Opening Lines

Here’s another New Orleans photo for Opening Lines.

Barb: On her deathbed, Mamma looked at the three of us and said, “You know how I always said your daddy left us? After I’m gone, whatever you do, don’t unplug my freezer.”

Edith: Mon Dieu! I can’t believe some maudit incompetent opened the cryo box. The big tank’s still full. Papere‘s brain? No better’n grits by this point.

Liz: I don’t believe in any of that voodoo crap…so I ignored what that crazy lady said an opened that crypt. Bring it on!

Julie: The thing I love most about this casket? It doubles as an ice chest until you need it.

Jessie: If I’ve told Ray once, I’ve told him a thousand times, just because something is free on Craigslist don’t mean it’s a bargain. We ain’t never gonna get the smell outta that chest.

Sherry: I’d studied the images hung over my grandfather’s desk for years. Finally, I understood what the messages meant. There’s a sale at Macys, must go now.

Readers: Please add your own lines!

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The Power of One

Hello, Wicked People! Susannah/Sadie/Jane here, watching the leaves begin to change…

The other day something occurred to me. And it freaked me out a little, in the way that profound revelations sometimes do:

Where I’m at, professionally, is attributable to one person. And that person is not me.

Well, of course I had a little something to do with it, and maybe I would have ended up in the same place via a different path if I hadn’t met her, although I’m not at all certain about that.

Let me take you back a few years. I had always wanted to be a writer, but I could never get past the twenty-page mark in any one work. I’d start. Perfectionism and fear (which are pretty much the same thing in my book) would rear their hideous heads. And I’d quit. Then I’d wait a long time, and try again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

One January, I heard about a writers’ group that was starting up at my local library. Now, the public library is about a hundred yards from my house. I wouldn’t even have to get in the car to go. Still, I tried to think of reasons not to. Finally, I looked myself in the eye and accepted that if I never finished writing a novel, I would regret it on my deathbed. Getting published was not even on my radar–for my own self-respect, I needed to get from “Chapter One” to “The End” and have a whole story, no matter how sucky, in between.

So I put on my boots and coat and hat and scarf and mittens and slogged through the snow to go to that meeting. I stood outside the door in the cold, and almost chickened out. But I went in.

There were six other people there. I sat down next to a woman, and the librarian who was running the group started talking. I stayed. And the woman I sat next to? Well, we connected. She was a little bit ahead of me in her writing journey. She was a  LOT more confident than I was. And we agreed to support each other as we wrote.

A year later, we each had a novel. Mine, with a bit of revision, became Feta Attraction. My friend ultimately decided to self-publish her book, and she asked me to edit it, which I did.

Fast forward a few months, and we had both become members of a bigger writers’ group, the Connecticut Chapter of Romance Writers of America (www.ctrwa.org). During the member news portion of the meeting, my friend stood up and proudly announced that she had self-published her novel. And she thanked me for editing it. At lunch, another writer came up to me and asked if I would edit her novel. And so, a freelance editing business was born, just like that.

Now I’ve left my unfulfilling corporate job far behind me, and I work full-time in the book business. I can honestly say that I am living my dream, and I love what I do for a living. So Jen M., my very dear friend, rock, and partner-in-crime, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your friendship changed my life.

How about you? I’d love to hear about your Jen M.

 

Wicked Wednesday: How to Create a Villain

We talked about antagonists last week. How about a true villain, the actual bad guy? Let’s again distinguish antagonists from villains, because the former doesn’t necessarily

the_villain

By King-Bee Films Corporation, via Wikimedia Commons

include the latter. The Writer and Proud blog talks about villains who aren’t antagonists, but they are rare; some of them are villainous and then come back to redeem themselves. I’d ask who the villains are in your books, but that would raise the spoiler alert flag, so I won’t. 

So, Wickeds, let’s talk about the elements of a good villain. We obviously need bad guys (which includes gals, of course). What makes him or her somebody our readers want to keep reading about, even if reluctantly? How does the villain play off the protagonist, and how do we make them real people, not just cardboard cutouts? Do you create villains who are not also antagonists? Go!

Barb: I’m not crazy about traditional villains and don’t tend to include them in my books. The motives for my murders have been (in no particular order) fear, jealousy, madness, obsession, resentment, greed, desperation, and not-very-bright-people-making-terrible-decisions. It took six published books for me to create a truly psychopathic character. I don’t think any of my villains (so far) have been antagonists. Aside from the fact that it’s way too obvious as a puzzle if a character who opposes the sleuth at every turn is the killer, I’m much more interested in what moves ordinary people to murder.

Edith: That’s what interests me, too, Barb. I just wrote a reflective scene between Robbie Jordan and her Aunt Adele (in Country Store Mystery #4), at about a fifth of the way through the book, where they are musing on just that. What pushes people over that line that most of us would never cross, no matter how mad we are at someone, to actually kill them? And at a library talk on Saturday I mentioned making sure the villain is a real person, who not only kills but also likes cats and folk dancing. That’s a toss-off comment, of course, and it got a laugh, but I meant that almost nobody is simply a bad guy. So the intriguing part is what got them there.

Sherry: Creating a villain that is a full character that as an author you play fair with is a challenge. And by play fair, I mean it isn’t some who strolls onto the page at the end of the book and confesses. I always seem to write one line in my book that to me screams, “That’s who did it.” I also try to mix it up by having Sarah sometimes figure out correctly who did it but then has to convince others and other time allow her to be wrong. Studying people and reading about criminals helps me to create rounded villains.

Liz: I’ve always been afraid of creating cardboard villains, so I work extra hard at coming up with a motive that humanizes them in a way. Like Barb, my villains have run the gamut of grief-stricken, greedy, fearful, proud, and broken. If they’re just crazy, what’s the fun in that? And if my characters (and reader!) can find a tiny bit of empathy for that person despite what they’ve done, then I’ll be satisfied.

Jessie: I agree with Liz that building empathy is key to making villains more complex. I find that I prefer to write villains I feel that for myself or at least write ones that I can find reasons to respect in some way. I like to think about how I would appeal to a jury if I were the villain’s defense attorney. What evidence could I present to give them pause when hearing my client’s case?

Julie: Actor friends of mine talk about playing the role of a villain. They can’t think of them as a villain–they need to believe that they are completely normal human beings. I think about that when I create my villains. They don’t think they are terrible people, they are just doing what needs to be done. I also try and make my villains blend in, as they frequently do in life.

Readers: Who is your favorite fully drawn villain? Writers: how do you come up with the bad guy?

Refocusing

By Liz, grudgingly admitting summer is over here in Connecticut

So, another Bouchercon is over. The day job is (hopefully) about to quiet down some, although I have my doubts about that. Shaggy just celebrated her 8th birthday. I have a few author events coming up in the next few weeks, but otherwise the fall and winter months are stretching ahead with shorter days and longer nights, and writing time aplenty (theoretically).

The problem? I’m having some trouble getting back into the swing of the writing thing. Yes, I brought my computer to Bouchercon. No, I didn’t write a word. And in the days before I left, one crisis after another kept me from getting too much work done. When I returned, I was home for a day then gone for another two on a work trip. No, I didn’t get any writing done there either because I was too busy catching up on the work that didn’t get done while I was on vacation. By the time all of that was handled, well, I just got out of the habit.

And many of us writers know how hard it is to get back in the saddle when that happens.

So the past few days, as I really sink back into normal life again, I’ve been trying some tricks to get motivated. Here are a few things that have worked:

  • Re-immerse myself in the story as I left it. I’ve been doing that in a couple of ways – reading through scenes, reading my plotting notes, doing some research to get me excited about the story again. As my wise blog sister Barbara Ross says, the longer you’re out of the story, the longer it takes to get back in it. What also helps is img_1419walking the real town green that I’ve mirrored the fictional one after. It helps get me back into Stan’s head.
  • Moving myself. Working out has always helped me focus. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of yoga which does wonders for my monkey mind.
  • Taking back some routine. When you’re traveling or dealing with stressful breakfastsituations, it’s hard to do the things that keep you sane and grounded. So I’ve been making a conscious effort to get back into my good sleeping-eating-juicing routines. It really does help.
  • Journaling. I’ve done morning pages as outlined in The Artist’s Way for years. Sometimes I fall off the wagon and sometimes I’m really dedicated. I’ve been dedicated lately, aside from my traveling time, so I’m making sure to carve out that space in the mornings. It helps get the detritus out of my head and better prepares me for the day.

And with any luck, I’ll still get that draft done by December 31.

Readers, what gets you motivated after time away from a project?

Guest Miranda James-Digging Up the Small-town Dirt

Jessie: In New Hampshire where we finally broke down and turned on the heat!

I met Miranda/ Dean James at the Berkley table at the Malice Domestic Agatha Banquet. I was new to the world of Berkley and he was already the super star he is today. I could not have been more fortunate in a dinner companion. He was gracious and welcoming and charming and funny. He put me at my ease without appearing to work at it. He is a total gentleman through and through. It is with great enthusiasm and pleasure I welcome him to the Wickeds today! 

diggingupthedirt_coverSouthern towns are probably no different from towns in other regions in the U.S. They have a distinct social hierarchy – dominated by either (or both) the ancestral aristocracy or the families with the most money. The two are not mutually exclusive, of course. Unless your family has lived in the town or its environs for at least three generations, you’re a newcomer. You don’t know why it’s always been done a certain way. And you may not have figured out all the nuances of hierarchy – like who will belong to certain organizations in town, who will get invited to important functions, who stands a chance of getting elected in local elections. If you can’t remember when John Henry Jones’ great-uncle Erasmus Smith was mayor and caused all that mess over the Rotary Club dinner sixty-seven years ago, well, you can’t really claim to be a native, now can you?

What’s really fun in these towns are the clubs, like the Junior League, the Garden Club, and the various men’s groups. Since I’m writing about two sisters from one of the original families in Athena, however, I decided to focus on one of the traditional women’s clubs you find in most towns, the garden club.

Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce, of course, are on the board – as they are on practically every board in Athena. Not everyone on the board has a similar pedigree, but they are women of position and some wealth. Every group has its own dynamics, and if something happens to upset the equilibrium, well, interesting things can happen.

Like having a prodigal son return – a prodigal son who was the most handsome, most charming, and most desired man in Athena forty years ago. What could possibly happen with this particular fox once more amidst the chickens? That was the inspiration for Digging Up the Dirt.

Readers, are you familiar with social hierarchies and nuances like the ones described? Writers, do you use those sorts of structures in your own work?

Miranda James is the New York Times-bestselling author of the “Cat in the Stacks” and the “Southern Ladies” mysteries. By day Miranda (aka Dean James) is a medical librarian in Mississippi. At other times Miranda spends time with two cats and thousands of books while thinking about the next murder (or two) to commit. Only on the page, of course.

Building Relationships

Congratulations Susan Brownell! You won the swag giveaway and book from the contest yesterday. Please send your contact information to Sherryharrisauthor@gmail.com! Thanks to all who entered.

Edith here. At the Wicked Cozy Authors, we are all about building relationships. Nothing delights us more than hearing from you, our readers, in the comments section and on Facebook or elsewhere. Really. We love to have author guests here, and experts, to share their stories. We often share other posts, retweet fellow authors’ good news, twittericonexcitedly post a picture of a “first sighting in the wild” when a friend’s book shows up in a brick-and-mortar bookstore (or for pre-order online).

We reach out, too. Often, especially when a book birthday is underway, we ask other blog hosts to feature us as a guest. We are all, for the moment, beyond the point where we have to approach potential agents, but Julie wrote an excellent post on best practices for doing that. But such reaching out should be personal, if possible, as well as relevant.

So Wickeds, talk about relationships. Talk about the right way to do things in our professional world. Go!

Julie: A few things come to mind. First, be happy for others, and celebrate their success. Second, practice gratitude. Third, always smile.

Jessie: I think it is important to remember that even though so much of the business is conducted online, there are real, flesh and blood people on the other end of that line. Social engagement rules from the whole history of humanity do still come into play. Politeness coupled with sincerity still matter.  Make connections with people you genuinely admire and like. Take the time to educate yourself about what makes that other person’s world revolve before asking them to help make yours go round. Remember to say thank you whenever anyone makes any effort on your behalf.

Barb: Building on what Jessie said, behave in the virtual world as you would in the real world. Examples:

  • Would you approach a stranger and say, “I don’t know anything about you and don’t really care to find out, but you should totally invite me to your dinner party, because I am fascinating.” That’s what happened that spurred this post. We were approached by someone who wanted to guest blog with us via a generic letter telling us how great she was. Worse, the poor woman had paid a publicist for this service. Do not do this.
  • How do you feel about the cousin who only calls once a year to get you to buy her annoying kid’s school wrapping paper? You probably don’t like her. The same with people whose only contribution to the conversation is “buy my book,” or “like my page.”
  • In the communities in which you participate in the real world–church, PTA, book group, sports team–how do you feel about the people who only show up to consume what’s on offer, who never volunteer to do any of the work? Not good. So be a contributor to your virtual, reading, and writing communities. Not all of them. You’ll have to pick and choose, but do your share. Be polite. Get your work done on time and make it high quality. People will appreciate it, and they will come to appreciate you.

When marketing your book and interacting online, be a person, be your authentic self. Unless your authentic self is a jerk, in which case, be someone else. No one will know. That’s the great thing about the internet.

Sherry: Oh, Barb, you always make me laugh! My two cents: It’s important to remember who helped you on your writing journey and to help those who are where you were. I’ve received so much help and gotten so much advice on the road to publication but I couldn’t have done it alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or ask to be on a blog. Just make sure the blog is a good fit for your book.

friends

Friends helping each other (and maybe retweeting?) from wikimedia commons

Edith: I often think of the lesson Julie says about social media – it’s ninety-five percent about others and five percent about you (numbers may be approximate). Re-tweet author friends’ tweets way more than posting ones about yourself. Keep negative opinions out of the public eye, especially about books – it’s hard to write and promote one. And pay generosity forward. Nothing makes me happier than helping a newer author with a short critique or a blurb on a debut novel that I read and truly liked, because I was boosted in the same way from more seasoned author mentors as I was coming up.

Liz: I love all of these answers and completely agree. One thing that stands out for me is the message to celebrate the success of others, and help in any way you can. During Harlan Coben’s interview last week at Bouchercon, he said it best: “No one in this room (or anywhere else) has to fail so someone else can succeed.” And the more you help others, the more it comes back to you.

Readers: How do you like to be approached?

Bouchercon Swag Giveaway

We had so much fun at Bouchercon in New Orleans that we wanted to share a bit of that fun with you! We are giving away a Wicked Cozy fan signed by over twenty authors, beads, an umbrella and bandana from the second line parade, and three vintage postcards. But wait there’s more! We are also giving away one book written by either Barb, Edith, Jessie, Julie, Liz, or Sherry — you get to choose the book!

img_0935Look at all of these signatures!

img_0939And this fun swag:

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Readers: Leave a comment below by midnight tonight PDT for a chance to win! And don’t forget you will also get a book!