That Was A Close One!

By Sherry — feeling fortunate

A couple of weeks ago I helped author Donna Andrews with a yard sale. It gave me a chance to put my money (or Donna’s in this case) where my protagonist Sarah Winston’s mouth is. Garage sales are a lot of work and in this case Donna had things from her grandparents and parents along with things of her own to sale. The picture below is while we were setting up. You can read Donna’s take on the event here!

What do you want to accomplish? The first thing I asked was what was more important, making money or getting rid of stuff. Donna was more interested in getting rid of things than making money. The reason to ask that is for pricing and bargaining the day of the sale.

We got together a few days before the sale to price. Donna had already arranged a lot of like items together in her garage. There was so much stuff we decided not to individually price things (even though Sarah usually does). Donna made signs for things like albums $1.00, glassware $2.00, etc.

Vintage Jewelry Donna also had a lot of vintage jewelry. We used box lids with towels in them to arrange the jewelry. A friend of Donna’s who sells jewelry had been over to take a look at things to make sure nothing was too valuable. As we arranged the jewelry I would flip it over to look for signatures. Also to see if there was backing on the jewelry – that is usually a sign there aren’t gemstones set in the piece. I took some of the pieces home to check prices on eBay. Below is an example of the backing from a brooch I bought last spring at a sale:

Open! The weather the day of the sale was perfect, not too hot and a gentle breeze – almost unbelievable for August. Garage sales make for interesting people watching and become a study in human nature. Yes, we had early birds. The starting time was 9:00 but by 8:15 we were open for business. Donna did scare one woman off at 7:45 when she told her she could look around as long as she helped carry out a few boxes.

Patterns Donna had stacks of patterns from the forties, fifties, and sixties. I’d looked up prices on eBay and thought she’d probably have more luck selling them there. But we stuck them out anyway. We sold one. However, so many people stopped by to look at them. And it was lovely how many people told me stories of their moms or grandmothers making clothes. It was one of the best parts of the sale for me.

Hipsters Two young men came by who were interested in the albums Donna had for sale. She had nine boxes with everything from rock to Irish folk music to classical in them. The hipsters were interesting to watch because first they sorted through the albums in the garage setting asides ones they were interested in. Then they brought them out into the light and took the album out of its cover to look for scratches. After that they made their final decisions about which ones they wanted. At $1.00 a piece they were a great bargain. One of the guys said he loved Irish music because he could jig around the house to it. The image of this bearded hipster doing a jig still makes me laugh.

Culture clash Northern Virginia is a very diverse area but twice now I’ve seen how cultures can clash at a yard sale. A woman was looking a jewelry and had made a little stack to one side. Two other women swooped in and tried to crowd her out. They immediately went to her little stack. I intervened and explained that was spoken for. Then I bagged it up for the first woman. Since she was still shopping I took the jewelry, put it in a box with some other things she wanted, set the box to the side and covered it.

About fifteen minutes later one of the women brought me a couple of bags full of costume jewelry and asked me how much. I was holding one of the bags and flipping it back and forth to see what all was it in. All of the sudden the woman blurted out, “It’s her bag” and points at the first woman. Then she said, “I took it from there” and points at the box where I’d set it. A confession – if only Sarah could get information so easily! I rolled my eyes and took the bag back over to its spot.

Oh, boy. So here is my confession – Sarah would be so upset – it’s the big one that almost got by me. A woman was looking at the jewelry as I was hovering nearby. She holds a necklace up and says, “This is a Victorian mourning necklace.” I take it from her, flip it over, and sure enough there is this amazing woven hair. My first (and continuing thought) is how the heck did I miss that when I was looking through the jewelry?!!!!

I told her I’d have to look up a price. On eBay similar pieces were selling from $50 to $600! And those pieces only had a swirl of hair nothing like the intricate piece I was holding. Plus I wasn’t sure Donna would even want to sell it. When Donna finished up with the person she was talking to, I took it over to her and explained the situation. Of course she didn’t want to sell it! Fortunately, the woman understood. If I hadn’t been standing right there or if she hadn’t said anything it would have been gone for a couple of dollars. Ugh, I’m still upset!

All of us go to garage sales to find a treasure for next to nothing. But that was a close one!

The End By the end of the sale, Donna had made some money and gotten rid of some things. What didn’t sale was sorted into piles to give away or sell on eBay. Garage sales are a lot of work, but you can also learn something unexpected.

Readers: What in your life has taught you something unexpected?

Theme as Character

By Sherry where summer in NoVA is heating back up and I’m hoping it preps me for New Orleans next week

themeascharacterI’ve thought a lot about themes in cozies and what part they play in a book. I’m making a late addition to the post — in this case when I say theme I’m talking about what could also be called the hook of the series and sometimes the occupation of the character.  I realized that theme should be like a character. Before you throw your hands up and think, “The people who think setting is a character are nuts, so this girl has gone completely crazy”, bear with me.

What does a character do in a story? If it’s the protagonist they drive the story, if it’s a minor character they help move the story along, the antagonist impedes the story. Revelations come about and the protagonist’s personality comes through her interactions with the other characters. Is she kind, cranky, suspicious? How she interacts with the theme also reveals character to us.

In my books Sarah goes to and organizes yard sales. She meets lots of different types of people and we find out she’s kind, but stands up for herself. She’s thoughtful but spontaneous. The theme lets us see she loves a bargain, she’s clever, and after a difficult divorce in book one, resourceful. It’s a good way to use that old adage, show versus tell.

what-if-there-wasnt-a-theme_Characters and their voice is what makes us fall in love with a book, it’s what makes us stay with a series, it’s why we root, or get mad, or cry, or laugh. A well integrated theme will do all of those things too. It’s a hook but if it’s done right it’s such an integral part of the the story that it doesn’t stand out as theme but blends as character. It should be important enough to the story that if it was gone, it would feel like a character died. The reader would miss it.

So far Sarah has gone to yard sales, set up New England’s largest yard sale, organized a February Blues yard sale on an Air Force base, and organized smaller yard sales for clients. In All Murders Final she starts a virtual yard sale. Each one of these types of yard sales plays out in a different way. Like a character who is difficult as opposed to one who is overly helpful.

As with any character you have to make sure not to go over the top with your theme. I’ve had a lot of people ask me if Sarah finds clues at the yard sales she goes to. So far the answer has been no — for two reasons. First, it would be a huge coincidence if Sarah did find a clue at a yard sale she went to. Writers have to be very careful with coincidence or readers wouldn’t find the story plausible. Sarah did overhear a conversation at a yard sale in Tagged for Death, but without other things happening the conversation wouldn’t have been important. Second, I want to make things hard for Sarah, just like when she questions someones and they lie or just don’t answer. A yard sale that yields too much would make her life too easy. Some day Sarah might find a clue at a sale but it will have to be carefully integrated.

So readers what do you think? Do you have a favorite theme?

Wicked Wednesday: Mythbusters V–Write What You Know

Teachingis thegreatest actof optimism.All young writers get the advice to “write what you know,” but let’s face it, if we all did that, there’d be way too many books about sitting on your a** typing words into a computer all day. As you’ve grown as a writer what has this advice come to mean to you?

Julie: A work friend came into my office this week and said that she is loving Clock and Dagger, and knowing me makes it more fun. “How so?” I asked. “You’re in there. Like the colors they choose for the cards? Purple and green, just like StageSource.” She was right, of course. Part of me crept in, even when I didn’t mean for that to happen. But the whole “write what you know” should be “write what you can imagine.” You will ground things in your life, but I find a good google search and a long walk will free up my imagination to create what I didn’t know, but did imagine, would be a good story.

Sherry: Julie, one of the things that has so impressed me with your series is that no one would ever guess you didn’t know a lot about clocks until you started researching for the Clock Shop series. It’s a great example that you don’t have to write what you know. To me “write what you know” is also about what do you know that you don’t know you know. Right before I got the opportunity to write the garage sale series, I’d pitched my gemology series to our agent, John Talbot. He wasn’t interested in it but asked me what my hobbies were or what other things I knew about. After I stammered for a bit I finally said I liked to read. Then I slunk away. I would have never thought to mention I loved garage sales.

Edith: All of my series of course have bits of what I know, but what I love is widening what I know. I have some background in midwifery and in Quakers, but I had no idea of the depth and richness of my town’s history, or of the late 1800s and what a time of change it was. I absolutely love researching everyday life, political happenings, carriages, buildings, and attitudes of the era – and I didn’t know I would. Plus what Julie said, especially with my characters. Imagining how the mind of someone completely made up works, creating their motivations, following them around, writing down what they do – that’s the best.

Liz: I agree that a little bit of what you know informs everything you do, but there are so many opportunities to stretch. In the Pawsitively Organic series, I definitely know animals, but cooking is not my thing. So I have opportunities to learn all the time as I’m writing. Also, how many of us really know what it’s like to find bodies/investigate murders? Aside from the police-officers-turned-writers, probably not many of us. So we’re all researching, learning and stretching every day.

Barb: I think what this advice usually means is to write authentically. Make up people, but ground them in real and believable human emotions. Make up places, but give readers touchstones in those made-up places that help them believe they could be real. And give us imaginary plots and storylines–sometimes wildly imaginary–but do it in worlds with enough inner consistency that people are willing to go on the journey. Everything you have ever observed about the behavior of people, institutions, community, and place is relevant, and that is writing what you know. But then you can mix those up in wild and crazy ways, as long a you provide a foundation.

Jessie: I’ve always thought of this as an admonishment to to write the truth as you experience it. The plots and the details can vary wildly but to be a successful story, to resonate with readers, it should first strike a chord with the writer’s own truth. What do you value? What do you notice? What makes you angry or sad or elated ? That’s what you know. That’s what’s worth writing about for you.

Readers: What do you think? Can you tell when a writer is well-grounded in what they’re writing and when they’re making it up as they go along? Writers, do you or do you not, “write what you know?”

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Wicked Wednesday: And the Seasons, They Go Round and Round…

The first Wicked Wednesday of five in March, with the first day of spring in sight, at last. 

Wickeds, how do you feel about the passing of the seasons? Do you savor the one you’re in, or eagerly anticipate the next one? Or does it depend on WHICH season you’re in? And in your writing, what’s your favorite season to set a murder in?

Liz: I love all the seasons except winter. I enjoy spring, but as the spring season has become shorter the last few years I find myself wishing summer would just get here. Then I want it to stick around a lot longer. When I finally can accept it’s ending, I look forward to fall very much. I just wish we could go from fall straight back to spring. As far as murder goes, all seasons offer unique opportunities to commit murder. I’ve never killed anyone in 2Febwinter, so perhaps I should try that. It goes with the general mood of the season, after all!

Edith: I had a lot of fun writing Cam Flaherty stuck outside in a blizzard in Farmed and Dangerous, Liz. You should try it! As for real seasons, I find they each have their appeal. I guess I’m particularly fond of summer. I grew up in Los Angeles, after all. I love it when it’s hot out, and I love even more all the fresh local produce.

Jessie: I like them all equally, at least at the beginning of them. I find that I am ready for each of them to turn when the time comes for the change. I think I would have a very hard time adapting to life in a climate where the seasons were less defined because I think I would be really bored.

Barb: I love all the seasons, and I love marking them–changing out the decor in the house in little ways, taking familiar trips, repeating holiday rituals. It seems odd to say, now that we’ve been spending a couple of the winter months in Key West, but I do love a snowy day at home. I used to love it more before the internet made “working at home” such a reality–back when it was an unexpected day off with the family. The Maine Clambake Mysteries have marched through the seasons. We’re in the depths of winter now. Can’t wait to find out what happens in the spring!

Julie: Barb, ain’t that the truth about snow days! This winter has been easy, so I am grateful for that. I do love the move into spring, when you can start layering less, and IMG_3488actually put the long underwear away. Spring/Summer are my favorite times of year, for sure.

Sherry: I love the promise of spring, the light green colors of budding trees (but not the sneezing with it) and of course spring means the start of garage sale season! But I also love cool fall days and its spectacular colors. I guess I don’t like the extremes of winter and summer anymore.

Readers: Favorite season, in New England or elsewhere? Which season do you prefer for a fictional murder?

Opening Lines

We continue to celebrate The Longest Yard Sale today. Write an opening line for the photograph below:

IMG_3496Jessie: I’ve got a real good deal for the discriminating taxidermist.

Barb: I’ll be right with you as soon as I tidy up.

Julie: What part of “No Early Birds Allowed” was unclear?

Sherry: That guy didn’t know a bargain when it hit him in the face.

Liz: He shouldn’t have tried to walk off with Grandma’s quilt.

Edith: I told him the shovel wasn’t for sale.

Readers: Add your opening line!

Wrestling

By Sherry who is so happy to see blooms on the hydrangeas this year!

I confess, writing book three in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries was more like wrestling a greased pig, than writing a novel. I’ve tried to figure out why and boiled it down to three things.

1. Major change in the plot. When I wrote the proposal for the series the synopsis for book three was this:

Winter in New England means no more yard sales and Sarah Winston had to find a way to keep her fledgling business afloat. Sarah decides to expand her business to include estate sales but her lack of experience makes finding jobs tough. Sarah has to team up with Lexington antique dealer Barney Hightown because competition is stiff. But not as stiff as Barney Hightown’s body when Sarah stumbles over it in a remote barn when she’s bidding on a project. Sarah must find the killer before he finds her.

IMG_3569When it came time to start writing All Murders Final last fall, I felt like there were other books out there about estate sales and wanted to try something different. Two years ago my friend’s daughter, Amanda, told me about a virtual garage sale in her town. It was a site for re-selling high-end clothing that was in good condition. Amanda told me when people posted clothes that weren’t nice enough, comments got catty. That intrigued me. Around the same time a new neighbor, Ashley, moved in across the street from me. She is the administrator of a local virtual garage sale site that has 6,000 members. Her stories went beyond catty to actual threats. Be still my fiction writing heart.

So I wrote a new synopsis. Sarah still has the same problem with what to do in a New England winter but this time her solution is a virtual garage sale site. Problem solved, right? No, of course not (otherwise there wouldn’t be three things on the list.)

2. Book launch. Several authors, including Jan Burke and Ellen Crosby, told me: You are only a new author once. I pondered what they meant but didn’t really understand until recently. The weeks leading up to a launch are filled with emotional ups and downs. I couldn’t wait to see Tagged for Death on the shelves, but I also dreaded being reviewed. In a panicked moment I wondered if it was possible for me to buy every copy and keep them for myself. It almost felt like I was taking my beautiful baby out in public for the first time and complete strangers could come up and criticize her: that nose is really big, why doesn’t she have more hair, that outfit is awful. You get the picture.

IMG_2460

Tagged for Death book launch.

And in the midst of all that anxiety and joy, you have blog posts to write, appearances, and books to sale. Fortunately, all the good things: the book is on shelves across the country! People showed up to the launch party! Strangers bought my books at signings! Tagged was nominated for an Agatha! outweighed the stupid anxieties. But all of it takes time away from writing especially if you are a pantster with procrastination tendencies like I am. (I don’t know what I’d do if I had a day job like Liz and Julie do!)

3. Is this it? syndrome. My contract is for three books. Of course I hope my contract will be extended but I won’t know until after book three is done and turned in. So just in case the contract isn’t extended, this book, book three, has to be the best book I’ve ever written (not that I wouldn’t want it to be even if I knew I was writing ten more). It has to wrap up the story arc but at the same time it has to leave room for future stories. There are relationship decisions to be made. There are people to kill and mysteries to solve. There’s the launch of the second book and the continuing promotion of the first. No pressure. (Wickeds and other authors out there with more than one series, I don’t know how you do it.)

Before and after  Barb Goffman's editing!

Before and after Barb Goffman’s editing!

Last Friday morning around 11:02 the wrestling match with book three was over and I won — with a ton of help from freelance editor Barb Goffman. Oh, it still needs to be read through by my beta readers and polished so Sarah isn’t shuddering or shivering every other sentence. But I finally felt like I wrapped my arms around that greased pig and lifted her triumphantly into the air. I spent Friday afternoon reading for pleasure. I had dinner with a couple of friends, went to a book signing for Kathryn O’Sullivan, and did a Skype meeting with a book club in Illinois. And all I can think today is I am one lucky lady!

Readers: Have you ever had a hard time with a project that you thought might be easier the third time around?

Wicked Wednesday: Spring Cleaning

Before we get into our Wicked Wednesday topic, we wanted to announce the winners from Chrystle Fiedler’s recent guest post! Penny Marks and Shannon Malloy, message us your addresses on Facebook and Chrystle will get your books right out. Now back to spring cleaning….

Spring is a relative term here in New England, but we think it is a safe to put away our winter jackets. Maybe. But with open windows and changing of clothes comes spring cleaning. Wickeds, what  do you do for spring cleaning? Anything writing related? Readers, chime in with your favorite seasonal switch routines.

Julie: I have definite spring rituals. The gradual putting away of cold weather gear, though I always carry gloves and a scarf with me–you never know. I change out my curtains, and my comforter cover. Regarding writing–I get a real boost of energy. I suspect it is because I can go out and walk, and it isn’t miserable. Spring is my day dreaming season–so glad it is here!

Edith: Opening the windows. Planting my vegetable garden. Hurrying to apply anti-tick asparagusstuff on the cats. Putting away flannel sheets and bringing out smooth cotton ones. And this year exulting in the three-year-old asparagus bed finally yielding a pound every other day. I don’t change out much besides sheets and wool coats, because with the see-saw in temperatures – swinging from 85 to 50 and back, and back – the shorts and the scarves have to coexist. Oh, look, there’s the first mosquito! For writing, I find nice weather way too distracting. Have to chain myself to the desk.

Jessie: When the temperatures start to warm and the birds start to sing, I feel the need to lighten up on possessions. I go through all the closets and dressers and pull out the things to donate to charities. I clear books I won’t re-read and I sort magazines into the recycling. I even put off trips to the grocer and plan menus that use up all those things that keep getting shoved to the back of the pantry. By the time summer arrives I feel like my house is ready for the most laid back season.

Liz: Spring shopping, of course! Which I was tremendously successful at this past weekend. And finding pretty new spring shoes. But also purging old clothes to donate, like Jessie, and general decluttering.

Barb: I do many of the same things. Changing out my clothes and donating things that weren’t worn over the last season, taking coats to the dry cleaner and putting them away. I change some of the household the decor seasonally–little things around the place that signify the season. I’d love to be cleaning out drawers and cupboards, but the last two years I’ve had a book deadline June 1, which has interfered with the heavy lifting. Next winter will be tough, with deadlines January 15 and March 1, but the spring will be glorious!

IMG_3488Sherry: Well, I feel like a slacker. I don’t have any rituals or routines. I did take a lot (and I mean a lot) of papers to a local shred event last weekend. But to me spring means an opportunity to go to garage sales!

 

Readers– what are your favorite seasonal switch routines, and does spring affect your work?