#NormalizeKindness

Edith here, in the busy second half of a busy month. And I’ve been thinking about kindness.  This is a card someone was handing out at Quaker Meeting recently.

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We’ve all been witnessing way too many unkind, malicious, and violent acts, whether on the news or in person, of late. Horrifying events. Disgusting acts. Cowardice and rudeness.

Can kindness counter what seems like a tidal wave of really bad behavior? Can it be contagious? Think of how you feel when somebody you don’t even know does you a favor. Smiles, prepays your coffee, or writes and email out of the blue to say how much they loved your book. Kind of makes you want to return the gesture, doesn’t it?20180520_152736_HDR

Saturday I woke up earlier than usual, put on my tiara, grabbed a scone I had baked the day before (I left the bubbly for later, since it was only five thirty in the morning), and headed for the television. I didn’t care that Hugh looked at me like I was a lunatic. I didn’t care about all the zillion dollars a royal wedding costs.

I wanted to feast on love and kindness and the beauty of a fellow Californian breaking a bunch of barriers. I was oddly especially touched by Prince Charles accompanying Meghan partway up the aisle, and by his warm – and kind – courtesy to her mother Doria Ragland after the ceremony.

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Photo by Owen Humphreys

Later in the day I happened across a Facebook post by Alexia Gordon, a talented mystery author whom we have had as a guest right here on the Wickeds. Here’s what she wrote, after listing some of the horrors in the news during the last week alone:

“Then this morning I saw a man look at the woman he was about to marry as if she was more important to him than air, light, and water. I heard the first African-American leader of the Episcopal Church buck 1000 years of British tradition and remind a bunch of stuffed shirts that slavery happened, that genuine Christianity is about love and justice, that love will save the world if we have the courage to act in love.AlexiaGordon

“I heard a Black cellist perform classical music and a Black choir sing Black music–slave music–in a White church. And I remembered that THIS is normal. All that garbage I exposed my brain to yesterday is not normal. That stuff is sin, it’s evil, and it should be treated as such. It shouldn’t get all the airtime. Real normal–love and justice and inclusivity and hope–should get equal press coverage, if not more. A constant diet of hate makes you believe hate is the only option.

#normalizejustice #normalizelove

Thank you, Alexia. Let’s all normalize kindness, justice, and love, shall we? Let’s have a constant diet of kindness. The back of the Kindness Matters card gives a bunch of examples of what we can do.

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Who’s with me? Will you share with a stranger that you love her glasses? Tell a tired mom with a screaming child that you know it’s hard? Let someone into traffic ahead of you? Offer to blurb a debut author’s novel or read a beginner’s short story?

Readers, share your favorite kind thing to do.  And Alexia, thank you for putting into words what so many of us have been feeling.

 

Writing Real Stuff

Edith here, north of Boston, and packing for Malice Domestic!

We Wickeds are fiction writers. We make stuff up. We are goddesses of our story worlds. Don’t like that guy? Knock him off. Discover the hint of a new romance between two characters? Make it blossom.

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One of my series, the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, is set here in my Massachusetts town of Amesbury, which sits on the New Hampshire border one town in from the coast. So I use a real setting – but the action takes place back in the late 1880s. We have a thriving Amesbury Carriage Museum, which has been focusing in recent years on all of Amesbury’s industrial history.350thsquare

This year is Amesbury’s 350th birthday and the ACM is sponsoring a series of lectures about various aspects of the past.

JohnMayerThe ACM’s dynamic director, John Mayer, asked me this winter if I would give a talk on the lives of Amesbury’s women in the past. I didn’t have to think long to respond, “You know, John, the historical woman I know best is FICTIONAL.” He laughed and assured me that was okay. I gulped and said yes. I really like what John is doing for our town and wanted to contribute. We decided I would focus on the twenty years surrounding 1900. But write about real people instead of made-up ones? I had my work cut out for me.

For a couple of months I’ve been interviewing our town’s elders, sharp-minded women in their late eighties and nineties, plus some of their children. I’ve poured over old diaries of farm women, learned about the lives of more well-known women, heard stories about immigrant families, traced the charitable activities of the wives of the factory and mill owners. Every bit of it was fascinating.

And what hit me in the face again and again? Women are absent from the history books, even the three local histories written by women! The ladies were working behind the scenes just as hard as – or harder than – the men. Their stories deserve to be told, even though they didn’t end up with their names on buildings or in the town reports.

I presented my talk last week to a standing room only crowd.

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I had a slide show, extensive notes, the privilege of seating some of my primary sources in the front row – and more nerves than I’ve had in a while.

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How a mystery author saves front-row seats for her honored guests. Photo by Christine Green

In one of my first slides, I made sure everybody knew I am an amateur historian. That I love delving into the past, but have no professional credentials to back me up other than an award-winning historical mystery series. Nobody seemed to care.

Here are some of the women I interviewed. Clockwise from top left, Betty Goodwin, Jodie Rundlett Perkins, Pam Bailey Johnson Fenner, and Sally Blake Lavery, treasures all.

And here are some the strong, hardworking women from all economic classes I showcased – the women absent from the history books.

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Josephine Blake at left, Jessie Blake at right, whose detailed memoir of her childhood I drew on.

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Mina and Florence Blanchard. Mina became a teacher, Florence a nurse.

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Lydia Crowell Bailey, very much of the well-off class, who nevertheless lost two young children. (Blemishes on the photo, not her skin.)

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Mary Jewell Little, left, and Annie Little Woodsom, far right

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Marie Tremblay, French-Canadian immigrant, and daughter Rosanna. Neither ever spoke English.

The evening was fun. The audience seemed to love it. Our local cable TV filmed it and I’ll post a link in a couple of weeks to the video on the ACM cable channel. And I sold a lot of books afterwards. For now? I’m glad to get back to making stuff up!

Readers: Who are your local or family elders you hear stories from? Which of their and your own stories have you shared with the next generations?

Bringing History to Life

NEWS FLASH: Melinda is the randomly selected winner! Please send your snail mail address to me at edith at edithmaxwell.com. Congratulations!

Edith here, delighted that Turning the Tide came out from Midnight Ink yesterday!

This is my third Quaker Midwife mystery, and my fourteenth published novel, in which Rose Carroll, midwife, becomes involved in murder once again. I’m so grateful for my editors at Midnight Ink for believing in my stories and making them better: Amy Glaser, Terri Bischoff, and Nicole Nugent. And to talented cover artist Greg Newbold for rocking cover number three.

In celebration, I’m most pleased to give away a signed copy of the book to one commenter here today.

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The story has a background theme, as every book in the series does. In book time the season was rolling around to the fall, so I decided to explore issues of women’s suffrage in 1888. The Amesbury Woman Suffrage Association (fictional as far as I know, but it could have existed) turns out in force across from the polling place on Election Day to protest not having the vote. Here’s one of the placards I found online, and it’s my favorite. WomenbringallvotersIn a book featuring a midwife, you can see why I love this sign.

I read that proponents of women’s suffrage wore sunflower yellow sashes, to represent hope. Quaker women were in the forefront of the movement for decades, both before and after this book takes place. Rose’s mother is an ardent suffragist, and in Turning the Tide she comes to town to support the protest.

I love slipping bits of my own family history into the books. Rose’s mother Dorothy Henderson Carroll is named after my paternal grandmother, Dorothy Henderson Maxwell. We called her Momma Dot, and Rose’s nieces and nephews call the fictional Dorothy Granny Dot. My grandmother was the first woman to drive an automobile halfway across the United States in 1918, and I imagine she didn’t hesitate to vote the following year.

I decided to bring Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Amesbury, too. Historically I don’t know if she did, but she might have, and writing fiction gives me permission to portray her rallying the women, with her white curls and comfortable, corset-free figure.

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Stanton was a real intellectual. In the book I took the liberty of paraphrasing a few sentences from her essay, “The Solitude of Self,” which was not published until 1892, for her to speak in person in this book (at Rose’s friends’ salon gathering). I couched it as Stanton developing her thoughts on the topic, and I trust her departed soul will approve.

So, dear readers, who is your favorite suffragist? Any family stories about your feminist foremothers, or the first time you yourself voted?

What Has Writing Taught the Seven Sinister Sisters?

Edith here, delighted to host the Seven Sinister Sisters, a group I joined up with this winter and spring. We are seven authors with new books coming out, and we’ve been guest blogging all over cyberspace since January. You can see where we’ve been and where we’re still scheduled on our Facebook page. Commenters here today will be entered into our grand giveaway!

Seven Sinister Sisters

For today’s post I asked my sisters this question: What has writing taught you? Here are our answers in no particular order.

Becky Clark: Gosh, where to start? All the obvious ones: work ethic, self-discipline, organization, finish what you start. But also writing has given me a pretty thick skin. Don’t get me wrong, negative reviews always sting, but writing has taught me that everyone has different likes and dislikes. I’m sure I always knew that, but when you mostly hang out with your like-minded husband, kids or kids-in-law, you forget that not everyone has, say, your weird sense of humor, or sees what you were trying to do with your writing. I’ve learned not to take things too personally.

Sue Star: 1. Discipline—I can’t not write.  Even when I’m on vacation I write every day, even if it’s only a paragraph.  2.  Passion—if I don’t feel that burning desire to dig into a project, it’s not worth doing.  Passion is the magic footprint that makes a story sparkle.  3.  Instinct—I’ve learned to trust my instincts about a story. Then “magic” happens, and a story ends up writing itself.  4.  Art—I’ve learned that I can paint, too.  No matter the form, creativity is all about the journey, not necessarily the destination.

Pat Hale: Writing has taught me not to take things personally. In my early days of writing when I received a rejection, it would take days to get over the disappointment and self-doubt. I’ve learned that rejections are not personal and they’re often the best way to learn. After the initial disappointment (still happens, but doesn’t last as long), I remind myself that the editor/agent isn’t rejecting me, but telling me I need to work harder and make my work better. Not personalizing rejection has been a hard learned but excellent lesson that has carried over into every area of my life.

Shawn McGuire: Writing has taught me to be more present in life. I think I notice things more, partly because my writer’s brain is always looking for details, partly because I’m naturally nosey. Part of noticing more means understanding people better. There’s a reason why people are the way they are—whether they’re simply having a bad day or because something happened in their life to make them a curmudgeon. Writing makes me dig down to uncover those reasons. I feel like I’m more understanding of most people, less tolerant of others.

Leslie Karst: That even when a task seems terribly daunting—such as composing an eighty thousand-word manuscript—if you simply keep at it, following through with the process step by step (or page by page), before long you will have finished. Completing the first draft of the manuscript that became my first Sally Solari culinary mystery (Dying for a Taste) was an incredibly powerful confidence builder, both for my writing career and for my life in general. Reaching that goal is all about perseverance and follow-through, and about having a belief in yourself.

Cathy Perkins: The first thing writing taught me was patience! Not just the waiting to hear from agents, editors, and reviewers, but the patience to learn the craft. To not be in a rush to publish before the story is ready for prime time.  Equally important though, writing has shown me how generous the author community is. I’ll never forget how kind and inclusive Sophia Littlefield, Nicole Peeler and Janet Reed were at my first Malice – my first conference and my debut novel. Talk about nervous! They set the bar I’ve tried to reach in helping other authors in this crazy place we call publishing.

Edith Maxwell: For me, being a writer has taught me that I have to show up every morning and write, but also that I have to trust the story enough to let it float sometimes. I’ve learned the value of discipline, and much of writing is in fact hard work. I also now know I can’t control everything. Characters occasionally take their sweet time revealing what comes next or why they acted the way they did.

Readers: What has your occupation, favorite hobby, or pastime taught you?

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Our next stop on the tour is April 3 on the Killer Characters blog. Here’s where you can find each of us in the meantime:

http://www.patriciahale.org

http://www.edithmaxwell.com

http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/

http://www.cperkinswrites.com

http://www.shawn-mcguire.com

http://www.rebeccawriter.blogspot.com

http://www.BeckyClarkBooks.com

To celebrate our new releases, the Seven Sinister Sisters are having a giveaway!

Seven lucky winners will receive an ebook from one of us.

One GRAND PRIZE winner will receive a signed copy from each of us!

Enter to win by leaving a comment. Our tour runs from January 6th to April 30th and we’re answering a different question at each blog. Leave a comment at every blog for more entries! We’ll draw the winner from the combined comments at the end of our tour.Tour graphic Seven Sinister Sisters

 

 

On Vacating

Edith here, who got back last night from a real vacation. A real vacation! I don’t take one very often, so this getaway was long overdue.  Leave a comment about road trips or other favorite vacays and you might win my last ARC of Turning the Tide.

Hugh and I left on the Ides of March and drove south to Silver Spring, Maryland. We visited with my older son Allan and his fiancee, Alison, and got to tour the September wedding venue (squee!).

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We also taste tested a caterer, and play a wicked fun game with the couple and Alison’s parents, Rick and Sue.

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Allan, Hugh, and I  spent one day in DC. We caught the Caldor mobile exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, and the giant blue rooster, of course.

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We paid a pop-in visit to the Obama portraits in the Portrait Gallery, which was a huge treat, as was seeing a portrait of the female Supreme Court justices, and paying homage to Louisa May Alcott.

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We were lucky to spend our last night in the DC area with fellow Wicked Sherry and her darling husband Bob and of course the four-legged Lilly, but failed to snap even a single picture.

From there we drove to Asheville, North Carolina, where you can visit a microbrewery about every other block. It was fun to catch up with Hugh’s sister Anne and brother-in-law Jim. We also feasted on the sight of flowers in bloom, something that isn’t happening yet in New England.

We ate out every night, but one of the best classically southern meals was lunch the first day. Fried catfish and Brussels sprouts, anyone, or fried chicken on a biscuit with sausage gravy and cheesy grits? Yum. (And now I’m home? A serious diet is on the menu.)

We also played a lot of cards and a dice game named Farkle, because it was cold and snowy one of the days.

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We visited all kinds of art galleries, indoor and out, and ate lunch at a barbeque place where I had the best home-smoked BLT I have ever tasted.

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After one dinner out we hit the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. I found out the next day the French Broad is a river running through Asheville, not the founder of the lounge!

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One highlight was a visit to the Thomas Wolfe house. I soaked up the nineteenth century kitchen and bedroom decor for my historical research, but also soaked up so much information on a fellow author I  knew nothing about.

Another special evening was cocktails at the historic Grove Park Hotel overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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I grew up with mountains always on my southern California horizons and I felt so at home being surrounded by peaks in Asheville.

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Much of the Blue Ridge Parkway wasn’t open because of ice remaining in the tunnels. Still, the views were a delight.

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I was able to do a bit of writing on a short story every morning but otherwise just enjoyed myself. I will say I’m looking forward to getting back to work on my books, which is a sign that I have the career I should have.

At our last night at Luella’s barbeque (yes, food to die for), I was alerted to the fact that the man sitting behind me had a gun strapped to his waist. Clever detective that I am, I managed to snap a picture over my shoulder. That’s right, kids, North Carolina is an open-carry state. And yes, story ideas abounded.

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We zipped back to DC for one night, and the next day stopped by New Jersey to bring Hugh’s aunt Joyce lunch from her favorite Chinese restaurant.  She’s age almost 93 and still living alone in a senior apartment.

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Joyce is the last of her Lockhart generation and a real dear – who also happens to be a fan of my books. I made sure she had a copy of each new one.

I made good use of my passenger time on the two-day trip home, and managed to finish the first draft of the story I’d been working on – the old-fashioned way.

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Turning the TideThe vacation was time away from book work, but I acquired a number of ideas for new stories and let my creative brain mostly rest, too. And it’s wonderful to be home. Our cats left us mountains of fur and creative scatterings of coasters on the floor – which of course means they were on the tables.

Now I’m ramping up for the April 8 release of Turning the Tide, and I find myself with one last ARC. Who can I send it to?

Readers: We talked here about our favorite vacations a couple of weeks ago. What’s been your favorite road trip? Your most unusual vacation? Let me know in the comments and I’ll send an ARC along!

Guest: Leslie Karst

Edith here, delighted my buddy Leslie Karst has a new mystery coming out next month!Death al Fresco cover

Death Al Fresco is the next in Leslie’s Sally Solari Mysteries. I loved the first two and can’t wait to read this one, too. Her publisher, Crooked Lane, will give away a hardcover copy to one commenter here today.

It’s early autumn in Santa Cruz and restaurateur Sally Solari, inspired by the eye-popping canvases of Paul Gauguin, the artist for whom her restaurant is named, enrolls in a plein air painting class. But the beauty of the Monterey Bay coastline is shattered during one of their outings when Sally’s dog sniffs out a corpse entangled in a pile of kelp.

The body is identified as Gino, a local fisherman and a regular at Sally’s father’s restaurant, Solari’s, until he disappeared after dining there a few nights before. But after witnesses claim he left reeling drunk, fingers begin to point at Sally’s dad for negligently allowing the old man to walk home alone at night. From a long menu of suspects, including a cast of colorful characters who frequent the historic Santa Cruz fisherman’s wharf, Sally must serve up a tall order in order to clear her father’s name.

Here’s Leslie talking about how she channeled a recent brush with fear into creativity.

Channeling Your Fear

Every murder mystery requires at least one high-tension scene—a situation where the protagonist feels at risk, and where the reader experiences the fear along with that person. It could be a danger or threat to either the main character herself or to someone she cares for, but there has to be a point in the story where the hero’s heart starts to pound and her hands sweat (though hopefully not in those exact words), and where she feels utterly helpless and alone.

I’ve now written a fair share of these suspenseful scenes, and every time I do so I find myself growing anxious and tense along with my protagonist, Sally Solari. My pulse will quicken and sometimes my hands will even begin to shake as I type the words onto my laptop.

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Perhaps the fact that I write the series in the first person makes the telling more, well, personal than it would be if done in the third person. But I suspect most writers have a similar experience when crafting these scenes. And it seems to me that unless you can indeed put yourself in the mental state of your character, the tension you attempt to create will likely fall flat.

As I considered what to discuss in this blog post, I thought back to the times I’ve been frightened in my own life. Because it’s from such experiences that we writers can mine our past feelings and emotions and insert them into our characters.

There weren’t, however, many moments I could come up with. Being scared by lightening storms or tornado warnings during my early years in Columbus, Ohio. And that summer as a college student in Barcelona when I’d found myself running from the Guardia Civil, ducking into a small shop to avoid the rubber bullets being fired at the protest I’d unwittingly walked into. But nothing truly terrifying had ever happened to me.

Nothing, that is, until that “incoming ballistic missile” alert last month.

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I was on my Saturday morning bike ride in Hilo, Hawai‘i, sweating and pumping up a steep hill, when a car suddenly pulled over right in front of me and the two young people jumped out. “Stop!” they shouted.

I stopped as directed. What the heck were they in such a tizzy about?

“A missile alert was just sent out for the entire state!”

In response my dumbfounded stare, they stepped forward to show me their phones: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

Ohmygod.

In a Mister Toad’s Wild Ride kind of drive across town, they transported me and my bicycle back home so I could get my dog, and I gathered a few things as fast as I could and took her down to the grocery store a few blocks away—the nearest place that’s a concrete structure. I tried calling my wife, who was in Honolulu, but the call wouldn’t go through.

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Thirty-nine minutes after the original alert, we finally got another text saying there was in fact no bomb threat—that the message had been sent out in error. But during that time I was as frightened as I’ve ever been in my life.

Later, I tried to identify the emotions that had swept over me and remember exactly how I’d acted during those few minutes during which I’d believed, “This might be the end.” Heart pounding and body shaking, yes. But I was also surprisingly calm—at least on the outside. My mind had immediately gone into “Okay, what do I need to do” mode, and I proceeded accordingly.

Interesting, I thought as I jotted down notes about the event. Unsettled and jittery though I was still feeling, I recognized that what I’d gone through had provided me with invaluable information. So, although I would never wish such an experience on anyone, there was a silver lining to having lived through this horrific scare: I can use it in my writing!

Readers: What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you? If you’re a writer, how have you channeled the emotions from fear into your work? Remember, you can win a copy of the new book!

The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family karst headshotdinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. She now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries (Dying for a Taste, A Measure of Murder), a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California. An ex-lawyer like her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. The next in the series, Death al Fresco, releases March 13th.

You can visit Leslie on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/lesliekarstauthor/ , and you can go to her author website http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/ to sign up for her newsletter—full of recipes and fun Italian facts!—and to purchase all her books.

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 does 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.)

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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…)