Kay: Getting a Clue

I’ve been thinking about murder mysteries as a genre lately, I think in part because the trilogy that I’ve been working on for what seems like forever is winding up. I’ve thought about these books primarily as romances, but there’s no question there’s a mystery element to them. No one dies, but villains attempt dastardly deeds and, ultimately, are thwarted by my heroes. Motivations are revealed, and justice prevails. So I think they could fall under a mystery label if “murder” wasn’t part of your requirement.

The main reason I’ve never attempted to write a full-on murder mystery, even though I enjoy reading them, is that I’m not clever enough to plot one. Every time I get to the finish of a well-written mystery, I am pleased and astonished at the outcome. I know I couldn’t do that.

And then recently I read this short article by Dana Stabenow at WritersDigest.com. Stabenow sets her mysteries in Alaska, and setting is an important element of her books. She has several long-running series; her first Kate Shugak novel won an Edgar. Her seven tips on how to write mysteries make it sound so simple! And the good thing is that most of these tips apply to any kind of writing. Continue reading

Kay: Reading Crime Fiction

My favorite literary genre is the mystery. I’m not a big fan of the “cozy”—the storylines of teacups and cats set in bookshops—but I don’t like sensationalist serial-killer stories, either. I don’t want to read loving descriptions of slow torture or the detached planning of sociopath rapists. This is not my idea of entertainment.

My favorites are those books that straddle a middle ground. I like the puzzle a mystery offers. I like a flawed detective. I enjoy good writing, unusual settings, and any time period. If there’s a secondary romance plot, so much the better.

After a year of not really enjoying anything I read, I just polished off in one week the first three books and four novellas in the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn. I’d been thinking about why this series, set in Victorian times, caught my fancy when so many other things did not in the past year. Lady Julia has a great deal of agency, Brisbane takes her seriously, and her large family—eccentrics all—is fun to read about. Also, the dialogue is good and the romance is slow-burning. So that’s all catnip for me.

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Kay: Quiz for Y’All—Romantic Conflict

image via sleepcity.com

I’ve been working through the revision suggestions a development editor gave me for the third book of My Eternal Trilogy, and I’m stumped on one point. She says that there’s no conflict between my two main characters, and I have to write it in there.

She’s right about the first part. My characters have no interpersonal conflict. Trouble, yes. Conflict, no.

I don’t disagree about the importance of conflict, but I’m not convinced that the enormous amount of work I’d need to do to create a conflict between my hero and heroine and then resolve it is necessary or even desirable. Here’s my thinking.

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Kay: Today is International Women’s Day

German poster for International Women’s Day, March 8, 1914. This poster was banned in the German Empire.

How could I (almost) have missed it? Today is International Women’s Day, a global holiday celebrated on March 8 to commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women and, as they say, fight like hell for the future.

Since I’m short on time, I’m cribbing most of this post from Wikipedia, so feel free to go there (and elsewhere around the web) and read more. Here’s the gist: International Women’s Day originated from labor movements in North America and Europe during the early 20th century and was officially sanctioned by (mostly) communist and socialist movements and governments until it was popularized by feminists in the 1960s, when it became celebrated as a day of activism for equal pay, equal economic opportunity, equal legal rights, reproductive rights, subsidized child care, and the prevention of violence against women.

International Women’s Day has been criticized recently as diluted and commercialized, particularly in the West, where corporations use it to promote vague notions of equality, rather than social reforms. But it still has the power to pack a punch: in Tehran in 2007, police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a rally to commemorate the day. Police arrested dozens of women, who were released only after weeks of solitary confinement, interrogation, and 15 days of hunger strikes.

Which demonstrates, I think, among other things, how much men in government fear the power of women.

Kay: What’s Up, Doc?

2004 postage stamp featuring Dr. Seuss and some of his iconic characters

Tuesday, March 2, was Read Across America Day, a promotional gambit dreamed up by the National Education Association to promote literacy. March 2 is also the birthday of Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, the children’s book author. In past years, these two events were conflated in a partnership agreement between the NEA and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, publisher of the late author’s estate. 

No more. This year on March 2, Dr. Seuss Enterprises said it would stop printing six of Dr. Seuss’s books because of racist and insensitive imagery, and in celebrations for Read Across America Day, the NEA has left out Dr. Seuss’s name to promote books of diversity.

This analysis of Dr. Seuss’s work was first articulated that I know of a few years ago, and at the time, it floored me. As a kid, I loved Dr. Seuss’s work. I reread my favorites many, many times, and I can probably recite a lot of Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat by heart. I had no memory of any racist language or images.

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Kay: Learning Curve(ball)

I’m closing in on finishing a trilogy I’ve been working on for some time. Book 1 is out; this is the cover. Book 2 is at the copy editor, due back at the end of April. I’m still revising Book 3 before it goes to copy edit.

My goal is to make these books as light-hearted as possible. I want them to be the literary equivalent of meringue—a whisper of sweetness on the tongue. I want them to be funny. I want every single person and animal—even the villains—to have a happy ending. I want these books to make readers feel better even if they read them on their worst days.

Book 1 went fine, but Book 2 was a killer. I had difficult personal issues going on at the time I wrote it, and when I went back to it for revisions, it did not read like meringue. It read like day-old oatmeal—heavy, dry, and lumpy. Totally unappetizing. I complained about it on this forum, but I will save you a dreary whine by not posting the link. Continue reading

Kay: The End Is Nigh

Copyright: Hasan Shaheed 2005

We’re already more than a month into the new year, although I haven’t stopped feeling celebratory about the ending to the last one. I’ve spent my time at home, as always, chugging along on my various projects, which include revising several manuscripts that I hope to publish this year.

Revising a manuscript that I’ve left to marinate for a while always raises questions for me, some of them structural and fundamental and some more stylistic. One of the elements I most fret over is the ending, which of course I want to be happy and upbeat, but how can I best deliver that? How to avoid cliché? How to tie things up in a way that satisfies readers but leaves them wanting more?

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Kay: Out with the Old

One of my plans for the new year is to resurrect the finished manuscripts sitting on my hard drive and see if I can revise them into suitable shape for publication. The likeliest candidate for this treatment is the first manuscript I wrote. Years ago a well-known publishing company put it into a cycle of “accept with revisions/accept/on hold/accept with revisions” for two years before my editor moved on and it was finally rejected by her replacement. That’s traditional publishing for you! Today, thanks to indie publishing, I can revise it the way I want and publish it myself.

Progress. Continue reading

Kay: Watching Bridgerton

Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page star in “Bridgerton.” Credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix

I wanted to get 2021 off to a good start, so I binge watched Bridgerton over New Year’s Eve and Day. I had been so excited to learn that Shonda Rhimes would be producing this mini-series that I subscribed to Netflix streaming several months ago just so I could see it.

[Spoilers start now] I had high hopes for this production, and in many ways I wasn’t disappointed. The costumes! The settings! The characters! Those dance sequences! When a development company hurls money at a production like this, it really pays off. The series is spectacular to look at, a visual treat of the highest order.

However, Bridgerton isn’t flawless. I was unenthusiastic about some of the things the producers added to the source material—the angsty overtone, and interpreting Anthony as a jerk, which was a huge mistake in my view. And they left out Julia Quinn’s original witty dialogue, which was a sad loss. However, overall I was thrilled that the story really was a romance—a story in which the principal plot is the courtship between Hastings and Daphne, which I thought was fizzy and delightful. And they didn’t back off from the menstrual blood. Continue reading

Kay: Twas Daybreak (with apologies)

After I learned that Elizabeth had rejected the word “dismemberment” from this year’s randomly generated word list for the holiday story, I was unable to get it out of my mind. Twice I started a new story. One I came close to finishing. And both were about a wife who dismembered her husband and tossed his limbs down the well.

Not exactly the happy holiday ending we were going for.

In despair, I rooted through my past and discovered this holiday poem cribbage from 2014. I hope you’ve forgotten it! It’s an homage, if you can call it that, to Pride and Prejudice and the Bennett family. Dismembering, you’ll be happy to know, plays no part in this story.

Twas daybreak on Christmas, and all through the hall
All the servants were stirring, for tonight was the ball.
The Yule log was laid and the mistletoe hung,
In hopes that Sir Darcy’s fling would be flung.

Miss Lizzie still nestled all snug in her bed,
While nightmares of family danced in her head.
But Mary and Kitty, and Lydia, too,
Argued at breakfast about whom Darcy would woo.

Then out in the parlor there rose such a clatter
Jane sprang from the table to see to the matter.
Maids had dropped glasses, which smashed on the floor
The butler was livid and gave them what-for.

The cook was still worried her sauce wasn’t right
While Pa hit his sauce and got pretty tight.
The daughters decided to primp the whole day
When Mama’s hysterics just drove them away.

Finally—at long last!—the party time neared,
And moonbeams glowed down as the bad weather cleared.
Arriving by carriage the revelers came,
And the butler emerged to call them by name.

Here’s Darcy and Collins,
And Bingley among us!
And Wickham’s dismounting
To give us comeuppance!
To Lucas goes Collins
And Jane’s Bingley’s bride!
But Lizzie dumped Darcy
Because of his pride.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a pain in the heinie
Her ego is huge and her modesty, tiny
Here’s Caroline Bingley, the Gardiners, too
Georgiana is present to beef up the stew.

Mr. Bennet, the host, a right cheerful old squire,
Greeted each guest as he stood by the fire.
“I’m happy to see you, please drink and be jolly!”
So guests then embarked on all kinds of folly.

And then, in a twinkling, the music commenced
And Lizzie sat down, leaving Darcy incensed.
Kitty and Lydia flirted like mad
And Wickham decided to act like a cad.

His eyes—how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses from way too much sherry.
He spoke of his love, he said, “Come and be mine.”
And Lydia believed him, that smooth-talking swine.

They flew off to Derbyshire, where they could be wed
But Darcy pursued them, his heart full of dread.
He promised his Lizzie he’d bring back the villain
But said not a word about blood he’d be spillin’.

Lizzie stayed up like a ghost the whole night
Till Darcy returned at dawn’s early light.
“They’re married,” he told her, “and all will be well.”
“My hero,” she said. He said, “My precious belle.”

He then took her hand and got down on his knee,
“I was stupid and wrong,” he said. “Please marry me.
I thought I was wise, but it’s you I admire.
So if you can love me, let’s tell your good sire.”

Lizzie said yes with a fervor so fine.
“I love you, I do, please say you’ll be mine.
I’ll marry you now and love you forever
And stand by your side through every endeavor.”

And so our tale ends with a happy e’er after
And hearts full of love and plenty of laughter.
For you, my dear readers, I wish much the same,
But for poor stabs at poetry, I take all the blame.

Happy holidays, everyone! And best wishes from all of us to all of you for a wonderful new year.