and sleuth Susanna, Lady Appleton, an expert on poisonous plants. Rosamond Jaffrey is the illegitimate daughter of Lady Appleton’s late, unlamented husband, Sir Robert. The original series often featured a spy subplot, and in this new one Rosamond is asked to enter the household of the queen’s cousin, Lady Mary Hastings, who is being offered up as a bride for Ivan the Terrible of Russia, to keep an eye on things for the queen’s spy master, Sir Francis Walsingham. Despite the espionage angle, this mystery still fits neatly into the historical cozy subgenre. As for the earlier UK publication, that’s because my publisher, Severn House, is based in the UK. They have an amazing list of American and British authors, including my fellow Mainer, Dorothy Cannell.

Barb: Not only are you published in romance, mystery, historical fiction and historical mystery, you also write short stories. Tipping it a bit, your story, “The Blessing Witch” will appear in Best New England Crime Stories 2015: Rogue Wave. The story takes place in the sixteenth century and is about a woman who may be a witch, but who solves a mysterious death using other abilities. Where did “The Blessing Witch” come from?

RogueWaveFrontCoverKathy Lynn: Okay—confession time. This was supposed to be a scene in an “Elizabethan thriller” my agent suggested I write. I tried. I really did. But I’m a cozy writer, not a thriller writer. I developed the characters and their background, wrote about 100 pages, and realized I didn’t have a clue where I was going with the story. Besides, I really wanted to go write what became Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe. So, never being one to waste anything, I looked for pieces of that 100 pages that could be recycled and as a result rewrote two small sections into short stories. I’ve also set aside a larger chunk that, considerably revised, may just reappear as a chapter or two in the third Mistress Jaffrey mystery.

Barb: What are you working on now?

Kathy Lynn: I’m taking a break before revising the current draft of the second Mistress Jaffrey mystery (Murder in the Mercery) and the outline for Liss #10 (tentatively titled Kilt on the 4th of July) isn’t due until December 1st, so I’m spending a little time on shorter fiction. In the past, it always seemed to take me longer to whip a short story into shape than it did to write an entire novel, but since “The Blessing Witch” turned out so well, I’ve been revising a story I wrote a long time ago (would you believe 1987?), finishing another story I started in March 2013 that stalled on page six, finishing a third I began earlier this year, and working on a fourth that uses a secondary character who appears in Liss #9 (the 2015 book) and who might one day have the potential to become the sleuth in a series of her own.

Yes, I am a compulsive writer. No, I have no “real” life. When I’m not writing fiction I’m working on my online “A Who’s Who of Tudor Women” or expanding the family genealogy or doing jigsaw puzzles or reading . . . unless it’s a Monday or Tuesday evening. Mondays I’m in front of the TV watching Dancing with the Stars and Castle. Tuesdays it’s Marvel: Agents of Shield.

Readers, please join me in congratulating Kathy Lynn on the achievement of her 50th published book, and remember one lucky commenter gets a free copy.

Bio: Kathy Lynn Emerson writes in a variety of genres and under several names. As Kathy Lynn Emerson, she is best known for two historical mystery series. In the Face Down series, featuring Susanna, Lady Appleton, sixteenth century gentlewoman, herbalist, and sleuth, the most recent entry is Face Down O’er the Border (2007). The Diana Spaulding 1888 Mysteries feature a late nineteenth-century American journalist. Lethal Legend (set in Maine) follows Deadlier than the Pen (set in Maine), Fatal as a Fallen Woman (set in Colorado), and No Mortal Reason (set in rural New York State). As Kaitlyn Dunnett, Kathy pens the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage Mysteries, set in the fictional Maine town of Moosetookalook. As Kate Emerson, Kathy writes non-mystery historical novels set in the sixteenth century. Kathy lives in Wilton, Maine with her husband and assorted cats. She is also the author of the Agatha-award-winning nonfiction book, How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries: The Art and Adventure of Sleuthing Through the Past.

Kathy returns to historical mysteries and using her own name with a spin-off of the Face Down series featuring Lady Appleton’s late husband’s illegitimate daughter, Rosamond, as the sleuth. The first entry, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe, will be in stores in the U.S. in the spring of 2015. It is set in 1582-3. She is currently working on the second book in this series for publication in 2016.

Kathy also maintains a series of mini-biographies of sixteenth-century women—over 2000 of them! To find out more about A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, click on the quill:

Kathy and her husband Sandy live on a Christmas tree farm, which means she doesn’t get much writing done between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. You can visit there by going to Mystic Valley Christmas Tree Farm. Sandy is also a custom woodworker, specializing in jigsaw puzzle tables in various sizes. The rest of the family consists of three cats, Bala, Nefret, and Feral.

Branding Multi Everything

Edith, north of Boston

As most of you know, I now write under three names: my birth name, Edith Maxwell, which is on the Local Foods Mysteries and my short stories. My Lauren Rousseau Mysteries pseudonym, Tace Baker (who also has her own web site). And my Country Store Mysteries identity, Maddie Day. I have an historical series I want to sell, too.

I wanted to be sure my web site reflected all these identities and all these series, and my previous one wasn’t cutting it. The banner was made up of my book covers, but that meant it had to change every time a new book came out, and there were other issues. I started drafting a new site a couple of months ago, but wondered what I could use for a banner, for a common theme. SheilaSite

So, as often in the mystery world, I went looking to my friends for help. I checked out Sheila Connolly‘s new site, since she writes three series, although all under the same name. Doesn’t it have a great look?

CatrionaSiteI looked at Catriona McPherson‘s site – she writes one series and one line of standalones, but also all under a single name. I love those crows.

And I checked out Leslie Budewitz‘s LeslieSitesite – she writes two series under one name. Isn’t that an evocative painting?

What I saw was a unifying graphic. In the latter two, the art doesn’t necessarily represent the settings of the book, but rather the author. In Sheila’s, there are pictures of the places where her series are set: Ireland, Philadelphia, and small-town Massachusetts.

I considered hiring an artist to create a banner for me, either with pictures or art. Then I looked at the wall in my office and realized I had it right there.

My dear friend Jennifer Yanco (a published non-fiction author) commissioned Boston-area artist Jackie Knight to paint a picture for my sixtieth birthday a couple of years ago. It’s titled “Edith’s World.” It’s mysterious and imaginative and gorgeous. It doesn’t look like any one of my series or names, but instead represents me and my work. Right?EdithsWorldBest

So I took a horizontal slice of it and made it the banner for my web site. It shows up on every page. I also used it on my Facebook Author page.


And then, because I could, I made up business cards, note pads, and even a few mugs. IMG_0917 2014-09-22 19.37.24So I have my brand, I have my new web site, and I have a lovely connection to the friend I have known and journeyed with for almost forty years!

The pen names are on the web site on each series’ page and on the business cards, in case anybody needs to find one of my selves.

Heck, maybe tee shirts are next…

Readers: Can you find other examples of multi-name multi-series web sites you like? Any suggestions for my new site? (Be brutal!)


Ask the Editor: Narielle Living

Edith: Writing furiously on a rainy fall day

I’m so pleased to welcome Narielle Living for our next Ask the Editor spotlight. Narielle edited my second Lauren Rousseau mystery, Bluffing is Murder (out November 11!) for Profile PictureBarking Rain Press, and I thought she did a careful, thoughtful job with it – no gratuitous changes, but a number of comments and questions that definitely improved the book.

What I didn’t realize until I invited her over is that Narielle is also a mystery author, and a member of Sisters in Crime! More on that at the end. Now talk to us about editing, Narielle

Area of Expertise: Fiction Editing

I would like to thank Edith Maxwell for the opportunity to guest on Wicked Cozy Authors today. I am honored to answer some questions and participate in this very fun blog.

How did you get started in this business?

I am currently an editor for three different traditional publishers, and I love my work. Each publisher that I work with is unique, but they all share one common element: fantastic writers. I love working on mysteries the most, but I also work with other genres.

My career began as a writer. I always felt it was important to know the rules of grammar and fully understand things like when to use a comma and when to use a semicolon. After all, if I wanted to break the rules I had to know them first, right? After the release of my second book I decided I wanted to be on the editing side of publishing as well. So, I enrolled in specific editing classes and earned a certificate in editing. However, I believe that education is an ongoing, lifelong process, and I continue to take at least four to five classes a year related to editing.

I strongly urge writers to take editing classes. This removes some of the mystery of the process and helps familiarize you with things like Chicago style versus AP style.

What are three things we should know about your area of expertise?

One thing that I want all writers to know about editors is this very simple fact: we love books. We love reading. We wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if we couldn’t read (I shudder to even type those words, as I believe the Universe would end if I could not read a book). Because of that, when I am given a manuscript to edit, my goal is to polish it and make it shine. I want the book to be the best it can be. Too often I think writers have this idea that all editors want to change your work and make it their own. My goal is to intrude as little as possible into an author’s work and offer suggestions that make the manuscript better.

The next thing writers should realize is that there are different types of editing, including developmental editing, which addresses the big picture, copy editing, and proofreading. Each approach is different, so if you hire someone to proofread it’s important to know that a proofreader will not offer input about plot inconsistencies.

And finally, remember that it is okay to debate a point with your editor and offer up your opinion. In fact, we encourage that kind of discourse as long as the conversation remains respectful. Telling your editor that she is full of chop suey and clearly does not understand your vision tends to undermine a good working relationship. This is related to my first point: we want the same thing, and that is for your book to be as good as it can be.

What are the top five errors you see?

I definitely see some mistakes repeated in many manuscripts that come across my computer screen. Easily fixable, but common mistakes, so well worth pointing out.

First and foremost, please do not format your manuscript in anything other than Times timesnewromanNew Roman twelve point font. Do not put pictures in the manuscript. Do not use a hard return at the end of each line (we no longer rely on typewriters, remember?) and do not use the tab key for every single indent. If you don’t know how to format your manuscript then do some research or pay someone to help you. Something that simple could mean the difference between getting published or not getting published.

Many writers have a habit of “filtering” their writing. Simply put, filtering is a technique where the writing filters the action for the reader, removing the reader from any sense of immediacy. For example, a filtered sentence might look like this: She felt like she could cry. This sentence tells the reader what the character feels like, but does not put the reader in the midst of the action. A different way of writing this could be: Her throat tightened and tears threatened to spill. The second sentence puts the reader directly into the mind and heart of the character.

A writer's dreaded but often needed imperative: kill your darlings

A writer’s dreaded but often needed imperative: kill your darlings

The next issue I often see is that of extra characters who are introduced but serve no purpose. If little Sally Sue has no reason to be in the story other than a cuteness factor, get rid of her. Or kill her off. Your readers will have a better story without extraneous people clogging up the flow.

In a similar vein, all dialogue and action must serve to move the story forward or create tension. I know that is a tall order, but paragraphs without purpose are incredibly boring to read and could cause your reader to abandon your book.

And finally, the one thing every writer has had to deal with: plot holes and inconsistencies. When you write a story it becomes so much a part of you that you sometimes forget to relate the entire story. Writers lose perspective and cannot always see the plot holes. Because of that, it’s a great idea to write the entire manuscript—don’t edit the first draft—put it away for a couple of weeks, then go back to page one and do a read-through. You’ll notice things you hadn’t seen before.

Final thoughts…

I don’t have any great ideas, but I would like to share some tips that have helped me through my career:

  • Stay true to your story but don’t be afraid to change it, either.
  • You do not have to do everything your critique group tells you to do with your manuscript.
  • Read as much as possible.
  • Write as much as possible.
  • Have fun as much as possible. You never know when the ride will come to an end.

Readers: Stop by the blog today and ask Narielle a question! And remember, today is the last day for your comment to enter you in the “Come to Crime Bake on a Stick” contest.

signs of the southNarielle Living is a freelance writer and editor based out of the tidewater area of Virginia. She is a regular contributor for the Williamsburg magazine Next Door Neighbors, and has written hundreds of do-it-yourself articles for online magazines. She is the author of the mysteries Signs of the South and Revenge of the Past, and co-authored Chesapeake Bay Karma—The Amulet. Her fiction also appears in the anthologies Chesapeake Bay Christmas Volume I, Chesapeake Bay Christmas Volume II, and Harboring Secrets. She edits both fiction and non-fiction, and loves helping other writers achieve their goals. A former massage therapist and healing arts educator, she studied Philosophy and Religion at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT. Narielle is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Writers and Sisters in Crime, and when she is not editing she is working on writing more books. For information about her books or workshops, visit www.narielleliving.com.

Boldly Go Where Others Have Gone Before, Many Times

By Julie, dodging raindrops in Boston

WCA retreat659869684270_5811006839915814681_n 2Yesterday, we talked about our other lifeboats, but today I want to talk about this lifeboat we all call the Wicked Cozy Authors. We are defining a lifeboat blog as a group of writers who support each other. You see examples of this on the blog–celebrating book birthdays and announcements, chiming in on Wicked Wednesday comments, social mediaing each other’s posts, and supporting other people in the community. We occasionally do panels together, or in groups of 2 or 3. Our bookmark is our calling card at conferences, signings, and meetings. We have a new ad we are running in the Crime Bake program, and Barb just redesigned the bookmarks, using our new header image. (Don’t you love it? Meg Manion captured us well.) We are all keeping the fair ship Wicked Cozy Authors afloat, in style.

But I want to talk about the role the Wickeds play behind the scenes. As you all know, I am the last Wicked in the publishing pipeline. Right now I am going through edits, and am looking at a release date in about a year. That is a long, long time. But my lifeboat team is keeping me on task–offering advice, support. Because they’ve all been there. Some two or three times.

As much as I would like to think I am a precious flower in this writing journey, I’m not. I am writing a cozy mystery. Literally hundreds of people do it every year. Whether you are a plotter or a pantser, you have to get the words on the page (or in the computer), and then move them around until it all makes sense. Then someone reads it, and helps you move them around again. Nothing can make the writing part easier, but having a lifeboat can make it much less lonely, and a lot more fun.

What else does my lifeboat provide?

  • Business advice.
  • Answers to questions based on recent experience.
  • A cheering squadron of support.
  • Gentle (and not so gentle) nudges.
  • Lots of laughter.
  • A group of people who know what you are going through. No explanation necessary.
  • And finally, did I mention friendship?

How lucky am I to benefit from the wisdom of this terrific lifeboat?

P.S. I hope to see some of you Saturday at the Boston Book Festival! I will be moderating a panel called “WhyDunnit”. Edith, Barb, and Liz will be on this same panel, which is sponsored by Sisters in Crime New England. If you are there, make sure you say hello!

Wicked Wednesday: Who’s in Your Lifeboat


W is for Wicked


C is for Cozy


A is for Authors

This group, these wicked awesome authors, we six – we’ve talked offline about how we’re each other’s lifeboat. We communicate by email, by phone, by ESP, it sometimes seems. We share advice, support, and cautions about pitfalls. Stern words about not getting discouraged, and hugs, in person or virtual, when needed. We laugh together and cry together.

So Wickeds, who else is your lifeboat besides us?

Sherry: I’m very lucky to have a group of sorority sisters that are my other lifeboat team. We try to get together at least every other year. When we aren’t together it’s a lot like with the Wickeds, phone calls, texts, and group emails. Both of these groups enrich my lives in so many ways.

Edith: I’ve been a member of Amesbury Friends Meeting for twenty-five years.It’s my spiritual home, my second family, my support network — a true lifeboat. We share joys and concerns, and the silence is as important as the talking. I’m also blessed with my first family – my sisters, my sons, my beau, and my parents while they were alive: all huge readers, all excited for me, all there for me when things aren’t going well, too. My sister in Ottawa even sent me a screenshot of my books in the Canadian capital’s library system!

Barb: My other lifeboat group is also writing related–my writers group of almost 20 years. Mark Ammons, Leslie Wheeler and I met in an advanced class in mystery writing at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education taught by the wonderful B. A. Shapiro. The three of us formed the core of the group along with the late Marge Leibenstein and were joined soon after by Kat Fast. Cheryl Marceau joined later, as did others who came and went, but who all left their mark. For the last five years, Mark, Kat, Leslie and I have been co-editor/co-publishers at Level Best Books. There is no question that my desire to spend time with and be respected by these people kept me writing even at times when jobs and other obligations made it difficult. I am eternally grateful.

Liz: I’m so lucky to have lots of different groups over the years as other lifeboats. Friends from my original writers group, The Wingate Writers, have been so supportive and are always there to share in news, both good and bad. I also have wonderful friends from the animal rescue community who have truly gone above and beyond for me over the years, especially when I needed friends the most. And of course, my family!

Julie: I have different pockets of friends who are lifeboats for different areas of my life. I have a group that started out as a book club, but we haven’t read a book in years. Another group who I traveled to Egypt with a few years back (none of us knew each other, and we were all travelling alone) and they’ve become good friends. My theater world also has a lifeboat of theater and coffee dates. My other blog, Live to Write/Write to Live, has definite lifeboat attributes. And I am really blessed to have a network of family and friends. But I’ve got to say, the Wickeds have a special place.

Jessie: I feel so lucky to have my family in my lifeboat. My husband, mother, sisters and children are a constant source of encouragement and cheering. There are friends in there too and community members that always ask about life and projects. I am also so blessed to count members of my knitting group as fellow lifeboat passengers. I never though,t when I sought them out at a local library years ago, how much they would become a source of fun and support.

Readers: Who is your lifeboat? Who would you take with you for mutual support if the ship starts sinking?