Editing fatique

With The Hatbox Murders and The Tugboat Murder both coming out next week, I’ve just finished a final-final read of each–just in case. Besides that, my editor and I have been editing The Charlatan Murders for several months now and we’ve still got plenty to do.

While it’s a good problem to have, at this point, I’m ready for a break. Even cleaning my house sounds like a nice change of pace. (Yep, it’s bad 🙂

Welcome to my blog!

This is where I share my love of classic mysteries, my work as a mystery writer, some random stuff, and a bit about my dog. Do you love sleuths, detectives, clues, and puzzles? If so, you’re in good company!

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A mystery by any other name…

20161204_114917How does one describe a mystery genre? 5 or 6 years ago, when people used to ask me what I write, I would tell them I wrote mysteries. I would often have to explain that, no, I didn’t write thrillers, horror, or medical suspense. I wrote more old-fashioned mysteries, more like Agatha Christie’s stories. Classic whodunits, with a fairly small cast of characters, a clever sleuth, a charming location, and nothing too offensive or graphic. You know; just fun, old-fashioned murder mysteries.

Until one day, someone nodded knowingly and said, “Oh, you write cozies.”

Cozies, I learned, are a subgenre of mystery where the sex and violence happened “off stage,” and the primary focus is on solving the “puzzle” of the crime. So far, so good. I did some research. Stephen D. Rogers (who knows his stuff) even wrote that cozies are “typified by Agatha Christie.” Brilliant. My books apparently had found a home; they were cozies.

But it’s not that simple.

With two completed books, I boldly went to my first writers’ convention. And a prominent agent (who also knows her stuff) promptly informed me that my books were not cozies. Her explanation was that cozies absolutely must have an amateur sleuth (sorry Poirot!) and even though I have an amateur sleuth in my character, Victoria, the presence of the handsome Inspector Riggs disqualifies my books from using the cozy title.

I did a little more research and while I couldn’t find a universal definition, most people in the cozy-loving world seemed to agree (more or less) that cozies should: 1) balance the protagonist’s personal story with the mystery, 2) contain a cat, dog, or some other adorable animal, and 3) should not contain more than two victims per book. That’s 3 strikes for me. (But only 2 strikes if you happen to consider seagulls “adorable”).

Maybe genres evolve. Maybe it’s a great big world of mysteries and we don’t always define genres the same way. That’s okay. As long as we get to read what we love.

These days, if you ask me what I write, I’ll say I write mysteries. They’re historical because they’re set in the 1950s. They’re traditional because you’ll need to sort through clues and red herrings to solve tJennifer Berg mystery writerhe puzzle of the crime. They’re detective mysteries because, they usually have a detective somewhere. You know, just fun, old-fashioned murder mysteries.

You can read Roger’s excellent article: From Cozy to Caper: a Guide to Mystery Genres at http://www.writing-world.com/mystery/genres.shtml. For further complications on the exact definitions of the various mystery subgenres, just ask anyone.

Cast of Characters in Mysteries

20170101_140622I’m currently reading Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse (which is excellent!) and I noticed that it begins with a bio list of all the pertinent characters. It’s the sort of thing we expect from plays, but it can be a great cheat for mystery books as well. Keeping characters straight in a mystery isn’t hard when everyone appears at more or less the same time, but when characters drift in and out of the plot, or trickle in over time, it’s too easy to unknowing mix them up. When mysteries don’t list the characters (and they usually don’t) I generally make my own cast list as I read. Sometimes, it’s overkill, but at least I can enjoy the actual mystery as the author intended instead of some weird disjointed story caused by my unintended character swapping. For the record, I didn’t include a cast list for my first book, The Hatbox Murders, because I didn’t think about it in time, but now that I’m editing The Charlatan Murders, I’ll definitely talk to my editor about including a Cast of Characters. Maybe the rest of the Elliott Bay series will feature a hand cast list.

Friday editing

Today is going fantastically well. First, I managed to knock out several items from my bottomless Gotta-Do list. Not all of it, but enough to keep my life from unraveling into chaos. A relaxing lunch with time to think and then the sun came out. Now I can jump into my work; a class I’m taking, a short story I’ve been neglecting, and my current project that I’m working through with my editor. Mysteries, intrigues, and whodunits. (plus a cup of tea). I love getting crap done.

oh, typo, joyful typo

I probably shouldn’t be quite so happy about this…. BUT after so many hours spent editing and re-reading and triple checking HATBOX, after so many polite mentions from my editors pointing out my absurd and ridiculous mistakes, (Did I actually write that???), and after I commit to do it all over again with CHARLATAN, it’s so wonderful to find an innocently misplaced “t.” The fact that it happens to be in a very read (and reread book) makes it even sweeter. Oh, joy. Editing really is hard work, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

short stories and priorities

20161121_081514Currently, I’m working on a short story, or more to the point: I’m not working on a short story. I’m spending most of my time working on a class for my certificate or “writing.”

By writing, I mean I’m chopping my second book, The Charlatan Murders, into 43 separate chapter files and getting them each labeled properly. One version and format goes to the publisher’s vault, but since my editor and I work on a separate platform, I also have to send those 43 chapters there. At this point, the labeling gets tricky since my editor and I will bounce those chapters back and forth like tennis balls until each chapter is perfect. Then when that’s finally complete, we’re going to do it all again, twice. At least.

I learned the hard way with The Hatbox Murders that proper labeling is crucial to keep us moving forward. Without a clear system, we might end up re-editing old versions, or each editing the same chapter differently at the same time. This is the non-writing side of writing. It’s necessary and it takes a lot of time. But it’s time that I’d rather spend on my short story. But I guess all the work-writing will make the fun-writing more fun, when I finally get around to it.