Cover Reveal and a Timeline Problem

by Barb, who’s enjoying a relaxing time in Key West with fellow Wicked Sherry Harris and her husband Bob

First of all–a cover reveal. Here is the artwork for Yule Log Murder, the holiday novella collection I’m in with Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis coming out October 30, 2018. I really like the cover, especially the effect with skeleton in the yule log cake.

If anything my name is even harder to read than on the first anthology cover, which Amazon, depending on the view, says was written by “Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis” or by “Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis and another author.” (Note: There are fewer letters in Barbara Ross than in “another author.” It might as well say, “and another less famous author.”)

I joke, I joke. I really do like the cover.

When Kensington asked me to write the first holiday novella, “Nogged Off,” in Eggnog Murder, I was thrilled. Fortuitously, I had planned a gap between Fogged Inn, which takes place the week after Thanksgiving, and Iced Under, which takes place in February. “Nogged Off,” slid right in, putting Christmas between November and February, as it so often is.

With “Logged On,” my story in Yule Log Murder, I wasn’t so lucky. It will come out after Stowed Away, which takes place in June, and before Steamed Open, which takes place in August. I think I’m even going to slide another book, Maine Clambake #8, in after that, which means Yule Log Murder will be published before Steamed Open and Maine Clambake #8, but will take place after the events in those books.

I THINK I have avoided major spoilers. I hope that dedicated Maine Clambake readers will get a tiny, tantalizing glimpse into the future. Of course, a lot of the readers of these novella collections aren’t my regular readers. They are fans of Leslie Meier or Lee Hollis or fans of Christmas-based stories, or of novellas. So they won’t be bothered by the timeline issues. And a lot of my regular readers won’t read the novella, so they’ll be fine, too.

My biggest challenge is how to position the story in places that give lists of series books in order. I characterized Eggnog Murder as Maine Clambake 4.5, which it truly was. But should I position Yule Log Murder as Maine Clambake 6.5 or 8.5? And do I have to wait until 7 and 8 come out for 8.5 to make any sense?

For those of you who are dedicated series readers, do you have “feelings” about this? Should I address the timeline in the readers’ letter that comes at the end of the novella? (It’s sort of like the Acknowledgments in the books.) How should I position the story?

I loved writing this story. I like working in the novella length and Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday. I hope you enjoy it, too. Whatever order you read it it.

Writing Novellas–Introducing Eggnog Murder

by Barb, slipping into a holiday mood early this year

Eggnog Murder CompToday is release day for Eggnog Murder in hardcover, ebook and audiobook. The large print edition is coming in early December. Eggnog Murder is getting some great reviews, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly!

The book is a collection of three holiday novellas set in Maine. The other stories are by well-known cozy authors Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis. So, while yes, my story is about Julia Snowden, and it does take place chronologically between Fogged Inn and Iced Under; it’s a novella, not a novel.

What is a novella? Kensington defines them as between 25,000 and 35,000 words, or one third to half the length of a typical cozy. I thought it might be fun today to ask the authors what writing a novella was like and how they approached the task.

leslie-meierLeslie Meier is the New York Times bestselling author of over twenty Lucy Stone mysteries and has also written for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. She is currently at work on the next Lucy Stone mystery. Readers can visit her website at www.LeslieMeier.com. Leslie’s novella is titled “Eggnog Murder.”

Leslie: Because I tend to write short, I enjoy writing novellas. They’re more satisfying than a short story, because you can do more with character development and plot, and because they’re shorter than novels, you can move things along at a brisk pace. You can pack a lot into a novella, and you don’t have to muck about with all those descriptions of people and settings. In fact, it’s almost as if you can leave out the stuff that most readers just skip anyway!

I don’t really have any advice for writing a novella, but I can tell you what I do. I always outline my books, and for a novel I build my outline with 20 chapters. For a novella, the outline is for 10 chapters. That said, I can’t say that they actually take much less time to write, because the shorter work needs to be tighter and often needs some heavy revision. So if I have any advice, it’s to take time to revise and polish up that novella and make every word work.

The Copp AuthorsLee Hollis is the pen name for a brother and sister writing team. Rick Copp is a veteran film and television writer/producer and also the author of two other mystery novel series. He lives in Palm Springs, California. Holly Simason is an award-winning food and cocktails columnist living in North Carolina. You may visit their website at www.LeeHollisMysteries.com. Lee’s story is titled, “Death by Eggnog.”

Holly (one half of the team behind author Lee Hollis): Writing a novella for Eggnog Murder was great fun in my opinion. First of all we were so excited to be asked to contribute a story to Eggnog Murder with Leslie Meier and Barbara Ross that I’m not even sure that I knew what we were writing for a couple of days!

We love using the holidays in our books so this was already a great beginning for us. We basically used the same process writing the novella as we do writing our Hayley Powell Food and Cocktail Mystery series except this time we were given the murder weapon “eggnog” so we checked that off our list.

Rick is always thinking ahead and when he knows what the title will be he already has an idea forming in his head about how the story will go. Then my favorite part is when we decide who will be murdered and who the murderer will be. Rick has the best imagination and comes up with great murder plots. I, on the other hand, am so food and cocktail obsessed that as soon as we have our plot I start scouring my recipes because we like the recipes to go along with our storyline or the season that it is set in.

I found that writing a novella was a bit easier than writing novel length because it was just a shorter version of the stories we all ready write. I have a tendency to go on and on when I write so writing a novella helped me choose my words more carefully and try to come to the point a bit quicker then usual.

This was a wonderful opportunity for us and I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that we can do another holiday novella with these two authors again very soon. Hey, Easter is right around the corner and I love chocolate and have some wonderful chocolate recipes.

barbhead4Barbara Ross: My story is titled, “Nogged Off.” I was excited about writing a novella because my novels are always too short and my short stories are always too long. I realized right away that I needed to think about structure. Was I going with a traditional mystery novel structure, with a victim, a pool of suspects and an investigation, or was I going more with a short story structure–a setup and a twist? I decided on short story structure because I thought it would be more fun.

Because it was the holidays, I wanted to tale to be a little lighter and wackier than my Clambake mysteries tend to be, but nonetheless to include a murder and its consequences. I don’t outline, but I had a great starting point, a fabulous eggnog story someone had told me years ago. (More on this in a future blog post.) I started writing and hoped the length would be right. In the end it was and I really loved writing a novella.

Readers: How about you? Do you like novellas and the prospect of sampling multiple authors in one collection, or do you prefer to stick to novels?

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Novella Update

Barb, suffering away in lovely Key West. (Okay, not really.)

In August I announced that I was writing a Christmas novella for Kensington. At the time, I brimmed with optimism. Since my short stories are always too long, and my novels always too short, I thought the novella might be my natural home in the fiction world. In my blog post, I said I would check back in.

Since the novella is done and due on Friday, I thought this might be the time.

First things first, a cover reveal.

Eggnog Murder Comp

What do you think? I really like it. It fits with Leslie Meier‘s covers, and also quite nicely with the previous Christmas collections Kensington has published featuring Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine and Leslie. I am thrilled to be included, along with Leslie and Lee Hollis. I love the little skull floating in the eggnog cup.

I enjoyed working on the story very much. Before I wrote it, I read a bunch of Christmas crime novellas. They seemed to fall into two groups. Some authors used the structure of the traditional longer mystery–a victim, a pool of people with means, opportunity, and motive, and a sleuth who interviews them all and looks for clues to solve the crime. Other authors went a different route using more of a short story-like structure to write not so much a whodunnit?, but a whattheheckisgoingonhere? I went with the latter.

The most fun about the novella was that it was the first time in a long time that I wrote a book in the season in which it took place. This holiday season was crazy warm in in the east, even in Maine, and my story takes place in New York City and Busman’s Harbor during a more traditional early winter. So I couldn’t run outside to soak up the atmospherics, but I could run down the road to do research. Need a reminder of what L.L. Bean’s holiday decorations look like? No problem.

matchingpajamas21I loved incorporating the holiday traditions of my little town in Maine into the novella. For example, the Boothbay Harbor Pajama Party, when everyone gets up at six a.m. and Christmas shops in their pjs. (No kidding. I’ve written more about it here.) I incorporated other holiday traditions l’ve loved, including my cookie baking day and a festival of trees. Boothbay Harbor has one of these, but for the novella I borrowed liberally from the one Vida Antolin-Jenkins used to take me to on the naval base in Newport, RI when we were young mothers. Highly fictionalized, of course.

The length, 25,000+ words, a hundred or so pages, was, indeed, a natural one for me.

You’ll have to wait until next fall to tell me what you think, but I’m happy to be turning this tale in on Friday.

Two Writers, One Author Name

Edith here, happy to introduce two Maine authors who write as one person! Take it away, Lee Hollis.

Hello everyone!The Copp Authors

I want to thank Edith Maxwell for inviting me to write a guest post this week. I thought the best thing for me to do first is introduce myself and tell you a little about Lee Hollis and how the Hayley Powell Food & Cocktail Mysteries came about.
Lee Hollis is a pen name. I’m Holly Simason and I co-author the books with my brother Rick Copp, who has been a writer for film and television for 27 years and has also written two separate series of mystery novels under his own name. But I’ll let him tell you all about that in a future post!

Our family goes back several generations in Bar Harbor, Maine. We were born and raised there, and even though we both moved away, Rick to New York and then to Los Angeles and me to Italy and then Northern California, our hearts and souls have always been in New England. I eventually moved back to our hometown in 1997 after a divorce to raise my three young kids, and was working as an office manager/food and cocktail columnist at the Mount Desert Islander Newspaper. It was actually going surprisingly well. Readers seemed to enjoy my columns and recipes and I even won a Maine Press Association award and a New England Press award.

Rick mentioned my burgeoning writing career to his publisher John Scognamiglio at Kensington Publishing and John immediately suggested we team up and create a story about a small town food columnist and send it to him. Rick has always loved mysteries and crime stories and I, of course, have always loved cocktail recipes. We thought there just might be something there.

So my brother (who knows me too well) flew to Maine and arrived at my house armed with two of my biggest weaknesses– a bottle of Merlot wine and another bottle of Merlot wine. As he filled our wine glasses, he casually broached the subject of writing a Cozy Mystery together. I immediately said, “No way!” I didn’t even know what a cozy was. But after the wine bottles were emptied, I found myself agreeing just as long as we wrote under a pen name and didn’t use our real names to save myself from embarrassment if the book was a disaster.

DivaLee is my middle name and Hollis is Rick’s middle name and, voila, Lee Hollis was born!
We brainstormed that evening and came up with a story about a single mother with two kids struggling to make ends meet while working in a newspaper office. She has two crazy best friends and is close to her bar owner brother, who just happens to be married to the Chief of Police. The first book in the series, Death of a Kitchen Diva, was released in 2012 two years after that first wine-soaked creative session.

Six books later we’re still having a ball. Combining our two favorite obsessions, and mixing in the names of our favorite hometown places, and creating characters that may or may not be based on people we knew growing up has turned out to be great entertainment for our friends and family. Especially because everyone takes great joy in trying to guess who’s who in the books. We always swear the characters in Hayley’s world are completely made up, but truth be told, cupcakesometimes there is a thin line between fact and fiction. Death of a Cupcake Queen came out this year.

Recently we completed our seventh book, Death of a Bacon Heiress, due out in March 2016 and we are now working on our eighth book, Death of a Pumpkin Carver, due out in the fall of 2016. Also as some of you may know, we are very excited to be collaborating on an upcoming Cozy Mystery Christmas Novella book with one of your own Wicked Cozy Authors, Barbara Ross, and also Leslie Meier. The book will be out in October 2016.
I still to this day can’t wrap my head around the phrase “published author”. It’s been one crazy, wonderful ride and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that readers keep following Hayley Powell’s adventures for years to come!

You can find Lee Hollis on Facebook and at www.leehollismysteries.com.

Readers: Questions for the team?

A Christmas Novella

Hi. Barb here. It’s August and it’s hot and humid for Maine and I am sitting on the porch thinking about Christmas.

So, I haven’t exactly announced this anywhere yet, though I haven’t been quiet about it, either, so let this serve as the “official” announcement. I am writing a holiday novella about Julia Snowden and Busman’s Harbor for Kensington for fall of 2016. (I don’t have the exact release date, but it seems to me Kensington’s holiday books usually come out in October.)

foggedinncoverKensington has done a series of these books, packaging novellas by Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine and Leslie Meier. I had read them and really enjoyed them. The truth of the matter was, I desperately wanted to be in one. So when I sent my proposal for books four through six to Kensington, I set the fourth (Fogged Inn) the week after Thanksgiving and the fifth (Iced Under) in mid-February, neatly side-stepping the holidays. I confided my desire to some of the Wickeds during our retreat in 2014, but I never mentioned it to my editor at Kensington, John Scognamiglio, or my agent, John Talbot. In other words, I never said anything to anyone who could actually do anything about it.

So imagine my surprise when I got a call from John Talbot in January of this year telling me I’d been offered the chance to write this novella. Even he was surprised. “Sort of out of the blue…” he said. Hey, universe. Thanks!

gingerbreadcookiemurderThis novella will include stories by Leslie Meier, who writes the Lucy Stone Mysteries which are set in Tinker’s Cove, Maine and by Lee Hollis, who writes the Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mysteries set in Bar Harbor, Maine. I’ve known Leslie for a number of years through Sisters in Crime New England and she’s someone I really admire. I also like Lee Hollis’ books (actually, the brother-sister writing team of Rick Copp and Holly Copp Simason). So I am psyched!

The theme is Maine, obviously, but also eggnog. And I just happen to have been savoring, for years (you’ll excuse the pun) a killer eggnog anecdote. So, again, kismet.

candycanemurderHow is writing a novella? The truth is, I am bursting with over-confidence. My short stories are always too long, and my novels are always too short, so I’m hoping the novella (defined by Kensington as 20,000 to 30,000 words) is my “natural length.” I have the whole story in my head (unusual for me). I also have the tone, which I’m hoping will be a little more lighthearted and funnier than the Clambake series as a whole, but still very much a part of it. I just have to, you know, write it. It’s due January 15, which would be highly doable, except that Iced Under, the next book in the Maine Clambake series, is due March 1. Ulp.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, I am thrilled to have the opportunity!

What about you, readers? Do you like these collections? Just the right length to sample a new author, or too short to satisfy?