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.

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?

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

by Barb–sad because we’re leaving Key West in three days (or maybe perplexed is a better word. Why are we returning to the frozen north?)

Barbara RossI’ve wanted to write about how I feel about being an author of cozy mysteries for awhile, but it’s always been a complicated and evolving issue. So I’ve decided to split the topic up into three blog posts that I’ll put up during my next several turns here at Wicked Cozys.

The Beginning

I didn’t start out to write a cozy. I started out to write a mystery. All my life I had read widely in the mystery field, without really differentiating by sub-genre. I cut my teeth on those amateur sleuths Nancy Drew and Miss Marple, who despite her maiden state, is the grandmother of all of us authors of amateur sleuths. I read Dick Francis and Ross Thomas and John D. MacDonald and Dennis Lehane and Dorothy L. Sayers and Janet Evanovich. Admittedly, it was a simpler time. I found most of my books through recommendations from friends and relatives, as well as friendly independent bookstore clerks and librarians. Megabookstores and online retailers hadn’t yet created such a strong need for subcategory labeling to help you find a book you would like.

I knew I wanted to write a series. I loved the books of P.D. James and Ruth Rendell’s Wexford series. I loved watching characters change over time, and returning to find out what was going on in their lives. I was particularly taken with Rendell’s Kingsmarkham, it’s strong sense of place and how it evolved from a sleepy market village to a sprawling suburb with a highway on-ramp and a diverse population. Even Christie’s St. Mary Mead evolved, sprouting a housing development after the second World War. To me, it was all magic.

DeathOfAmbitiousWomanFrontMy first mystery, The Death of An Ambitious Woman, had a professional sleuth as its protagonist, a female police chief, but it was also very much a village mystery. Which was one of the many reasons it was so hard to sell, though it was eventually published by Five Star/Cengage.

We’ve told many times on the blog how our agent, John Talbot, approached Sheila Connolly, who was then President of Sisters in Crime New England, to see if any members had an interest in writing a spec proposal for a cozy mystery series. I was very interested. Because of my love of series, I knew I wanted a multi-book contract, something Five Star didn’t offer. I wrote to Sheila behind the scenes and asked her if she thought I could do it. She pointed out that my first book had a lot of cozy elements. With her encouragement, I called John. We batted some ideas around, and chose “clambake.”

JohnTalbotIn that first call, John said, “You know what cozies are, right? Amateur sleuth, small town, ya-da, ya-da.” I’m not sure John actually said “ya-da, ya-da,” but he definitely ya-da, ya-da-ed the definition of a cozy. I assured him that I did and set to work writing the proposal.

During that period, I read a lot of books that were actually defined as “cozy mysteries.” I read books by our own Sheila Connolly, and by Leslie Meier and Kaitlyn Dunnett/(Kathy Lynn Emerson). I read John Talbot’s most successful cozy author, Cleo Coyle and Kensington’s most successful cozy author, Joanne Fluke. I was inspired by all of them. I also read several frankly terrible cozies. I won’t name any names, but ones I couldn’t finish. Ones that made me dread going to bed because I would have to open them.

CLAMMED_UPI was undaunted. What area of literature doesn’t have some absolutely awful books in it? None is the answer. And, as I’ve learned over and over, my absolutely awful book is your favorite and vice versa, because the role of personal taste is huge. Besides, though I had tried to keep a professional distance from my proposal, I was falling in love with my characters and my setting. I really wanted to write these stories.

John sold the series to Kensington, and I started writing Clammed Up in earnest. I still hadn’t processed what it meant to be the author of a cozy novel, but now I was paying attention–and starting to panic. It’s interesting that neither of the things I was panicking about affected the story I was writing.

To wit:

  1. If the author is the brand, and the brand is the author, I was in deep trouble. People might describe me in a number of ways, but nobody, including my kids, would ever describe me as cozy. I’m a city girl at heart. I have no pets, I don’t do crafts. I swear like a sailor. I don’t even cook if I can avoid it. Ulp.
  2. The image of cozy mysteries worried me. So often they’re defined as what they are not. You know, it’s a traditional mystery, with an amateur sleuth, but with no sex, gore or swearing. That drove me crazy. Here I am writing 70,000+ words, and the genre is defined by what’s not in there, instead of what is. It bugged the heck out of me. (Or the hell out of me, as I really would say in my real life.)

So the rest of the posts in this series will be a description of my journey with the two personal challenges above, how I evolved, and how I feel about these issues today.

You can now read Part II here and Part III here.

So Who is Barbara Ross?

I love to chat with my wicked cozy sisters – they’re such interesting people, and I find out new nuggets of information every time! Today I’m talking to Barbara Ross, author of “Clammed Up,” to get an idea of what makes her tick.

Barbara RossBarb, how long have you been writing? What did you start out writing?

I always wrote. My mother has an embarrassing illustrated story about a wild horse circa second grade that she’s saving to blackmail me with some day.

Who has influenced you?

So many people! Like a lot of girls, I graduated from Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie to Dorothy Sayers. Then I wandered in the desert of contemporary American literature for awhile and found my way back to mystery via P.D. James, Ruth Rendell and Colin Dexter.

Who do I buy as soon as the books hit the stores? In mystery, Louise Penny, Deborah Crombie, Julia Spencer-Fleming.

Who would I say has most influenced my series? Cleo Coyle, Sheila Connolly, Kaitlyn Dunnett, Sarah Graves, Leslie Meier, Lucy Burdette, Kate Flora, Lea Wait.

Who would I trade my soul to write like? Alice Munro.

Clammed Up: A Maine Clambake MysteryTalk about your past life in the business world. How has that influenced your fiction?

Julia Snowden, the protagonist of Clammed Up worked at a venture capital firm and I knew quite a few people like that when I was a tech entrepreneur. One scene in the book is a direct lift from the life of a young investment banker I knew.

What’s your connection to New England?

I was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, but my family left when I was just a few months old. It tool me 22 years to get back, but the instant I moved to New England, it felt like home. Currently, I live with my husband in Somerville, MA and we have a summer place in Boothbay Harbor, ME which I’ve highly fictionalized for the Busman’s Harbor in my Clambake mysteries.

What’s your favorite thing about New England?

The people. Hands down. And the variety. City, country, ocean, lakes, mountains, rivers, winter, spring, summer, fall, history, contemporary. You never get bored or run out of things to do.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

People are always surprised to learn that I’m a scrapbooker. I think it doesn’t fit with my personality, but it’s a hobby I enjoy.

bloodmoonfrontcoverWhat are you working on right now?

Book two in the Maine Clambake Mystery series, Boiled Over. Reading all the submissions for Level Best Books where I’m a co-editor. Getting ready to open registration for the New England Crime Bake, where I’m co-chair.

Why cozies? Do you write anything else additionally?

Cozies because I love a good mystery. I also write short stories.

Which are the top five books are in your to-be-read pile?

There Was an Old Woman–Hallie Ephron

The Clover House–Henriette Lazaridis Powers

Zinsky the Obscure–Ilan Mochari

Together Tea–Marjan Kamali

Kneading to Die–Liz Mugavero

Thanks for sharing, Barb! Can’t wait to read Clammed Up – and I love the title Boiled Over too. Looking forward to your book. Now I’m off to look up your mother, because I would really love to read the wild horse story…..