The Hazards of Writing a Cozy
by G G Collins (Copyright 2017)
Mystery cozies were originally just called mysteries. Even before Agatha Christie, there was Mary Roberts Rinehart. She introduced the “had I but known” device. I devoured Rinehart’s books but soon attacked Christie’s as well. But I owe it all to a book by Shirley Jackson entitled We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The ending blew me away and it was my introduction to mysteries.
Cozies, a term introduced during the 1980s, have a few things in common. The murder happens “off screen” and is usually poison, a simple wallop to the head with say a candlestick or a clean shot without a lot of blood. Please no hollow R.I.P bullets, a .22 will do nicely.
These murders happened to people and in places where, well, these things just don’t happen: a mansion, bookstore or in my case a book publisher who specializes in mysteries. Did you see that coming? Often the sleuth is an amateur, although they can be a promising amateur.
In the early days, the emphasis was on the puzzle and the suspects. And everyone was and is suspect. The cats, recipes and delving into characters backgrounds and careers is a more modern concept. And if there is romance, it’s discreet. Like those kisses from the early movies that only allowed a 3-second kiss. And please, no bedroom scene unless you only see the lights go off from outside.
But here’s where I got into trouble; swearing! I admit it. I curse. And frankly, I don’t see how a someone who kills people would not use profanity. “Excuse me,” the killer said. “I’m going to cut your blankety-blank throat now.” Really?
Okay, I get it. Cozies are about having fun with murder. Someone gets the axe and we spend the rest of the book drinking tea, petting cats and maybe do a little baking until the perp is identified and all’s well with the world again.
My first cozy is due out in October 2017. I’m having a ball writing the Dead Editor File. But I’ve had a really difficult time, er, not cussing. I’ve even got my protagonist trying not to, you know; swear.
However, there is nothing I can do about her Abyssinian cat, Oscar. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my life with an Aby, and believe me he could let loose with the four letter words; in Cat of course. He lives on in Oscar. Oscar is known to leave “surprises” for Taylor when he isn’t fed on time or in the way he’s grown accustom to dining.
So I’ll be washing my mouth out with soap and tossing quarters in the “swear jar” before the book is complete as I try to think of clever ways to not write well, you know.
And when I use the term “dang it,” well I think you’ll know what I was thinking. It’s the cozy way.
I hope you enjoy mystery editor Taylor Browning in her first outing in the Dead Editor File. Available on Amazon October 15, 2017.
Season of Loss: For Tawna
by G G Collins Copyright 2015
I rarely talk about anything personal on these pages, but I’ve lost someone very dear to me. She was a great friend, one of those people who accept others for who they are and never tried to change them. She “got” me on a level that amazed me. Her intuitive skills were finely honed. And she was the love of her husband’s life. They had been sweethearts since high school. Her family was enviable. They told one another “I love you” before they left the room! I once asked her, what do you do in your family when you have a disagreement? She answered softly, “We don’t have them.” When any one family member was threatened, they circled the wagons and they were all solidly there for that person as long as needed. She loved and was loved.
Tawna was a writing muse if there ever was one; both writer and collaborator. Her columns were a delight; the kind you looked forward to and read first. She could brainstorm with the best. We met a couple of decades ago with writing being our connection. But there was more. She was a horsey girl too; had thrived in the dressage ring. Tawna was a candle lighter. I loved it and began doing so myself. There is nothing like lighting a candle for someone. It is almost magical as the flame leaps to life and flickers with devotion.
In the fall of 2010 we met for lunch and a movie. The movie? Secretariat. Just two horsey girls watching a movie about a horse; tears and cheers. Over lunch at our favorite restaurant, Tawna told me “I love you and that’s for a lifetime.” She has always been a demonstrative person, so I didn’t realize she was saying goodbye. But her hug lingered. She knew.
Now I have to say goodbye and it’s hard. Endings always are.
♦ ♦ ♦
To light a candle for someone you love, go to: http://www.gratefulness.org/candles/enter.cfm?l=eng Or light one for Tawna.
My favorite song after loss is “Life is Eternal,” sung by Carly Simon. These are two beautifully done videos of the song:
Interview with Rachel Blackstone, the “Reluctant Medium”
as told to G G Collins
What is your author like? My author drives me nuts! By the way, her name is G G Collins and I’m her character, Rachel Blackstone. Yes, (yawn) I’m the Reluctant Medium. But back to G G, it’s not the late night writing that annoys me—I’m a night owl too—but all the outlandish stuff she has me do. You know, she thinks it up, but she doesn’t have to do it. I do. In the first book, I had to break and enter, send my car into an arroyo, tramp around Tent Rocks in the middle of the night, all the while coping with bad men and an evil spirit. Geez, and I still had to make all my deadlines. This time, I swear it’s true, she sending me traveling on the astral plane! You know, there is no map available, no app (but I don’t do cell phones anyway) and the auto club has never heard of it. That leaves me hoofing through the whole thing practically in blinders (ooh, too many equestrian references).
Tell me about the place where you live. Santa Fe, New Mexico is known as the City Different, because of its unique adobe architecture. In reality, it’s the city same, because all the buildings look similar with flat roofs and stucco facade. They’re all painted in one of the approved brown colors, although you occasionally see a white house where obviously an independent type lives. But, the high desert climate attracts artists from all over who come to paint the
beautiful vistas that are Santa Fe. It is a place where people who don’t fit where they were born, can find acceptance being different. I love to hike and ski in the Sangre de Cristos. But mostly, I enjoy eating the spicy southwest foods with friend Chloe. We’re especially fond of The Shed and its yummy margaritas. Oh yes, the food is good too.
What is your family like? This gets complicated. Both parents are dead. My father was killed recently in a car wreck and I don’t think it was an accident. Now, the brother is the mayor, but he’s, well, shall we say unpopular. He cheats on his wife with all the lovely young clerks at city hall. I’m pretty sure he’s runs low and fast with the law, but have no proof. He thinks I’m “unbalanced” and “flaky.” I’m married, currently, but things aren’t going well. After my father died, I took a powder and split town for a few months. Anthony is a documentary producer and is feeling the pangs of those first wrinkles and what his Hollywood connections might think. He medicates with alcohol. I’m not sure it’s going to work out.
Who is your best friend in the world and what is she like? That would be Chloe, who might as well be family, but sometimes friends are better. She’s a very, make that very, successful real estate mogul in a city full of them. Although she’s been married a couple times (I’m not sure how many), she kept the last name of Valdez in the divorce settlement because it seemed to help with selling houses here in the southwest. We’re not entirely opposites, but she’s high-fashion and heels and I’m comfortable in flat shoes I can run in. You never know when you might need to make a hasty exit. Chloe loves to accompany me on journalistic stakeouts, you know mixing with the rift-raft—but she caters it! I mean before she tagged along the first time, I did just fine with green chile cheese burritos and some instant tea. Chloe changed that forever. Oh yes, and I must tell you, she’s into everything that could possibly be called New Age. I mean it, everything. She really embraced this medium thing. I’m not going there, no way.
What is the thing you are most proud of? Definitely following in my father’s footsteps, the family business: reporting. He was an award-winning journalist in New Mexico at the Albuquerque Journal. I write for a magazine with serious liberal leanings. Writing is in our bloodlines, but the brother must have had a transfusion. Oh well (shakes her head), moving on. I love to interview. The most important thing is how you connect with a person to help them feel comfortable and get the best story. But I find the research side engaging too. It’s a “wow” moment when I find that infinitesimal scrap of information that ties it altogether. Pulling it all into a readable story that informs or helps the reader is the final touch. I love it all, but lately things have been a bit strange. I’m searching for normal, you know, before the spirit thing. It creeps me out!
If you had a day to do anything you wanted, what would you do? That’s a tough one. I’d sleep late, eat something for breakfast slathered in green chile, call Chloe and go skiing. After an afternoon on the slopes, we stop by 10,000 Waves, get a massage and soak in a hot tub. Then on to dinner and of course, I’ll buy the drinks because Chloe always beats me down the mountain. But this never happens all in one day because there is always another deadline to meet. I’d be real happy if all my interviews were on time and my computer doesn’t lock up.
What is your home like? Anthony and I have a bit of a posh place in the hills north of Santa Fe’s downtown. He makes good money, I don’t. He worries about status and since we have been known to “entertain” Hollywood types, he wanted a certain look. I guess you could call it modern southwest for want of a better term. It has clean lines and we have a lovely woman who comes and cares for it. It’s not my thing however. When I lost my mind one night and fled New Mexico, I found a small house in a once elegant neighborhood. Okay, it’s a bit of a dump, but I like it. I feel another change coming on. If there is one thing I like, it’s a fresh start.
What is your most prized possession? That would have to be my car. I bought it on impulse the night I fled my life. It’s a big, make that BIG, navy Mercury Marquis. The Merc guzzles gas, but is “Ride Engineered” and it is smooth. But oh my, it does not fit Santa Fe’s narrow streets and tight alleys. And just try to park it! Now Chloe hates it. Doesn’t want to be seen in it, and often offers to have it detailed. I admit it is a bit messy. I don’t mean for it to happen, but somehow it fills up with notebooks, tapes (I’m old fashioned, no digital recorders), the remains of meals and whatever clothes might land in the back seat. So there you have it. It’s my declaration of independence.
How would you describe yourself? Haven’t I been describing myself? Oh, I guess that’s kind of rude. Okay, you already know I’m a reporter, with a bad marriage, and a roué for a brother. What you don’t know is that I’m not child friendly and I swear a lot. I eat an awful diet, despite Chloe’s efforts, and I never gain a pound. Now you hate me, right? I take all kinds of risks, professional and personal. That’s probably why I tried to return my father from the great beyond. Unfortunately, I lost concentration for a moment, and another soul slipped through. He’s undoubtedly evil and seems to be angry with my brother. Despite my sparkling relationship with Santa Fe’s so-so mayor, I don’t want him hurt. The disturbing part is that I’m seeing other spirits too. And there is the lone wolf. I don’t know how he fits in. I tell you, this medium stuff is exhausting. I’m sure it’s just a one-time thing. Don’t you?
Where do you work? I write for High Desert Country. It’s located on a one-way street in an old adobe house. It has a fish pond in the yard that we never have time to enjoy, but Julian (my boss) hides the keys to the office in the pond. Everyone in town knows where they are. Julian hired me shortly after he and Stella Dallas (her mother loved Barbara Stanwyck) launched the magazine. The cast of characters includes Shorty, who of course, isn’t, short that is. He’s our photographer and keeps the ancient photocopier working. He reads motorcycle magazines between assignments. But someone new has been added in my absence. Julian’s conservative nephew has come onboard, a product of nepotism, despite the fact that his uncle can’t stand him either. It’s interesting. Stop by anytime, the nice woman across the street bakes goodies for us on a regular basis. You can always watch TV with Stella. She’ll say “hello” when you walk in. Me? I’ll be pounding out a story two desks back.
“Reluctant Medium” available at Smashwords for $.99 with coupon number until December 10th. Enter the coupon code prior to completing checkout at Smashwords: WW77S
We Say We Want a Revolution
by G G Collins
There is a revolution going on and it’s changing the world of book publishing. Indie publishers are uniting and uploading their books to the Amazon machine. The days of a half-dozen huge New York book publishers making all the decisions on what the public will read is coming to an end. What has led us to this threshold? Of course technology is part of it, but traditional publishers are partly to blame. Is it a good change or not? Probably both, but like other revolutions, it is a sea change, a wave that cannot be turned back.
Putting Aside Perceptions
The first day I walked into a book publisher as a new employee, I thought that writers (authors after you write a book) would be revered. I would soon know differently as one after another, my beliefs would topple. There was no reverence for the hard work, sweat, tears and talents of writers.
Your book may be your “baby,” but to a publisher, books are merely widgets, products; they either move out of the warehouse and rack up sales, or accumulate dust until the publisher sends them to remainder land.
It became apparent in an office stacked with manuscripts, that writers were a necessary evil and mostly ignored. When a publisher deigns to accept your work and transforms it into a paper book, the promotions department will most likely send out a handful of galleys (now, more often digital) to review media such as Publishers Weekly, The New York Times, Kirkus, Library Journal and Booklist. After publication another few copies would be sent to the author’s local newspaper (if still in operation) and a few appropriate specialty review markets.
Our book house was listed in trade publications as accepting queries and manuscripts. Despite this, there came a time when the reams of paper threatened to push us out of the office, the word would come from on high: “Send them all back. If they haven’t included an SASE, trash it.” We didn’t read or evaluate a single query or manuscript. We did include a much copied “rejection” letter explaining it just wasn’t right for our list. This after the writer paid postage both ways and copy costs.
Today, many publishers accept email queries, but instead of a rejection email, writers are virtually ignored. Once after giving an editor an exclusive submission and waiting three months without a word, I sent a follow-up email asking politely if she had received it (email can be lost forever in cyberspace), I received a blast from her that said in effect: Don’t call me, if I’m interested, I’ll call you! Ouch. While I admit there is a wasteland of discourtesy everywhere (including some writers), can’t we stretch the boundaries of decorum enough to be, if not kind, at least not venomous?
After I entered into a business relationship with a literary agent–her telling me this would be my “breakout” book–I thought I was on the road to publication. But again, a few months passed and I received my manuscript via mail. In it, a note was scratched: “This hasn’t gotten the attention from my office it deserved.” That’s it. At least she was honest.
These are the “good ol’ days” of book publishing. Where writers earned about $2 (USD) on their book, priced at $20 retail. In these days of tree-dependent books, many publishers outsourced the printing of the books to other countries to save greenbacks.
New Kid in Town
So along comes a little start-up called Amazon that dared to discount books while the bricks-and-mortar bookstores continued to sell at suggested retail. The company was established in 1994 and went online as amazon.com a year later. While founder Jeff Bezos didn’t expect an immediate profit, investors were antsy at the lack of return. But in late 2001, Amazon had its first profitable quarter. And the rest is history.
During my tenure with publishers of books, newspapers and magazines there began a faint rumble in the distance skies. People were beginning to talk about a book you would read on a computer. I imagined sitting on a beach, holding a laptop while trying to read through the glare of the sun. But then, Amazon Kindle made its debut. It is now in its fourth incarnation, the Fire. What followed was a surge in tree-free eBooks. Amazon Kindle books out-sell paper and cloth combined.
When Amazon launched Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP, suddenly the doors flew open for those of us who are unconventional to begin with and who really didn’t want to be under the thumb of a conventional book publisher. While the prevailing notion seems to be only bad writers self-publish, perhaps they are good writers whose books were overlooked by mainstream publishing. Honestly, publishers are known far and wide for releasing only the finest literature. Ahem.
Stoking the Revolution
Remember that $2 an author received for her $20 book? At Amazon an indie can receive $2.05 for every $2.99 book she sells. I receive 70% on sales in the US and 35% on sales in other countries. A reader is much more likely to take a chance on a new author with an attractive price such as $ .99 to $3.99.
With this opportunity comes new responsibilities. The writer/publisher does have to design her own cover, or have it designed. Many of us are up to it. We wrote a book, that creativity doesn’t stop at “The End.” And yes, you have to promote and market your book. But remember the handful of review copies the paper publisher would send out? You would be doing this regardless.
Anytime I’ve had a question, which wasn’t often because Amazon’s directions are good, I’ve received a polite and helpful response. This goes double for ordering and returning as a customer. It would benefit businesses, large and small; to approach customer service the way Amazon does it.
Amazon offers a real chance for the indie publisher. It removes the sometimes antagonistic relationship between writer and publisher and allows us the opportunity to control our own destiny. In doing so, we are altering how books are published, marketed and read. The revolution has arrived and we’re turning the book world on its head.
— G G Collins