Reading Outside The Box

Jane/Susannah here, so excited to be doing her first post as a Wicked Accomplice!

I have a confession to make. Now that I write cozy mysteries, I read fewer of them than I used to.

Oh, there are still series that I read religiously, the ones I’m invested in, like Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen mysteries (oh, those recipes!), and Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series (will the penniless Lady Georgiana ever get her HEA with the hunky, equally penniless Lord Darcy?). And of course now that I’m fortunate enough to know so many authors, including the Wickeds, in real life, I try to read as many of those as time permits.

But it’s only partially about time. I have found I need to read other genres to keep things fresh in my own writing. So while I adore the cozies, quite often I will reach for something quite different:

Romance. Romance is a cousin to the cozy, in that the reader always knows what to expect, and there’s always a satisfying resolution. Girl meets Boy, external and internal obstacles come between them, Girl and Boy get back together at the end. It’s a formula, and it works. The mystery writer has a lot to learn from romance, which requires going deep into the characters’ heads and hearts, and establishing, building, and sustaining emotion as the main focus of the story. Mysteries are usually more plot driven, and I constantly catch myself only scratching the surface of my characters. The more romance I read, the more I realize that the key to any story is the characters–who they are, and how they interact. Complex characters superimposed on a well-constructed plot take a mystery to the next level.

Horror. Yes, you read that right. I read horror. Stephen King is a favorite. I don’t actually love the parts where gory stuff happens, but I’m not the type to have nightmares about it, either. Books never scare me (although movies can–they must activate a different part of the brain or something).  Like romance, horror speaks to something primal in our psyches–not the search for love, but the idea that there is the potential for good, and evil, in all of us. How does that help the mystery writer? Well, we’re writing about murder and associated crimes. Just because cozy authors don’t depict anything graphic, or explicitly describe deranged killers, it doesn’t mean we don’t need to understand what makes our criminals tick. Horror writers have this down pat.

Literary Fiction. I read this less often, but if it’s a successful book (meaning lots of people are buying, reading, and recommending it), I will often give it a try in an attempt to analyze what makes it so popular. And I sometimes enjoy the slower pace literary fiction usually has as opposed to genre fiction. In a lightning-fast world, anything that can slow you down to savor a beautiful (likely tragic) story can be a good thing. Literary fiction is often as much about the words as well as the story. Reading it can make you more aware of what words you are using and how you’re putting them together.

How about you? Do you read outside your genre box?

Cowboys and Cozies

by Sheila Connolly

I had this weird brainstorm the other day: television westerns in the 1950s were actually cozies! It could be because I’ve been reading one of Craig Johnson’s books, As the Crow Flies (which he signed for me when he was Guest of HonorCrime Bake panel at last year’s New England Crime Bake. I was even on a panel with him, which was a thrill.) He writes about a Wyoming sheriff, Walt Longmire, and I think he’s a worthy successor to Tony Hillerman, in terms of capturing the spirit of the west and its citizens.

Many of us grew up watching westerns on television. In case you’re not quite old enough to remember, that was about all there was to watch in those days (apart from The Mickey Mouse Club and roller derbies). Warner Brothers cranked them out regularly, and of course there was Wagon Train and Gunsmoke (question: did Wagon Train ever arrive anywhere? Or was it some existential endless quest?) Or the darker Have Gun, Will Travel, which for some reason my eight-year-old friends and I loved, a fact that has always mystified me, because that was a show with some subtlety and nuance, and a slightly ambiguous lead character (Richard Boone, aka Paladin).

Sheila as cowgirl 1955

Too bad you can’t see the boots–they were red..

The premise of most of these series was simple: you had this good guy at the center (the one with the white hat), who was pretty much a loner (few girlfriends, and if he ever had one, she got killed off quickly, á la Bonanza), but he had a circle of quirky friends–think Chester on Gunsmoke, or the Andy Devine role on Wild Bill Hickok (a totally irrelevant aside: Wild Bill Hickok was played by Guy Madison, who married Sheila Connolly—no relation—who I think is still alive and living on Cape Cod). The Good Guy also had a mission: to pursue evil-doers and seek justice, whether or not he was a designated officer of the law. Even if he was officially not quite squeaky clean (bounty hunter Steve McQueen on Wanted: Dead or Alive, for example), he still pursued justice, week after week—and won.

Sheila as Indian 1954

I didn’t discriminate–here I am as an Indian. The moccasins were pink.

Wow—now I realize how I spent my youth. I seem to have watched every western there was. Worse, I remember them all, and can probably sing the theme songs.

But my school friends and I took it another step: we re-enacted these episodes, or made up our own, on the playground (we had a generous recess in those days). The wimpy kids we didn’t like much got to play the wife and stay home and tend to the ranch. We fantasized, we put ourselves into the drama—and we had to wrap up the plot in the half-hour we had outside. Or end with “to be continued…”

Who knew that was training for a writer?

Some people complain that cozy mysteries are predictable and written by formula. It is true: they follow a pattern—but it’s a pattern that people enjoy. And there’s nothing new or surprising about that. If I tried really hard, I could probably come up with some examples of medieval literature that follow the same pattern. Is Wagon Train a revised Canterbury Tales?

The thing of it is, ordinary people like to know what they’re going to get when they pick up a new book. They like to believe that it’s possible to right wrongs, to save the day, even if it’s only on paper. It makes them feel good. They may all pick up the “serious” or “important” books on occasion, or the ones that everyone has been talking about, but they come home to the cozies.

And I think that’s what we took away from all those westerns, where the good guy always won. Sure, there was violence (all those guns!), but seldom did anyone die—they were always carefully shot in the fleshy part of the shoulder, and only because they deserved it (well, except for all those wives on Bonanza…).

Those of us who write cozies are the latest generation of a long line of storytellers, and we give people what they want. The line of succession made a stop in The Wild West, and now it’s meandering through a succession of food shops and farms and craft stores—but the moral is the same: the good gals win.

Oh, right, I published a book last month, An Early Wake. This one’s not set in the Old West, but it is set in what the Irish call “The Wild West” in Cork, and the people there always thought they were a bit above the (British) law. It was a New York Times and a Barnes and Noble paperback bestseller the week it was released.

Cover final

Ask the Expert–Paula Munier and Plot Perfect

Welcome Paula Munier to Ask the Expert this Friday. Paula is the author of Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene.

plotperfectHere’s the description.

Think of your favorite story–the one that kept you turning pages late into the night, the one with a plot so compelling, so multilayered, so perfect that you couldn’t put it down. How can you make your own plots–in your novels, short stories, memoirs, or screenplays–just as irresistible?

Plot Perfect provides the answer. This one-of-a-kind plotting primer reveals the secrets of creating a story structure that works–no matter what your genre. It gives you the strategies you need to build a scene-by-scene blueprint that will help elevate your fiction and earn the attention of agents and editors.

By coincidence, this winter, all the Wickeds happened to be working on first drafts at the same time. E-mails flew back and forth. “Using Plot Perfect to help me outline,” Julie wrote. “Using Plot Perfect to figure out a subplot,” Liz said. Here in Key West, my husband Bill, also a writer, and I were passing the book back and forth as we worked on our drafts.

Whoa, I thought. Something is up. So the Wickeds asked Paula here today to answer some questions for us and our readers.

Paula2Barb: You’ve been an editor, an agent and an author. Of all the writing elements, why did you feel a book on plot was needed?

Paula: As an agent, I’m always looking for good writers telling good stories. I’m not going to rewrite your stories for you if you’re not a good writer, but if you are a good writer I can help you tell a better story.

As an editor, I spent many years helping writers structure their books. Structure is often where good writers go wrong—especially those new to long-form storytelling. Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. And producing a series is one marathon after another. This can be a challenge for new novelists, who may have only written short stories or essays or news articles before trying their hand at the novel. Those writing crime fiction, where plot is so important, really need to master structure before they shop their work.

I represent—and have sold—many debut authors. I love helping novelists get into print!

Barb: Your book is about plot, but you spend a lot of time on the idea of theme in novels. Why is theme so important, and how does understanding your theme support plotting?

Paula: The book is based on my Plot Perfect boot camps. When Writers Digest first asked me to do a plot-related boot camp, I wanted to come up with a different approach to plot. And I chose the theme-related approach to plot, because I’ve seen too many manuscripts that read like video games—all action but no theme. Plot is what happens; theme is what it means. Theme is what your story is really about. I see too many stories that aren’t really about anything—they’re just one action after another. There’s no there there.

For crime fiction, theme is paramount. The themes in this category are big: good vs. evil, kill or be killed, the search for the truth, the nature of justice, society vs. the individual, chaos vs. order, etc. Readers expect crime fiction writers to tackle these big themes—and weave them right into the plot.

Barb: One of the things the Wickeds loved about your book is that while the concepts used in writing a novel can be quite abstract, you make them concrete by providing many, many examples. How long did it take you to write Plot Perfect, how did you find the examples and what criteria did you use to select them?

Paula: I had six months to write the book, but I’d been running the Plot Perfect boot camps for a couple of years already, so I knew the material fairly well. (I also teach at the Algonkian New York Pitch conferences, as well as other venues.)

I use a lot of examples because, as you say, it helps writers extrapolate, and apply what I’m talking about to their own work. I tend to use examples from the writers I love—from Shakespeare and Jane Austen to Dashiell Hammett and Alice Hoffman and Robert B. Parker—as well as the blockbusters that struck a chord with readers—Gone Girl, Eat Pray Love, etc.

Also, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that my editor at Writers Digest, Rachel Randall, is an even bigger believer in examples then I am—she had me add even more!

Barb: You look at so many books. As an agent, what do you think is the make-or-break? What single element most frequently causes you to take on a book? What single element most frequently causes you to reject it?

Paula: In today’s marketplace, your work really needs a USP: unique selling proposition. That’s marketing speak for being able to set your work apart from the competition. That often boils down to high-concept. Even in cozies, it’s often the cozies with well-defined premises/settings/USPs—the organic farming mystery, the cake decorating mystery, the Pennsylvania Dutch mystery, etc.—that win the contracts.

I always advise writers to read widely in their category—you’d be surprised how many writers don’t! You should pay particular attention to those debut authors who have broken out in the past three years. This is the competition that you’ll need to position your work against.

In terms of clients: I’m looking for a great writer with a story with a strong USP that I think I can sell. If I can’t boil it down to a 50-word pitch, I can’t sell it. That said, I’m a sucker for any writer with a strong voice. I try to stick to the categories I know well and have a soft spot for as a reader: women’s fiction, mainstream fiction, high-concept Sf/fantasy, YA fiction, any kind of crime fiction, as well as nonfiction.

Mostly I pass on projects because 1) the writer’s level of craft is not high enough for prime time yet; 2) the story idea isn’t strong enough; and/or 3) it’s just not my kind of project. Also, I won’t work with any writer who resists revision or refuses to take marketing and promoting her work seriously.

Barb: You’re a writer, too. What are you working on now?

Paula: Thanks for asking! I just finished a new book for Writers Digest called Writing with Quiet Hands: Notes on a Writer’s Craft, in which I talk about what it means to create good stories for today’s changing publishing landscape, and the finer points of craft that can make the difference between getting publishing and not getting published.

I’m also working on a new novel.

Barb: Thanks Paula. Readers, if you have questions or comments for Paula, fire away!

About Paula Munier: Writers are my tribe. I began as a journalist, and over the years I’ve penned countless new stories, articles, essays, collateral, and blogs, as well as authored/co-authored more than a dozen books, most recently Fixing Freddie, 5-Minute Mindfulness, and A Miscellany of Murder. Along the way, I’ve added editor, acquisitions specialist, digital content manager, and publishing executive to my repertoire—the common denominator being my commitment to writers and writing, no matter what my title. From Gannett, Greenspun, and Prima Games to Disney, Quayside, and F+W Media, I’ve fought the good fight for good writing and good writers. And I’ve loved every minute of it.

But now, as an agent, I have the opportunity to support talented writers in the most direct manner possible, helping my clients do good work, land great publishing deals, and build successful writing careers. So if you’re a writer as obsessed with words and stories as I am, and you’re in it for the long haul, consider working with me. My specialties include mystery/thriller, SF/fantasy, romance, YA, memoir, humor, pop culture, health & wellness, cooking, self-help, pop psych, New Age, inspirational, technology, science, and writing.

How I Learned to Relax About Being a “Cozy” Author and Just Write the Damn Books–Part I

by Barb–sad because we’re leaving Key West in three days (or maybe perplexed is a better word. Why are we returning to the frozen north?)

Barbara RossI’ve wanted to write about how I feel about being an author of cozy mysteries for awhile, but it’s always been a complicated and evolving issue. So I’ve decided to split the topic up into three blog posts that I’ll put up during my next several turns here at Wicked Cozys.

The Beginning

I didn’t start out to write a cozy. I started out to write a mystery. All my life I had read widely in the mystery field, without really differentiating by sub-genre. I cut my teeth on those amateur sleuths Nancy Drew and Miss Marple, who despite her maiden state, is the grandmother of all of us authors of amateur sleuths. I read Dick Francis and Ross Thomas and John D. MacDonald and Dennis Lehane and Dorothy L. Sayers and Janet Evanovich. Admittedly, it was a simpler time. I found most of my books through recommendations from friends and relatives, as well as friendly independent bookstore clerks and librarians. Megabookstores and online retailers hadn’t yet created such a strong need for subcategory labeling to help you find a book you would like.

I knew I wanted to write a series. I loved the books of P.D. James and Ruth Rendell’s Wexford series. I loved watching characters change over time, and returning to find out what was going on in their lives. I was particularly taken with Rendell’s Kingsmarkham, it’s strong sense of place and how it evolved from a sleepy market village to a sprawling suburb with a highway on-ramp and a diverse population. Even Christie’s St. Mary Mead evolved, sprouting a housing development after the second World War. To me, it was all magic.

DeathOfAmbitiousWomanFrontMy first mystery, The Death of An Ambitious Woman, had a professional sleuth as its protagonist, a female police chief, but it was also very much a village mystery. Which was one of the many reasons it was so hard to sell, though it was eventually published by Five Star/Cengage.

We’ve told many times on the blog how our agent, John Talbot, approached Sheila Connolly, who was then President of Sisters in Crime New England, to see if any members had an interest in writing a spec proposal for a cozy mystery series. I was very interested. Because of my love of series, I knew I wanted a multi-book contract, something Five Star didn’t offer. I wrote to Sheila behind the scenes and asked her if she thought I could do it. She pointed out that my first book had a lot of cozy elements. With her encouragement, I called John. We batted some ideas around, and chose “clambake.”

JohnTalbotIn that first call, John said, “You know what cozies are, right? Amateur sleuth, small town, ya-da, ya-da.” I’m not sure John actually said “ya-da, ya-da,” but he definitely ya-da, ya-da-ed the definition of a cozy. I assured him that I did and set to work writing the proposal.

During that period, I read a lot of books that were actually defined as “cozy mysteries.” I read books by our own Sheila Connolly, and by Leslie Meier and Kaitlyn Dunnett/(Kathy Lynn Emerson). I read John Talbot’s most successful cozy author, Cleo Coyle and Kensington’s most successful cozy author, Joanne Fluke. I was inspired by all of them. I also read several frankly terrible cozies. I won’t name any names, but ones I couldn’t finish. Ones that made me dread going to bed because I would have to open them.

CLAMMED_UPI was undaunted. What area of literature doesn’t have some absolutely awful books in it? None is the answer. And, as I’ve learned over and over, my absolutely awful book is your favorite and vice versa, because the role of personal taste is huge. Besides, though I had tried to keep a professional distance from my proposal, I was falling in love with my characters and my setting. I really wanted to write these stories.

John sold the series to Kensington, and I started writing Clammed Up in earnest. I still hadn’t processed what it meant to be the author of a cozy novel, but now I was paying attention–and starting to panic. It’s interesting that neither of the things I was panicking about affected the story I was writing.

To wit:

  1. If the author is the brand, and the brand is the author, I was in deep trouble. People might describe me in a number of ways, but nobody, including my kids, would ever describe me as cozy. I’m a city girl at heart. I have no pets, I don’t do crafts. I swear like a sailor. I don’t even cook if I can avoid it. Ulp.
  2. The image of cozy mysteries worried me. So often they’re defined as what they are not. You know, it’s a traditional mystery, with an amateur sleuth, but with no sex, gore or swearing. That drove me crazy. Here I am writing 70,000+ words, and the genre is defined by what’s not in there, instead of what is. It bugged the heck out of me. (Or the hell out of me, as I really would say in my real life.)

So the rest of the posts in this series will be a description of my journey with the two personal challenges above, how I evolved, and how I feel about these issues today.

Wicked Wednesday — I Shouldn’t Have Worn That Outfit

While getting our photo albums out two weeks ago to look for our worst hairdos we noticed we’d made some questionable fashion choices over the years too. Wickeds were you a trendsetter or fashion follower? Is there a fashion period you wish would come back? And which fashion trends do you hope never darken the doors of the fashion world again?

Liz: Stirrup pants! Anyone remember those? I have no pictures, thankfully, but those were definitely a horrible trend that should never make a comeback. I’ve seen reminders here and there over the years that are threatening to return, but thankfully they’ve never gained traction.

Jessie: Shorts of all kinds! I’m barely 5’3″ and I need absolutely no help in making my legs look any shorter. The only shorts I own are the stretchy sort and I wear them, reluctantly, on my home treadmill. My entire summer wardrobe is made up of dresses which are cooler, more comfortable and look great too.

Edith: I must say, Liz, that I felt very chic in my pink stretch stirrup pants tucked into white go-go boots, with a pink windbreaker over a white sleeveless mock turtleneck shirt. I was in ninth grade, had just outgrown my baby fat, and I thought I looked quite stunning. But who didn’t look stunning at that brief stage between awkward end-of-childhood and… well, never mind. I guess the oversized square plastic glasses frames of the early 80s, and the huge shoulder pads get my vote for questionable fashion. I was not, however, too nonconformist not to wear both myself!

awfuloutfitSherry: When I was in my teens and twenties I was pretty confident of my fashion choices. However, this picture of my thirties points out how horribly wrong I can be. The worse part about the picture is my daughter posted if on Facebook and it keeps getting bumped up to the top when someone new sees it and leaves a comment. I cropped Bob out but really green shorts with a black and red sweater — what was I thinking?

Julie: I’ve been watching Perry Mason movies from the eighties. That was a train wreck of a fashion decade, and I loved EVERY minute of it! Bring back the shoulder pads! Tunics over leggings (real leggings that you can’t see through)–everyone looks good. Button earrings–I’ve still got them. My worse fashion choices are when I look dowdy. Dressing in your 50’s is a fight between being age appropriate and being comfortable. Honestly, the 80’s fashions would help with both!

 

Readers: Your questionable fashion choices? Or ones that seemed borderline but later were trend forward? (And isn’t it even trend forward to use that phrase?)

Welcome Shelley Costa

By Liz…still freezing in New England, and making plans for next winter that don’t include snow and ice.

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Shelley Costa, author of You Cannoli Die Once and Basil 5C Instinct, to the blog. Shelley is a fabulous writer and awesome person, and I’m so glad she’s taking the time to visit Wicked Cozy Authors today! Here’s Shelley’s bio:

A 2004 Edgar nominee for Best Short Story, Shelley Costa is the author of You Cannoli Die Once  and Basil Instinct (Simon and Schuster 2013, 2014).  Cannoli was a 2014 Agatha nominee for Best First Novel.  Shelley’s mystery stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Blood on Their Hands,The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, and Crimewave (UK).  Shelley teaches creative writing at the Cleveland Institute of Art.  Find her at www.shelleycosta.com.

I asked her a few questions about her books and her upcoming projects. Here’s our interview:

For our readers who haven’t met Eve Angelotta yet, tell us about her and the kinds of trouble she’s been finding herself in.

Eve Angelotta is my sleuth who’s the head chef in her family-run, generations-old northern Italian restaurant outside Philly.  She’s a former Broadway dancer who had an accident that’s sidelined her, making her turn reluctantly to “la famiglia” for a livelihood. She is a strong, funny, thinks-outside-the-spaghetti-box type of gal.

basil-instinct-9781476709369I’m Italian, and I know there’s a lot of fodder there for both humor and murder! Tell us about Eve’s family and where the characters came from.

Even when murder doesn’t find its way into their kitchen, Eve is up against her elegant but difficult grandmother, Maria Pia, who owns the place and, although she’s technically retired, still makes her big presence and personality felt.  Eve’s best friend is her gay cousin (and sous chef) the wonderful Landon Angelotta, and the other cousin employed full-time at the restaurant is the big guy Choo Choo Bacigalupo, a softie who works as maitre d’ — and who actually gets along with Maria Pia!  Eve’s nemesis is her second cousin, the flaky, farming Kayla Angelotta who supplies the restaurant produce.  All of these characters are truly fictitious, although Mrs. Crawford, the mysterious pianist, is drawn from my eighth grade math and reading teacher (who wore cocktail dresses and wide-brimmed hats to school).  Eve herself is probably some fun, crime-solving side of me, since her voice is very strong and clear to me. . . although I can’t quite figure out why she’s funnier than I am.

Your books are hilarious. How easy is it for you to weave humor into murder? Does it come naturally with the characters, or is it something you have to consciously think about?

Thanks!  They make me laugh, too.  Book One, YOU CANNOLI DIE ONCE,  opens with a corpse in the restaurant kitchen who turns out to be Maria Pia’s elderly boyfriend.  (Can an arrest be far behind?) And Book Two, BASIL INSTINCT, finds Eve’s new sous chef murdered. . .just as Maria Pia is inducted into a secret, 200 year old all-female (possibly homicidal) cooking society.  One has to wonder just how bad the initiation ceremony gets!  It’s certaily easier to weave humor into murder when the book is a cozy, right?  In cozies the story contains murder, yes, but in some ways the murder is an excuse to live — both writer and reader — for a few hundred pages in an interesting, delicious world with fascinating characters banding together to figure something out.  I find it hard to imagine a through-line of humor in other subgenres.  Hardboiled PI?  No, it’s mean streets and loner-sleuth.  Murder just validates the cynicism.  There can be a wry narrative voice for sure.  But wit or a laugh-out-loud worldview?  Not so much.  And thrillers take themselves very seriously, which is fine and can be very well done.  The murderous situations get ramped way up.  Nothing funny in psychopaths or doomsday plots.  Me, I’d rather laugh.  Bottom line for all of us writing across all the mystery subgenres: it comes down to crime and punishment.  Laughs or gore aside, we have that in common.  All the rest is just a matter of style or taste.

Talk about setting. Why did you pick Philly?

I grew up in central New Jersey.  When that’s where you are, you get carted by school bus or family car either to NYC or Philly.  Once or twice I went to New Hope, PA, a charming old town just north of Philly that’s a magnet for antiquing tourists.  I wanted to write a place close enough to a major city that it might give me some plot options, and yet interesting and rich in its own right.  I grew up in a small town, and I’ve lived in others.  I “get” — and like — certain kinds of small towns, the ones with history and civic pride and an array of different kinds of folks going about their lives, so I invented Quaker Hills with a thriving downtown commercial district you get to know in the books.

What’s next for you? 

Next up is the first book in a new series, PRACTICAL SINS FOR COLD CLIMATES (Henery Press, January 2016), featuring my thirtysomething sleuth, Valjean Cameron, a NYC editor sent to the Canadian Northwoods to sign a reclusive bestselling author to a book contract.  But first she has to find him — a tricky thing to do in her Prada heels.  A fish out of water, Val lands in this wilderness community where seasonal residents battle with permanent ones over the development of the lake.  Murder ensues.  Val has to find her quarry, that bestelling author, prove he isn’t a killer, and get back to the city before she loses her mind.  PRACTICAL SINS is a traditional amateur sleuth mystery.

Thanks for visiting, Shelley! Readers, any questions for our guest?

Testing…One, Two, Three and Beyond

By Liz, who never wants to see another snowflake again in her lifetime.

In case you missed it on Facebook, Shaggy passed her Canine Good Citizen test last 11001915_843939312314806_9087595771384300202_n week. This was a huge milestone for her. She’d been to two obedience classes prior, both of which she completed like a pro, but an “official” test? Nobody likes tests, right? They’re so nerve-wracking.

Anyway, she passed with flying colors, even the one I was most worried about – supervised separation, where she had to stay alone with the trainer for 3 minutes and not fuss. Tough stuff for a spoiled little dog who’s joined to my hip!

IMG_8922But she did it. And during this process, as I helped her practice for each test, I got to thinking about these tests and how they can apply to humans too. Here are some examples of how the CGC tests have manifested in my life, and how I would fare.

TEST 1: ACCEPTING A FRIENDLY STRANGER
Okay, I have to admit I have an issue with this one. Strangers are not always friendly; therefore they can’t be accepted just because they smile at you. Not to mention, my writer’s brain always thinks the worst about people. I think this is a bad lesson for everyone, including dogs. The last stranger I made eye contact with on the streets of Hartford was an undercover cop with a gun, chasing a bank robber during lunch hour. Come to think of it, he wasn’t that friendly.
Grade: FAIL

TEST 2: SITTING POLITELY FOR PETTING
In human speak, this could read “Sitting politely for politicking.” The equivalent of sitting politely during meetings while posturing, politics and other fun stuff occurs around you. I’m good at “nod and smile.” Most days.
Grade: PASS

Shaggy getting congratulatory kisses from Tuffy

Shaggy getting congratulatory kisses from Tuffy

TEST 3: APPEARANCE AND GROOMING
Looking professional when you’re frozen and the air is so dry you feel shriveled, having to climb mountains of snow and navigate a driveway that’s uphill and covered with ice is tough. However, I’ve managed to hold it together enough to not look like I’ve climbed through the Arctic tundra once I’ve gotten to the office and done some repairs.
Grade: PASS

TEST 4: OUT FOR A WALK (WALKING ON A LOOSE LEAD)
Let’s be clear—I hate winter. I just want to curl up in my blanket and stay inside until this hideous white stuff melts. However, there’s one exception—a daily trip to Starbucks. Certain coworkers and I will brave the most horrendous elements for our daily cup. We’re better than the post office in this regard. I’m thinking specifically of the rainstorm with 40 mile an hour winds that destroyed our umbrellas. Yes, we had a meeting after that. In person. But at least we had coffee.
Grade: PASS

TEST 5: WALKING THROUGH A CROWD
It’s not me, it’s them. If you’re too busy yelling at someone on your cell phone or not watching where you’re going with your baby stroller, it’s not my fault if my big purse nearly takes you out.
Grade: FAIL 

IMG_8941TEST 6: SIT AND DOWN ON COMMAND AND STAYING IN PLACE
I command myself every day to sit and stay in front of the computer during my writing time. Doesn’t usually work unless the situation is extremely desperate. (See Test 9)
Grade: FAIL

TEST 7: COMING WHEN CALLED
Depends on who’s calling. In the world of CGC, that matters. So I win.
Grade: PASS

TEST 8: REACTION TO ANOTHER DOG
Depends on the dog. Depends on whether said dog is trying to be alpha, lifting his leg on my cubicle, growling and showing fangs. And then there’s the female dog—and you know what they call those. In both of these cases, I tend to exhibit the same behaviors.
Grade: FAIL

TEST 9: REACTION TO DISTRACTION
I’m on two manuscript deadlines, April 1 and May 1. One manuscript still needs a complete rewrite to incorporate a new theme (more on that later). Still, every time I hunker down to do a big chunk of work, it’s amazing what I let distract me. The ding of a text message, an email teaser, the sound of a puking cat all lead me away from my ultimate goal—to finish the bleeping books on time. (See Test 6)
Grade: FAIL

TEST 10: SUPERVISED SEPARATION
See Test 1. Seeing as extreme supervision is not my strong suit, I don’t think this is a good test for me. And then there’s the whole stranger thing.
Grade: FAIL

As you can see, Shaggy is much more equipped to deal with the world than I10404450_10204812738092587_7465020634869378212_n am. I guess it’s good I’m a writer and can often hide in my cave.

However, I should point out that after class was completed, the blue ribbon was displayed proudly and prizes were given, a dog is still a dog, and will sneak into litter boxes for a snack. In the world of CGC, that’s an extreme fail.

Readers, how would you fare on these tests?