Sally Goldenbaum’s Murder in Merino

Late September Vacation

It’s always a pleasure to read Sally’s latest Seaside Knitters Mystery because for me, living in the landlocked Midwest, it’s like taking a vacation at the shore. When I was a youngster, my family often visited several of my mom’s relatives who lived in New Jersey, if not on the beach, then within an hour’s drive. A trip to the shore isn’t feasible for me now, but Sally’s deft descriptions on page one take me right back there. Plus, contrasting details like “foamy surf crashing against the rocks or water smooth as silk” create tension, ever a plus in fiction, especially mysteries.

For the eighth outing in Sally’s series, the author has chosen autumn as the season–after the tourists have left Sea Harbor, Massachusetts, leaving one mysterious visitor lingering there. Julia, nicknamed Jules, Ainsley soon becomes a subject of speculation for the Seaside Knitters: Nell Endicott, the main viewpoint character of this novel; her niece Izzy Perry; Cass Halloran; and the lively octogenarian Birdie Favazza. Why has Jules decided to stay so long after the season? Why is she so interested in buying Izzy’s little house without ever having been inside it? What’s inside the locket Jules always wears?

With many popular series, readers get caught up in the personal lives of the continuing characters and enjoy following them from book to book just like we enjoy catching up with the lives of old and dear friends. Murder in Merino is no exception. Here we find Nell and husband Ben approaching their fortieth wedding anniversary. Will it go off all right? Izzy and Sam dote over their baby girl while Cass is shocked to see her boyfriend Danny Brandley standing too close to the beautiful Jules Ainsley. Is there something going on between them?

Personally, I also enjoy being in on some of the continuing, comforting rituals of these characters’ lives like the Friday evening potluck suppers on the Endicotts’ deck. The food is delicious and so is this lively mystery, especially when it plunges backwards in time to other folks that once lived in the little house Jules Ainsley longs to own. Why?

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 I’ve included my blog post about the fourth installment in this series. Originally posted on December 23, 2010, as part of the “fiction addict” series, it focuses on what I learned from A Holiday Yarn that helped me write Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, the mystery I was working on at the time.

Sally Goldenbaum’s A Holiday Yarn

The Power of Thought

Not long ago, in one of the writing groups I belong to, my friends gave me to know that the pace of early chapters of my WiP is hectic. I’ve got lots of plot, they said, but I need to slow down and give my protagonist and my readers some breathers here and there.

By good fortune, at the time my friends told me “You need to slow down, Juliet,” I was reading A Holiday Yarn, the latest in Sally Goldenbaum’s Seaside Knitters Mysteries. This installment has a particularly thoughtful protagonist/viewpoint character in Nell Endicott.

As I read, it struck me that Nell’s thoughts and reactions are exactly the way a person not used to violence might react to murder, much differently than the police detective in Tami Hoag’s Kill the Messenger, for example. Nell is quietly unsettled by the murder and determined to figure out, with the help of her fellow knitters, who committed the crime so that peace will return to their little town.

Another knitting amateur detective leaps to mind, Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple. Like Miss Marple, Nell is an armchair detective who figures out solutions to crimes often while she knits. Over the years, though, Miss Marple has developed a type of wisdom edged by cynicism. Nell’s not cynical but thoughtful and quite troubled about what would drive a person to commit murder.

In more ways than one, Ella, the protagonist of my WiP, resembles Sally G’s Nell more than Agatha G’s Miss Marple. For one thing, like Nell, my protagonist is married though she has three kids while Nell and her husband are childless.

In the years of their marriage, Ella’s husband has shielded her from the type of abuse she experienced as a child at the hands of her stepmother and stepsisters. She’s forgotten about the worst elements of their torment, though they twit her slyly every chance they get, especially about her slight weight problem even though her younger stepsister is downright fat.

Once the plot of my novel gets rolling, the protection Ella’s husband has provided over the past twenty years is ripped from her, her children taken away, and she’s exposed to scorn, sarcasm, blame for a crime she didn’t commit, as well as to physical violence she’s grown unaccustomed to. The antagonists in the book give her lots to think about and to react to along the way.

Going back for a second look at A Holiday Yarn, I noticed that indeed it starts with Nell reflecting on the unsettling events that unfold in the book. Though this lasts only a page before we zip back several weeks and head into a scene with increasing amounts of dialogue, action, and some description, it establishes Nell as a thoughtful person.

The book continues for another twenty-four pages leading up to the discovery of the murder victim. Shortly after this, Nell literally sits down to ponder the events of the night before. Sally gives Nell nearly five pages to react to this event that deeply shocked and saddened her before the narrative moves into the next scene. Later in the book, though not at such length, Nell again takes time to think about what has happened.

Sitting down to think about a murder instead of rushing on to the next thing as my character often does strikes me as a very realistic response of a quiet, thoughtful person unused to violence. Besides the emotional and psychological realism they add, the thought-passages allow the protagonist and the reader to consider the moral elements of the crime before continuing.

And so, following the examples provided by A Holiday Yarn, I’ve already added a quiet, thoughtful scene between two action scenes in my WiP. Thanks, Sally G., for your model, and happy holidays to all who read this blog installment, the last of 2010.

 

 

Cinderella: Living Happily Ever After

Juliet Kincaid’s Cinderella, P. I. Fairy Tale Mysteries

Cinderella PI Kindle Cover 2-4-2013bMost of us heard or read fairy tales when we were young or view Disney versions of stories like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We still can and do as grown-ups. For instance, Disney recently has brought us Tangled, the story of Rapunzel, one of the folktales transcribed by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. On television we can watch Grimm or the family friendly Once Upon a Time. As many of you know, I’m writing a series of mysteries featuring Cinderella as a private detective twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball.

How did I come to write these mysteries?

Well, back in 1996 at a writing conference I heard someone say that it’s very hard to write a complete story in fewer than 2,000 words. (This obviously was before the rise of flash fiction that typically tops out at about 500 words.)

Shortly after that, with this challenge in mind, I set out to write a story in fewer than 2,000 words.

Why did I choose Cinderella?

Now, at the time, I happened to have a copy of Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum by Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen in my office at the community college where I taught writing for twenty-five years. This textbook includes a unit on fairy tales, specifically “Cinderella,” the best-known fairy tale in the world. Indeed, there are more than 700 versions of this fairy tale including traditional versions handed down from generation to generation before they were written down and published by folks like Charles Perrault in the Mother Goose Tales of 1697 and literary versions like Tanith Lee’s “When the Clock Strikes.”

FYI: the earliest version that scholars have a specific date for–between 850-860 A.D.–is the Chinese story of Yeh-hsien, who had tiny feet. One of the more recent versions is Marissa Meyer’s Young Adult novel Cinder, first published in January of 2012, in which Cinderella is a cyborg.

But back to the start of my journey with Cinderella, I’ve always been intrigued with the “happily ever after” tag that ends many fairy tales. I feel that if you’re bored you’re not happy. So what would keep Cinderella from getting bored in her life with Prince Charming? I asked myself. And as a reader of crime fiction, I promptly decided that my Cinderella would be a private investigator. (I was terribly naïve about how busy Royal families can keep with their duties, causes, etc.)

Before I started writing, I made some technical decisions to keep the story short. These included using a first person narrator who could provide background information succinctly without sounding like a manual. Also I chose present tense in preference to past tense, so I wouldn’t get mired in “haditis.” (After I heard an agent say she never represented fiction written in present tense, though, I switched to past tense.)

Once I made those decisions, my Cinderella started talking to me, as characters often do. And lucky for me, she has continued to do so through twenty-nine stories and two novels.

Also lucky for me, the fairy tale provides certain expectations that made writing go more easily.

For instance, most folktales use the same plot line. The protagonist wants something. In the classic Grimm version of the tale, for instance, Cinderella, called Ashputtle in this rendition, wants to go to the ball thrown by the King whose son is in need of a wife. To get there, Ashputtle must surmount several obstacles. But never fear, she prevails, dances with the Prince and after a few more challenges, marries him and lives happily ever after.

I also had a setting in time and place. My Cinderella’s world is sort of like our middle to late 19th century. People still got around in horse-driven carriages. But once my heroine started talking to me in a voice rather like my mother’s, I got in at least a few contemporary touches. That first story, for instance, starts with “So that morning, as usual, I’m out on the balcony on the treadmill, trying to run off a few extra pounds. . . .” The treadmill is mechanical, but her obsession with her weight is 21st century.

The basic plot supplied important characters. In her happily ever after, Cinderella has a charming husband, but she also still has her stepmother and stepsisters, collectively called the Steps in my mysteries. She also has a helper, a fairy godmother. In “Cinderella, P. I.,” though, the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, and Cinderella helps her fairy godmother find her magic wand that’s gone missing.

When you work with such a rich tradition as folktales provide, often serendipity operates. For instance, in the first story I needed someplace for the fairy godmother to live. And what should appear in my head, but the little cottage in the woods formerly owned by the Three Bears. Plus I never quite know who will show up in these stories. For instance, when I needed to get my protagonist somewhere far away in a hurry in “Cinderella and the Usual Suspects,” she flew “Air Mother Goose.”

Along with the basics, the original story has certain logical yet sometimes unexamined elements. For instance, logic demands that our heroine’s name is actually Ella with “cinder” a pejorative prefix. Indeed, in my stories, Ella’s royal in-laws insist that the “Cinder” be dropped. Also, implicit in the basic tale is the story of an abused child and how she prevails over an unhappy childhood without losing her inherent kindness and sweetness of character.

One last thing, it’s logical that Ella missed out on her education and so she doesn’t speak like you’d expect a princess would. As a result, even as I wrote the last draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, I couldn’t always predict what my Cinderella would say and how she would say it. I hope she keep surprising me as she continues to live happily ever after in my stories and novels.

Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is currently available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI and as a trade paperback: ISBN 978-0-9899504-1-1.

Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is now available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00LGXFB2W.

Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mysteries is available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI.

COMING SOON: two more story collections featuring Cinderella twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball: Cinderella Around the World and Cinderella and the Holy Grail.

 

Fondly Remembered

Memory as a Resource for Characterization

I’ve completed the almost final draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel and it’s in the hands of my readers. (Thanks so much, Gail, Denise, and Barbara.) And I’m working on the cover. I’m not totally happy with it, but I’ll take copies of the current versions to my art class tomorrow for help.

In the meantime, I’m reflecting on some of the people from my past who have appeared with fictional disguises in the Cinderella, P. I. Fairy Tale Mysteries.

First off, a riff on naming characters, often a chore for fiction writers. Some authors run contests among their fans for the right to name characters after the fans, but right now I’m mining out my memories of the past in three ways.

1) The first two characters I’ll discuss soon are named for the people who inspired them.

2) Desperate for names for a group of four men who appear in Wings, the sequel to Walls, I recalled the last names of my mother’s brothers-in-law: Walen, Young, Johnson, and Morse. Ha! Nailed that.

3) Soon after that I realized that I have a resource of character names in the teachers I’ve had over the years. Since I have a Ph. D. and went to school for twenty-three years altogether, we’re talking lots of names. So when the cook in Wings needed a name, I called her Mrs. Swetnam after my professor in Romantic Poets at the Ohio State University.

And now to a tribute to three women important in my life:

1) After I left my husband and returned to Huntington, WV, my hometown, I found a job in the Acquisitions Department in the library of Marshall University. So I needed a babysitter for my very young daughter. And my former Sunday school teacher and longtime family friend graciously agreed to care for my child while I worked. So Jessica spent weekdays for the next eight months or so in the loving care of Vi Sullenberger and her husband Delbert, a retired clock repairman, in their little house filled with clocks. When Sophie, Cinderella’s youngest child and only daughter, needed a nanny, I gave her Nana Vi.

2) In the first Cinderella, P. I. story, written in 1996, later in “Cinderella and the Missing Queen,” Prince Charming’s mother was simply the Queen, but by time I came to write Walls, I realized she needed a name. Now, the Queen in these stories loves to dance and at one point, she taught it, too. And so I named her Frances after Frances Nestor with whom I studied the ballet and other forms of dancing for eleven years. Mrs. Nestor was my first teacher who was passionate about the subject she taught. As such, she made a wonderful role model for me as a teacher.

3) And now I’ll talk about my mother, Melicent Perkins Smith, called Middie for Midget by her family members and Susie by my dad and their friends. I was my mother’s only child and my daughter her only grandchild. But she was the stepmother of my older half-brother, Homer Dale Willman, Sr. So I got to see first-hand how a stepparent operates and how a stepmother in particular can feel that her relationship with her husband is challenged by the presence of another woman’s child in the household.

Although the relationship between Cinderella’s father and stepmother in Walls and Wings resembles my parents’ relationship before my dad’s retirement, I do want to make it clear that my own mother isn’t the direct model for Cinderella’s stepmother. There’s one very important difference between the two women: the fictional character lacks my mother’s inherent generosity. For instance, my mother went without new clothes for years, so that I could have the dance lessons with Frances Nestor that I so loved when I was young, the lessons that I still benefit from in terms of self-discipline, health and happiness early in the eighth decade of my life.

Thank you so much, ladies. You are all fondly remembered.

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Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is currently available as a Kindle eBook (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-0-4) and trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-1-1).

Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories is also available as a Kindle eBook (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-2-8) and trade paperback (ISBN: 978-9899504-3-5).

COMING SOON: Wings, A Cinderella, P. I Novel, second of two novels featuring Cinderella, twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball; and two more fairy tale mystery short story collections featuring Cinderella, P. I.: Cinderella Around the World and Cinderella and the Holy Grail.

AUTHOR BLOG CHAIN

Author’s Blog Chain

My friend Lisa Daly has tagged me to follow her in the author blog chain. I’m very excited about the publication of her first novel, Mystery, Ink: A Novel Way to Die. You can find more information about it on Lisa’s website: http://www.lisakaydaly.com.

Here are my answers to four basic questions about my work.

1. What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m about a quarter of the way through the first complete draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel. (I’ve already written parts of it.) It’s the second of two novels about Cinderella, twenty years, three kids and a few extra pounds after the ball. In the first she’s been convicted of a heinous crime she didn’t commit and exiled far to the north of the Kingdom of AzureSky. And she has to escape the walls that confine her. In Wings she flies home on Mother Goose to save her loved ones and to set the Kingdom straight after a villain and his minions have severely messed it up.

2. How does your work differ from others?

Typically, stories about Cinderella are for the young. Mine are for grown-ups, though they often contain some of the whimsy, charm and humor that people of all ages like in fairy tales. Though firmly in the fantasy realm, the Cinderella, P. I. novels and stories have a contemporary edge and are also mysteries.

Besides the Cinderella, P. I. novels and stories, I have begun publishing a series of historical mysteries set in Kansas City beginning with January Jinx in 1899. In these books, I’m trying for a light approach to historical fiction. I include humor, let my protagonist flirt with a good-looking stranger, and avoid extreme violence.

3. Why do you write what you write?

The simplest answer is that I habitually read mysteries, so that’s why I write mystery fiction. My second favorite fiction genre to read is fantasy. This partly explains my gravitation to fairy tale fiction. (I wrote “Cinderella, P. I.,” the first story in the series in 1996, long before the debut of Once Upon a Time and Grimm on television.)

The longer and more complex answer is that I’ve always enjoyed reading fiction that allows me to escape from my fairly pedestrian life, that is, to go on adventures in faraway places, long-ago times, and never-never-lands with characters I can identify with. I don’t like being in the heads of creepy people and I prefer happy endings to sad ones. I enjoy humor and wit. And I try to write the same sorts of fiction as I like to read.

4. How does your writing process work?

As a retired teacher of writing, ironically I find this question a little hard to answer. I guess this is because what gets me started on a story can be so mysterious. For instance, I wrote the first Cinderella, P. I. story as an experiment. I’d been to a writers’ conference and heard someone say it’s very hard to write a complete short story in fewer than 2,000 words. (This was before the rise of flash fiction.) So I decided to try to write one. I fixed on Cinderella as a protagonist because a textbook I used in a course I taught had eight different versions of the fairy tale. Plus I was intrigued with “happily ever after.” To my mind, if you’re bored, you can’t be happy, so what could Cinderella do twenty years, three kids and a few extra pounds after the ball that would keep her busy instead of bored? Well, solve cases. I decided to use first person, so any exposition would sound like dialogue, and present tense to avoid using “had” too often. Then of course, my Ella started talking to me, and the story took off.

A few pointed questions help me on my way. Here they are and in the order I like to ask them. Who wants (or needs) what? Does (s)he succeed? [“Yes” and “no” are less fun than “yes but” and “no but.”] What obstacles can I throw in this individual’s path?

Once I get tentative answers to these questions, I start shaping the plot according to standard plot structure described in books like Robert J. Ray’s The Weekend Novelist: Part 1, the Set-up; Part 2, the Development; and Part 3, the Resolution. Part 1 needs a hook to start the story and to grab the reader’s attention and plot point one to set up Part 2; Part 2 needs to develop the set-up plus a midpoint or turning point and plot point two to set up the ending in Part 2; Part 3 needs a crisis and a resolution/denouement. When I have only a few obstacles, aka plot complications, I write a story. Lots of obstacles and I write a novel.

Once I’m involved in a project like Wings, I try to work on it everyday so I don’t lose my momentum. Also, I try to follow the common advice to write the initial draft from start to finish as fast as I can. The revising process takes longer as I do lots of revisions, often attacking different issues in different drafts. For example, I try to fill “plot holes” in earlier drafts and work on style including readability in later ones. Early drafts go fairly slow. Later ones can go very fast.

You know what? There is another question, sort of a Question 3b. Why do you write? My answer? Writing makes me happy. It’s as simple as that.

You can buy Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI) or trade paperback. Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is available as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) and trade paperback. January Jinx is now available as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4) and the trade paperback is coming soon.

It’s my pleasure to end my contribution to this Authors’ Blog Chain by tagging my friend Theresa Hupp.

MTHupp pic

Theresa is a writer of fiction (novels and short stories), essays and poetry.  She is currently working on a series of novels about the Oregon Trail in 1847 and life in Oregon and California during the Gold Rush. You’ll have to read her post next week to find out why she is writing historical fiction on this era of American history. She has worked as an attorney, a mediator, and a Human Resources executive and consultant. You can follow her blog, Story and History, at http://mthupp.wordpress.com/ or follow her on Facebook at Theresa Hupp, Author, at https://www.facebook.com/TheresaHuppAuthor

Theresa is the author of Family Recipe, a collection of essays, stories, and poems about family life.

Family Recipe cover Hupp

 http://www.amazon.com/Family-Recipe-stories-essays-families/dp/0985324406/ref=la_B009H8QIT8_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392327751&sr=1-2

 

 

 

COVER STORY (Part 2)

DIY Covers for Self-Publishers

1. For the cover of January Jinx, the first in a series of historical mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900, I needed an image to work from. And I’d already decided I wanted something distinctive. This meant clip art was out. And if I was to have half a chance of making money, I couldn’t hire anyone to do it.

Luckily, when I started researching my calendar mysteries, I bought a bunch of Dover books. These included Victorian Fashion in America, edited by Kristina Harris. Among the vintage photos was this one:

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With some cropping, it would fit inside a frame neatly and so I would avoid the kind of linear design that had caused Cinderella on the covers of some of my fairy tale mysteries to lose her head and legs in thumbnails. Plus, I loved this young woman’s cocky pose. Still, I decided not to include the bow tie, as jaunty as it was. And her hat was much too big and fancy for my protagonist’s workday hat. So I used this hat as a model instead.

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And finally, I wanted to use my own grandmother’s face rather than that of the charmer in the first reference photo.

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(This is Juliet Perkins Smith for whom I’m named.)

2. On the basis of these decisions, I set to work on the cover of January Jinx.

I did a number of color tests to get the right color for Minty Wilcox’s garnet red suit. Here’s a sample of a color text.

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I laid out the cover to fit a 6″ by 9″ format so I wouldn’t need to do too much in Photoshop. I played with fonts, printed samples, and decided on Trajan Pro. The photo below shows an early version of my cover layout.

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Then I ran into trouble with the frame. I did the outside edges, but I couldn’t figure out how to do the inside points. I asked for help from Barbara O’Leary, my art teacher, who said, “It’s just geometry, Juliet.” Waving my hands hysterically, I shouted, “Do you know how long it’s been since I had geometry?” Once Barbara showed me how, I quickly finished the frame.

Next I transferred my reference photo to my watercolor paper. Now, my mode of doing this is crude. I make a photocopy, reducing or enlarging as I need to. Then I cut the image out and draw around it on my paper. Finally, I refine the image with pencil.

Here’s where I ran into trouble, lots of it, on my model’s right hand, the chair, and the girl’s face. With such a small painting, her eyes were barely an eighth of an inch wide. So even the tiniest slip of the pencil tip made them cross. But the principle of simplifying held me in good stead with all three problems. Minty’s face ended up not looking much like my grandmother’s, though.

The actual painting went along well except I accidentally got Alizarin Crimson a few places where I didn’t want it. Mostly I fixed those glitches with the brush, but one I left to fix in Photoshop. Here’s a photo of the cover in progress showing my pattern and the suit with a Payne’s Grey undercoat.

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(I cut out a copy of my grandmother’s face and taped it to the copy of the first reference photo.)

3. Using Photoshop I completed the cover. By the time I did the cover of January Jinx, I already knew how to crop a simple image, to insert text, to adjust image size, and save a cover as a jpg file. To these skills and with advice of three different people, I added correcting images to my Photoshop skills. And so I removed the extra bit of Alizarin Crimson from the top inside of the frame. Here’s the finished cover.

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As usual during the process of publishing my own work, I learned a lesson. Reducing an image to such a small size creates problems like the one I had with Minty’s eyes. So the next time I do a cover I plan on painting the image larger and reducing it in Photoshop. I have the skills for that, I think.

By now you might be asking why I go to all this trouble doing my own covers to save some money. The answer’s simple. The covers of my books and stories may seem a little amateurish, but they look like no one else’s. They stand out among other books on Amazon sell pages and on bookstore shelves.

January Jinx is now available as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4) and the trade paperback is coming soon. You can buy also Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI) or trade paperback. Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is available as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) and trade paperback.

 

Cover Story (Part 1)

Lessons Learned

By the time I needed a cover for January Jinx, a light-hearted historical mystery set in Kansas City around 1900, I’d already done cover illustrations and design for several stories and two books, plus the theme for my website.

Here are some of the lessons I’d learned.

1. If I had any chance of making money publishing and selling my work, I couldn’t keep hiring help. I had to learn to do everything myself. For example, I paid a friend $150 to clean up the cover painting for my award-winning short story “Cinderella, P. I.” He also added the text to it and created the files needed to publish the story as a Kindle eBook. At 35% of $0.99, it would take 432.9 sales to recoup that expense. (I’m not there yet.)

Cinderella PI Kindle Cover 2-4-2013b

2. From the trouble that my friend had cleaning up the image for the first cover in Photoshop, I learned that I needed to create as clean an image as possible with pencil and paint. (Didn’t he do a great job, though?)

3. I paid my friend another $50 to complete the cover of the second short story “Cinderella, Undercover.” (I haven’t made that $50 back either.)

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My daughter helped me add the frame and text in Photoshop to the cover of the third story, “Cinderella’s Giant Case.”

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But she’s very busy with her own work, so I hesitate to ask her for too many favors. So I knew that sooner or later I needed to master some basic aspects of Photoshop. This I resisted for a long time by making copies of the cover paintings, printing the text onto the copies, and formatting these as jpgs in Photoshop. But in this process the colors faded, and I lost details, especially on the cover of Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel.

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And before I continue, I want to thank my daughter for her help with the cover of “Cinderella’s Giant Case” and GK for his help with the two covers and for all his generous freebies later on, especially when I’d passed into hi-tec anxiety and sat stooped, twitching with frustration, over my keyboard.

4. Gradually I learned, mostly because of my limited graphic arts skills, to keep the cover images simple with the overall design fitting a 6” by 9” format and to limit the contents of a cover to the title, the image, and my name.

5. Here are two lessons about cover design I learned that I sort of wish I didn’t have to know: It’s not a good idea to use an extremely vertical cover image of my p. i. because Facebook whacks her head and feet off when it posts the thumbnail of the cover. It’s also not a good idea to have a really horizontal image like the one I did of Cinderella for my website because Facebook chops her off at the shoulders and hips.

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I’ll leave you with that grisly image in your mind until next time.

Meanwhile you can buy the three stories I’ve mentioned individually as Kindle eBooks or these stories plus nine more in Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI) or trade paperback. Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is also available as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) and trade paperback. January Jinx is now available as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4) as well.

Best, Juliet

Beating Myself Up for No Good Reason

AKA Some New Year’s Resolutions

When I retired in May 2004, I immediately got cracking on my long-time dream of becoming a full-time writer. I started with an ambitious project: a dozen historical mystery novels set in Kansas City beginning in 1899 with January Jinx and ending with Deadly December in 1910, the year my mother was born. This project went great guns. And by spring 2007, I’d outlined the whole series, brainstormed thirty-six possible titles with my daughter’s help, researched and put the first book through seven drafts, and researched and drafted the second, Fatal February.

But a weird thing happened in April 2007 when I went to a book signing with a writer whose work I’ve come to admire. At that time, this author was well along in her contemporary mystery series, which still continues. With her husband she’d written most of a historical series set in Victorian and Edwardian England. On her own, she’d started another historical mystery series featuring a well-known, beloved children’s author.

Thinking that she’d be encouraging to another historical mystery novelist, I went up to her with one of her books in hand for her to sign. But when I told her I was writing a series of mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900, far from being encouraging, she dumped all the bad things about writing historical mysteries on me. People will criticize your research, she said, and the market for these books is small.

And I bought it. I accepted her wisdom as gospel. I decided that my hard work wasn’t good enough and that I might as well quit before I wasted any more time on it. I didn’t tell her about my Ph. D. in English literature, which says more than a little something about my research skills. I didn’t mention my experience teaching hundreds of college students how to do research and put their information together in readable papers. I didn’t tell her about the dozens of stories and nine novels I’d already completed.

Basically, I assumed that given the poor market for historical fiction, the project was worthless. So I abandoned it. Not only that, but I went into a funk and didn’t write fiction at all for two years. A long time for a fiction addict like I am. This and some other set-backs caused me to fall into a depression that I didn’t come out of until I got excited about writing fiction again in May 2009, a full five years after I retired.

But a funny thing happened this past autumn while I was busily self-publishing Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel and Cinderella, P. I. and other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories. I started thinking about how January was coming around again and wouldn’t it be great if I could bring January Jinx out in January 2014? If it was any good, of course.

So I pulled up the file and started reading. And you know what? I’d forgotten how much fun that book was and what a good job I’d done in incorporating the research without letting it bog the story down. Not just taking my own assessment for its merits, I asked my dear friend and art teacher, Barbara O’Leary to look at it again. She too found it to be lots of fun.

And so I’ve resolved to quit making the same old mistakes about my writing that I’ve made over the last twenty-five years.

Here are some of my specific resolutions for 2014.

1) I resolve to quit beating myself up for no good reason and equating a project’s potential low sales to its merit. After all, selling is hard for everyone these days. Consider, for example, the way Charlie Lovett’s agent couldn’t get an American publisher interested in The Bookman’s Tale until the agent had already sold Charlie’s excellent first mystery novel in eight foreign markets.

2) I resolve to have more confidence in my abilities. By the way, I’m not alone in being dogged by a lack of confidence. Recently, I found out from one of Louise Penny’s Facebook posts that she suffers from the same thing in spite of the way her Inspector Gamache novels keep racking up awards. She gets out of her funks and gets going again. So should I.

3) I resolve not to abandon any more projects until I’m sure they’re not worthwhile. This resolution includes work I’ve already published that I’m not marketing assertively enough.

4) I resolve to go back to projects that I abandoned. These include a big epic novel set in Ancient China around 200 B.C. It features. . . . I’m considering giving it a fantasy twist like George R. R. Martin has done to British history in. . . . Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. First I need to finish Wings, the sequel to Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel.

This all means I’d better get cracking, especially since I need to clean and reorganize my study, so I can find the hard copies of my orphans and the research materials that went into them.

In the meantime, you can read Walls as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) or as a trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-1-1) and Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI) or as a trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-4-2).

And after resolving my issues with the cover, I’m pleased to announce that January Jinx, the first Calendar Mystery, set in Kansas City about a hundred years ago when living could get deadly, is now available for Kindle. (www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4).

Best, Juliet

(This isn’t the final version of the cover.)

JJcov

Juliet’s Favorite Reads for 2013

Becoming a publisher in addition to being a writer has cut into my reading time quite a bit this year, so instead of my usual rate of four books a month, I read fewer than three a month in 2013. But the five I’ve chosen would stand out in any year. (Please note that not all were first published in 2013 because sometimes it takes me a while to discover the book everyone else read the year or so before.)

# 5 – Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent (2013)

When I spotted this novel on the new and current shelf at my local library, its intriguing title and cover drew me to it. I picked it up, scanned the cover with the picture of a dragon shown partly in anatomical detail, and read the back cover. I put it back since mostly I read mysteries. But the clever concept of a fictional memoir of a lady scientist writing about her lifelong study of dragons drew me back. I checked it out and read it with great pleasure. This story of a bookish young girl drawn to dragons from an early age and determined to find out more about them in a somewhat Victorian setting did not disappoint. The Tropic of Serpents, the second in the series, comes out in March 2014 and I’ll buy it in hardcover, along with the trade paperback of the first.

# 4 – Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012)

When I found out how this book was written, it intrigued me for a rather specialized reason. It’s a fictionalized compilation of emails, articles from scholarly magazines, school documents, letters, etc. As such it goes back to two early traditions in English literature: the epistolary novel, that is, written in the form of letters, like Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, and fiction written in diary form, like Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. (I have a vested interest in the latter style since I wrote my dissertation about thirty-plus pieces of fiction written entirely or partly in the form of journals. And actually, A Natural History of Dragons fits into the third tradition for the novel in English: the fictional memoir like Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.) But no matter why I picked Semple’s novel up, I read it because it’s a touching story of a loving daughter trying to find where her eccentric mom has gone.

#3 – Colin Cotterill’s Killed at the Whim of the Hat (2011)

I’d been a fan of the Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries for their humor and exotic setting in Communist Laos for some time before I discovered Cotterill’s new series with Jimm Juree, a young woman journalist who lives with her eccentric family in a southern Thailand resort town. Just thinking about the title and other quotations from George W. Bush that start the chapters makes me laugh out loud. This is a very enjoyable, lively read.

#2 – Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession (2013)

I’m putting this first novel near the top of the list not because one of my former students wrote it or even because it’s beautifully constructed of three different plot lines skillfully interwoven, but because at its heart it contains a touching and timeless story of a young man who finds the love of his life through books, loses her, and finds her again, also through books. It is not my top pick only because of my pick is

#1 – Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In (2013)

When my friend Sally Ooms gave me this book for my birthday this year, I hugged it to my heart and beamed. (You can see my joy in my picture on my Facebook profile page.) The ninth in Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series demonstrates this masterful writer at the top of her game. The bad news for those of you who haven’t read these books is I can’t recommend this book to you. The good news is you get to read Still Life, the first in the series, and the other seven wonderful books that precede How the Light Gets In.

Giving Thanks for Mysteryscape

Among the many things I’m giving thanks for this year is Mysteryscape, the independent bookstore at 7309 West 80th Street in old downtown Overland Park, Kansas. How come?

As a reader, I love fiction. And though I’ve downloaded eBook versions of several works of fiction to my iPad, including my own stories and books, I still prefer reading books with paper pages. (I’m not alone in this.) And when I’m choosing, the lists, blurbs, samples, reviews, etc. of on-line sell pages just don’t quite do it for me the way browsing the shelves at a brick and mortar bookstore do. For one thing, I like to pet books. I like to be surrounded by them.

Sadly, there aren’t  many places around the KCMO area anymore where I can page through books since Borders has folded and several other bookstores have as well. Our local libraries are very good, but honestly, I’m often too impatient to wait till my name tops the waiting list for popular titles. Besides, I like to support my favorite authors by actually buying their books.

And now, let’s take a little, verbal visit to Mysteryscape.

The broad, windowed façade promises Young Adult, Supernatural, Thriller, Suspense, Mystery, New & Used on the left and on the right Coffee, Tea, & Nosh, Gifts, Events, Book Clubs. Believe me. Mysteryscape delivers on all these promises. Racks in the windows also display, for instance, seasonal offerings and favorite authors’ latest works like the most recent V. I. Warshawski or Stephanie Plum.

Stepping between two carts of used books parked outside and entering the store, you’ll see on the right a large antique table covered with stacks of goodies. These currently include Airball, My Life in Briefs, a William Allen White selection, by my friend and former student Lisa Harkrader.  Historical, British and international mysteries line shelves on two side of this table.

Straight ahead on the right side of the aisle stands a small table holding books from the Mystery, Ink series, edited by my friends Suella and Larry Walsh. And across the aisle shelves labeled Great Escapes hold works by local authors including my own Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel with its distinctive cover.

Directly to your  left sit comfortable leather chairs and a couch that invite you to pluck a new hardcover from a favorite writer off the shelf and plunk yourself down for a brief browse.

A little farther south from the new arrivals on the east side of the store, you come to more treasures including the “First in Series” shelves. These might be unique to Mysteryscape now that the late and lamented I Love a Mystery is gone. A recent study of this section bagged me Storm Front, the first in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels, and Wool, Hugh Howey’s first book. I was immensely cheered to discover that Howey originally self-published this New York Times bestseller as it gives me hope my own self-published books will do as well.

Next comes the local author section. Here you’ll find more copies of Walls. Soon the trade paperback of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories will join it.

Turning your back on the local authors shelves, you’ll see many more packed shelves offering mysteries in assorted subcategories. Here you’ll find your culinary and craftsy mysteries, for instance.

Beyond the cozies lies Mysteryscape’s popular section for Young Adults with many intriguing offerings. Next to this section looms the door to the bookstore’s back room that holds small tables and chairs. Here you can linger over coffee and a nosh.

If you do a 180 from the Young Adult section, you’ll spot the desk and probably one if not both of the storeowners, Acia Morley-Hall and Cheri LeBlond. They will smile in welcome and possibly call you by name as they do me.

Since the store’s launch in 2012, Cheri and Acia have worked very hard to make Mysteryscape a place for book-lovers. They offer several different clubs including the Women of Intrigue group focused on women mystery writers and sleuths. They host book signings and other author events, including the upcoming Local Authors Book Fair on December 14 from 1 till 3. They provide a location for the meetings of Border Crimes, our local chapter of Sisters in Crime. Recently, Border Crimes held its fifth anniversary celebration at Mysteryscape. Our special guest was Hank Phillipi Ryan, author of best-selling The Other Woman and also the immediate past president of the national Sisters in Crime.

All of this provides a clue to the biggest reason I’m giving thanks for Mysteryscape this year. For all that on-line booksellers do for readers and for authors, they can’t supply the company of real, living and breathing readers that you can talk to and share your love of fiction with. You’ll find us at Mysteryscape though.

Thank you so much for all that you do, Acia and Cheri.

To keep up with Mysteryscape events, go to www.mysteryscape.com.

Best, Juliet

 

The Hunger Name Games

Naming Characters Can Be Hard

When I joined an online fiction writers group some time ago, the current topic of discussion was naming characters. I identified with this since I had a terrible time naming a set of characters in Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel. I won’t say who they are precisely but here’s a hint: there are seven of them and they’re all extremely short. Initially I gave them names that alluded to these characters as presented in the first Disney full-length animated feature. But I worried through several drafts that the Disney lawyers would not consider this fair use and would sue me up side and down the other for copyright infringement. So I finally decided I had to revise the names and also the characters of my little seven.

But how?

Suzanne Collins supplied the answer to my question in the thoughtful, systematic, evocative way she named the places and characters of The Hunger Games. Character names also suggest things about the nature of the characters and often hint at the roles they’ll take in the plot.

Effie Trinket, who escorts Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark to the Capitol for the games, has a downright satirical name that reminds this English major of Mr. Thwackum and Squire Allworthy of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. She could hardly be more aptly named. Doll-like, superficial, and artificial with her pink wig and heavy make-up, she counts for very little in the overall world of the Hunger Games.

Overall, the names of girls and women in The Hunger Games resonate with meaning and portent. And often they arise from nature. In our world the plant katniss doesn’t exist, but in the world of the Hunger Games, it’s a healing herb. The last name Everdeen reminds us of evergreen, a kind of tree that’s always alive and green. What better name than Katniss Everdeen for the savior of her world? Katniss’s little sister Prim’s name evokes that character’s innocence. Her full name of Primrose evokes her sweetness. The tribute from District 11 is named Rue, which is a healing herb in our world, but the character’s name also evokes her rueful end.

The names for men are evocative, too, especially that of Katniss’s fellow tribute from District 12: Peeta Mellark. Presumably Peeta is derived from Peter, but it’s pronounced “pita” as in the Greek bread. Peeta is the son of a baker who earlier saved Katniss’s life by letting her have some bread when she and her family almost starved.

Katniss and Peeta’s mentor, the drunken Haymitch Abernathy, doesn’t have an out and out symbolic name. Yet his name evokes the strong Scots stock that populated Appalachia in the 18th century. And as a West Virginian born and bred, I must remind you of my home state’s motto: “Montani semper liberi.” Mountaineers are always free. Take that, you decadent Capitol citizens.

Many of the men from the Capitol have names that allude to ancient Romans, for example, Seneca Crane, the game designer, and Caesar Flickerman, the television host. (His last name perfectly evokes the flickering screen images that Panem citizens watch during the games.) These names make us recall ancient Romans with their cruel and bloody gladiatorial games. At least Roman gladiators were grown-ups trained to fight instead of children aged 12 through 18 chosen by lottery without consideration of their abilities to defend themselves and survive.

Speaking of Panem, I’ll do a little riff on place names. “Pan-” as a prefix means “all,” suitable for a nation’s name, but in The Hunger Games series, Panem is a country in which the individual identities of its states and regions have been replaced by nondescript Districts and numbers, from the rather privileged District 1, source of luxury goods, through the ill-fated District 13, destroyed many years earlier. Panem also alludes to “panem et circenses” or the bread and circuses with which the leaders of ancient Rome soothed the populace.

Coriolanus Snow, President of Panem, is very aptly named for the ancient Roman leader accused of robbing the populace of their bread. And while his last name comes from nature, Snow is a cold, mindless, harsh force.

You probably thought I’d forgotten Gale Hawthorne, Katniss Everdeen’s fellow hunter and confidant. But really his name provides an excellent example of Suzanne Collins’s systematic and thoughtful naming of the characters in The Hunger Games. His last name evokes one of America’s greatest writers, but also the sweet-smelling flowering shrub hawthorn, that has lots of thorns. Furthermore, his first name Gale evokes another mindless, powerful force. As you read Catching Fire and Mockingjay, you’ll be wise to keep an eye on Gale Hawthorne.

And so, with Suzanne Collins’ excellent examples in mind, I finally resolved my difficulties naming my short characters in Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel.

Seven? I asked myself. What else has seven? I wondered. Well, duh, the days of the week. And for that–oh joy! We have a popular nursery rhyme. And so my little people became members of the same family, got names or nicknames and at least one character trait apiece. The oldest is Moon, “fair of face” in spite of being extremely overweight. Next comes Toot, “full of grace,” especially with his hands. Wednesday’s child, “full of woe,” is Mopey, an epic poet always moaning and groaning about his work. (As a writer, I really identify with Mopey.) Thursday’s child is Thor, who has “far to go” because he’s completely deaf. His twin sister Frieda, the tiniest of the seven, is “loving and giving.” Saturday’s child Whip “works hard for a living.” As the mining company foreman he makes sure the others work hard, too. And finally Sunny, born on the Sabbath Day, is “bonny and blithe and good and gay,” that is, he has a really sunny, upbeat personality.

You can get to know these characters even better by reading Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel now available through Amazon.com as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) or a trade paperback (ISBN 978-0-9899504-1-1).

And I’m very pleased to announce that Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories is now available as a Kindle eBook featuring Cinderella, P. I. in SIX NEW STORIES, twelve stories altogether, “twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball.” Buy it for only $2.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI.