Author Archives: Becky

How Much Cursing Is Okay In A Cozy?

I originally posted this over at Mysteristas, but I wanted it here, too. So if it seems familiar, you’re not having a mystical déjà vu moment. Or are you ….

♦ ♦ ♦

Since I wanted to get your opinion on cozies today, I thought I’d bribe you a bit with pics of Nala, my cozy cuddlebug. (See what I did there?)

There are a lot of colors in the “Mystery” rainbow: cozies, legal and medical thrillers, police procedurals, suspense, romantic suspense, historicals, private eyes, noir, capers … and more!

And don’t forget the subgenres! Just under the “cozy” umbrella there are crafting cozies, cupcake cozies, cat cozies, hobby cozies, etc, etc, etc. There are even some stay-at-home-dad cozies.

Most readers read across the spectrum to some degree, but writers tend to stick with one genre.

I’ve always told people I write cozies because my definition is that they have an amateur sleuth, are usually funny or light-hearted, not a lot of violence or sex, and usually set in a small town. But I was at a party recently and a friend told me about a controversy she’d been following about readers giving one-star reviews to cozies that don’t follow the reader’s “rules,” whether that’s absolutely no cursing, or that cozies must have a recipe, or whatever. They’ll turn up their noses and slam the author for “calling their book a cozy when it’s clearly a traditional. Harrumph.”

Now, I don’t mind a well-reasoned negative review (well, I do, but that’s a conversation for my therapist) but those arbitrary and angry 1-stars bring down an authors rating, causing all sorts of problems for their career.

And when I stumble across the phrase “traditional mystery,” I’m stumped. How is that different from a cozy?

I don’t think anyone would argue that Agatha Christie is the Queen of the Traditional Mystery, but look at the Miss Marple books. She ticks all my “cozy” boxes.

But Writing World separates “cozies” and “amateur sleuths” into two distinct genres.

I decided, with FICTION CAN BE MURDER, my new perhaps-cozy-perhaps-traditional-perhaps-amateur-sleuth-but-definitely-not-police-procedural mystery coming out soon, I needed a definitive answer.

So I started asking people, beginning with a Facebook group I recently joined called A Cozy Experience Online Cozy Mystery Book Club. With a name like that, they will know!

I asked them how they defined cozies. Here are some of the insightful answers I got:

  • I define a cozy as a “soft” mystery with no blood curdling scenes and no cursing in a homey setting where only one or maybe two bullying, egotistical jerks live.
  • I don’t like any cursing in my cozys, nor do I like any sexual activity, implied or otherwise. To me traditional mysteries and cozys are entirely different entities. Cozys the murder occurs quietly off scene, mysteries that’s not always the case. I expect a mystery to be a little more graphic but not necessarily as gruesome as a thriller.
  • Hm, I’m wondering how I’d categorize series like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, or Diane Kelly’s “Death, Taxes, and…” series, both of which I love and which fit the bill for most of the cozy check points (humor, young single female protagonist, light on gore or violence or criminal psych study, and justice is always served – but both series can be more graphic when it comes to language & sex (neither of which bother me at all).
  • Mild cursing is fine, eg “gosh darn”or “shoot.” And I am all for romance in cozies though nothing too explicit, I’m there for the mystery not the sex. Also I am really really really getting tired of love triangles in cozies. A love triangle is NOT cozy. Sorry for the shouting. [This comment made me laugh!]
  • I always think of a cozy as a story that happens to have a murder involved but it’s really more about the protagonist’s life. Also in a cozy mystery the protagonist’s hobby or career are as important, if not more important than the murder. I don’t mind cursing, especially if it fits the character. And I don’t mind the sex if it drives the story.
  • A cozy mystery takes me to a new place, introduces me to new people, and tosses in a murder or two or three.
  • A cozy is also supposed to have an amateur detective (a regular person like you or me) as the main character. Some books are called cozies but are really just mysteries or maybe humorous mysteries. I’m not picky though, I read them all.
  • I enjoy cozies. I do not enjoy graphic violence or really twisted characters which often appear in mysteries other than cozies. I don’t want to feel “sick” when I read. Mild cursing is not a problem for me, however, I do sometimes find some cozies “too sweet” and it gets old.
  • I would say Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories are almost the ideal cozies. Don’t see the violence. Don’t see the sex. Figuring out the mystery is done by brain power. Jane didn’t have a strong supporting cast which I think is needed in a good cozy series. (There are a couple of series that I enjoy the sleuth’s buddies more than the main character.)
  • To me, a cozy is a relatable character that has a fun job/hobby that is also included in the book — baker has recipes, crafter has craft projects, etc. I don’t mind mild cursing. A traditional mystery to me is one where the character is a policeman or detective. Someone doing a job they normally perform. But they are less approachable, for lack of a better word. Cozy characters draw me in and could be my best friend or myself even. I also think cozies have a good bit of comedy added.
  • No cursing or swearing…mild violence, nothing gory. Relatable characters, quirky and funny…laugh at themselves. Mild romance, friendships. Also like the series that include crafts, baking, decorating, pets…so many great theme series out there!
  • Cozy mysteries are fun and the characters are more quirky than in a traditional mystery.
  • And someone posted this link to an interesting article defining cozy mysteries.

Quite a lot of agreement, except about the profanity, which kind of worries me because I taught my two sailors everything they needed to know when they shipped out. I get one more pass through my manuscript before it’s set in stone, so I’ll scrub it as clean as makes sense. But what makes sense to me, may not make sense to my readers.

What do you think about my definition of cozies … or the difference between cozy and traditional … or how much cursing is okay in a cozy?

1,000 True Fans

I first read about the concept of “1,000 True Fans” a long time ago from someone in the music industry. The gist of it, for him, was that if he got 1,000 people to spend $100 every year buying his music, going to his concerts, ordering the t-shirts, or whatever, that would translate to $100,000. A pretty nice yearly income from his art.

I started thinking about this in terms of my writing. I make money on my books, but it’s not my primary source of income, so I defined my idea of success for me.

• I want to have FICTION CAN BE MURDER in every public library district in the United States.

• I want at least 50 Amazon and Goodreads reviews and ratings with at least a 4.0 average.

• And I want True Fans who are excited every time I have a new book or short story out.

So how does that happen?

You.

If you like my writing (or if you just like me!), there are many things you can do to ensure I get to keep writing. (Publishers don’t like it when books don’t sell or when there’s no buzz.) Here are some suggestions. If you can see fit to do one or more of these things, you will have my undying gratitude and find yourself in True Fan territory.

• Pre-order FICTION CAN BE MURDER from your favorite bookseller before it launches in April from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or find an independent bookstore,  and encourage your friends to do the same. When you pre-order, the book gets shipped to you the minute it’s released. The bigger the pre-orders, the higher the rank, the more likely it will get other buzz from Amazon or certain lists, etc. Buzz, buzz, buzz. It grows exponentially.

• Share info about my books on your social media. (Here’s the direct link to my Amazon page you can use.)

• Request that your public library carry FICTION CAN BE MURDER by Becky Clark. They’ll only need the ISBN 978-0-7387-5332-4. This is very important to me. I love libraries and I love the idea of one book being shared multiple times all over the country. Ask your friends to do the same at their library.

• Post photos of my book in the wild — in your hand or at the library or at a bookstore or something uber-creative that I can share. (Be sure to send me a copy!)

• Post Amazon and/or Goodreads reviews and ratings. Honest reviews influence readers and are very important to author rankings. Reviews don’t have to be long to be effective, just a couple of sentences work. Reviews are important all the time over the life of a book, but they’re especially important during the week of its release, April 8, 2018 in my case. Which is also why pre-ordering is so very important.

• Come to my book events and bring your friends. Subscribe to (and read!) my newsletter for all things book-related … sign up here or at BeckyClarkBooks.com

• Ask your book club to read FICTION CAN BE MURDER as one of their monthly selections and ask the members to post their reviews.

• If you’re on Goodreads, add FICTION CAN BE MURDER to their various lists. I’ve seen lots of lists where it would fit, for example — books that make you laugh, woman-authored books, humorous mysteries, beach reads-mystery, best of little-known authors, cozy mystery series-first book of a series, best cozy mystery series, best humorous books, and my favorite list … “If You Like Books by Janet Evanovich, You May also Like…” If FICTION CAN BE MURDER is already listed, then vote on it to raise it higher on the list.

So, those are a few things you can do to help me.

You have all the power.

Writing is a solitary endeavor, and one where it’s too easy to lose perspective. It’s so gratifying when people enjoy what I’ve done and I want to keep doing it as long as I can, so THANK YOU for indulging and encouraging me.

Mwah!

 

 

 

It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets a Scalpel In Their Back

Today marks one year since my spinal surgery. You remember, that day they sliced through the fascia in my upper back, hand-cranked my muscles out of the way, chipped away part of my spine, scooped out that benign meningioma, then whispered to my nerves an admonition to behave.

Remember? No? Honestly, me neither. But I’ve been re-reading all the notes I took before and after surgery, the texts I sent myself in the middle of the night in the hospital so I wouldn’t forget anything, the Facebook posts charting my phenomenal victories. “Two laps around the kitchen in my walker … woohoo!”

I was fastidious about keeping notes because one, that’s how I roll, and two, because when I found out I had this tumor and needed surgery, I searched — and I mean SEARCHED — for first-person accounts. But there were none to be had. So I knew, if I survived, I’d have to write one.

There are some interesting passages in my notes.

“You can do a lot of things with words, but describing pain isn’t one of them. Shooting, stabbing, aching, throbbing, twinging, cramping, seering … none of these describe anything happening to me.”

“When that pain roars back it’s like a bullet train. Fast and directly at me. Feels quite personal. Like a betrayal.”

“I can absolutely see people just giving up. Pain is hard. Moving is hard. Everything is hard. Here [in the hospital] they just do stuff for you. Or they don’t and you realize you just don’t care.”

This fascinates me because I honestly don’t remember much pain.

“My neurosurgeon came in to check on me [the next day], and was very pleased with himself. Said I was fully cured. I disagreed with him just the teensiest bit.”

“These texts to myself don’t make any noise. Once in awhile, though, it makes my “sending” noise and I wonder who I just told all my poop info to.”

This is hilarious in retrospect because I had obviously been cogent enough to turn the sound on and off, but I acted like it was a highly unusual rift in the Universe.

Mostly my middle-of-the-night texts were perfectly lucid. And then there was this one: “I hope I don’t have to muster all the persistence/hope/etc. I’d prefer it to be thrust upon me.”

Huh?

And, yes, I was on drugs …. “Your leg pain brought to you this morning by Sleeping Too Long On Your Left Hip. Side effects include cursing, saying bad words, expletives, and grandiloquent language. Treatment includes pancakes and finger weapons. Pew-pew-pew.”

When people ask how I am these days, I tell them the truth. Still numb across my upper back, my right underarm, my lady bits, and my left leg. My balance is weird, so it always looks like I’m walking just the teensiest bit drunk. Still some things I can’t do — walk barefoot, run without looking like a walrus on the beach, jump, or hurry for any reason.

But that’s about it. Can’t really complain, considering all the slicing, cranking, chipping, and scooping. Unfortunately, my recovery after 12 months isn’t vastly different from my recovery after 2 months. Except I’m less cranky today. And I still can’t clip my toenails very easily.

The difference between 2 months and 12 months is clearly one of acceptance. I’ve lost perspective after all this time about how I really am, versus how much I’ve simply adapted to my limitations.

But I continue to surprise myself. I still work with my personal trainer. Last night she had me do single-leg squats with my foot behind me on a chair. Neither one of us thought I could do it. For the first set, I glommed onto her for balance while getting myself sorted. For the second set, I glommed onto her and then she gave me 15-pound weights to hold and walked across the room. For the third set, she stayed across the room. Afterward she said, “You couldn’t do that before your surgery.”

So, yes, acceptance and attitude. But I would like to find an ending for this tale of sound and fury so I can start crafting my memoir. I was thinking about signing up for the Colfax Half-Marathon, but am so relieved I came to my senses. Running like a walrus on a beach for two blocks of a 13-mile race is a lousy ending to a memoir. Worse if I actually croaked while doing it, which is the likely scenario.

Then I was thinking that the ending would be when I went to soap up my armpit and it magically felt like an actual armpit, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen any time soon. Or perhaps ever.

And then I was thinking, maybe the ending will be when I can tap dance. But I wasn’t really doing that particularly well before the surgery.

So now, I don’t know. How do you think I should end my story about an ordeal that hasn’t technically ended?

What, You Ask, Are Copyedits Like?

Doing copyedits on a novel is like being sent on the most intense scavenger hunt EVER.

Page 43 sends you to the notes on page 168 and then to the notes on page 285 so you read them all, then tweak page 43 and/or page 285 but you decide with the other tweaks, page 168 is okay as it stands. So you go back to continue on at page 44. But when you get to page 168 and see the note from your editor, you don’t remember if you changed page 43 so you go back to check. But page 43 isn’t page 43 anymore because you’ve added and/or deleted words since then … because page 59 sent you to page 12 which sent you to page 97. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

By the time you’ve gotten lost in the minutiae of the manuscript, you can’t even remember your own name, much less what that character said about the photographer, or if that one had a cigar, or why that one didn’t make that important call when she said she would!

That’s the time to collapse in a heap sobbing, “I don’t KNOW what color the curtains are! I don’t KNOW why she hasn’t changed clothes yet! I don’t KNOW what direction that road goes!”

And then, of course, you slink downstairs to take a deep, cleansing breath and to remove a single piece of dark chocolate from its hiding place. With the sharp aftertaste of cacao on your tongue you straighten your shoulders, march upstairs, and get back to it, blessing your copyeditor for asking all these questions.

Because you’re a writer and this is what writers do.

TATTERED LEGACY by Shannon Baker

I’ve known Shannon Baker for several years. In fact, we launched books together, along with another pal, Peg Brantley.

Shannon writes two mystery series.

The Kate Fox mysteries, set in rural Nebraska cattle country are STRIPPED BARE and DARK SIGNAL.

The Nora Abbott series is a fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder. The first in the series, TAINTED MOUNTAIN, is set in Flagstaff, AZ, where she lived for several years and worked for The Grand Canyon Trust, a hotbed of environmentalists who, usually, don’t resort to murder. It was a 2013 finalist in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards. BROKEN TRUST is #2, and the one I’m giving away, TATTERED LEGACY is #3.

It’s a signed copy that one lucky reader will win. You must be a subscriber to my So Seldom It’s Shameful newsletter because that’s where you’ll find instructions about how to enter AND where I post the winner’s name.

Good luck!

 

RESERVATIONS by Gwen Florio

Gwen Florio has been on my List of People I Want to Meet for a long time now and I’m thrilled I was lucky enough to hang out with her recently at Bouchercon. She did not disappoint. She had me the minute she showed me a picture of her dog, the proud owner of the longest tongue I’ve ever seen .

Gwen leads a fascinating life in Montana as an award-winning journalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and her mysteries and crime fiction are favorites of many people … me included!

Soon to be one of your favorites too, I suspect!

Subscribers to my mailing list get the chance to win this signed copy. I have many more spectacular books from many more spectacular authors which I’ll give away every month, so if you’re not a subscriber, sign up today. And if you are a subscriber, keep an eye out for my So Seldom It’s Shameful News. Your name will be in the next issue if you’ve won. (Keep me out of your spam folder because I can’t breathe in there.)

OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon

I met Diana Gabaldon at a writer’s conference and attended a workshop she taught about story immersion.

Two things resonated so much with me that I actually wrote them down. I know!!

The first was, “Start with your story and let your setting catch up with it.”

This is such helpful advice. So often when we write we feel like we need to do everything at once — ground your story in its place and time, draw a compelling character that readers will care about immediately, and pull readers into the action. In the first three pages.

It was nice to be told to settle down and take things slower. Phew.

The second thing she said that I loved was, “Every person reads a different book even though it has the same cover.”

She meant that we all come to a book with different perspectives. It’s why we can reread the same book at different ages and it can seem like a different book altogether. When we’re young we might identify with Hermione Granger, but as an adult we might be more empathetic to Dumbledore or Mrs Weasley.

Diana Gabaldon also spoke at length about her writing process, which was so different from mine I got heart palpitations and sweaty palms just hearing about it. Mind you, I LOVE hearing about other author’s writing divinations, and sometimes I can borrow a tidbit or two from them. But not hers! She is wholly unique in how she tackles the page. Man-o-man it works for her, though.

If you ever get a chance to hear her speak, take it!

Subscribers to my mailing list get the chance to win this signed copy. I have many more spectacular books from many more spectacular authors, so if you’re not a subscriber, sign up today. And if you are a subscriber, keep an eye out for my So Seldom It’s Shameful News. Your name will be in the next issue if you’ve won. (Keep me out of your spam folder because I can’t breathe in there.)

 

LITTLE PRETTY THINGS by Lori Rader-Day

This is definitely on my BEST OF THE YEAR list. Couldn’t put it down!

Subscribers to my mailing list get the chance to win this signed copy. I have many more spectacular books from many more spectacular authors, so if you’re not a subscriber, sign up today. And if you are a subscriber, keep an eye out for my So Seldom It’s Shameful News. (Keep me out of your spam folder because I can’t breathe in there.)

Read the first chapter here.

 

Some day, little girl

They say scent memories are the most overwhelming.

But they’re wrong.

Yes, when you smell bread baking it might toss you right back into your grandmother’s kitchen. Or the waft of skunk reminds you of that dreadful night. Or a certain perfume, caught on a breeze, delivers you to the small, embroidered bench of your mother’s vanity.

Music. Lyrics. Songs. We have more of those stuffed into our heads than all the odors combined. Well, I do anyway.

When our kids still lived at home, they found their way to our collection of vinyl records and our turntable, stored in the basement. Out of the blue, a song would sail upstairs. I hadn’t heard it for thirty years, yet I could stop what I was doing and sing every word as if I’d never left the floor of my bedroom where I sat cross-legged, solving for x in the Trapper Keeper resting on my lap.

So many songs in my head, each with a memory attached. Riding in a car, either snuggled next to my dad, or with my teenage friends, or driving my own children. Watching a movie musical. Sitting in the second pew of the church, the choir and organ or, later, the guitar resounding and triumphant, echoing in the space. But mostly music flitted in while I was doing something inconsequential, boring, routine.

And that’s still how it sneaks up on me.

When Glen Campbell died, all the tributes made me remember how much I liked his ballads but I realized I didn’t have any of his music. I placed a hold on his Greatest Hits CD at the library.

The library notified me it had arrived and I picked it up before I went to my recent MRI appointment. I popped the CD into the player in my car to listen to on the way.

The second song was “Wichita Lineman” and the tears began as soon as those sad strings swelled. I cried again during “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Galveston” and “Gentle On My Mind.” I had advanced to some seriously ugly crying when I heard “True Grit.”

These are such stupid songs. The lyrics are clichéd and/or weird.

“I clean my gun and dream of Galveston.”

 “…that keeps you in the back roads of the rivers of my memory…”

The stories they tell are mostly ridiculous.

“I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road, searching in the sun for another overload …. I know I need a small vacation but it don’t look like rain, and if it snows that stretch down south won’t ever stand the strain.”

But “These Days,” the very last song on the CD, is different. Jackson Browne wrote it when he was only about sixteen. I’d never heard it before. Just a guitar, some strings, and Glen Campbell’s sweet, smooth voice. Pure vocal molasses.

I’ve been out walking

I don’t do too much talking

These days, these days.

 

These days I seem to think a lot

About the things that I forgot to do

And all the times I had the chance to.

 

I’ve stopped my rambling,

I don’t do too much gambling

These days, these days.

 

These days I seem to think about

How all the changes came about my way

And I wonder if I’ll see another highway.

 

I’ll keep on moving

I’m bound to be improving

These days, these days

 

And if I seem to be afraid

To live the life that I have made in song

It’s just that I’ve been healing so long

 

I’ve stopped my dreaming,

I won’t do too much scheming

These days, these days.

 

These days I sit on corner stones

And count the time in quarter tones to ten.

Please don’t confront me with my failures,

I’ve not forgotten them.

 

I had some time to ponder my reaction to this music while I was entombed in the MRI machine and later, driving home. Why did these songs, sung by this man I hadn’t thought of in years, affect me so?

The answer crept in gradually, a tide of understanding. Slow motion clarity, as usual.

Most of these songs are of my youth, 1968-1972. I was 10-ish. My parents were 40-ish. My world was small and safe, non-threatening. These songs were pretty. Glen Campbell was dreamy. “True Grit” was my favorite movie.

 

I’m not 10 anymore. My parents aren’t 40. My world isn’t small or safe.

But it was, once upon a time.

 

Some days, little girl

You’ll wonder what life’s about

But others have known

Few battles are won alone

Eight Weeks Since My Surgery And All Is … Well…

It’s been eight weeks since my surgery. I’m cranky and I have a litany of woes. For example, taking a shower hurts my skin. My knee buckles randomly and unexpectedly. My balance sucks. I’m still numb in my entire left leg, my right underarm, across my upper back and in my lady bits. (It dawned on me yesterday that list comprises half my stupid body.) I don’t know if I should be doing something I’m not, or stop doing something I am. I have very little core strength. And yesterday I realized I could rest my finger in the indentation of my incision and feel the upward splay of my back on either side. It feels like the Sydney Opera House back there.

Shall I go on?

I feel weak, flabby, confused, frustrated, and pissed off. And I’m tired of feeling weak, flabby, confused, frustrated, and pissed off.

But before anyone gets twitchy with the platitudes, yes, I know how lucky I am. I can drive. I can type. I can walk, talk, squawk, doubletalk, and jaywalk around the clock while I listen to Johann-freakin-Bach, but I can’t clip my toenails.

And, yes, I know it’s only been two months “and these things take time” so I should have patience. But I don’t. Not one thing has changed in the last couple of weeks. Except maybe my optimism.

So if you feel the urge to remind me that I’m lucky or that I should just be patient, well … don’t. Just don’t. It’s not helpful and makes me go all spider monkey. And if you do, I will be forced to creep through the cover of darkness and stab you repeatedly in that well-meaning place where your wisdom, compassion, and common sense resides. Repeatedly.

And I simply don’t have the energy.

Instead, tell me, you know, something else. And while you’re considering your comment, please enjoy these exquisite demotivational posters from Despair.com that seem appropriate today.