Jane fires her agent, retires from the art lecture circuit and moves to sunny St. Pete, all on a frenzied whim when her not-very-beloved husband unexpectedly dies. She fixes up her condo, meets her mom for lunch and finds new friends. When one of them is murdered, she uses her knowledge of art to help the local police solve the case. Also, she falls in love with a homicide detective.
Of course she falls in love. I have never written a book, published or unpublished, that does not have a love thread. And I’ve tried. That’s just where my heart goes. Talking with friends, trying to figure out if my new series is really cozy. We came up with edgy cozy. Because you do see a body in the second book (still writing), there is blood, and I have procedural characters. Edgy cozy. If it was not a thing before, it is now.
Read it on Kindle, Nook, iPhone or in print now. Meanwhile, I’ll figure out how to market my book online. I did one Zoom presentation a while ago, and I wasn’t entirely happy with it. I was not in control, I’d do it different. If I knew how. Also I’m learning Canva so I can post nice photos. Marketing during Covid sure is different!
A book full of jokes is not nearly as funny as watching a comedian do his act. I bought this book because Seinfeld said in an interview, pressed on this exact point, that really it’s a book for writers. I’m probably the only writer who believed him and ordered the hard cover.
The book is divided by decade, beginning with the 70s. This is when Jerry began writing jokes. They were short.
Still, I persisted. Maybe, I thought, he would have a little commentary on how to write humor at the beginning of the 80s section. He did not. Just more jokes. The jokes got longer and more complex in the 90s and beyond, but I wasn’t reading them anymore. I was looking on every page for writing wisdom. Particularly, I wanted to amp up my humor.
My editor says my novels have a “subtle” humor. The trouble with being subtle is that quiet ironies may land a bit too softly for others to recognize. I looked at every page of Jerry’s book. Twice. There was no writing advice anywhere within. There were witticisms by the dozens, jokes on every page, and, although I laughed a lot, I received zero advise on how to prod others do so while turning my pages.
To give him credit, he never said it was advice he was giving the reader. It was jokes, specifically, every joke he’d ever written. I realized he was teaching by example. I prefer things spelled out. My stomach hurt from laughing; I almost stopped reading, but then I noticed how he set his jokes up. The early ones had three parts and as he got better the jokes became much more complex. Funnier. If Jerry was a bottle of wine, he’d age well.
The other thing I noticed was his page breaks. I am writing this post in block format. It’s what people are used to seeing when they read anything on the internet. Before the internet we had indentation, not a space between paragraphs. But Jerry chose neither of these forms. His jokes were, I finally noticed, printed like poems.
Most people, I assume, know what poems look like. The lines break in the middle of a sentence. Or anywhere. It can seem random if you are not a reader of contemporary poetry and/or do not have an MFA in English. But I finally recognized the poem pattern and it dawned on me. Jerry was writing in joke lines. The early ones from the 70s were the simplest. The first sentence or phrase would be the set up. The second bit was an elaboration. And the third was the punchline.
This was the lesson for writers. Genius, right? He was showing instead of telling. I tried using Jerry’s method in the first few paragraphs of this post and then threw in a few more. Trying to be funny is exhausting.
“Show don’t tell” is another thing writing teachers say to new writers. It’s not always true, because sometimes you need to tell. Everyone knows how to tell. Showing is harder, and I tried to do that, too. But I’m no Jerry Seinfeld.
The first book in my new mystery series, Jane in St. Pete, is available now. As a thank you for stopping by, I’m offering a free short story prequel.
Don’t know why I still read the New York Times Book Review every Sunday. I rarely am interested enough in a reviewed book to buy it. I get upset because they don’t review near as many books by women as they do men. And yet, there I was yesterday, reading NYTBR again. And being happily surprised.
One thing I like is that they recently added a monthly romance review column. They’ve had one for mysteries for years, so, about time! Anyway, I was also gratified to note that many of the romance novels they deigned to review were self-published. The Times, they are a changin’. I bought Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade.
What hooked me in the review was the tie-in to the love story between Aeneas, a Greek god, and Dido, ruler of Carthage. Dido is said to be ugly, yet Aeneas, aided by Cupid, loves her anyway. This ancient storyline, like all the stories of Greek and Roman gods and the humans who amuse and infuriate them, can be found in the 1940 classic Mythology by Edith Hamilton.
Mythology was my first literary love. My first class, in 1973, in high school, whetted my appetite for those ancient origin stories. I went on to read many more of the original plays in college and grad school. Hamilton’s book, pictured above, is my third or fourth copy. I’ve referred to Mythology so often through the years (as I have this morning) that they fall apart on me after twenty years or so. My current copy has yellowed pages but the spine remains intact.
In Spoiler Alert a contemporary novelist retells the story of Aeneas and Dido. His mastery captivates fanfic writers online and nabs a Hollywood remake, which is as horrible as the massive series of tomes are wonderful. The guy who plays Aeneas is a hot and handsome star, who’s smart too. He has a secret. He’s one of the writers on a popular fanfic site. As is his online BFF, a woman.
That’s all I can say about the plot of Spoiler Alert without spoilers. Oh, except when the female online BFF of the actor playing Aeneas decides to out herself as fat (her word, not mine) all hell breaks loose with the Twitter trolls. I’m enjoying this wild brew, a mix of old and new. It’s a nice respite from the historical romances I’ve buried myself in since the pandemic outbreak in March.
Ha! So that’s why I continue to read The New York Times Book Review. It’s rare, but every once in awhile, I still find an intriguing book reviewed there.
It’s getting cold here in Michigan and after six months of reading almost exclusively historical romance, I turned to the last in Elin Hilderbrand’s trilogy set in contemporary St. John in the Virgin Islands, where the sun always shines (unless a hurricane blows in) and it’s hot, hot, hot.
EH writes two novels a year and has been doing so for many many years. She publishes her Nantucket books every Spring/Summer and then does another novel Fall/Winter. Her books (and this trilogy is no exception) are light, fun, romance novels with more than a pinch of drama.
One of my favorite tropes in these type of novels is the betrayed wife. Husband dies and wife finds out he has a secret life. In this case, a mistress and child in a fancy (9 bedroom) villa on St. John. That’s the start of it, so it’s not a spoiler to say it. I think it might even be part of the back cover blurb.
One thing EH does that I’d like to do someday is have four or five points of view. So she has the betrayed wife chapters, and then the grown two sons each have their own chapters, and the father of the mistress and the best friend of the mistress…they all have chapters. I like reading those kind of books and I’d like to write them.
I am just a few chapters into my next book, the second in a series, and I have been thinking about trying it. My publisher is very open to things like that. I’m lucky that way. Meanwhile, I await my November 2 release of the first in my new series “Jane in St. Pete.” Pre-order on Amazon here.
I am no artist, but I do find it helpful when writing a novel to sketch out the main area of action for easy reference. Location in mysteries is important. Where was the body found? Where do suspects live? In my case I can’t keep an entire condo community that includes a bayou and nature trails and who can see what from their condo window all in my head.
I use watercolors my artist friend Ali sent me for Christmas a few years ago for two reasons. One, the use of color quickly locates the pool, for example, or shows orientation from one building to the others. I only put four condo blocks in my imaginary community just to keep things simple. The other thing is color cheers me up, no matter how sloppily applied to the paper.
At times, it’s nice to just switch over from writing to drawing. I spent a bit of time on the above masterpiece, as I used Prisma colored pencils as well as a regular No. 2 pencil before the final wash of watercolor. The Prismas make colors and shapes step a bit boldly to the forefront of the watercolor. Can you find my gator in the bayou? Top left corner. LOL this is NOT what I was going to blog about today!
So, back to writing and how to do it book after book year after year. You have to start and it won’t be pretty. I read an interview with Jerry Seinfeld and he said looking back on his early jokes, they weren’t very good, but those early words were the bridge to get him to where he is now. (Rich and famous.) He actually has a new book, a memoir, and he calls it a writer’s book. Because he shows how the placement and construction of his words make the jokes work.
So you need to start on one side of the bridge to eventually reach the other. Every day, writers open their notebooks or laptops and start at the beginning of the bridge. What helps is to have some little sliver of something in mind. I often wake up with a sliver and bring it to the bridge. It can be anything. Part of a conversation. An image. I usually know a little bit about where I’m going, and that’s all I need to cross that bridge.
Because when I start with that sliver, there is some kind of mechanism I don’t understand (maybe magic, grace, imagination, or all of them) that takes my fingers and types words. 3-5 pages a day on my very good days. The more you show up with your sliver, the more good days you will have.
This bridge/sliver/magic feels like flying. Not in a plane, or even like Superman, but just sort of your floating mind zipping along, keeping pace as your fingers cross the cosmic bridge. Does that sound fun? It is. That’s why I do it. It is SO fun. After 3-5 pages I blink and feel a long rush of deep pleasure. I did it again! And then it happens again and again, as long as I show up with my sliver and laptop.
It’s more complicated than it sounds. You should have a plot map of some sort for mysteries. Mystery Writing Plot Map may even even pop up on a search engine. If not, many many books show you how to make them. Characters, setting, murder details, clues help you dream up the sliver.
Then there’s the other thing. Every scene has to have a purpose. Either move the plot forward or show character development. Twists are good too, but not too many. I don’t worry too much about my scenes having purpose in a first draft. Reading through a completed draft, I check every scene. Does it need to be there? Why? I am sorry to say that you must do this on the sentence level and the word level too. How does this sentence contribute to the story? If it doesn’t, but it’s beautifully written or uses a cool word, you have to cut it.
Some famous writer called this revision process at the sentence and word level “killing your darlings.” Because sometimes you can write things you really love but they just do not serve the plot. Or, you could be a poet and not a mystery novelist at all. You get to decide. Everything is within your power. It’s your world, you made it. Maybe you even made a painting.
Seinfeld’s book is called “Is This Anything?” The interviewer, Mara Reinstein, asks why his fans might want to read his jokes instead of listening to him tell them. He said he wanted to show the crazy amount of time and work he spends crafting his jokes. Then he said “I think this is a book for writers.” I’m buying it.