What’s Wrong with Genre Fiction?

Edith writing north of Boston, not quite sure what season it is.

(Warning: /Rant ON/.) My answer to this post’s title question is, NOTHING!

So I was one of three authors on a cross-genre panel at a local library two weeks ago. I know and love both of the other women on the panel, and I love their writing, too. Someone in the audience asked about pros and cons of having a publisher vs. self-publishing.

We authors get this question a lot. I feel a little bit qualified to answer it, because I have books out with big publishing houses as well as a small press, and I’ve also self-published reprints of some of my short stories that originally appeared in juried anthologies.

 

(In order, the preceding covers represent big press, self-pubbed, and small press, with two different pen names.)

The other authors and I talked about what a big house does for us in terms of editing, cover art, and distribution – and sometimes publicity. The author has to all of this herself – or hire it out – with self-publishing, but she also keeps all the money a publisher and an agent claim in the traditional model. I chimed in on how Kensington Publishing gets my books in every Barnes & Noble in the country by the release date, and do things like place ads in national puzzle magazines.

One of my fellow authors mentioned a writer friend of hers who has been very successful self-publishing her series of mystery novels. She added that the friend had to hire people to do editing and covers, and “of course, the writing is formulaic,” but that she had made a lot of money from the books.

I about blew my stack at her offhand comment but I kept my reaction in check for the evening. because I respect my friend and I very much enjoy her books (which are not mysteries). Our event was not the venue to get into a discussion of  genre fiction being “of course … formulaic.” Unlike most times we’re together, none of us was free to go out for wine afterwards and talk books, publishing, kids, and whatever else comes up. So I didn’t get a chance to challenge her on her view, and now she’s off on a vacation in some far-flung place.

I don’t understand how someone thinks that any of us “genre” writers – all the Wicked Cozys included – have a formula for our novels. Does she really believe that I follow a recipe for a mystery? That I don’t work and imagine and despair over and craft my writing like she does just because she imagines she is writing women’s literary fiction and I’m not?

literary: 1. Of or relating to books. 2.  Of or relating to authors

Literary? Don’t I qualify? Of course we mystery authors have a plot. We have a puzzle to solve. We have the very sticky problem of tricking the reader until the end while still playing fair. If anybody can come up with a recipe for that, I’d like to see it. And sure, those of us who write cozies play within certain parameters of language and setting. Our stories share certain surface similarities. But it ain’t a formula, folks. (And definitely not a formula for strychnine – shown here.)

Strychnine_formula

In late 2016 all the Wickeds were on a Books and Bagels panel hosted by our good friend Ray Daniel at his temple west of Boston. Someone asked a question about literary as opposed to genre fiction. I remember saying I was proud of my work. “I write the best book I can with the most elegant language I can use that still serves the story. And if people don’t want to read it because it’s genre fiction, then I don’t need them as readers” – or something to that effect.

/Rant OFF./ Whew! I’m glad I got that off my chest. I also plan to talk to my friend about her “formulaic” comment and do a little consciousness raising after she gets back from her trip.

Readers and fellow authors – what’s your take? Do you read both “literary” fiction and enthralling mysteries? What do you like about one vs. the other? Writers – do you write by a formula? (Yeah, didn’t think so…)

Welcome Guest Shari Randall — My Cozy Mystery Mistake

Shari will give a copy of Curses, Boiled Again, Book One in the new Lobster Shack Mystery series, to one lucky commenter.

Hi, Wickeds! Thank you for inviting me to visit. It’s always a pleasure to hang out with you.

I just launched my debut mystery, Curses, Boiled Again! It’s been a whirlwind – I feel like a little kid playing at the beach who gets knocked over by a wave. Whoa! What just happened?

I’ve enjoyed every surprise but now things are getting serious.

I’m getting reviews.

On one hand, it’s wonderful that readers are taking the time to share their feedback about the book. Plus Amazon likes authors to get reviews, and God knows, we want Amazon to be happy.

And the reviews have been great, for which I’m thanking my lucky stars.

But a couple of reviewers pointed out that I’d forgotten to put something in the book. My cozy mystery mistake?

I’d forgotten a recipe.

My series is set at the Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack, a cedar shingled little spot set in Mystic Bay, Connecticut. Any resemblance to other charming New England tourist towns is entirely intentional. Colorful buoys cover the sides of the building and an antique mermaid figurehead welcomes diners at the door. Inside, the walls are covered with shelves of owner Gully Fontana’s mermaid collection, which she calls her “mermaidabilia.”

The book is full of people cooking, savoring, and talking about delicious Connecticut style lobster rolls.

What’s Connecticut style? It’s simple summertime goodness – freshly cooked lobster served in a buttery, toasted hot dog bun with melted butter poured on top. That’s it. It’s so simple, I didn’t devote a page to a recipe.

Aunt Gully, the owner of the shack, does whip them up that way but she also adds her own Lobster Love sauce, a sauce with the complex flavors of a lobster bisque.

Ah, that Lobster Love sauce.

Dear reader, I have no idea what’s in the Lobster Love sauce. The folks lucky enough to taste it aren’t sure what’s in it either, but they describe it as magical, the taste of summer in New England. They beg for the recipe.

Since I know Aunt Gully better than anyone I know she’d want me to own up to my mistake. I’ve decided to share the secret of the Lobster Love sauce right here on Wicked Cozy Authors.

The secret: there is no one recipe. Aunt Gully makes the Lobster Love sauce a different way every day.

But all that talk of lobster rolls has made readers hungry, so if a craving for lobster hits, here’s a recipe I think Aunt Gully would approve. It’s a bisque, and don’t we all love lobster bisque? Enjoy it now as a savory soup or save it for summertime, and enjoy it, if possible, with a water view.

Easy Lobster Love Bisque

Takes about an hour to make! 6-8 servings

2 lobster tails, cut in half

2 cups water

1 TBSP salt

2 TBSP olive oil

1 sweet onion, diced

2 ribs celery, sliced thin

1 garlic clove, smashed

2 TBSP tomato paste

2 cups dry white wine (if you don’t want to use wine, replace with stock)

1 TBSP fresh thyme (2-3 sprigs)

1 bay leaf

1 TBSP paprika

3 cups fish stock (or you can use chicken broth)

1 14 oz can fire roasted, diced tomatoes

¼ cup heavy whipping cream

½ cup half and half

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

If you like spicy, at the end add some of your favorite hot sauce, to taste.

In 2 cups of salted water in a large pot, steam lobster tails (shell side down) until cooked through (approx. 5 minutes)

Carefully remove tails from the water. Put in bowl. Reserve cooking water. Let the tails cool then remove the meat and reserve the shells.

In a large pot, heat olive oil over med-hi heat. Add onion and celery and cook until onion is translucent (approx. 4-5 minutes). Stir in garlic and cook for one minute. Stir in tomato paste and cook 1-2 minutes.

Add the wine to the mixture, deglazing and scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add herbs, paprika, stock, reserved liquid from the lobster pot, and tomatoes. Add reserved shells to the pot. Let simmer 45 minutes.

Remove the shells, strain mixture, and blend with immersion blender until smooth. (If you’re not fussy, you can skip straining the mixture.) Stir in cream, half and half, and lemon juice.

Chop the lobster meat and divide among soup bowls. Ladle bisque over the meat and enjoy!

Readers: What is your favorite restaurant with a view?

Shari Randall lives in a mid-century money pit on the Connecticut shore. When she’s not committing murder (on the page, of course) she enjoys dancing, reading, and volunteering at her local library. You can see what’s new with her at https://us.macmillan.com/author/sharirandall/.

 

 

Wicked Wednesday: Heart-Healthy Habits

It’s Edith hosting Wicked Wednesday again. We’ve been riffing on hearts all month, so let’s talk today about heart-healthy habits. Some of you know that my sister’s heart stopped without warning on Christmas night. By some miracle of modern medicine (and hundreds of people praying for her), she recovered with her brain and body intact. She went home from the hospital nine days later and is now doing cardio rehab, so you can bet I’m thinking about my own heart-healthy habits.

THree sisters

My sisters Janet and Barbara and me, two days before Barbara was released home.

AmerHeartAssnThe American Heart Association has some sensible guidelines for heart health that won’t be a surprise to most readers: exercise; eat your veggies, nuts, whole grains, and lean meats; don’t smoke; drink alcohol in moderation; and limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages. So let’s dish, Wickeds – what’s your favorite heart-healthy habit and which do you wish you could ignore?

Liz: So glad your sister is healing, Edith. What a great topic. I try to do all the basics. I haven’t eaten meat in years, don’t drink soda, eat a lot of veggies, do different types of workouts – boxing, weights, yoga – and I do a lot of meditation, which really helps reduce stress. I also drink black Pu’er tea that I get from my Chinese healer, Dr. Wu, which is great for blood pressure and cholesterol. And though I’m trying to give up sugar altogether, I (usually) only eat sweets with organic cane sugar.

Sherry: My dog, Lily, and I take daily walks. We take a long one in the morning and a shorter one late afternoon. Since we don’t have a fenced yard we are out in all types of weather. And I’ve been working hard on not sitting for more than thirty minutes without getting up and moving around.

Jessie: I am a big believer in the mind-body connection. As more and more research has come out proving the impact of strong, meaningful relationships on longevity and overall health I have been making sure to keep my connections with friends and family a priority in my life. I feel so lucky to count the Wickeds and our readers here on the blog as part of that social connection and support!

Edith: I agree about the Wickeds and our readers, Jessie! I’m very attached to my daily power walk. I know it doesn’t get my heart rate up as much as when I used to run, but it’s something. And has the added benefit of letting me talk out loud about what my characters need to do next! Otherwise I eat pretty healthy, although I’m perhaps overly fond of sweets.  And wine. And butter…. (I’m also relieved to know that my recent echocardiogram stress test came back normal.)

Julie: Welp, heart issues run in my family, so I take medication for cholesterol. Even at my thinnest and healthiest my numbers were very high, so modern medicine to the rescue. I also walk at least 7500 steps a day (working toward 10000), try to eat well, and am working on stress reduction methods. I am also mindfully exploring the joy of life–seeing people, loving the writing, making plans that include having fun. All of that said, I am far from perfect. Far from it. Aspiring to be better, but I like red wine, desserts, red meat and butter. Carpe Diem.

Readers: What about you? Heart-healthy habits? Not-so-healthy ones it’s hard to let go of?

The Detective’s Daughter — Snow! Snow! Snow!

Kim, in Baltimore, watching her cement steps crumble under layers of salt.

When I was about seven years old, don’t even ask me what year that was, we had an incredible snowstorm. The snow was piled so high we had to tunnel through it. Now granted, I was a little kid, so the snow banks might not have been quite that impressive to the adults, but it was bad enough that everything in Baltimore was shut down and the National Guard was transporting all medical personnel and law enforcement to work.

Nana, Mom, and I stood at the door and watched as Daddy climbed up into a truck that had wheels almost as tall as my father. You see these over-sized trucks everywhere today – don’t even get me started on that! – but back then, other than a tractor trailer, people did not drive these types of vehicles. A man inside had to help pull Daddy in. I remained there as the truck drove away, its tires crunching across the ground breaking the cold silence.

The snow days of my childhood were thrilling, filled with hot chocolate, popcorn and endless hands of 500 Rummy. If Daddy wasn’t called into work, he would pull me on my sled or we would walk our St. Bernard, Barney, to the park. I can’t recall one time my parents rushing out to the grocery store or any of our television programs being interrupted by a haggard looking weather forecaster predicting doom.

My family loves snow, though we don’t get very much of it here in Baltimore. Just seeing the snowflake symbol pop up on my phone brings a smile to my face and I rush to my pantry to make sure I have our snowy day essentials. Coffee, cocoa, popcorn and the ingredients for a hearty soup or dumplings are always available.

Now my own children are grown. They no longer sit on the stairs anxiously awaiting to hear if their school is closed. They don’t need any assistance with their coats or boots and mostly know where they’ve left their gloves and hats.

Last Saturday night I sat near the window, my coffee mug in hand, and watched as heavy wet snowflakes dropped from the sky. The yard was empty, but in my heart two beautiful children ran with their dog and flung themselves on the ground to make snow angels.

One of my favorite movie scenes is from White Christmas. Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera Allen are on a train headed for Vermont. While sitting in the dining car they create a winter wonderland on their table and sing of their love of snow. That’s how I feel. While others may be counting the days to spring, I am hoping for one more snow day.

Dear Reader: Do you love or dread snow? What is your fondest snow day memory?

Restrictions

Congratulations Kristin Shandler! You are the winner of the giveaway from Krista Davis! Check your email for details!

Jessie: In New Hampshire, where the birds are starting to sing.

IMG_0003On Friday I received an unexpected package in the mail. My son decided the weather was favorable and volunteered to walk to the post office. When he returned he was bearing a lumpy envelope from my publisher.

I ripped it open expecting dust jackets for my second Beryl and Edwina Mystery, Murder Flies the Coop. Instead, I found five copies of the audiobook of the first Beryl and Edwina Mystery, Murder in an English Village. I was stunned and thrilled. This is my first audiobook and the good people at Recorded Books entrusted the job  of bringing it to life in an audible format to the acclaimed actress and voice professional Barbara Rosenblat.

When my publisher informed me several months ago tha they had sold the audio rights to the book I was delighted. This was my first experience with an audiobook being made from my work and I was eager to expand my horizons. I also loved the idea of people who prefer to experience stories in this way having a chance to try my work.

But here’s the problem: as much as I am delighted that the audiobook exists and am so appreciative that such a lauded professional has been willing to apply her talents and skills to a version of my work that has been evaluated as a wonderful expression of the book, I can’t bring myself to listen to it. I put all five copies on a shelf in my office and they have been staring me down all weekend.

The thing is, I know exactly how Beryl and Edwina sound in my head. They are talkative and generous women and neither of them holds back about what is on their minds. When I write the books it feels almost like I am a court reproter taking down what the witnesses have to say rather than that I am the one generating the stories. I plot my books so I know I was involved but it still feels like channeling rather than creating. I can see these women and hear them so clearly that I have a bit of trouble remembering that we haven’t actually met on the physical plane. Which brings me to my reluctance to listen to the audio version.

The fact is, I am scared to do so. I am afraid that if I hear the way another artist interprets how they sound I won’t be able to hear my version anymore. I worry that the voices I have come to recognize and the companionship I have enjoyed when commiting their stories to paper will evaporate into the thin air if I permit another version of them into my consciousness.

I may be worrying for nothing but I have decided that I cannot risk it. I have determined that the only thing to do is to give away four of the copies and to let my husband listen to the fifth. Maybe my kids will do so too. I am delighted to provide it with pride of place on the shelves in my office that I have set aside for the varying versions of my work. And I am content to leave the listening to others.

So dear readers, tell me, what self-imposed restrictions do you create for yourself? Writers, do you worry about anything altering the way your characters sound in your head?

I am choosing a subscriber to my newsletter to win a copy of the audiobook. If you sign up before the February newsletter goes out next Sunday your name will go into the hat! Good luck and if you win, let me know how you like the way it turned out!

Guest: Krista Davis

Edith here, honored to host Krista Davis as our guest today. She may not be wicked, Color Me Murder hi resbut she definitely writes cozy! She has a fabulous new series coming out – featuring adult coloring books – and is joining us at Kensington Publishing. She’ll give away a copy of Color Me Murder to one commenter here today.

Here’s a blurb:

Includes A Front and Back Cover for You to Color!
 
By day, Florrie Fox manages Color Me Read bookstore in Georgetown, Washington D.C. By night, she creates her own intricately detailed coloring books for adults, filling the pages with objects that catch her eye. There’s plenty of inspiration in her new apartment—a beautiful carriage house belonging to Professor John Maxwell, Florrie’s boss. He offers the property to Florrie rent-free with one condition—she must move in immediately to prevent his covetous sister and nephew from trying to claim it.
 
When the professor’s nephew, Delbert, arrives, he proves just as sketchy as Florrie feared. But the following morning, Delbert has vanished. It’s not until she visits the third floor of the store that Florrie makes a tragic discovery—there’s a trap door in the landing, and a dead Delbert inside. The esteemed Professor Maxwell is an obvious suspect, but Florrie is certain this case isn’t so black and white. Doodling clues, she begins to consider other colorful characters on the scene, all with a motive for murder. With a killer drawing closer, Florrie will need to think outside the lines . . . before death makes his mark again.

Krista: I confess that I am not an artist. I realized this in grade school. While other kids were thrilled with art class, I knew it wasn’t for me. Even at that age, some of them had amazing abilities while I was still drawing crooked houses.

Oddly enough, I do like crafts. I crocheted what is very likely the biggest bedspread in the world. Alas, it is so big and heavy that no one wants it. Not even me! My mother was an extraordinary knitter. You know the gorgeous fluffy angora sweaters that are sold by high end shops? Yup. That’s the sort of thing my mother knitted.

Why am I telling you this? Because I blame my lack of artistic ability on my genes. There’s not a single member of my immediate family who can draw. Some of you probably think I’m joking. I am completely serious when I say that we can barely draw stick figures for Pictionary. It’s not my fault! I am genetically incapable of drawing anything that doesn’t look like a second grader drew it.

And yet, I took on a mystery series about a coloring book artist. A woman who can doodle recognizable things! A woman who draws intricate images!

You can imagine my angst about this. I was a little wary when I started the Domestic Diva Mysteries. After all, I’m no Martha. But I’m okay with cooking and baking. And some of my friends seem to think I have abilities they don’t possess. I’m also a crystal and china piggy. Pretty dishes go a long way in making people think you’ve cooked something great.

The Paws & Claws Mysteries came naturally to me. I’m surrounded by dogs and cats. I dote on them and observe their antics. I read recently that dogs and cats should be perfect in books. Hah! They aren’t perfect in real life. Not any more than we are. At the moment, I’m dealing with the remnants of Baron’s up close and personal encounter with a skunk. That will surely make it into a book.

Colored pencilsBut art? Could I pull it off? Was it too far outside of my comfort zone? I did some research on the mind of the artist. After all, they must see things differently than I do, right? Unfortunately, that was a bomb.

I do love color. The brighter the better. I’m always impressed when designers on Project Runway mix patterns (I wouldn’t dare!) and they go together so beautifully. Even I know there are different shades of black. And who among us hasn’t  bought a navy blue skirt only to find that it didn’t match anything else in our closets that was navy blue? Even I can appreciate those nuances.

So in the end, I took a deep breath and jumped into Florrie’s character. So I didn’t have her artistic skill. I could imagine how wonderful it would be to doodle and sketch images. If I had that talent, I would draw all the time.

Adult coloring books have come a long way. They are gorgeous and intricate. It takes a real artist to be able to sketch those images. Even if I can’t draw worth a hoot, I can appreciate the unbelievable talent of those who can. I’m living vicariously through Florrie, and loving every minute of it.

Readers: How about you? Have you written about something that is way out of your comfort zone? Remember, I’m giving away a copy of the new book to one lucky commenter!

Krista Davis writes three mystery series. Color Me Murder will be the first book in the Krista_Buttercup1 smallPen & Ink mystery series. Krista’s longest running series is the Domestic Diva Mysteries. After a one year hiatus, the eleventh book, The Diva Cooks Up a Storm, will be out in May. If dogs and cats are your thing, you might enjoy Krista’s Paws & Claws Mysteries featuring Trixie the Jack Russell with a nose for trouble (or more precisely—dead people) and Twinkletoes, the long-haired calico cat.

The Superpower of Fun

By Julie, in disbelief that it is going to be in the 50’s today

 

FunThis time of year is always a bit of a blah for me, and this year is no different. In fact, because of a bout with the flu, I’m feeling more blah than normal. And retrospective. My gratitude list, which is long, wasn’t doing the normal job of getting me out of my slump, so I decided to reboot a bit, and shift my lens.

Last week I went to a presentation on the most recent Culture Track study. Part of the presentation has been sticking with me all week. It was about the prime motivating factors for participating in culture. (The definition of culture is also shifting, which is fascinating.) These are the top five reasons their data pointed to:

5. Learning something new
4. Feeling less stressed
3. Experiencing new things
2. Interest in the content

And the number one reason people indicated motivated them to participate in something cultural?

Having fun.

Earlier this year, I went to the memorial service for a wonderful Boston actor, Tommy Derrah. One of Tommy’s mantra’s was “if it isn’t fun, don’t do it.” Tommy’s ability to find the fun in everyday is part of his legacy, and one of the reasons he will be greatly missed, but not soon forgotten. I’d already been thinking about that phrase, and what it means to me, and then I learned that fun is a prime motivator for a lot of folks.

That doesn’t mean don’t work hard. That doesn’t mean that the work has to be light-hearted all the time. I had fun going to Hamilton, hardly the happiest of stories and a musical that makes me ugly cry at the end every time I listen to it. But the experience of seeing it onstage gave me joy, a complex expression of fun.

I’ve been thinking about my own life. How do I shift from blah to fun? How do I ensure that my legacy will be “she had fun, and helped others have fun”? How do I shift to finding joy even in the tough times? How can I lighten up a bit, and enjoy the ride more?

What about my work? Certainly the cozy genre means that fun is part of the contract we make with our readers. Even when we take a darker turn, satisfaction for the reader is one of our goals. Is satisfaction another expression of fun? I think perhaps it is.

Lately I’ve been noodling a slightly darker suspense story. I’m writing down the ideas as they come to me, while I continue to work on the two novels I have plotted already. I’m wondering–will writing something new be fun? I acknowledge that the process will be challenging, but will I find it fun?

More precisely, if I don’t find it fun, why would I put myself through it?

As a middle-aged, cranky Yankee, I have undervalued fun. I see that now. My mid-February pondering leads me to the question–can I reframe, and find the fun?

I’m going to give it my best shot.

How about you, dear readers. Do you have fun? If you could do something fun right now, what would it be?