Friday, December 31, 2010

Stay Tuned!

Changes coming for the New Year! You see some of them already! Let's hear it for 2011!

Everyone have a safe weekend. Drive safely...and remember to line up your designated drivers now!

Cheers!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 Wrap Up

First off, thanks to everyone who has commented and dropped by this year. I hope you found something to entertain you!

2010 was a pretty kickin' year for me. The bestest bit was finishing all the classes required for my B.A. Yay for being done with school!

My other biggie-happy was Nathan Bransford's teen writing contest. Aside from participating with a bunch of super-talented writers, it got me going on a short story...I'll let you know how that goes. (And thanks to Rowena for the turn-it-into-a-short idea.)

Let's see...I also got a lot of words down (let's hear it for writing marathons). I read a lot of books--and not all of them for school too! Critiques were finished on time (mostly).

Yep, all in all, I'd call it a successful year.

How's about you? Did you get most of what you wanted done? Did you accomplish something that surprised you? Give me the good dish!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Animal Angle

I dont' think anyone can talk about Rita Mae Brown's work fairly without discussing the "animal angle."

I've never written a story or a novel from the POV of an animal. Mostly because I, personally, have never been inspired to do so. However, Rita Mae Brown has made quite a lucrative career from writing from the POV of a cat.

This can be seen in the literary realm (as opposed to the genre arena of cozy mysteries, etc.) as well--some of the bestest-best sellers of recent years have had, at least partially, the POV of an animal: The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Dogs of Babel, Dog Gone It, etc.

The challenge presented by this creative style is obvious: we don't know how animals think, so how can we, as humans, possibly narrate convincingly? Brown is surrounded by animals day in and day out. She lives on a farm and is, therefore, familiar with animal behavior. This experience is reflected in her work--with lots of focus on smells, etc.

I think Brown has hit on the answer for this creative dilemma. If you're going to write from the POV of an animal, then you better darn well observe that animal. And not just on Animal Planet. The movement, the engagement, the habits, and (ahem) the smell of the animal is something that should be witnessed in person.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas Eve Everyone!

I hope you all have a healthy, safe weekend. Drink lots of cocoa and give and receive lots of hugs.

And try to avoid:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Seasonal Series Perk

Throughout the year there are these things called "Holidays." Let's see: the Fourth of July, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Halloween, and on and on it goes. Yep, there are holidays all over the place.

A perk to writing any series, not just a cozy mystery series, I would assume, would be the seasonality of stories. For example, the book I'm reading now, Santa Clawed, is set around Christmas. So author Rita Mae Brown can get into the holiday spirit a little more than an author who is writing a stand-alone kinda thing. She can utilize characters that she's already attached to and create a story around them that still lets her celebrate whatever time of year she's writing about.

I know--just because a story is about Christmas doesn't mean it wasn't written in July. (Were there enough double negatives in that last sentence?) It also doesn't mean that, as an author trying to build a 'stable' of novels, that if you're writing around Valentine's Day you should ignore the possibilities of that romantic-al-est time of year. Then whenever the publisher needs something timely--VOILA! You have produced.

And here is Rita Mae Brown her-own-self talking about Santa Clawed:


Monday, December 20, 2010

The Bonus Tracks

Back to cozy-time!

Finished reading Murder Most Frothy, and this is my favorite type of cozy to read, I've decided. Do you want to know why? Let me tell you why:

The Bonus Tracks!

At the back of the book is a list of coffee-making tips and recipes. Awesome. In the spirit of both the holiday season and the idea that cozies also give us extra stuff...see below for Jenny (with Bronwen as her Big Helper) participating in the bonus track of "Flourless Kahlua Chocolate Cake":

The Ingredients:



The Process:


The results? A smashing, yummy-full cake that is now in the fridge cooling off. Judging from the smells...a chocolate lover's delight.


**A side note on the importance of clarity in the bonus tracks:

Nowhere is clear, concise language more necessary than in directions. If a recipe calls for a specific item, or a specific method, it is very important that those directions be understandable. Especially regarding things like food. One typo could potentially poison your reader. So be careful!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Last Day of School

The holiday season begins in earnest now. Shane (teacher) and Owen (student) are both out of school today. There's only one week left!

And a shot of our Christmas tree to help pass the holiday spirit along. Good luck everyone!

**Technical difficulties repaired! Voila, my tree:


How are you guys hanging in there?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming For a Flip-Out and a Resolution

Tabling a work-in-progress is never an easy thing to decide. Most writers' advice I've heard advises that you should push through a tough hump, that you should keep going until the end, because only when you reach the end do you actually know what you have.

Well, I think there are exceptions to this 'rule'. Stephen King talks about a couple different times when he about threw in the towel on a piece, most notably his wife pulling Carrie from the trash can and telling him he had something. So he toughed through it, finished, and voila! we now have one of our bestsellingest authors ever! But King also talks about struggling with The Stand. There's one line in On Writing where he says that if he'd had something like 100 single-spaced lines instead of over 800, he would've quit.

I've been reciting these situations to myself as I, ahem, "shovel shit from a sitting position." Push through, get to the end, find out what you have. And you know what? I already know what I have. It's not a novel.

It's a Super-Blown-Up short story.

There's nothing to push through to. By adding words, I'm diminshing the story. I'm sooo bored with what I add. I called it 'overwriting' so that I would have more to cut. Well, I have a ton to cut, because it should be around 8,000 words, not 60,000.

Yesterday I turned to my husband and asked him what he really, really thought of the novel. I'd told him I was bored, that I was struggling with the characters and adding more complications (because it all felt incredibly forced--I can't even begin to describe the sensation). One of his critiques has always been that the story is lacking magic (it was supposed to have a magical realism element to it). Then he clarified: he meant that both implicitly and explicitly.

Ouch. That one stung, I won't lie. He went on to clarify further about how I could and should be using the magical elements that I've introduced that would fix all the problems, in his mind. But you already know when you're not doing something correctly--and the reason I wasn't using the magic 'correctly' is because it's not supposed to be sustained at the level that it needs to be for a whole novel.

And you know what? All of that would mean very little, I would still push through, if it weren't for something else that I've internalized just recently. As I was prepping for the mentors for the next couple months, a recurring theme popped in: write for yourself.

I've heard that before, and I'm sure you have too. But it's soooooo important, I can't even begin to tell you. With the publishing world in an uproar, spinning all topsy turvy, publication is no guarantee. You cannot please everyone, and you'll never know whether you'll please anyone--except yourself. This is a job where you'll be alone with paper and pen and computer screen for long periods of time...why on earth would you allow yourself to work ad nauseum and be bored? If you're bored, your reader will be too.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jenny is a Sexist

I admit it.

I just started reading Murder Most Frothy. Upon opening the book I was confronted with *gasp* a brief prologue in which the anonymous killer is shooting the hapless victim. I got through the first couple paragraphs (paragraphs about gun models, bullet calibers, etc.) and had the immediate thought: Cleo Coyle is a pen name and the author is a dude.

I have no problem with dude writers--in fact I read quite a lot of dudes. And, in fact, I immediately liked this book better than the previously-read, obviously-written-by-a-woman Scrub-a-Dub Dead. Am I being sexist? Yes, but the response is important, I think.

Immediately I flipped to the About the Author section in which I learned that "Cleo Coyle" is indeed a pen name--for a husband and wife team. So I was at least half right. A dude was definitely involved in the writing of this book.

Does this mean that women can't write spectacular scenes that also explain gun makes and models? Hell no. (In fact, I don't know that the wife portion of the team didn't write the prologue, I'm just sexistly assuming.) It just means that there is a different sound to the writing in this particular book that reads more masculine. I'm not making any judgement call on it. But, as writers, I think that's something to be aware of because it can affect your audience. There's a chance that the masculine tone is even off-putting to some readers of the cozy mystery genre--which is predominately women.

Ali once posted a test where you inserted a piece of writing and it would tell you whether you were a girl or a boy. I consistently got 'boy'--and I tried not to take it too personally. There are some famous and talented men writing out there somewhere. (Easy fellas! Just teasing.)

How about you? Do you lean toward reading a feminine voice or a masculine voice? How do you think your writing speaks to your readers? Manly Man? Gentlewoman? Troubled Teen?

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Hook Career; or, Why Hookers Don't Star in Cozies

Sure, the titles for a hooker main character could be funny:

The Trick to Murder
Dear Dead John
Hooked on Death

Unfortunately, cozy mysteries, while dealing with loss of life, are not about the dark underbelly of the world. A prostitute's life is inherently more dangerous than the life of a maid/barista/beloved pet. Contrary to what Pretty Woman would have you believe, there is very rarely a happy ending in marriage to a billionaire. The cozy mystery is about fireside reading, not I'm-never-going-outside-in-the-dark-again reading.

The jobs that occur in a cozy mystery are all of the 'everyday' variety. The whole point is that these main characters are intuitive and have some kind of observational advantage because of their job. It's also convenient because it automatically lends a lightness to the work that wouldn't be in there in a traditional P.I. or detective story.

Hopefully, if executed well, the characters are also that much more likeable because they don't have lab techs getting them fingerprints, or gun-toting partners to back them up, or any kind of real authority when it comes to facing down the bad guy. Everything is through logic, observation, and ingenuity. The puzzle pieces should be presented in such a way that the other jes'-folks detective (the reader) can put it together with the main character.

A butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker should be able to read a cozy mystery and not feel like they are being assaulted with the darkness of the world. So, when choosing who will tell the story, just keep in mind that your fourth grade teacher should be able to relate to the main character.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Let's Talk Titles (Cozy, Comfy Titles of Murder)

Look in the bookstore. Check out the mystery department. You'll see them: the cozies. Murder encased in pastel colors and punny titles.

Since I don't know much about cozies and didn't want to spend money on something that I wasn't sure I'd like to keep, I hit the library and picked out three cozy mysteries that caught my eye, and my punny bone:

1. Scrub-a-Dub Dead: A Charlotte La Rue Mystery by Barbara Colley--part of a series of cozy mystery novels about a woman who runs a maid service in New Orleans. So, cleaning = scrub-a-dub. (Other titles in this series: Maid for Murder, Death Tidies Up, Polished Off, etc.)

2. Murder Most Frothy: A Coffeehouse Mystery by Cleo Coyle--this series is about a barista from New York, the books include coffee recipes and tips. (Other titles included in this series: On What Grounds, Through the Grinder, Latte Trouble, etc.)

3. Santa Clawed: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown--probably the ulitmate example of coziness, this series is from the POV of the cat. You know Rita Mae Brown and her cat, so I don't feel the need to list all of those titles here. This one caught my fancy because it's also timely. Hello Christmas!

The success of a cozy mystery series, I would presume from the marketing evident in this sampling, is that a writer must have an original take on some kind of job (maid, barista, pet-owner), and that the title should play off of that occupation. Of course, the writer probably shouldn't spend a whole lot of time worrying over the title. This genre, almost more than any other to me, seems to hinge on marketing--and we all know the publisher's marketing department will have a lot more to say about the title in this case anyway.

But it also struck me that this would be a fun game too!

So feel free to come up with your own punny titles for the following occupations that could be in a cozy mystery:

1. a musician
2. a miner
3. a zoologist
4. a history teacher/professor

Monday, December 6, 2010

December, a time to 'cozy' up; or, D.B. made me

After a recent critique session, one of my writers group members, D.B., mentioned that she had difficulty with the group's critiques because none of us really read them: so how can she take what we did say and apply it toward her writing?

My first response, in my head, is that good writing is good writing and a well-written cozy mystery should read like any other well-written story. Period. And I still think so.

However, it would be very negligent of me, as someone who is trying to help my friend write what she wants to write, to not pay attention to the conventions of the genre in which she wants to write. To just sit back and say "Just write a good story" is supremely unfair.

So, to fulfill the hole that exists in my own reading experience, I have decided to dedicate this month to reading some cozy mysteries and seeing what I can figure out about the genre. And you guys get to hear all about that experience!

But first, a question for you: what genre have you never read, or read very little?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Closet Cleaning

Cleaning, you know I hate it.

You know what else I hate? Cats. You know what I really, really, really hate? Cleaning up closets after cats have been there.

Yech.

But there is something postive that comes from cleaning. It's a cathartic measure. Out with old, in the with the new. Like the new tile we're putting into both of our bathrooms/closets. When we're all done this will be One Less Thing To Worry About. Check it off, baby!

We've (by We read: Shane, my delightful husband) already repainted both bathrooms. We've installed our new countertops. We've go the tile lined up and ready to go!

I'm thrilled for a few reasons, not the least of which is that this sh*t just needed to get done and it makes the whole place more pleasant. But my biggest reason is that I truly have a hard time creating around un-creative clutter. Toppling piles of books? You've got it: I can write there. Crazy kid artwork? Yep, I can work there too.

Piles of clothes, toys, more clothes, dishes, and "What the hell is that?" Not so much. I also really despise the "We're almost done but not quite there" clutter of home improvement. Paint brushes, piles of stuff waiting for a new home--these get me to pulling my hair out. (And I have a lot of hair, so that could take a while.)

Since the New Year means that I get to write at home, all this stuff needs to be under control pronto or I will be a flippy mess that Shane will want to brick-up-Poe-style. And trust me, he's got the tools to do it!

More on the glory of the Garage Sale soon!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tis the Season

Welcome to December my writing bretheren!

All I can say is good luck to you. I hope that NaNo was prosperous. Make sure your Christmas tree doesn't burn your house down. Don't get run over by the shoppers/freeze your computers ordering online.

Ask for lots of pens.

To get us through this season, here's some writing prompts for those of you who need someone else to come up with things to write about for a while. Check it out: writing prompts.