Mystery Fans at Large

In 10+ years of trying to get published, I’ve received feedback from supportive friends and family. In the course of getting published, the feedback has been positive, constructive, and sometimes embarrassing. Now, that I’m published, my book just started receiving feedback from complete strangers — people who are in no way connected to me, the industry, or my publisher. Mystery fans are actually reading my stuff? WOW!

 

 

 

Why did I set my series the 1950s?

At the authors panel I attended earlier this month, we were asked why we had chosen to write mysteries in a specific era.

There areBooks by Jennifer Berg several reasons why I chose the 1950s, not all of them very interesting. But in short, it’s an era that had more colorful charm than grizzly forensics. Since I’m all about the puzzle of a good mystery, that works well for me. The 1950s had great fashion, textures, music, and it was a complicated time socially as everyone tried to create a normal — better — life after the war. Basically, there’s a lot for me to work with.

The challenge is the era’s rampant sexism and racism. Not a good thing. And while I’m not a huge history buff, I can’t simply gloss over the pieces I don’t like. Of course, I’m writing murder mysteries not social historical commentary, but I really do try to use social accuracy to enhance the story and the mystery part of the adventure, without making it so central as to distract the audience. (And I sincerely hope I’m doing a good job.)

After all, we’re reading mysteries to enjoy ourselves.

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 🙂

The Publishing Process

I’m new to publishing. Even though I’m currently writing my 5th book, the Hatbox Murders will be the first one published.

Over a hear ago, Barking Rain Press assigned me to a wonderful editor, and we spent 6 months going over the manuscript. We did 3 complete in-depth passes. After that, two more editors came on board and we all went through it again.

I thought the editing was finished. Silly me. I just received the final “Final foJennifer Berg mystery writerr Print,” proof. Now, there are 5 of us on the project, all reviewing the Hatbox Murders cover-to-cover.

It really helps me appreciate (and maybe even dread 😉 all the work that goes into a traditionally published book.

And it keeps me really, really busy.

Seattle’s Ghost Streets

20170223_112510Seattle once had a neighborhood called Ross. As the city evolved, the name was lost, but my old map still shows streets overlapping the water. The Wedgewood Historical Society was nice enough to explain what happened:

When the Army Corps of Engineers built the Ballard Locks a 100 years ago (and the waterway which connects Lake Washington to Puget Sound) they dug out a few streets. The fun part is that my old 1950s Seattle map still shows those “ghost streets” in the water. Kinda spooky.

Agatha Raisin

20170119_154253After a recommendation from another mystery fan, I’m reading my very first Agatha Raisin.

M.C. Beaton’s storytelling is smooth and enjoyable, but I haven’t quite clicked with Mrs. Raisin herself. The character is funny, yes, but she’s also a bit grumpy, petty and even rude.

Still, the expansive series has a huge following, so I won’t give up. I might find myself in the fan ranks before the end.

Romantic Mysteries

20161121_081514I’m not a particular fan of the romance genre, but I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a mystery that just happened to have a splash or romance, provided that the mystery itself was compelling, puzzling, and downright exciting.

By the way, since classical or “traditional” mysteries omit overt sex, I’m really only talking about subtle romance — not the racy stuff that makes you blush and hide your book cover when you’re in public.

For those of you who read Agatha Christie, (and I have no idea why anyone wouldn’t) you know that the Queen of Crime often laced a bit of romance in her books. In fact, several of her stories end with a solved murder and a couple in love. So in short, a little romance with my mysteries great, but there better be a clever crime to solve!

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.

Best Movie Mysteries of the 1950s

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Bearing in mind that suspense and mystery or not synonyms, they often go together especially in motion pictures. So my suspenseful list (in no particular order) of the best 1950s mysteries goes like this:

To Catch a Thief– with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, what’s not to adore?

The Trouble with Harry– dark comedy with landscapes.

Rear Window– suspense with a white knuckles.

The Hound of the Baskervilles– Almost anything with Sherlock Holmes is bound to be a treat. This version is especially dark and creepy.

I would add both Rebecca and Suspicion to the list, but they were a decade too soon. I’d love to hear any other suggestions that ought to be on this list. I’ll be adding more titles and I’d love to have a well-rounded representation.