Maggie Pill

The Most Entertaining Cozy Author You Never Heard Of!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Mystery + Something Else

Releasing May 30, 2016
Since E. A. Poe wrote the first mystery, the genre has been popular with readers. Though most of us will never deal with murder and wouldn't want to, we like peering over someone's shoulder as he or she pokes into a crime, unearthing secrets and eventually the perpetrator.
We began with police officers, whose involvement is logical, since they're paid to find out whodunit. The genre soon picked up private investigators, who also get paid but aren't as hemmed in by rules as the coppers.
Then came the amateur detective, someone who should be doing something else, like writing novels (Jessica Fletcher) or Miss Marple (making tea?). They're often just plain nosy, but they can also be clever and fun. Of course there are those who are falsely accused, or connected to someone who is, but that usually works only once (unless you're Jessica Fletcher's nephew).
Today's mysteries spread across all those lines. There are lots of police procedurals, and in many books PIs, lawyers, medical examiners, and even facial reconstructionists get involved in chasing down a killer.
There's also a wide variety of amateurs in the mix: flower arrangers, antique shop owners, coffee brewers, librarians, farmers, quilters, and many more. What do they have to do with murder?
Not much, but readers who love mysteries want more books, so authors who write mysteries keep trying to come up with new slants, which includes "Here's something else you might find interesting."
Whatever an author chooses for Something Else is fine with me, but I do make reading choices based on it. It's difficult for me to believe that a candy store owner would be involved in solving a murder in the course of her life, so while I might read one, I'm not likely to read a series. A book with a blind sleuth was interesting, but I didn't see him going on to solve more crimes so I skipped the sequel. And when an author announces, "I've released my 36th shopping mystery," I think, "Really?"
I am in the minority here. People wait with bated breath for the next book in these series, so I do not pass judgment on the authors who write them. However, I can't imagine doing that myself.
My "hook" (that's what agents call it) is sisterhood, which works for a majority of the population. In addition, my sisters are private investigators, which gives them a reason to stick their noses into other people's business. There will never be dozens of Sleuth Sisters mystery books, but for now I'm comfortable with continuing the series. After all, private detectives get cases handed to them, and the Something Else between sisters just goes on and on.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Pet Adjustments

They're not very big, and they have no words to tell us what they want, but we make all sorts of adjustments for our furry little friends. Why? Because we love them, and maybe a little bit because they'll get us if we don't.
Before: "Not yet happy w/arrangement"

After: "This works for me"
A few months ago I chronicled the search for the perfect napping place for Old Cat. She wants to be with me as I work, but her preferred place was between me and the keyboard, which didn't work well for my writing. We compromised on a second chair at the desk, where she's sleeping as I write this. Still, it took two pillows and a couple of different blankets before she attained the desired effect.

Downstairs, Old Cat has her own section of the couch (protected by her own blanket--note the strings from her kitty claw push-ups) where she spends her afternoons in pretty much the same position as she spent the morning.

Evenings are spent either in my husband's lap (she goes to the side of his chair and taps on his elbow with her paw until he raises it so she can jump up) or on the footrest of my recliner (she jumps onto the chair arm and waits until I raise the rest for her then takes precisely half of the space, always the left side). His lap; my footrest. There isn't any reason we know of. It's just how she wants it.

Old Cat has trouble jumping onto the bed these days (she's 21, after all), so we found a small set of steps she can use to get up to where we are and disrupt our sleep all night. She either chooses to rest between my feet or up against my husband's back, making it hard for whoever is the Chosen One to roll over.

She's also fond of sleeping on the stairs, we think because it lets her keep an eye on what each of us is doing. This is dangerous early in the morning, because there's no light there and we might trip, causing bad results for cat and cat-lover.
Well, there wasn't a light. We recently tucked a small lamp in the corner of the middle step so we can avoid our favorite stumbling block.

I'm sure you have your own list of adjustments. You find yourselves discussing what she wants to eat, how she wants the house set up, and why she's meowing this time.
Communication is imperfect, but somehow our pets
let us know exactly what they want. And we bend over backwards to provide it.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

After I Write "The End"

This is the final cover for the 4th Sleuth Sisters mystery. It's still a way off, probably May, but it's nice to have something to show to readers.
When an author is traditionally published, she gets some say in a cover but not much. A lot depends on the publishing house. I was always asked what my initial concept was, and after that they'd say, "Here's what we did." I've had author friends who hated their covers but couldn't do anything about it. I had one I didn't much care for, but I trusted the publisher to do what worked for the masses, not just for me.
As an independent, an author is responsible for everything, including the cover. Knowing I have the artistic talent of a Brahma bull, I hire people to do my covers. I've been lucky to find cover artists who can take my germ of an idea and make it beautiful.
When the first Sleuth Sisters came along, I had no idea it would be a series (or so popular: Thank you all!) I wanted three pairs of shoes, each representing the personality of a sister. Obviously that meant heels for Retta, casuals for Faye, and businesslike for Barb. I hired Clarissa Yeo of Yeocla Designs, and this is what she came up with.
When the books sold well and people started asking for a second adventure for the girls, Clarissa kept the three rails and put two dog collars on them, one for Buddy and one for Styx. She probably wished I'd shut up, but I wanted Styx' collar to be just the right combination of bling and size.
When the third book rolled out the time was summer, and the sisters went home to the farm where they were raised. That brought flowers to mind, and Clarissa used a rose to represent Retta, a gladiolus for Barb, and lavender for Faye. It made a very pretty picture on the three rails.
These are things that readers might not think much about, but how often to you pick up (or pick out) a book because the cover catches your eye? For me, if the cover's ugly it takes a recommendation from someone I really respect to get past the unappealing outside.
Other things come into consideration too. Lettering is small on Amazon's little thumbnail sketches, so I want to make sure the title and author name are readable. Simple backgrounds are more attractive than messy ones. And color catches the eye as readers page through screens of twenty books at a time.
It's a relief when the cover is finished and I'm happy with it. I could never do one myself--Well, I could but it wouldn't be pretty. I'm perfectly willing to pay for the talents of some artist who says, "Oh, so the book is about three sisters... Let me see what I can do."

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Kinda Cover & a Thought-Story

Here's the first version of the SS#4 cover. I asked for some change with the purses and the lettering, but I think overall it will work.

On a different note, watching political stuff (and I try not to) makes me think about how differently we think. That brought to mind a story meant to make you think about how you think (and isn't that as clear as mud!) We can have fun with it if readers share their opinions because, unlike politics, the fiction created here has no effect on you or me or anyone.

The Drawbridge Exercise
A baron once had to leave his castle for several days. As he said goodbye, he told his wife that she was under no circumstances to leave while he was away. Once the baron was gone, however, the baroness slipped across the drawbridge and went to see her lover. The next morning when she returned to the castle, a madman stood at the drawbridge, brandishing a knife. "Don't try to cross!" he shouted. "I will kill you if you do!"
The baroness ran back to her lover's house and told him what had happened. "Ours is merely a sexual relationship," the lover said. "I can't help with your problem."
Next the baroness went to the home of a friend and again related her situation. "You did wrong to disobey your husband," the friend said. "I won't help."
Returning to the drawbridge, the baroness saw a man with a rowboat on the shore. When she asked if he'd carry her across the moat, he replied, "If you have the money to pay me." She did not, and the boatman refused to help.
Having exhausted all her options, the baroness returned to the drawbridge and tried to get around the madman. She failed and was killed.
Your task: Put in order from most to least which characters are at fault for the baroness' death: the baron, the baroness, the madman, the lover, the friend, and the boatman.
FYI: No right answers here, just opinions, so feel free to justify your answers.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The State of the Next One

I finished the 4th Sleuth Sisters, SLEUTHING at SWEET SPRINGS, earlier this week and sent it to my #1 beta reader, my sister. I've got no cover art yet (sigh), but here are some random thoughts.

*It isn't done. Not only will my sister make suggestions (and after that there's the editor and other beta readers), but the time that passes while I'm away from the book will make me look at some things differently. I already have an idea for an addition--just a couple of lines to create humor.

*I'm not sure anymore which sister I'm most like. While I didn't base the characters on real life, I do have two sisters and we are quite different in our outlooks on life. I'm not sure which Sleuth Sister is closest to me. Like Barb, I had a good primary career before taking on my second. Like Faye, I've been happily married for years and don't regret anything I've lived through. And like Retta, I can be clueless and shallow, though I'm not stupid and I mean well overall. Maybe that's why the characters resonate with readers. We're all Barb, all Faye, all Retta, at different times and in different situations.

*Growing up on a farm shaped me more than I realized until now. As I write, memories come back, and it's easy to feel the scratchiness of newly-baled hay on my arms and to recall the trepidation with which I went into the hen coop to gather eggs.
Brushing a horse.
Plodding out to the milk-house on a cold morning to get a quart of the warm milk my dad and grandfather had just taken from the cows for our breakfast.
Jumping over cow pies and manure-scented rivulets to get there.
Playing in bins of oats in the rough-built grainery. Leaving with bits of it in my hair and underpants.
Helping (though I'm not sure that's a good term for it) with canning and waiting for the lids to pop.
Carrying the food my grandmother and aunts made from the kitchen to the table for the crew of neighbors who came to help with the harvesting--men with red necks and forearms but white chests and shoulders.

If you grew up on a farm, you might not have had a lot of stuff, but you've certainly got memories.