Guest: Wendy Tyson

This is Edith, wondering what New England will give us for weather next! And happy to BitterHarvest fronthave the talented Wendy Tyson back as my guest. Her newest Greenhouse Mystery, Bitter Harvest, came out this week, and to celebrate she’s giving away an audiobook (on CDs) of the book to one commenter today. Wendy was kind enough to consent to an interview, so let’s go (my questions are in boldface)!

You wrote a darker standalone, plus the Allison Campbell series for Henery, about an image consultant. I haven’t read either the standalone or the series, but even the series seems a bit darker than the cozy Greenhouse Mysteries. Do you prefer one style over the other?

I’m a huge fan of crime fiction—from small-town cozy mysteries to great, sprawling international thrillers and everything in between. The Greenhouse Mystery Series is very dear to me because I love organic gardening, and I feel passionate about the regenerative farming movement. Plus, I’ve fallen quite in love with some of the characters.  And these days, when you turn on the news and you’re constantly confronted by some tragedy or another, it’s nice to return to a place that’s welcoming and just a little isolated from some of the world’s misery (even if that place is fictional). That’s how I feel about Winsome, PA, the setting of Bitter Harvest.

That said, I also enjoy writing darker mysteries and thrillers. These books provide a different kind of outlet as a writer, and it’s exciting to sink into an edgier, more complex novel. I guess the answer is no, I really don’t prefer one over the other. I like to think there is the flexibility for me to write and publish both.

Our readers are always curious about our writing schedules and habits. Do you have a day job in addition to writing fiction? When and where do you write your mysteries?

Vermont Respite

Vermont

I do! I’m an attorney and I work full-time as a consultant at a mutual fund company. (I practice ERISA law. Bonus points for Wicked readers familiar with that area of the law.) I have a husband, three sons, and three dogs, and I split my time between Vermont and Pennsylvania. Life is hectic, but writing provides me with the quiet time I need to recharge. Making time for writing isn’t always easy, though.

A schedule? I get up early—around 5:30 am—and write every day before work, until about 7. If I’m up against a deadline, I’ll also write during my lunch break. I try to reserve evenings for my family and for any social media/marketing I need to do. That all sounds very disciplined, doesn’t it? The truth is, while I do stick to that schedule, it’s often not enough to meet my deadlines, and so I tend to be a binge writer. I write for hours during family vacations, on my days off from work, at soccer and lacrosse tournaments, in waiting rooms. I’ve learned the art of writing wherever and whenever. To do that without sacrificing family time, I integrate writing with my life. This means I can write at the kitchen island while the boys do homework or play and a meal is simmering on the stove. I’ve had to learn to block out distractions. (If only I had mastered that skill in college!)

I know you are an avid gardener, as is Megan Sawyer, your Greenhouse series protagonist. What’s your favorite crop to grow, and which give you the most problems? (I’ll add my own answers after yours!)Yard mico farm Tyson

Red peppers are a favorite crop. We plant red bell peppers and Hungarian peppers, and we eat the bells like apples (the kids love them). Peppers grow very well in our climate. Potatoes do as well, and we generally have excellent crops of red and Yukon potatoes. Homegrown potatoes are delicious—earthy and flavorful, even without butter.

Most problematic? That changes to some extent every year. Last summer, we had a tough time with tomatoes (another favorite crop), and mid-way through the summer our basil died for no apparent reason. The year before we had more tomatoes than we could possibly eat, and fresh, fragrant basil until well into fall. We almost always get aphids on our spring kale and spinach eventually…something you learn to live with when you’re planting an organic garden on a small piece of property.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

E: Oh, man, broccoli was such a pain. It’s good to plant, because it’s healthy and doesn’t mind cold weather. But when the cabbage moth lays its eggs in the head and you’re in the kitchen getting ready to chop one up for your dinner and there are MOVING CREATURES hidden in the florets? Gah! Forget it. I’ll buy broccoli at the farm stand. When I was selling my own produce, the tiny holes the flea beetles chew in arugula and other leafy green crops was a big pain but not harmful, just cosmetically unpleasing. But I love growing my Sun Gold cherry tomatoes every year. I used to start those from seed before hardly anybody knew about them – now all the garden centers sell seedlings.

Bitter Harvest takes place in the fall. Here in New England more and more family farms are putting up hoop houses and nurturing crops like hardy greens all winter long. Do you try to grow year round? 

Absolutely. We were inspired some years back after reading Eliot Coleman’s book, The Winter Harvest Handbook, and my husband built an unheated hoop house and low tunnels in our yard. It’s been a little bit of heaven to go out into a snowy yard and pick fresh spinach or kale. We’ve also grown arugula and pak choi in the low tunnels with decent success.

E: I’ve seen Coleman speak! And still own my copy of Four Season Harvest.

Other than writing about murders and growing food (and being a wife, mom, and dog owner…), what else do you do for fun in your “free” time? Believe me, I’ve been there except for the dog part, which is why I put free in quotes!

Free time…you’re right, there isn’t much left over. I love, love, love to travel. The entire part of a trip, from planning to execution, is great fun, and we’ve managed some interesting trips over the last five years or so. We drove to Montana from Pennsylvania one summer, another summer we did a “road trip” through parts of Western Europe and

Corfu, Greece

Corfu

Slovenia, and we spent three weeks in a house on the Greek island of Corfu a few years back. These trips provide family time and writing time, and I find that a new locale always offers novel ideas and a fresh perspective. Aside from travel, I enjoy hiking and swimming with my kids, especially in our adopted state of Vermont.

Since this year is Sisters in Crime’s 30th anniversary, tell us how the organization has benefited you and helped you along as an author. Are you active in any chapters?

I value Sisters in Crime and the networking opportunities it provides. I’ve met so many inspiring authors through the organization, and I’ve learned a great deal about marketing and the writing industry in general. I’m also a member of International Thriller Writers, and I’ve been an editor and columnist for their two publications, The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins. I highly recommend that new and aspiring authors join SinC or ITW or another writing organization. Absolutely invaluable.

What’s one thing hardly anyone knows about you? 

I don’t own an e-reader. While I applaud the advent of the e-book, and I see the great value of e-readers for so many reasons, I’m hopelessly attached to paper books. My husband built me a wall of bookshelves, and even so we don’t have enough room for them all. I love the smell, the feel of a new book, the comfort of an old favorite. I am addicted. (There, I admitted it for all the world to see.)

You could do a lot worse with addictions, my friend! What’s next for you on the writing front?

My fourth Allison Campbell Mystery, Fatal Façade, launches on June 13, 2017. I just turned in Seeds of Revenge, Greenhouse Mystery No. 3, and that comes out in late 2017. This year promises to be a busy one!

Readers: Who has an e-reader and who doesn’t? How do you feel about gardening? Favorite vacation travel story? Remember,  Wendy is giving away an audiobook (on CD) of the book to one commenter today.

In Bitter Harvest, Megan Sawyer should be shouting from the barn roof. Washington Acres survived its first year, the café has become a hotspot for locals, and Winsome’s sexy Scottish veterinarian is making house calls—only not for the animals. But as summer slips into fall and Winsome prepares for its grand Oktoberfest celebration, beer isn’t the only thing brewing. When the town’s pub owner is killed in a freak accident, Megan suspects something sinister is afoot in Winsome—but no one is listening. As nights grow longer and temperatures chill, Megan must plow through Winsome’s fixation with autumn festivities to harvest the truth—before another dead body marks the season.Wendy Tyson

Wendy Tyson’s background in law and psychology has provided inspiration for her mysteries and thrillers. Originally from the Philadelphia area, Wendy has returned to her roots and lives there again on a micro-farm with her husband, three sons and three dogs.  Wendy’s short fiction has appeared in literary journals, and she’s a contributing editor and columnist for The Big Thrill and The Thrill Begins, International Thriller Writers’ online magazines. Wendy is the author of the Allison Campbell Mystery Series and the Greenhouse Mystery Series.

Making Food

Tuesday News Flash: Barbara Kay and Cynthia Balevre are the winners from yesterday’s post! Check your inboxes, ladies, and congratulations.

Edith here, north of Boston, where the flower garden is mulched and the vegetable
garden planted, at last. To celebrate, I’m giving away an ARC of Murder Most Fowl AND one of Grilled for Murder to two comm2011-05-02 18.50.31enters (one book each) today!

As you must know by now, I write two contemporary cozy series that involve a lot of food. Cam Flaherty grows it in the Local Foods Mysteries and Robbie Jordan cooks and serves it in the Country Story series. The books include recipes, of course (and the latest two books come out on the same day next week!).

Right now I’m tweaking the recipes for Mulch Ado About Murder, the fifth Local Foods book, and I thought I’d share how I come up with my recipes. I love cooking, and I’d like to say I come up with new dishes out of thin air – but I don’t, usually.

For example, in Mulch, which takes place at the end of May, Cam and her visiting parents eat dinner at the real Throwback Brewery in Hampton, New Hampshire,  not too far from where I live. We’ve eaten there a couple of times, and in the summer they have tables and chairs outside on the patio. Cam orders the kale and couscous salad I had there, so I thought I’d have to make up a recipe for it. Instead, I emailed one of the two women who own the IMG_3224place and asked Nicole Carrier if the cook would share the recipe for my book, assuring her that no one dies from eating it or gets murdered at the brewery. I could almost hear the laugh in Nicole’s reply. She was happy to share, but didn’t have an exact recipe. Instead she just listed the ingredients for me. I said I could work with that, and did!

Jake Ericsson, the volatile chef/boyfriend from the first couple of books, makes a reappearance in Mulch. Cam takes her parents to his restaurant, The Market, and Jake brings them desserts on the house, including his special Swedish cheesecake, Ostkaka. For that I went to Google, and then tweaked the recipe until I came up with a version I liked.

IMG_3211

Because locavores are such a big part of the Local Foods books, I try to have most of the recipes feature ingredients that are available locally. The latest book, Murder Most Fowl, takes place in March. Ugh – local produce in March in New England? But Cam and her friend Lucinda visit an Irish pub for Saint Patrick’s Day and have Irish Beef Stew with Stout. Half the ingredients – potatoes, carrots, onions – could have been stored from last fall’s crop, so that works, and the beef she could get from a local farm, too.

Irish Beef Stew with Stout

In the Country Store Mysteries, the recipes in the books are usually breakfast and lunch items, because that’s what Robbie serves. It’s been fun to come up with dishes like apple-spice muffins, a colorful cole slaw (recipe in Grilled for Murder), and turkey sliders on homemade buns with a special sauce.

IMG_0797

The cole slaw recipe I adapted from one my Quaker friend Bill Castle makes for the Salvation Army dinner we Friends put on every summer. I didn’t think cole slaw for a hundred would be that popular in a cozy mystery, so I cut it way, way down. Still yummy.

Coleslaw

When I learned that a friend from grad school (whom I haven’t seen in decades) is now the Original Grit Girl, who grinds corn every week into grits, polenta, and cornmeal, I had to order some. And when I made the Creamy Grits with Cheese on the grits bag, I knew I wanted Robbie to serve it. Luckily Georgeanne Ross gave me her permission to use the recipe in book three, When the Grits Hit the Fan. Mmmm.

CheesyGrits

Biscuits and gravy are big in southern Indiana, but Robbie also offers a vegetarian gravy option. I tapped my sister Janet, a vegetarian since college long ago, for her thoughts on that. She worked for several years as a cook at a Vipassana retreat center, Insight Meditation Society, out in western Massachusetts. Their miso gravy is delicious!

And then there are the failures. My Quaker Midwife Mysteries don’t include recipes, but when Delivering the Truth came out, I appeared on a bunch of blogs and wanted to share a few 1888-era recipes. I found a reference to a recipe for small sweet buns called Sally Lunns in the Woman’s Exchange Cookbook from the late nineteenth century.

SallyLunnKingArthur

It called for sourdough starter, which I have. A picture (above) from the King Arthur Flour site shows pretty puffy rolls. Mine? Flat and eggy and just awful. I did not use that recipe in a blog post (and I’m not showing you the picture, either…).Grilled for Murder

Murder Most FowlSo readers, where do you get your recipes? Do you adapt and tweak, or follow the instructions to the letter? What’s your favorite breakfast or lunch dish? Remember, I’m giving away an ARC of each of my two new books to commenters!

Guest: Marla Cooper

Edith here (on vacation but still doing a little work). Let’s extend a Wicked Welcome terror in taffeta book cover
to debut author Marla Cooper!
Her debut mystery, Terror in Taffeta, comes out next week, and she’s giving away a hardcover copy to one commenter. Let’s hear about the book first:

Kelsey McKenna has planned out every detail of her client’s destination wedding in San Miguel de Allende. But what she hadn’t planned on was a bridesmaid dropping dead in the middle of the ceremony. When the bride’s sister is arrested for murder, the mother of the bride demands that Kelsey fix the matter at once. Although Kelsey is pretty sure investigating a murder isn’t in her contract, crossing the well connected Mrs. Abernathy could be a career-killer. Before she can leave Mexico and get back to planning weddings, Kelsey will have to deal with stubborn detectives, late-night death threats—and guests who didn’t even RSVP.

Isn’t a wedding planner just a perfect protagonist for a murder? Take it away, Marla!

Thanks for having me, Edith. What a fun month this has been—including appearing here on Wickeds! My debut novel comes out on Tuesday, and as you can imagine, the last few weeks have been crazy. (According to a quick internet diagnosis, I am apparently “feeling all the feels.”)

Last week, my friend Cori Arnold posted the following quote on Facebook:Image 1 - quote

I immediately replied that yes, that was exactly what it was like. After waiting two years, my novel will finally be released into the world, and in a way I feel like I’ve been holding my breath the entire time, waiting to see if my joke is funny. Especially during that year or so when almost nothing seemed to be happening at all, and my non-writer friends were like, “So, is your book out yet? Is it ever coming out? Is this some kind of practical joke only writers understand?”

So here’s where I was two years ago. I had just completed my manuscript, and I headed off to Left Coast Crime in the hopes of learning everything I possibly could about getting a book published. While I was there, I bought an orchid that we now refer to as the Magical Image 2 - orchidBlossoming Oracle.

That sucker lasted for months. It had several stems full of tightly packed buds that blossomed oh-so-gradually, and it reminded me of my experiences at Left Coast Crime and everything that was ahead of me. It was still going strong when I found my agent a couple months later, and even a few weeks later when we started sending the manuscript out to different publishers.
As I started getting rejections back, a few of the blossoms started to drop, but I didn’t freak out. After all, I was in it for the long haul. The orchid wasn’t in any hurry to give up, and neither was I. Then a few more flowers fell. And a few more rejections came in.

At some point, I jokingly told my husband, “Maybe I’ll sell my book right when the last flower drops.” There were still enough blossoms left that it seemed reasonable, and he agreed that that’s pretty much exactly how it would go down, because we have a tendency to validate literally any banana-pants thing the other person says. (I believe this is the secret to a good marriage.)

Not long after, the orchid had dropped all but one blossom, which was wilted and looked like it would fall if you exhaled anywhere within a three-foot radius. (Yes, it was full-on pathetic to look at, but dang it, I was committed to finding out if I, in fact, had a magic orchid.)

One night, we went to dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant, and I got the following fortune:

You will soon be the center of attention. Look for good news.Image 3 - Fortune

And yes, I took a picture of it because I basically considered it a promise from the universe that I was going to get a book deal, probably the next day. Okay, maybe not, but just in case….

So after we got home from our meal of Szechuan chicken and shrimp with walnuts, we were sitting on the couch, and I heard the softest little plop from the corner of the living room.

Image 4 - orchid twoThe last blossom had fallen. Tim’s eyebrows shot up and he said, “It fell!” And then we both just giggled nervously as if to say, “Gosh, believing in the predictive ability of houseplants sure is silly!” and then I think we changed the subject. After all, I was almost guaranteed to be disappointed if I got too excited about my double-omen action.

The next morning, my agent called.

She’d sold my book.

Even as I’m writing this, I kind of can’t believe it, but why else would I have taken this picture of a near-dead orchid?

So, do I believe in signs? I’m willing to call the fortune cookie a coincidence, but the Magical Blossoming Oracle? Definitely a sign.

Which brings us back to today.

Even though I’ve known for over a year that my book was coming out on March 22, it still didn’t feel quite real to me. I mean, sure, I could see it listed right there on Amazon, and I was starting to get Goodreads reviews and everything, but still.

I guess after all this time, I still needed some convincing. But just the other day, I got the last and final sign that I needed: a copy of my book arrived in the mail.

Yep, this is happening.

Readers: If you had a Magical Blossoming Oracle, what would you want it to predict? Have you ever gotten an unmistakable sign? And how do you deal with anticipation? Remember, Marla is giving away a hardcover edition of the book to one commenter!

MCooper headshotMARLA COOPER is the author of Terror in Taffeta, a humorous cozy mystery about a destination wedding planner that is the first in a series. As a freelance writer, Marla has written all sorts of things, and it was while ghostwriting a guide to destination weddings that she found inspiration for her first novel. Originally hailing from Texas, Marla lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and her polydactyl tuxedo cat. You can find Marla at www.marla-cooper.com, on Goodreads, or on Facebook.

 

On Being Grateful

Edith here, perched in my second floor office watching the sun come up, somewhere north of Boston.

Yes, I know everyone and her fourth-cousin-once-removed is going to write about gratitude and thankfulness this week. I, too, am feeling exceeding grateful, but some of the reasons are a bit quirky. I’m going to try to explain as only a language geek can.AmericanHeritage

The root of the words grateful and gratitude is the Latin grātus: “pleasing, favorable.” According to my favorite (and well-worn) American Heritage Dictionary, the Indo-European root for grātus is gwere: “to praise aloud.” Which makes gratitude directly related to the words agreeable, congratulate, ingrate, and ingratiate. It’s also related via Celtic to bard: “he [sic] who praises.”

MommyDaddyYoungvert2Since I left my day job to write fiction full time two and a half years ago, money has been tighter than when I earned a plush salary writing technical manuals in high tech companies. But that’s okay – I know how to live on a shoestring. So the first people whose praises I want to sing are my late parents. Daddy was a high school teacher and our mom stayed home with us four kids until we were in high school ourselves. We had enough, but life was not luxurious. And I had a very happy childhood. I’m grateful I know how to scale back and live simply (I’m also grateful for being a Quaker, a faith which also stresses living with simplicity).

Many writers have a spouse or partner who is their first reader, who provides a valuable sounding board and helpful comments. Mine? IMG_2281Doesn’t even read fiction. Has no idea what I’m doing, really. He’s a dear, and brilliant in many areas. Commenting on fiction is not one of them. So I could be upset by that and wish for something different. Instead I find it agreeable to be left alone to type away on my books. Hugh is glad I’m happy (and that I’m starting to bring in a bit more cash) and that’s enough.

I  hope I don’t sound like an ingrate when I say I’m grateful the muse continues to be with FirstDraftDoneme. Friday I finished the first draft of my eleventh novel. I’d hoped to have it done by the day before Thanksgiving. Instead the last ten thousand words just poured out. Plot problems resolved themselves. Suspense, tenderness, even killing in self-defense – it almost wrote itself. I’m not sure if this happens because I’m getting better at it from experience or if I’m just channeling some creative spirit out there. I know I would not be able to write three books a year if this didn’t keep happening, and I’m way grateful for that.

We Wickeds talk a lot about appreciating each other – because it’s so true – so I’m not going to go on too long. But singing the praises of my closest author pals and congratulating them on their many successes is one of my favorite things to do. So I guess that makes us all bards.

What about you? Anything negative in your life that is really a blessing? Whose praises would you like to sing? Also – Happy Thanksgiving a few days early to all! We’re all grateful for having readers come to our cozy blog.

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

Barb here, sitting on her front porch in Maine and writing on an flawless summer day

Back in February, I started a series of posts about how I came to terms with being a cozy writer. The first one talked about why this designation was an issue for me in the first place. The second, in March, was about how I came to be comfortable as a person with an identity as a cozy author.

Then life intervened. In April-May-June I was hit successively with Crime Bake website deadline-knee crisis-book deadline. But, though as a person I have many, many flaws, I am, at the end of the day (and usually literally at the end of the day), a completer. So herewith is Part III.

So when we left our intrepid heroine, she was happy to be writing a cozy series and comfortable adopting the image of a cozy author. Only one small issue remained.

Yes, I am going to say it.

Cozy mysteries often get no respect.

(She said it!)

There are a few reasons for this.

One is, there’s a bit of a hierarchy in fiction writing, and it looks something like this.

  • The literary fiction writers look down on the mystery writers
  • The mystery writers look down on the romance writers
  • The romance writers look down on the poets
  • The poets look down on the literary fiction writers
  • (cycle starts again)

Of course this is a weird, crazy exaggeration, but you know it’s there, right? And if I were more clever, I could probably fit lots more genres–horror, fantasy, YA, westerns, etc.–into the hierarchy. I remember vividly being at the Key West Literary Seminar and hearing just about every top name in the crime fiction world asked some version of the question, “So did you ever want to write a real book?” (My imperfect memory is that only Benjamin Black–who as John Banville is a renowned literary writer–and Joyce Carol Oates escaped this question.)

So there’s that.

There’s also a weird hierarchy within the crime fiction realm. It’s not as clear, but for sure “literary” crime fiction is at the top, followed by thrillers, traditional mysteries, noir, procedurals and suspense (in some order or another), with romantic suspense and finally cozies at the bottom.

So the question for me was not, can a mystery be good literature? [As pondered by so many, like Edmund Wilson in “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” (The New Yorker, January 20, 1945), Raymond Chandler in “The Simple Art of Murder” (1950) or even Dorothy L. Sayers in her Introduction to the 1928-1929 Omnibus of Crime.] That’s another discussion for another day.

The question was, can a cozy be good crime fiction?

Was it a reasonable question? I think it was. After all, a cozy has never won an Edgar® Award for Best Novel and most cozy writers believe one never will. So why would I want to work this hard at something a whole lot of people–to be clear, people whom I like and respect as writers–think can never be “good?”

Let’s take this apart. To do so, first we have to agree on what a cozy is. The most common definition I’ve seen is that a cozy is a mystery, usually, but not always, featuring an amateur sleuth. The cozy will offer a crime, usually a murder, and a solution, usually the identification of the guilty party and bringing of that guilty party to justice. The reader will meet the guilty party and all the suspects in the course of the book. The mystery will be anchored in a community, and the sleuth, suspects and guilty party will be a part of the community in some way -ie not just there to murder or to uncover a murderer.

Aside from the amateur sleuth bias, and perhaps a bit more emphasis on setting, I’ve just defined a traditional mystery. And no one would argue that a traditional mystery can’t be “good” or even “literary.” (Okay, a lot of people would argue that, including the aforementioned Wilson, Chandler and Sayres, but again, this is not about that. The point is, there’s no reason within our genre, cozy mysteries can’t be good.)

To that definition, many people append, “In a cozy mystery, cursing is kept to a minimum and most sex and gore are kept ‘off the page.'”

I personally chafe at this definition. But not because I have the slightest interest in writing something very gory or explicitly sexual. I don’t wander to my desk in the morning thinking, “Drat! Another day of not torturing children. I feel so restricted.” Because, believe me, I don’t. I just hate it that my subgenre is defined by so many people by what’s NOT in it. If what were important is what’s not in it, I could hand 350 blank pages in to my publisher and be done with it.

Is that final restriction why cozy mysteries can’t be “good?”

After all, if cozy authors deal with murder at such a remove that we can’t describe the horror or the sorrow, and can’t evince those emotions in our audience, then can we really be writing something “good?” I would argue we can, because I have seen many cozy authors very skillfully evoke the horror of unexpected, violent death by focusing on the reactions and emotions of the characters, rather than the blood and the guts. If anything, I think that’s harder and requires more skill.

So that’s not a reason a cozy mystery can’t be “good.”

Is it that cozies can’t be good because there is too much formula required? I don’t think so. Most crime fiction has to contend on some level with audience expectations as to form. As does most prose fiction. As did Shakespeare in his comedies, histories, tragedies and sonnets.

Nope, audience expectations don’t mean cozies can’t be good.

Slide12Is it that cozies usually deal with the small and domestic? Can a book that ignores the vast sweep of history or the maelstrom of current events or the conundrum of the human condition be “good?”

Well, first of all, most cozies don’t ignore those things. Almost all take place in a certain place at a certain time. While they might look at human issues from the inside out, or from specific to the general, instead of the other way around, that doesn’t mean they ignore them.

But also, lots of people have written lots of great, great literary fiction about the domestic realm. In fact, making big events real by showing the way they affect specific people is one of the hallmarks of great fiction writing.

So that’s not the reason cozies can’t be good.

So now let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Both of the subgenres at the bottom of the “respect” heap in crime fiction-romantic suspense and cozies– are primarily written by women for women. Is that why cozies can’t be good?

That is, of course, ridiculous. Or I wish it were.

For me, the best books transport me. They take me to a place outside of myself. When that happens, my problems, petty and serious, recede for a time, and the lives of others, the lives of characters, become primary. I learn about professions, human communities and places I can’t learn about from my friends. And I care what happens to the characters.

This is what I think of as the four Es of reading fiction–escape, entertainment, education and empathy.

You don’t need all four in every book, but you probably need three for a book to be satisfying. Or I do. I also need a level of complexity of prose, structure, plot and character  to engage me. I can’t be transported if any of those elements are so simply rendered that I can still mentally balance my check book while reading.

That’s my definition of a good book. Is there anything in my personal definition of a good book that says cozies can’t be good? Nope, not seeing it.

So that’s how I got comfortable with spending my time, blood, sweat, and tears writing cozies. And that’s why I say it loud and proud whenever people ask me what I write. Because there is no reason on earth someone can’t write a cozy that is also a good book.

John T. Irwin described literary mysteries as ones you can re-read and get something new out of each time, even though you know the solution. Do you think that could ever happen with a cozy?

I know I haven’t achieved it, but the fact that it is “out there” means there is something to aspire to.

Readers, have at it. Do you think cozies can be “good” books? Why can’t they get any respect? Does it matter? Does it matter to you?

Wicked Wednesday – Proposal Writing, the First Three Chapters

By Sherry, who’s hoping it’s warmer today than when I set up the post!

This month we’ve decided to all chime in on the process of writing proposals for book series. Mystery series are often sold this way, in fact all of us have sold series in this manner, some of us more than once. The format for doing this is fairly standardized in the publishing industry and each Wednesday this month we will dive into one aspect of the process. This week we are talking about writing the first three chapters for your proposal. Wickeds, did you agonize or did the chapters pour out of you? Give us your best tip!

Tagged for Death mech.inddSherry: Some of you might know this story. When I had the opportunity to write the proposal for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series my agent said: I want it as soon as possible. Four days later I sent him the proposal. Fortunately, I had Liz, Edith and Barb’s proposals to work off of. The whole thing just poured out of me — it’s never happened before or since. But my best tip is to end the third chapter on a suspenseful note that will want to make the editor read the rest.

A Tine To Live A Tine To Die PB COVEREdith: I had written a very early version of A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die eighteen years earlier in between farming seasons. For the proposal (and the book), I knew I had to rewrite the content, but I was able to keep the fictional world I had set up all those years ago. Protagonist Cam Flaherty, former software engineer. Small rural town. Antique saltbox farmhouse. And death by pitchfork in the hoop house. So I had a head start, and it wasn’t that hard for me to craft the first three chapters. The last chapter of the proposal ends right after my farmer discovers the body. So the tip about that might be: make sure you hook your reader, who you hope will be your publisher, with great storytelling and, if not a body, then something that will really grab them.

For my Country Store Mysteries proposal (Flipped for Murder out in November, under pen name Maddie Day!), I had to story-innset up the entire world, the protagonist, the supporting characters. But since the series is set in southern Indiana, a part of the universe I love, and because I had a vision for the near-Southern language and way of life, I had a lot of fun with those first chapters. Totally agree with Sherry, though – you have to start with a good hook, and make sure your last paragraph has one, too. The end of the proposal chapters shows a local police officer telling Robbie and her date about the murder of a local official Robbie had had conflict with – and that the victim had one of Robbie’s signature cheesey biscuits stuffed in her mouth.

Liz: Thanks to the counsel of Avery Aames/Daryl Wood Gerber, I had a good fouKneading to Diendation to use when putting my proposal together. And the idea for the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, which my agent and I both loved, was exciting to me – so the first three chapters were a lot of fun to write. The one thing I struggled with was how much set-up I needed to do versus just jumping right into the story of the murder. I wanted to set the stage for the town and characters enough that readers immediately felt familiar with them, but didn’t want to kill it with a lot of backstory. It ended up that my victim was found at the end of the second chapter, and when I ended the third it was setting up Stan’s situation of being a suspect.

THE MAINE CLAMBAKE MYSTERY SERIESBarb: Great timing on this question as someone recently asked to see my proposal so I read it again. I was surprised how closely the first three chapters in the proposal were to those that were eventually published in Clammed Up. I remember that I had a lot of fun with these chapters. My agent had emphasized that it was a spec proposal and though he thought clambakes were a subject that should interest publishers, it was by no means guaranteed. So my thought about the first three chapters was–have fun, don’t overthink, don’t get too attached. It’s a fun way to write. The set-up, a wedding, was intended to quell my panic about supplying recipes for a series. A clambake is the same meal over and over and over. I thought if the Snowden Family Clambake Company was the setting for special events, other kinds of food might be served. In the series, I’ve solved this problem in a completely different way, so the wedding was unnecessary, but I’m glad that’s where the series started. Eventually another publisher, who ultimately passed, asked me for three more chapters. Those didn’t end up in the book in the same spot.

Jessie: There’s a lot of business to accomplish in the first three chapters. Introduction of main and a few supporting characters, the inciting incident and the voice of the novel all need to be present and correct. It can be a bit overwhelming. On the other hand, the story is so fresh and the enthusiasm should be so high that it should be a pleasurable challenge. Which brings me to my best tip: if the first three chapters don’t have you chomping at the bit to tell the story then you should ask yourself if you are telling the right tale.  I don’t mean to say that the first draft of these pages should be the most perfect thing you have ever written. I do think, at this stage, your enthusiasm is a strong guidance system and if you don’t have it something is wrong and you should listen. Whether that means tweaking some details, weaving n new story threads or scrapping the whole thing and starting over, it would be wise to set off on a journey you really wish to take. Now is the very best time to do so.

Julie: My first three chapters story is a little different. A year and a half ago I was given the opportunity to audition to write this series. I was given an outline of the characters, and a fairly robust storyline. My job was to show my editor that I could write the series, but also that I could write the series that she had created. So I needed to figure out how to make the story mine, and hers, at the same time. I also needed to figure a way into the story. The series was sold, I just needed to sell my skills as a writer, and a storyteller. Ironically, and interestingly, those first three chapters got me the gig, but I didn’t end up using them in the final product. So my advice, make sure the first three chapters are written really well. If you want someone to give you a contract, they need to trust that you have the craft under control.

Edith again: I love the timing of this post. I am writing the first chapter of the second Country Store mystery this week. Today! And all these comments are helping me.

Readers: What do you want to see in the first three chapters of a mystery? If you’ve written your own first three, what were your joys and challenges doing so?

A New “Cat About Town”

By Liz, wondering when the heck I’m going to get my Christmas shopping done! How did it get to be almost mid-December?

Yes, it’s the most wonderful – and busiest – time of the year. This year, even more so because of some exciting news. I’ve asked my pal Junkyard Johnny to pop in for this announcement. He’s been anxiously awaiting this moment, as seen here:

JohnnyCakes

Okay, so here goes – I’m so excited to share with all of you that I’m going to be writing a second series, the Cat About Town, for St. Martin’s Press under the name Cate Conte! Note – The Cat About Town is modeled after Johnny. For those of you who don’t know his story, he was rescued from a junkyard in New Hampshire back in 2003. So after that humble start, he’s thrilled to be on the fast track to stardom.

In addition to Johnny’s alter ego, the series features Maddie James, a twenty-something entrepreneur who has just returned to her hometown, Daybreak Island, a fictional island off the coast of Massachusetts. Maddie’s spent the last ten years in San Francisco dabbling in successful business ventures. She loves her life, but has been yearning for home especially after she hears of the tourism troubles her beloved island is facing. Earlier in the year, the president of the island’s Chamber of Commerce died in a tragic car accident, and the board can’t settle on a replacement. Not to mention the state is cutting funding for tourism overall, which leaves the island in a precarious position. Maddie’s long since had the idea of bringing some San Francisco culture to her hometown, so she jumps on the opportunity to start up a business on Daybreak. She recruits her pal Ethan Birdsong, an esteemed gelato maker who studied in Italy, to return with her and they make plans to open a shop that will also feature healthy smoothies. Maddie’s vision is to elevate the perception of the island by attracting younger, more hip residents and business owners, and ultimately help the island reach the status of premier vacation spot on the east coast.

Maddie’s business acumen precedes her, and before she knows it, she’s elected president of the newly-formed Daybreak Island Business Association. With the presidency comes two key responsibilities: successfully organizing the upcoming food stroll (which she’s got about three weeks to pull off) and negotiating with the president of the mainland Chamber of Commerce, who wants the association to merge with his group. Neither of these things make Maddie particularly happy – especially when she gets a taste of Frank O’Malley, the sketchy Chamber president.

But she’s not the only one who’s not a fan of Frank. This becomes apparent when her new friend, the Cat About Town, sniffs out his dead body under one of the food stroll tents a couple of hours before the event is scheduled to kick off (and immediately following a contentious meeting with Maddie).

Suspects abound, but the cops have their eye on an “outsider” – Maddie’s business partner. Now she’s in a race against time to prove them wrong – AND reschedule the food stroll before the island’s reputation is as dead as Frank. With the help of her Grandpa Leo (the retired police chief) and some other quirky pals, Maddie has to figure out who the real killer is before she finds herself out of business – for good.

10541952_914577361905352_8714990119533756205_nSo that’s the set-up and a quick summary. There’s plenty more mayhem, romance and other fun stuff I haven’t mentioned. I’m still tossing around titles, but am tentatively calling the book Fatal Food Stroll. I don’t have a pub date yet, but am presuming it will be early 2016. I’m having a lot of fun writing this, and I hope you’ll all check it out! Johnny says thanks a lot 🙂