Writing Tips from Autumn by Guest Sharon Farrow

Thankful for our Readers Giveaway: Guest Sharon Farrow is here celebrating the release of her latest Berry Basket Mystery, Blackbird Burial. She’s giving away a copy to one lucky commenter below.

I love autumn so much that I chose to be born on Halloween, although my parents insist on taking full credit for this. And I don’t think there is a single thing I don’t like about the season, other than it leads directly into winter. Even that prospect can’t curb my delight in the blazing foliage, cider mill visits, and gently cooling temperatures. After many years spent savoring the delights of fall, I’ve realized my favorite season has life lessons to impart about letting go and embracing change. These lessons can also be applied to writing, especially the writing of a mystery series. So here are a few helpful tips inspired by autumn.

Add Color

Keeping things fresh, colorful and interesting in a series is crucial. This can be especially true for a cozy mystery. Unlike a hardboiled detective series or police procedural, the drama in a cozy never turns too dark or lurid. At the same time, there must be enough suspense and surprise to keep the reader coming back. Yes, a crime will be committed in each book, but that should only surprise the main character, not the reader. After all, this is a mystery. In a cozy, local color is literally built into the genre, which is marked by quirky characters, unusual shops, and regional idiosyncrasies. However, eccentric postmasters and pumpkin carving contests can’t be the sole source of local color.

Regular characters should reveal new facets as the series goes along. After several books, the reader may think they know all about the village shopkeeper or small town baker. But what if the story showed that one of them has been dogged by a crippling phobia or a family past they’re ashamed of. As a recent example, the character of Mary Morstan on the PBS series Sherlock was presented to the viewer as the no nonsense, likable nurse who captured Dr. Watson’s heart. Only later in the series do we learn that Mary worked as an assassin for the CIA. That revelation changed everything for the other characters and future storylines. We all enjoy watching the changing leaves of fall. It can be just as satisfying to see a fictional character reveal their true colors.

Cool Things Down

Cozy mystery heroines are often romantically involved with someone in the town. Expectations are that things between the fictional couple will grow stronger, sometimes leading to marriage. But going down such a well traveled path may not be the most creative choice. Just as readers expect a wedding to be imminent, the romantic interest could show himself to be someone the heroine has been mistaken about. Cooling a romance down – or ending it altogether – reminds the reader that life in a small town is complicated. And not only because dead bodies keep turning up. In the mystery series Grantchester, the romance between Sidney Chambers and Amanda provides just as much uncertainty as the crimes that need solving in the village. Although I doubt I was the only one who felt relieved when Amanda finally made her exit.

Cooling things down isn’t confined to romance. An unpleasant character in the series may not be as nasty as everyone believes. If romances in a series can come to an end, so, too, can enmities and small town feuds. A future plot may depend on former enemies joining forces, even becoming friends. While strong emotions, such as love and hate, are fodder for high drama, high drama isn’t always what’s necessary. Now and again, cool off the more intense relationships in a series. Like the first crisp breezes of autumn, it provides a welcome breath of fresh air after a hot, steamy summer.

Rake the Literary Dead Leaves

As sad as it is to see those colorful leaves fall, all good things come to an end . . . at least for a little while. Shedding their leaves allows trees to conserve energy and survive the long cold winter. The leaves served their purpose and it’s time to begin again the following spring. An author needs to look at the elements in their series which need rethinking. Maybe three books was ample time to explore the troubled relationship the heroine might have with a sibling. Resolve the problem in order to make room for future conflicts, preferably with a different character. Perhaps the main character has dealt with financial insecurity since the beginning of the series. Such a subplot can provide interesting conflicts and opportunity for growth. But how much time and space does that issue deserve in a long running series?

There are only so many pages in each mystery, and the crime rightly takes center stage. Subplots and characters that provided energy and interest earlier in the series may run out of steam. Pull out your literary rake and remove the dead weight. And don’t let the bare branches of the next book scare you. Look closer and you’ll see the buds of new subplots, new crises, and new characters. Autumn goes out in a blaze of glory, but always with the promise of rebirth a few months later.

Sharon Farrow is the latest pen name of award winning author Sharon Pisacreta. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Sharon has been a freelance writer since her twenties. Published in mystery, fantasy, and romance, Sharon currently writes The Berry Basket cozy mystery series, which debuted in 2016 with Dying for Strawberries. She is also one half of the writing team D.E. Ireland, who co-author the Agatha nominated Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins mysteries. Visit Sharon at sharonfarrowauthor.com, on Facebook @SharonFarrowAuthor, or Twitter @SharonFarrowBB.

Readers: Are you a fall lover or a fall hater? Is it a season of death and dessication for you or an energizing season of renewal. Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Sharon’s new release, Blackbird Burial.

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Welcome, Sharon Farrow–and a Giveaway

thankful-for-our-readers-giveaway-3Our month of giveaways continues! Today, our guest Sharon Farrow offers up a copy of her new book, Dying for Strawberries, the first in the Berry Basket Mystery series. Friend of the blog, Mark Baker, over at Carstairs Considers says, “If you are looking for a delicious new series, look no further…”

To be entered to win, leave a comment on the post. Winners for the week will be announced in a special blog post on Sunday.

Take it away, Sharon!

 

RESORT RETAIL

saugatuckMost picturesque coastal towns no longer regard fishing as their main source of income. Instead, tourism drives the local economy. The heroine of my Berry Basket series, Marlee Jacob, is fortunate to live in a beautiful lakeshore town in western Michigan. Filled with galleries, boutiques, and one of a kind shops, Oriole Point also boasts a splendid view of Lake Michigan – sandy beaches and lighthouse included.

I, too, live in a scenic village nestled along my favorite Great Lake. Over the years, I have worked at various galleries and shops in town. This has given me a special insight as to what my heroine is likely to encounter on a daily basis at her berry themed store called The Berry Basket.

Questions, Questions, Questions

It’s only natural that tourists ask shopkeepers a constant stream of questions. Where is the best place to go for a lake perch dinner? How do we buy tickets for the dune buggy rides? What is the current musical playing at the local theater? And, of course, where is the nearest public rest room? There are important questions they never think to ask, but should: Where are the local speed traps? What should I do if I get caught in a rip tide? What local rivers should you NOT eat the fish from?

Given that my series is set along the Lake Michigan shore, tourists would ask Marlee all of the above questions. But most of all, they’d ask about the weather; by that, I mean the winter weather. Even though visitors usually come here for summer beach vacations and leaf peeping in autumn, our lake winters appear to weigh heavily on them. “What do you do here all winter?” they ask in a tone suggesting I live in a remote Yukon outpost. I remind them that a forty minute drive takes me to the second largest city in Michigan. Ten minutes away is a town boasting everything from Target and Barnes & Noble to Buffalo Wild Wings. And two hours south lies Chicago.

That answer leads to the next most asked question from tourists, ”How much snow do you get here?” Like me, Marlee would reply, “Not as much as everyone thinks.” Yes, we have lake effect snow, but we’re not buried in the white stuff all winter, like the intrepid residents of Buffalo, New York. And lake effect snow is usually over by mid-January when Lake Michigan finally freezes. Tourists are either disappointed by this answer, or don’t believe it. Somehow, they prefer to think of my fellow villagers and me snowed in and isolated like the unlucky family in The Shining.

Resort shopkeepers are accustomed to playing weather forecaster, tour guide, and restaurant reviewer. We know where to rent kayaks, who serves the best omelette in town, how to recognize rare types of beach glass, and which businesses keep dog treats behind the counter. However, some questions do surprise me, like the confused tourists who ask if the small bayou in the Kalamazoo River is Lake Michigan. Uh, no. When I worked in a local art gallery, a woman flung open the door one afternoon and pushed her way through a crowd of customers until she reached me. “I need your help,” she said in an urgent voice. “Where’s the closest place to buy authentic Mexican vanilla?” I usually have a ready answer for any tourist question, but this one left me stumped. A friend of mine later said, “I hope you told her ‘Mexico’.”

THE HONOR SYSTEM

With only 1,500 full-time residents, crime is rare in our town. The police force is small, with half the force part-time. I made Oriole Point twice as large as my village, but their local police would still have little experience handling serious crime. Which is why Marlee takes it upon herself to track down the killer in Dying for Strawberries. Indeed, most residents in Oriole Point (and my village) never lock their cars or worry about leaving purses unattended. This trusting attitude spills over to the shopkeepers.

The store I work at has a bench, a wooden slat chair, and a lovely old rocker on the sidewalk out front. On balmy days, those of us who work on that side of the street can be found lounging on those chairs as we talk for hours. It’s customary for us to greet customers as they enter our respective shops, reminding them to give a holler if they need assistance or have a question. It is possible one of those customers may have pocketed something they shouldn’t. If so, it was never apparent afterwards. And as one of the shop owners told me, “If they need something so bad they have to steal it, then let them.”

I have a friend who designs silk flower wreaths, which he sells in a local home décor store. This shop hangs some of his wreaths outside. They are clearly marked for sale – and at a hefty price – yet in all the years I have lived and worked here, not one of his floral creations has been stolen after hours. It’s as if the honor system so prevalent among the shopkeepers has rubbed off on our visitors. Although once in a great while, that trust is breached.

Recently, a customer in a gallery took a fancy to a small oil painting, prompting the gallery owner to tell her about the artwork. Holding the piece in her hands, she continued to browse. Ten minutes later, her hands were empty. And the painting was nowhere to be seen. However, the customer carried a large shoulder bag, where no doubt the painting was now tucked away. The owner chose not to confront her; no one was likely to be at the police station at that hour anyway. But he did follow her out the door and watched as she drove off in a brand new Mercedes. If she made a habit of stealing artwork, it could explain how she was able to afford the Mercedes.

I felt frustrated that this woman got away with her theft – which may have been repeated in other businesses in town. But I take comfort in the fact that if a customer pulls this in Marlee’s Berry Basket shop, there will be consequences. The local police might find a Mercedes abandoned just outside the town limits. And there on the front seat would be the stolen painting. With the dead body of the woman beside it. Life may be stranger than fiction, but fiction can be a lot more unforgiving.

spisacretacameraSharon Farrow is the latest pen name of award winning author Sharon Pisacreta. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Sharon has been a freelance writer since her twenties. Published in mystery, fantasy, and romance, Sharon currently writes The Berry Basket cozy mystery series, and is the editor of the travel site lakeeffectliving.com. She is also one half of the writing team D.E. Ireland, who co-author the Agatha nominated Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins mysteries. Visit Sharon at sharonfarrowauthor.com, on Facebook @SharonFarrowAuthor, or Twitter @SharonFarrowBB.

Back Cover Copy – Dying for Strawberries

dyingfor-strawberriesWith seasonal crowds flocking to its sandy beaches, lively downtown shops, and The Berry Basket, a berry emporium with something for everyone, the lakeshore village of Oriole Point is ripe for summer fun—and murder.
 
Much has changed for Marlee Jacob since she returned to Oriole Point, Michigan. Between running The Berry Basket, dodging local gossip, and whipping up strawberry muffins, smoothies, and margaritas to celebrate the town’s first annual Strawberry Moon Bash, the thirty-year-old hardly has time for her fiancé, let alone grim memories of her old life in New York . . .

But unfortunately for Marlee, Oriole Point is muddled with secrets of its own. First her friend Natasha disappears after an ominous dream. Next the seediest man in town threatens to crush her business. Then an unknown person nearly kills her on the night of the Bash. When she discovers a dead body, Marlee realizes she’ll have to foil a killer’s plot herself—before the past permanently stains her future.

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