We had another successful meeting on Wednesday, and covered a variety of topics, from classes to contests. I’ll start with upcoming events for writers. If you want more suggestions, or have an event you’d like to add, check the calendar on this page. Part 2 of this update will be appearing on Monday.
Here, as promised, is part 2 of this month’s news. Be sure to check out the writers’ Calendar page for all the events I’ve come across that might be of interest to writers. And keep writing!
Jane Friedman, book marketing guru, will be in New York for BookExpo next week, and on May 29 she’ll be teaching a 3-hour evening workshop (in partnership with Catapult) on how to build a sustainable business model for your writing career. Click here to learn more and register.
Liz Mugavero is a writer determined to make a living with her writing. Right now, she works in marketing and writes at night (she’s been writing since high school). Based on the mystery series she’s writing, the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, I’d guess that she’ll succeed. I read A Biscuit, A Casket, which has a Halloween setting in the otherwise charming Connecticut town of Frog Hollow (sadly imaginary, I think). It’s actually the second book in the series followed by The Icing on the Corpse, which came out earlier this year. The first, Kneading to Die, is an Agatha Award nominee, and shows how Stan got to Frog Ledge and turned into a pet chef. I had a few questions for her about how she came to write the series.
She will also be part of the New England Crime Bake, a crime-writing conference in Dedham, Mass, from November 6-8 for those of you who can make it.
GC: I enjoyed A Biscuit, A Casket – it’s a truly original concept for a cozy mystery. Did you pitch a publisher with the idea, or did they pitch you? (Or tell me how you got the idea and then got it published.)
LM: Thanks for having me here, Gabi! And so glad you enjoyed Biscuit. .Sisters in Crime New England is the reason this series was born. My agent, John Talbot, contacted then-president Sheila Connolly looking for writers to develop cozy proposals. She put the call out to the entire membership and I was one of the writers who responded. We talked about my interests and how we could turn that into an idea that would sell and came up with gourmet pet food. I wrote a proposal and it sold less than two months later, and that was where it all started! GC: Writing a series must be a little like writing a soap opera, in the sense that you have to have an underlying storyline that continues from book to book. How hard has it been to come up with a cliff-hanger at the end of a book?
LM: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Stan’s character arc – to me, it’s just as important as the mysteries. So as Stan makes the transition from corporate girl to taking ownership of her business and her life in ways she never really has, she’s growing and changing all the time. She’s looking very closely at relationships in her life, ending some, making new ones, revisiting family issues. The cliffhangers have come from those explorations, and to my delight they’ve manifested quite nicely in each book (so far!). GC: I know you have another career that must take up quite a bit of your time. How on earth do you find time to get the books written?
LM: That’s a great question! I’ll let you know when I figure out a good answer….
I am on a constant quest to improve my time management skills, and also to be more of a plotter than a pantser. (For those of you not familiar with the terms, plotters plan out the book in advance while pantsers write into the headlights!) I’ve gotten better at that, mainly because deadlines are a great time management boost, but also because I discovered a fabulous book about plotting that’s changed my life. Plot Perfect by Paula Munier – if you’re a writer, buy it! It gives you an easy-to-follow guide to creating your story that makes a ton of sense. I can’t recommend it enough. And even for a pantser like me, sketching out the big picture has made a big difference in focusing my time and attention.
GC: Who writes the recipes for the pet treats?
LM: For the first book, I muddled through the recipes. I didn’t love it, largely because I felt very time-crunched because of the reasons above. Then as I was getting into the second book, fate brought The Big Biscuit into my life. It’s a pet food bakery in Franklin, MA and the owner at the time agreed to become my consultant and provided me with recipes. When he sold the business to his baker, she agreed to keep up the tradition. The treats are lovely and I know they’re healthy, just like Stan wants!
GC: Your heroine is called Stan. How did you come up with that name? And, of course, what’s in store for our heroine Stan in the future?
LM: In a previous iteration of my day job, I was asked to do a colleague a favor during a business trip and get a video of someone in a field office. My colleague didn’t tell me anything about this person, just to “call Stan.” When I called Stan, I expected an older, balding man smoking a cigar on the other end of the line. Instead I got a young blond woman, and I thought, Wow! What a great nickname for a woman to catch people off guard. So I stole it!
In the future, I expect to see Stan evolving more as her own person and businesswoman. In Murder Most Finicky, coming out in December, she’s still navigating the idea of what working for herself looks like after a celebrity chef sets his sights on her as the next big thing. This book was a lot of fun to write. Stan’s stepped out of Frog Ledge in this one, and takes a trip to her home state of Rhode Island where her family is unexpectedly involved in the murder that unfolds.
Stan will also continue to figure out her personal relationships, both with her family and with Jake. I’m excited to see how that will evolve as she starts to take down the carefully-constructed walls she built over the years to focus on external success. She’s really come a long way. I’m proud of her!
Like me, Alan Beechey was born in England and grew up in London, not far from where I lived, as it happens. He lives in the US now, and I met him at the Unicorn Writers’ Conference, where he was giving a talk on how to write crime novels. I wanted to read one of his books immediately, because he made me laugh. I know you’re thinking it’s all about that British sense of humor, but I think you’ll find his mysteries, which take place in London, refreshing and a bit off-beat. Being a person who likes to start a series at the beginning, I read his first book, An Embarrassment of Corpses, and enjoyed it so much that I’ve got the next two sitting on my electronic To Be Read pile.
And if you want a taste of his sense of humor, you could do worse than check out his blog.
GC: When did you start writing novels, and what made you choose crime as your genre? AB: I dedicated my most recent book, This Private Plot, to my late parents, and I note there that my mother started it all by giving me The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Agatha Christie’s first Hercule Poirot whodunit) when I was twelve. I reconnected with the world of crime as a college student when I read P.D. James’s Death of an Expert Witness, having heard it reviewed on the BBC. And after a couple of misguided attempts at get-rich-quick screenplays with friends, I switched my mystery-reading habit to a mystery-writing habit when I settled down to write my first novel, A Nasty Little Murder. Never heard of it? It’s crap, and it was rightly never published, despite being shunted around several British publishing houses. But it taught me what voice not to use. GC: Do your fans love your books more for your characters and plot, or for your sense of humor? AB: From the letters and emails I get, it’s clearly the characters, which is the way it should be. Plot and humor should flow from characters and their situations – or at least look like they do by the time you’re finished. Although I am pleased when readers note that there is, in fact, a plot, and I hope a good one. I’m writing a mystery, not a soap opera.
GC: How did you come up with the extraordinary names of your characters?
AB: I found several of them in the old four-volume London telephone directory. “Strongitharm” – presumably a contraction of “Strong in the arm” – which is the name of one of my lead characters, came from those. Ever since I was young, I’ve kept notes of good names, or words that aren’t typically names but could be – belfry, welkin, moldwarp, mormal. The last review of This Private Plot that I posted on my blog was by the magnificently named Sue Millinocket. That’s going on the list. There are also a few bad jokes shoved in (Mark Sandys-Penza? Hoo, Watt and Eidenau? I mean, come on), including a particularly filthy one in the name of the company Oliver works for in the first book. Nobody’s noticed so far. (GC: Must go back and look…)
GC: Of all the characters in all the novels, which is your favorite? AB: Effie. They’re called the “Oliver Swithin” mysteries, but she’s almost the co-hero. Effie Strongitharm is Oliver’s girlfriend, but also a Scotland Yard detective sergeant, who works for Oliver’s uncle. I work harder on Effie, because it’s a challenge for a male writer to create a convincing female character, especially a woman working in a sexist, male-dominated environment like the police. Her appearance, especially her unruly hair, is based on that of a much-loved girlfriend from my teenage years (who tolerates her fictional incarnation), but her character is every woman I’ve ever loved, and her insecurities are probably mine.
GC: How much promotion did you have to do once your books were published? And what’s the most effective way to promote a book, in your view? AB: How much did I do? Not enough. It’s never enough, these days. I have a blog, I contribute to other people’s blogs, I do signings and readings . . . Still not enough. I think I’m destined to be a boutique. Maybe it’s enough to have a few devoted fans. One of them even tattooed my initials on her back. (If you’re reading this, hi Rebecca!)
GC: What’s in the works? More of our hero, Oliver Swithin? AB: I’ve started the next Oliver Swithin novel. I’ve also had a non-Swithinian short story published, one that started out as a romance, but inevitably became a mystery. But the past year has thrown up a few distractions, some good, some bad, so I don’t currently have a good chunk of writing time on my schedule. This will, of course, all change as soon as someone offers me a couple of million for the screen rights to An Embarrassment of Corpses, or the BBC decide the Swithin series is a worthy successor to “Lewis” or “Midsomer Murders.”
Last weekend I attended the CrimeCONN conference held annually in Westport, CT. It was great fun and interesting for writers as well as readers. Among the people I met was Nina Mansfield, author of the YA mystery novelSwimming Alone. She’s written a good blog post about the conference, the beginning of which I’m re-posting below, with a link to the full post. here’s how she began:
CrimeCONN was an AMAZING CONFERENCE!!!
I had the honor of being on the first panel of the day, Who loves you, baby?: How to make your readers fall in love at first sight. Great openings followed by ways to keep the love alive. When I first saw the line up for the panel, I was more than a bit intimidated. Roberta Islieb (aka Lucy Burdette) has published 14 mysteries and has been short-listed for a host of mystery writing awards. Tom Straw has written numerous New York Times bestsellers under a pseudonym. But if I was the tiniest bit nervous (and I was) moderator John Valeri quickly put my fears to rest. He had fantastic questions, and he really made the panel a very enjoyable experience. You can see in the picture below just how much fun I am having!
From L to R: Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette), Tom Staw, Nina Mansfield and moderator John Valeri. Photo: Chelsey Valeri.
One of the major points that the panel touched upon was whether or not a body needs to drop in the first chapter. The consensus seemed to be – GC. you can read the rest here.
And my next post will be an interview with Nina about how she wrote her first YA novel.
My NaNoWriMo novel isn’t long enough – or ready enough – for this contest, but if you have between 90,000-110,000 words you may be good to go. This contest is small, only 250 entries are accepted. But the judges are terrific. There’s one for each genre:
Romance – Sue Grimshaw, Editor at Large & Category Specialist for Ballantine & Bantam Dell
Suspense / Thriller / Mystery – Kat Brzozowski, Assistant Editor at Thomas Dunne Books
Fantasy / Science Fiction – James Frenkel, Editor at Tor / Forge
Children’s & YA – Mary Kole, Agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency
And here’s the great thing. Your entry won’t simply disappear into a great void of unsuccessful attempts. These judges will rate your entry and give you feedback. Given the quality of the judges, this feedback could be priceless. The entry fee is a measly $35, but you need to enter fast. The closing date is February 12, but entries won’t be accepted after the magic 250 number is reached.
There’s a tiny bit of prize money, but again, this is immaterial. A critique like this is designed to help you get closer to publication.