Friday, February 18, 2011

What is a Cozy?

When a writer has been writing a while, he forgets that everyone may not be familiar with the terminology, even if the reader has had contact with the material. Though there is a blurring between the lines in both sub-genres and genres in general, I thought I’d just pop in and give my take on the elements of the cozy mystery. At a later time, I may come back to discuss suspense and how that differs.

Think of a cozy as just that, warm and fuzzy, feel-good. The sleuth in the story is generally an amateur, though some are professionals, many of whom are retired or have changed professions. The setting of the cozy is usually in a small town or community. It can be set in a city but, if it is, it’s probably confined to a small area with a related group of people. The cozy generally relies on humor during the solving of the crime (murder or other), a crime that happens early in the book and usually not graphically described. It is common for the crime to take place “off-camera,” and the heroine (and/or hero) arrive shortly after. The heroine is involved with the crime on a personal level somehow and usually bungles along while trying to solve the puzzle. The cast of characters often includes some quirky idiosyncratic friends and neighbors who help or hinder the heroine or simply add the delight factor.

The reader should be integrally involved in solving the crime, and the writer must supply all clues necessary to the solution, including some false ones, red herrings as David Fingerman describes in the blog below.

I have a series of cozy novellas debuting in March from Turquoise Morning Press. The first in the series, Buried in Briny Bay, introduces the two main characters, Roxie Turner and her sister, Trixie Frye. These two ladies, aged 42 and 54, are thrown into solving their first crime when Georgia Collins, Roxie’s nemesis of more than twenty years is found dead and buried in the town’s landfill.

Since the beginning, Roxie has been telling everyone who would listen she planned to kill the woman, even listing methods to accomplish it. Now people are dying around her and all of their deaths seem to point back to her. Helping the sisters in their crime solving is Greg Norris, Private Investigator, who becomes Roxie’s love interest in the stories.

Here’s a short excerpt:
Trixie groaned as she flopped on her living room sofa. “I’d never have guessed our town’s detectives could be so downright unpleasant.”

“Make that shitty.” Roxie sat in a side chair and crossed her arms. “I can’t believe our own brother took us in. And you were just about as bad. Thanks for getting us dragged in for two hours.”

“Look.” Trixie waved her finger in the air. “I was dragged in with you. It’s no fun being related to a cold-blooded killer.”

“I am not a killer.” Roxie voice quivered on the last word.

“Sorry.” Trixie kicked off her shoes. “I told you the detectives surprised me with how good they are—at the end, they even had me convinced.”

Roxie sagged against the chair back. “Sure I’ve thought of ways to kill Georgia for nigh on twenty years, but I could have done a lot better than dumping her in the landfill. Even throwing her in the Pamlico Sound like I suggested once. That would have been better. There’ve been a lot of bodies they’ve never found out there. It’s just a matter of watching the tide and the moon phase. Then there’s that area, you know the one off the point with all the sharp jutting rocks and the deep drop-off…”

“Roxie, too much information. Remember, Georgia’s dead with a capital ‘D.’” Trixie rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Who else would the police think did it? You had cause, that’s for sure, and you’ve even told the mayor how you planned to kill her. Everyone thought you were joshing, but now that someone’s actually murdered her, well, thinking you did it is a natural conclusion.”

“So how do we convince them otherwise, Trix? I don’t look good in yellow or stripes.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Guest David Fingerman - Red Herrings

Today's guest blogger is mystery/suspense author, David Fingerman. Welcome, David. I can't wait to see what you say about the use of red herrings in your mystery/suspense/thriller, SPYDER, to be released soon.

Red herring (noun) a dried smoked herring, which is turned red by the smoke (New Oxford American Dictionary). Ha! Didn't think I was going to go there, did you?

Okay, to be fair: red herring 2 (noun) esp. a clue, that is or is not intended to be misleading or distracting.

Real life is full of red herrings. Defense lawyers do it all the time trying to create reasonable doubt; politicians use them to skirt around issues and campaign promises. Advertisements are misleading you constantly in order to convince you that you absolutely need their product. Even daters try to lead you down false paths.

"Your profile said you were 6'4", 220 pounds."
"I have a dyslexia problem, but the 220 pounds is pretty accurate."

"It also said you had brown hair and blue eyes."
"Well, my hair used to be brown, and my eyes are blue when I remember to put the right contacts in."

With life so inundated with red herrings, why do I find it so difficult to write them into my novels? How tough can it be? As a writer you are taking the reader on a guided path of suspended disbelief. Yet I have trouble taking the reader on that misleading temporary detour. When I write a novel, I generally know how I want it to begin and know how I want it to end. The challenge for me is connecting the two with around 250 pages. I'd get to a point and think, "Oh, I should lead them away from the villain now." The red herrings came out lame and artificial. I didn't believe it myself and that was one of the problems. Try to place yourself as the reader. Does it make sense to stray off the main path?

Unfortunately, I've read a number of authors who must've had the same problem that I have ~ and they got published. Did you ever read Whispers by Dean Koontz? If you haven't, don't waste your time. The plot was thin and that's being nice. It took me 50 pages to figure out the mystery (the book is over 400 pages). His red herrings were, well, lame. Every time he tried to lead me somewhere else, my main question was "What about the obvious?" Koontz wasted pages of taking the reader on detours that were obviously dead ends. (I don't mean to pick on poor Mr. Koontz, I've read other Koontz novels that were quite exceptional. I highly recommend Odd Thomas and Tick Tock.)

As a writer, how does one avoid that trap? For starters, don't make the ending obvious (I can sense the eye rolling). Okay, one way is keep your red herring as close to the truth of the novel as possible. Plant the seed. If you want the reader to think that Professor Plum stabbed the victim with a candlestick in the study, leave a bloody candlestick in Professor Plum's room. The reader can discover in due time that Colonel Mustard planted it there.

Another big thing I learned, and this is more of a mindset ~ as stated earlier, I try and make myself believe that the red herring can happen. It makes perfect sense to suspect Professor Plum. After all, not only was the candlestick in his room, but he was also having an affair with Mrs. Peacock.

Also, when taking your reader on a detour, make sure to block the main path. That was a major problem with Whispers. Koontz tried to lead me off the main path when there was no reason to do so. The smoother transition the better. Ideally, if you can make the reader feel like they've never left that main path, all the better. It's okay for your characters to lie. A good properly placed lie can mislead the reader for chapters. And one last piece of advice ~ don't forget to point a couple of clues at the guilty party. I've actually guessed the murderer in some novels because they were the only one that was never suspected.

So much for my expertise about red herrings, now mislead me. While you're doing that I think I'll try some of that red herring the dictionary was telling me about. Meanwhile, you can read about my upcoming release:

Thirty-year-old Spyder doesn't waste time thinking how much lower he can sink. When he finds his girlfriend dead as the result of drugs he supplied, Spyder contemplates his life and decides it’s time to do what he's avoided most of his days – join mainstream society. All he needs to do is kick the drug habit, find a job, a place to live, and earn some money. Easy. He’s done it hundreds of times, but never all at once. As always, Fate steps in and knees him in the groin. All the dregs he's ever known want their say. George won't stop his pestering, Sal needs a huge favor, Coon is hunting for a certain arachnid, and Spyder's dealer doesn't want to lose one of his best customers. As things spiral out of control, Spyder tangles himself in a web so tight that even he might never be able to escape.

SPYDER is a novel of gripping suspense, cutting wit, and twisted humor. It will leave you cursing and cheering for this most unconventional antihero

David Fingerman sold his first short story in 1993. Since then he has not looked back. After leaving his job of 24 years in the Hennepin County court system, David decided to write full time. Although he still loves writing short stories, he has switched his main focus to novel writing. In August 2010, L&L Dreamspell released his first novel, "Silent Kill." It will soon be followed by "Spyder" and "Playing the Hand She's Dealt."

David is married and lives in Minneapolis.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Interview with Therese Kincaide

Therese Kinkaide is an author of women’s fiction. Her newest work Fairytale is available from Wings E Press.

What is the name of your latest book? And how did you come up with the title?

My latest book is called Fairytale. It’s a story that moves from present to past and certain chapters fall under certain fairytales, depending on what is going on in the story. There are Rapunzel chapters, Cinderella chapters, Beauty and the Beast chapters and the final chapter belongs to the heroine of the book, Caroline. She doesn’t have a fairytale love, and she has to summon the inner courage and strength to save herself.

What is Fairytale about?

Fairytale is a suspense/thriller for women. It is the story of a woman who has awakened from a coma, with a body that has sustained severe injuries and no memory of how those injuries happened. Caroline Wolfe has to use gut instinct to decide who she trusts as she becomes familiar with a house that is supposedly hers and fights for the memories she feels have been taken from her. Her very life may depend on regaining those memories.

What books have most influenced your life most?

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard had a big influence on my life, both in regard to my writing and my daughter. She was only three at the time I read it, and I was so scared after reading about the abduction in that book that I would get up all through the night and check on her while she slept. It was also the book that helped me scrap an old manuscript and rewrite it. It’s self-published now, but it did lead me to my current writing style. There are other books that were so powerful they’ve stayed with me for years after I’ve read them, but I can’t say they influenced my life, other than my writing. Patricia Cornwell’s book Trace really influenced my writing style. I loved her use of present tense. I felt like I was involved in the action as it happened, and apparently it really affected me, because every time I sit down to write, I find myself writing in present tense. Some publishers don’t care for present tense, so sometimes I have to go back and change everything to past tense.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

I’m not sure I can choose. I haven’t really worked hand in hand with any writers; however, I will say certain writers have had a big influence on my style and voice and other writers have been very supportive of my efforts. I’ve been told that my writing (style, not subject matter) is comparable to Patricia Cornwell’s, Audriana Triggiani’s, Alice Hoffman’s, and Jodi Picoult’s writing. I don’t know how comparable my style is, but I will say I admire these women very much. I have always loved Diane Chamberlain’s books, and she has always had kind words and encouragement for me. Also, Linda Rettstatt, a fellow Wings author, has been very supportive of my writing, as well as a great inspiration. There are days when the blank screen on my computer is very daunting, but Linda is so prolific, I think okay, Linda’s working so hard, you can do it too.

What are your current projects?

I am currently writing a Christmas themed women’s fiction novel, and I hope I can finish a rough draft soon. The Christmas music is killing me now that Christmas is over. I also have two other manuscripts started: one is a disco time travel romance, which is very different from anything I’ve written but so much fun, and the other is a young adult romance. Following that, I have plans for a sequel to a young adult book I wrote last spring.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

I am not one to outline much. The more notes I take, the less compelled I am to write the story. I’m getting better about envisioning my story line as an arc and picturing myself moving around that arc as I write in order to keep the pace of the story. Having that image in my mind helps me stay focused on what I need to write, and yet it can still be difficult to sit down and write something every day. Sometimes after I’ve been sitting at the computer for fifteen or twenty minutes, I decide it’d be much easier to do laundry or more fun to check email.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I guess the advice I’ve taken from other writers that’s helped me the most is to write. Don’t talk about the book you’re going to write, write it. Don’t get hung up on edits or genre or word count. Write your story. Be passionate about your writing. Believe in yourself.

Here's a blurb from Fairytale:

Caroline Wolfe is a modern day Rapunzel, locked away in a third story bedroom. She has no memory, no past. In fact, Caroline has nothing but a son she doesn’t remember, a friend she is afraid to trust, a husband she isn’t sure she wants to remember, and a gut feeling that something is very wrong in her house.

As Caroline begins to remember bits and pieces of her past, she is overcome with fear. The more she remembers, the more desperate she is to regain her complete memory. Her life may depend on it.